Lisa Kogan
Photo: Michael Edwards
At first, you think every detail will remain forever lodged in your memory. It was a Saturday. I had toast and a tangerine for breakfast. My sweater was cobalt blue. But with time and distance and a perceptive shrink, you begin the arduous process of moving on. You think you'll never forget, but you do—you must.

And still, the dreams come. In them, a kindly old healer—part Jonas Salk, part Jimmy Stewart—hears of my suffering. Tears well in my eyes as he clutches me to his bosom.

"It's been a nightmare for you, hasn't it?" he whispers.

Through tortured sobs, I manage, "Yes. Oh God, yes."

He takes my face in his weathered hands as a mixture of pain and fury clouds his features, and he hurls his wrath to the heavens. "That...butcher!"

This, my friends, is the story of a very, very, very bad haircut.

It all began one mild morning in February when I realized that I was about three and a half weeks past my "delightfully shaggy" look. It was only a matter of days before I'd start bearing an uncanny resemblance to my demented aunt Ida, a woman who spent her final years insisting she once had a "quickie" with the guy from Gunsmoke. I needed to do something, but rather than visit my regular stylist, I opted to save a few bucks and wander into one of those "no appointments necessary" clip joints. The year was 2005. I was 44 years old.

My haircutter—a chain-smoking artiste in white jeans—was named Frawmphh. He said it, he spelled it, I swear I heard Frawmphh. In retrospect, it occurs to me that Frawmphh may not have actually understood a whole lot of English, and that perhaps in the land of Frawmphh's birth, the phrase "Just take an inch or so off the ends" was phonetically indistinguishable from "Please, destroy my life."

Don't panic, I thought. It's only hair, I thought. I'll be fine, I thought. But I wasn't fine. My mojo was shot. And what began as a crummy haircut morphed into a 17-month-long lousy streak. Allow me to share a few highlights...

  • Three days after the fatal haircut, on the way to my eyebrow and upper-lip waxing appointment, I ran into my ex-boyfriend and his adorable wife. Had I not been so flustered, I could have avoided the entire episode by insisting I was Gene Shalit. It was later brought to my attention that I also had a quarter-size patch of macaroni and cheese encrusted on my T-shirt.
  • They discontinued my favorite lipstick. It was called Peach Melba and it made me look thin.
  • Half of my health insurance claims were rejected, and the woman reviewing my case had all the intellect and people skills of Courtney Love on a bottle of NyQuil.
  • I can no longer enter a supermarket without ending up in the cash only, 10 items or less line behind a guy who's attempting to pay for 11 cartloads of Tater Tots with a personal check from the Bank of Fallujah.
  • My daughter and I inadvertently moved into a building with an abundance of pretentious snobs. If anyone currently living in my building is reading this, I don't mean you...you're fabulous and I'm not the least bit offended every time you let the elevator door close in my face as I approach with a bag of groceries in one arm and a toddler in the other. I'm not going to name names, but—oh hell, what's the point of having your own column if you can't use it against people who snap at your child in the lobby? You, Geraldine Cutler, are the human equivalent of biting tinfoil.
  • A man on 74th Street and Lexington Avenue licked my pocketbook.
  • My gynecologist asked me for tickets to The Oprah Winfrey Show. It's true, somebody is always wanting Oprah tickets from me, but this particular request came—I kid you not—mid-Pap smear. I understand why one might invoke the name of Betty Ford during a drug intervention—I can even see mentioning Katie Couric's name during a colonoscopy—but aren't there laws against making Oprah references while addressing a person in stirrups and a dress made of paper towels?
  • Two words: bad oyster. Although on the plus side, I did lose five and a half pounds in a mere 14 hours.
  • My 3-year-old has somehow picked up a new phrase: "Mommy is going to have a baby—it's a boy!" This would be sort of sweet, were I actually pregnant. Meantime, I keep getting congratulated by doormen, dry cleaners, a telemarketer (Jules thinks this sentence is an excellent substitute for "Hello" when answering the phone), and, yes, my parents.
  • In the past year and a half, I have broken my watch, oven, dishwasher, baby stroller, TV, VCR, DVD player, computer, humidifier, vacuum, and toe.
The truth is, I do realize being cursed with crooked bangs probably hasn't got much to do with why I can't catch a break on line at the A&P. I even know that in the grand scheme of things, none of these irritants amount to very much, but you see, it's the grand scheme of things that is keeping me up at night.

Maybe this isn't the story of a bad haircut after all (though, so help me God, it looked like I'd been mauled by an ocelot). Maybe this is about the feeling that we're all living in a world gone off its rocker. We're watching families try to exist on a wage of $5.15 an hour, we're waiting for the next terrorist attack, and, to top it all off, the planet is melting. It doesn't really matter that a lunatic French-kissed my Marc Jacobs bag, or even that my gynecologist's timing was absurdly off. What matters is that we're witnessing the death of civility, and—if I remember anything at all from ninth-grade history—that's generally followed by the fall of civilization.

There is a quiet but constant undertow, a dull persistent ache that's with me all the time, and I don't think I'm alone. It's gotten increasingly weird out there, and so we turn inward. It's easier to think about hair than to think about Darfur, to blame some guy in white jeans rather than political forces I can't begin to comprehend. I read the paper with a feeling of impotent rage. I worry that my daughter won't have the same rights my mother's generation fought for me to have.

But then I see Julia's face, and, to quote the Monkees, I'm a believer. I believe that for every nasty claims adjuster putting me on hold, there's a sympathetic one willing to hear me out; that for every Geraldine Cutler, there's a wonderful Wendy Goldstein just down the hall; that my ex's new bride probably has one of those screwed-up toenails that prevents her from wearing sexy sandals; that people are starting to make some righteous noise about Darfur, to finally pay attention to the climate crisis, to march against poverty, to demand a detailed exit strategy for this war. I believe that when Al Gore cautions against going "from denial to despair" without doing what it actually takes to solve the problem, it's high time we listen up. And I cling to the belief that even the worst haircut eventually grows out.

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