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An Old Hippie Ponders a Haircut

Bob Letcher: I just never forgot that my maternal grandfather was an immigrant bricklayer. I didn’t want to “dress-up” because going “up” might distract me from my commitment to working for justice for “little guys”.

Almost cut my hair
It happened just the other day
It was getting kind of long
I could have said it was in my way
But I didn't and I wonder why
I feel like letting my freak flag fly
And I feel like I owe it to someone


David Crosby

Tomorrow is haircut day for me! It’s a day I await with mixed emotions. It’s been like that for me, for decades. Back then, it was, “If you want a job, you [expletive deleted] hippie, get a haircut.” One time, I recall, I went to a mall for a haircut, walked around for an hour, and left without getting one.

Sometimes, I wanted a job enough to furl my freak flag for awhile, but I tried never to let go of it. Last Spring near Ohio State University, when I unfurled my freak flag for a one-person sit-down, up close and personal with ruder elements of the anti-[almost] everything “party”, it was, “If you’re looking for a hand-out, you’re in the wrong end of town. Nothing for free over here: you have to work for everything you get.”

This brings me to the questions that motivate this essay:

  • Through what thought process [sic] might my nemesis have concluded that I was “looking for a handout”?
  • If I was “in the wrong end of town” for receiving “a handout”, was my nemesis suggesting that there was an end of town where “looking for a handout” was commonly accepted, or even expected?
  • Why in the eleven months since that incident have I seen no discussion of this aspect of my nemesis’s rudely stated assertion?

Regarding the first question, I imagine that my nemesis might have seen my freak flag flying: a long-haired?—check; right age?—check; no suit, no tie?—check and check. Conclusion: hippie—must be looking for handout.

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As I’ve already expressed my feelings about getting a haircut, let me explain why I don’t “dress up”. I decided decades ago that contrary to self-serving assertions made by the better-off among us, “the suit does NOT make the person.” I wear jeans most of the time (especially before capitalist businesspeople transformed them from functional to stylish) as part of my freak flag, largely because I wanted people to assess my arguments for justice, environment, etc. on their own merits, without regard to how much money I spent on clothes.

I guess I just never forgot that my maternal grandfather was an immigrant bricklayer. I didn’t want to “dress-up” because going “up” might distract me from my commitment to working for justice for “little guys”. I figure: If I go to Rome, and hang out mostly with Romans, then I’m likely to adapt to being there by becoming more like Romans; so, if I don’t want to be like a Roman, I tend to stay away from Romans.

One personal anecdote illustrates this “Rome effect”. There have been periods when I actually did wear a suit and tie to work; as infrequently as possible, but I admit: I did it. Nearly three decades ago, I bought a suit. It happened that some final alterations required me to put the suit on, and I decided to surprise my friend at a nearby restaurant by wearing it instead of changing back into less dressy clothes.

Well, I did surprise my friend, but my suit also drew a comment from the waiter to the effect that she would serve us appetizers from the all-you-care-to-eat raw bar. She went on to explain that her boss had required the wait staff to do this because some people had “eaten like pigs”, to which she added, “of course, people like you wouldn’t do such a thing”. Wrong!! Anyone who knows me would also know that I might eat the raw bar—and the plates. I wanted people to listen to my argument, not to my suit.

As for what my nemesis might have meant by “the wrong end of town”… The statement implies that there is a “right end of town” for getting handouts. My nemesis didn’t clarify whether he meant the expensive end of town where handouts took the form of Paulson-conceived and Bush-OK’d TARP bailouts and mortgage relief; or, the poor end of town where handouts took the form of Medicare and Medicaid, and other justice-seeking social programs. Finally, at the time (I have moved since) I lived approximately 1.5 miles from where the event occurred; for comparison, my other nemesis, the guy who threw money at me, lived at least twice as far away.

Which brings me to the third question, closely linked to the second question. In view of U.S. history, it is difficult for me to hear the phrase—“the other end of town”. When I hear that phrase, I tend hearing it’s metaphorical pointing, so that the phrase is really about “the other”, rather than “the other end”. Which “the other”?

Whichever particular [constructed] category of people a speaker asserts as being there. For many people who associate themselves with the anti-[almost] everything party, that “other” is people of color, whom they see as not belonging here with proper Americans. I would sure appreciate the opportunity to discuss with them “the European problem” from the point of view of native people of color, post-1492; including all the “handouts” that Europeans took from them.

robert letcher

Anyway, as I write, in less than 24 hours, I’ll be getting a haircut. I fully expect to keep my freak flag flying. If anyone starts wondering if age might be mellowing me, I hope you will let me hear about it. After all, as David Crosby wrote, “I owe it to someone.”

Robert A. Letcher, PhD