You are sitting on the sand at Golden Beach. You are trying to finish a hamburger that your father has cooked—barely—on the hibachi. You are balancing a paper plate on your knees. On the plate next to the pink hamburger, which is oozing juice so red that it looks almost raw to you, is some coleslaw that your mother made, and next to that a handful of potato chips. Hostess, the good kind, from the silver box.
You wipe ketchup from the corner of your mouth and try not to stare at David Huculak’s head.
David Huculak is your older brother Ted’s best friend. They are in high school. It is 1969 and it is the fashion of the day, thanks to the Beatles’ invasion of North American television a few years earlier, that teenage boys have long hair. Well, some teenage boys. Not all parents are okay with this.
Your parents, Duff and Sisu, are fine with it. They listen to folk music and drive his-and-hers VW bugs and subscribe to The Telegram and The Globe and some art magazines. They have books by Irving Layton and John Robert Colombo on their bookshelves and they drink Mateus on Sunday afternoons and light candles. They announced that all three of you kids could paint your new bedrooms whatever colour you wanted when they moved you to North Minesing from Cedar Springs in ’65. And they allow your brothers to have long hair, much longer than yours, and you’re a girl. Some people seem to think that is strange, but your friends have told you in private that they think your brothers are very cool, cute boys. Like, Davy Jones from The Monkees cute. They have also confided that you have very cool, bordering-on-hippie, parents. Almost like having the Mamas and the Papas for parents. Okay, maybe not that cool. But when Duff would get out his guitar and sing “Old Shep” and “Nobody’s Child,” your friends would swoon like he was Bob Dylan. And then of course they would cry (because, as your mom would always say, Those damn songs are so dreadfully sad, and can’t you for once please play something a bit more uplifting, Gordon Duff McTavish?), and then your dad would always crack a joke at the end to stop everybody from bawling their heads off over dead dogs and orphans.
David Huculak’s father does not like Bob Dylan or The Mamas and the Papas, and he does not think long hair on boys is cool. He thinks it’s wrong and stupid and sissy and perverted and embarrassing and beyond crazy and against nature. So he ordered his son David to get his hair cut. Short. And right now, before someone thinks you’re trying to be a girl and kicks the crap out of you.
Your older brother Ted tells your family about David Huculak and the Huculak Haircut War at dinner. Says that despite his father’s ultimatum, David Huculak refuses to get his hair cut.
“His long hair represents freedom and protest and individuality,” Ted says. “He thinks cutting his hair would be like surrendering.”
“Surrendering to what?” you ask.
“You wouldn’t understand,” your brother scoffs, rolling his eyes. He says that to you a lot, and you are never sure if he means because you are too young, or because you are a dumb girl, or both.
“Anyway, we were over there in the basement, listening to records,” your brother continues for the benefit of your parents. “His dad comes barrelling down the stairs and screams, No Son Of Mine Is Going To Go Around With Hair Like A Girl! I Forbid You To Have Long Hair! GET IT CUT Or Face The Consequences! All kinds of mean junk like that.”
You look from your brother’s face to your mother’s face, and then to your father’s. They are eating pork chops and scalloped potatoes and green peas. Neither of them says a word.
“How come you guys let Ted and Ian have long hair, but David Huculak’s father doesn’t like it?” you say to no one in particular.
“How come you’re so stupid?” your older brother sneers. “Don’t you get it? His dad’s old-fashioned and ultra-conservative. He makes them go to church every Sunday. Sometimes twice.”
“Don’t insult your sister,” your father says to your brother. “I think perhaps David Huculak’s father just doesn’t adapt well to change. Lots of social and political unrest out there these days. We’re living in exciting times. Some might call it a revolution. Pass the potatoes, please.”
He thinks his son’s behaviour is wrong and stupid and sissy and perverted and embarrassing and beyond crazy and against nature.
“But… didn’t Jesus have long hair?” you ask your mother. Your family doesn’t go to church, but in all the pictures you’ve seen of Jesus, he has long hair. Plus, nice eyes. “If David’s father goes to church, and believes in Jesus, and Jesus had long hair… why won’t he let his own son have long hair?”
“We don’t really know what Jesus looked like,” your mother says. “All those images in paintings and religious books are imagined, based on how a bunch of WASPs want him to look.”
“Why do hornets care how Jesus looks?” You are stumped by this one.
“Not hornets, honey. WASPs. White Anglo-Saxon Protestants. They want Jesus to be white-skinned and English, like them. Which seems improbable, since Jesus was reputed to have been born in the Middle East, so his skin would much more likely have been black or brown.”
When she was a child, your mother got dragged to revival meetings in Pentecostal tents and was made to enter contests about the Bible, most of which she won because her mother made sure she had pretty much the whole book memorized. Shortest verse in the Bible? Jesus wept. Too easy! Your mother is now a confirmed atheist, and is embarrassed that her mother, your grandmother, watches the Billy Graham Crusades on TV and owns gospel records by Tennessee Ernie Ford and Anita Bryant.
