Finally, summer. Not hot strong summer; not the sort of confident here-to-stay summer, but as close as we’ve gotten so far: the calendar says June, and you don’t feel the need for a frickin’ parka when you walk out in the morning. Last May was one of the wettest on record, and it had the effect of depressing everyone’s mood. You were either cranky or morose. I don’t know how people in Seattle do it. I don’t know why they don’t have bulldozers trolling the streets to scoop up the bodies of people who’ve leaped from tall buildings. A cold May is like getting your leave cancelled and your pay cut. But a good June makes you forget everything.

I got my hair cut today, and yes, I realize that signals I have absolutely NOTHING to write about today; fair warning. It was one of those days without qualities or distinctions. But towards the end I had a few Gnat-free hours (a neighbor picked her up from tumbling, took her to a playdate) so I ran to the mall for shearing. Never get the same stylist twice. Never. The last one was a classic Madge in the old wisecracking Lark-smoker beautician mode. This time I got someone who had learned some odd things at the Stylists Academy. There were moments when I wondered just what, exactly, she was doing. The shampoo, for example: at some point it just veered into some odd thumb-based scalp massage. I don’t like to get my hair washed by other people anyway. I generally prefer that strangers keep their hands out of my hair. Particularly if they’ve spent the day with their hands in other people’s hair. It’s not a hygienic thing; I’m not that paranoid. But at some point in all the rubbing and sudsing I want to say but I hardly know you. And if I do know the stylist, then it has a servile aspect to it, and I don’t like that either. Just wet it down, slap on some Suave, hose me down and let’s get snipping. I don’t have all day.

Conversation fell apart after two minutes, alas. I try; I always do, but sometimes there’s a reason why people go into a profession where they look at the back of other people’s skulls. So I just sat there, blind and dumb. I thought: here’s another perk of great wealth. You can customize your stylist. If you want to spend your time smoking a stinky cigar and watching TV, you can do that. If you want to have vivacious conversation, you can audition them. (Or have your staff do it for you.) Or, if you’re a hard-charging Captain of Industry, you have the stylist come in every third day to snip and trim while you bark orders on your headset: Sell nine million shares of Consolidated Twine! Buy Amalgamated Hinge, but don’t pay more than three dollars a share! Any word on that merger between – hold on, she’s doing my nose hairs . . . okay. Where were we?

That’s wealth: the stylist comes to you, or you have a barber chair in your house. If I won the lottery, I’d build a little barber shop. My lottery fantasies always come down to a house out in the western burbs, on a lake, with a vast basement with four wings: a narrow 40s-style bar, a 50s bowling alley, a 30s movie theater, and a timeless old barber shop. Three chairs, Esquire magazines – the old ones with leering Esky – and some ancient combs marinating in Barbicide. I’d hire some kid to come up with a CG loop of a 40s street scene, and project it on screen outside the plate glass window.

And before I went down for a trim, I’d wash my own damn hair.

That’s wealth to me. I say I’ve washed my hair, and the stylist says Yes Sir.

I know I’ve mentioned this before, but when I was a kid I got my hair cut in a hotel barbershop. The Graver Hotel in Fargo. The barbers wore white jackets. A razor strop hung from every chair; there was a hot lather machine on the shelf by the big mirror, a revolving door to the hotel lobby, a big black cash register that went KACHING when you opened the door. The forties hung around long enough to give me a wink before they vanished for good, and for that I’ll always be grateful.

If this keeps up, I’m going to end my days as a holy-rolling snake handler. I wouldn’t join a movement that wanted to add a cross to a public seal. But I am dead-set stone-cold opposed to those who, in this instance, want to take one off. Who worries about these things? Who, in 2004, can look at world where some madmen want to shove a crescent down our throats and decide that the most important thing they’re going to do is take the crosses off the city seal?

The crosses represent California’s history - but of course that’s no defense. History, alas, is full of inconvenient details. History can offend. The mere recognition of a historical truth can offend. Apparently that’s the worst thing you can do nowadays: offend. But it has to be a particular kind of offense. Lenny Bruce was celebrated for offending the right people, and this enshrined the act of offending as some sort of brave stance against The Man, The Grey-Flannel Suited Establishment, the whole Ike-Nixon Axis of Medieval, the straights. Gotta offend the straights or you’re not doing your job. The only function the bourgeouise have is to sit there with their mouths open, Shocked. If they’re having a good time, someone’s not doing his job.

But. Imagine if the seal had two female mythological symbols of Peace and Progress, holding hands, and a religious group sued because they said this was a clear example of the state promoting lesbianism. "But, um, historically and allegorically, that’s not what it’s about." Don’t care! We’re offended! We bleed, you heed1 Take it off! No one would give them a second thought, nor should they. But when the ACLU musters a phalanx of lawyers to erase a historical symbol from the city seal, the burghers quail. The burghers fold. In the end the national anthem is John Cage’s “4’33,” which gives everyone an interval of empty silence in which they can construct their own appropriate sentiments.

Boil it down to this: a piece of paper with the city seal comes down the pneumatic tube. Winston Smith places masking tape over the crosses, picks up his speaking tube. “MemRec insert, city seal doubleplus ungood possible thoughtcrime godsign, new file city seal ungodsign postdate.”

And the crosses on the seal go down the memory hole.

What compels these people? How small are their lives that they worry about this?


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c. 1995-2004 j. lileks