When I was in cosmetology school in Pensacola back in the mid-80’s, there was a Pensacola Jr. College student who came in early one morning before class to have his long black hair cut.
“Just give it a little trim,” he said as he pulled his faded green Army jacket closer to his thin frame, as if it were colder in the salon than in the chill outside.
I began to do as he asked.
“Those look sharp,” he said of my haircutting shears—the ones I had paid $100 for, which was astronomical for those times.
“They’re sharp alright. I cut myself pretty often. What’s your first class?”
“English Literature. I’m a freshman. I know I don’t really look like a freshman. That’s because I’m twenty-three. I fished for crab in Alaska for a few years. I thought it’d be fun. It was, and it wasn’t. It was hard. I’ll tell ya that much.”
“Sounds interesting,” I replied. I was envious. I had never done anything. I had never been anywhere. My experiences in life were relegated to interesting conversations with students attending Pensacola Jr. College.
“You into Punk Rock?” he asked.
“Oh yeah,” I replied less hardily than I felt. My heart thrilled. The Punk subculture meant everything to me. Angry, aggressive middle-class kids screaming that their lives had been ruined by this and that and the other, mainly their parents. Today, it all seems so silly. Then, it was what I lived for… while refusing to be a part of the burgeoning Punk scene in Pensacola.
“You act like a Punk Rocker,” he said. “You’re kinda tough and cool at the same time. You’re kinda… scary.”
I felt empowered. It didn’t take much to make me swell with pride in the browbeaten days of my youth. I mean, this little, wiry, dark-haired guy who could pass for a seasoned AWOL soldier or a well-traveled European was saying that I—a boy found mostly in a world of poetry and dreams—was scary.
“We’re the same age,” I said as I undid the nylon cape from around him and shook off the cut hairs.
“I guess you’re getting a late start in life too. Thanks for the haircut. It looks great. My name’s Frithjof. It’s Norse.” He handed me two dollars as a tip and stepped out the door into the cold, unbuttoning his jacket as he went.
Two days later Frithjof came back in. His hair was the same length as it had been before I cut it. This time as I trimmed his locks, the conversation was a bit more surreal.
“You ever fished for albermagon in Pensacola Bay?” he asked me.
“What are albermagon?”
“A kind of fish that taste a little like catfish, but not really.”
“I like friend oysters, but that’s about it for fried seafood.”
“Albermagon taste like oysters too,” he added. “You ever lived in Los Angeles?”
“No,” I replied.
“You will,” he said matter-of-factly.
“What do you mean by that, Frithjof?”
“Oh, nothing really. Only that one day soon you’re going to be living in Hollywood, California. That’s all I meant.”
“That is a really strange thing to say.” I couldn’t help but laugh. Frithjof laughed along with me, and said nothing more on the subject. By this time I was fairly used to very strange people saying really odd things. It was Pensacola after all. A place that, to this day, I really despise, but that’s neither here nor there when it comes to the absolutely bizarre conversations one can have with seemingly normal people. There’s something in the air… or the water.
As I shook the thin nylon cape out again, Frithjof tipped me two dollars, as he had done the time before, unbuttoned his Army coat and walked out into the cold January morning.
“Yeah?” I turned to the voice of one of my cosmetology classmates. It was Susanna.
“Lamb, that guy you just cut… he came in three times last week. And every time, his hair was the same length. I cut it all three times.”
“Really?” I replied. “That’s just weird.”
“You’re tellin’ me.”
The next morning Frithjof came back in for another haircut. His hair was halfway down his back. I felt very nervous.
“Haircut?” he said. “You can take most of it off this time. Just leave me a long bang in the front. That’ll look cool.”
“Sure you don’t want a tiger stripe mohawk?” I asked him.
“Can we do that?” His eyes grew wide with childlike glee.
“Sure!” I was excited to do something different than permanent waves and hair trims. “Let’s get your mohawk cut first, then we’ll mix up the bleach and get it lookin’ cool!”
I cut Frithjof’s hair the way he wanted it, and then left him there for a few minutes while I went to mix up the bleach. But when I returned, he was gone.
He never came back to the salon again.
Two years later I saw him walking down Hollywood Boulevard. Yes, the one in California. I wanted to say something, but he was too far away, and I didn’t want to yell. I was late for work anyway.
Lamb Shepherd is a writer who lives in Hollywood. Sometimes, anyway.