“So… Jesus was a negro? With long hair? Maybe if Jesus was a negro… he had an afro!” you suggest with a giggle, but no one else at the table laughs.
“Don’t be silly,” your mother says. “Even if we don’t agree with other people’s religious beliefs, that doesn’t mean we should make fun of them. We still need to show respect. Finish your peas.”
“Yeah, goofball, you don’t know anything,” your brother says. “Everybody knows they’re not called negro anymore, they’re called Black. Finish your peas… and then go watch your stupid Odd Squad.”
Yes. You have a deep crush on Michael Cole and so you always make sure to reserve the TV from 8 to 9 p.m. on Tuesday nights so you can watch The Mod Squad—about a trio of very cool young adults who had been in trouble with the law and are now working off their debt to society by going undercover to help the police catch bad guys. As long as you get permission from mom before dinner to watch it—and you complete all your homework before it starts—then your brothers aren’t allowed to change the channel to something dumb like Red Skelton or The Rat Patrol.
You actually don’t mind Red Skelton. Clem Kadiddlehopper and the two seagulls, Gertrude and Heathcliff, are pretty funny. And you think that guy on The Rat Patrol is kind of handsome—not the mean enemy German guy who ended up mean again on a soap opera, but the good, rugged sort of soldier whose picture you saved from a pack of Rat Patrol bubblegum cards. But Red/Clem and Sergeant Sam Troy cannot compare to hunky Michael Cole, who plays Pete Cochran on The Mod Squad. So you always make sure to lock up that hour of TV time with the whiny but carved-in-stone insurance policy, “Mom said I could.”
You make sure you do your homework and you make sure you get good grades. You are a good girl who actually goes to the library when you say you are going to the library, except for that time when you and Patsy bought some Rothmans at the Becker’s store, and your mother inquired with an exaggerated eyebrow-raise When did the library get so smoky? and you mumbled something about Mrs. Brown the head librarian being up to three packs a day now because of her son getting tragically killed in Vietnam, as the story went, and why hadn’t he just dodged to Canada like so many of his friends? And you knew your mother didn’t buy the Mrs. Brown chain-smoking guff but she let it go because the rest of the time you are the sort of good girl who looks after the neighbours’ cat when they go on vacation and helps out at the YMCA rummage sale.
Because you are such a good girl, you have kind of a sixth sense when it comes to appreciating bad behaviour and anticipating its consequences. There is something wickedly delicious about the way David Huculak is disobeying his father’s demand to get a haircut. You find yourself rooting for him, wanting him to keep defying his father. You want the long hair to win, even though you know that will lead to further father–son conflict and the possibility of things turning really sour for David. You want him to continue to resist cutting his hair, partly because you think he looks really good with long hair, but also because the not-so-good girl that you keep hidden deep inside most of the time is intrigued about what the punishment might be whenever his old-fashioned church-going mean father finally reaches the Or Else part of his threats.
“It feels like a game nobody can win,” says Ted. But his face is chalk white when he tells what happened on the sixth day.
So you make sure you are always within earshot when your older brother delivers the daily report on the Huculak Haircut War. You want to be right there when Ted comes home with the gory details. Will David be grounded for the summer? No allowance for a month? Will Mr. Huculak grab him by the ear and lead him into the barbershop? Will he cut David’s hair himself with the garden shears? Or will he spare him the public humiliation and give him the strap, in private?
David Huculak comes home five days in a row without a haircut. Each time, Ted reports, his father yells at him to Hurry up and get it cut… or else. David locks himself in his room and plays The Doors really loud.
“It’s starting to feel like a game that nobody can win,” says Ted. But your brother’s face is chalk white when he tells you about what happened on the sixth day: David Huculak walked into a barbershop and instructed the man with the clippers to cut his hair.
When the barber asked him how short, David Huculak said, Right to the skin. That’s right, buddy. Shave it off.
All of it.
David Huculak then walked home to his father’s house wearing a baseball cap. When he stepped inside the door, his father yelled, You better have cut that goddamn hair.
David Huculak entered the living room where his father was reading the paper, removed the baseball cap from his head and sad, You wanted a haircut? Here, dad. Here’s your goddamn haircut. How do you like me now?
David Huculak’s father jumped up off the couch, grabbed his son by the shirt collar and spit in his face. Then he smacked him on the cheek and said, No son of mine is going to humiliate me by going around in public BALD. Get Out. Get Out of My House. And don’t try to come back you goddamn good for nothing pansy ingrate.
You force yourself to swallow the last bite of your hamburger and try not to stare at David Huculak’s head. But you can’t help it. He and your brother Ted are sitting on the floating wooden raft, about 20 feet off shore, dangling their teenage boy legs in the water and calling each other Bolsheviks. Every once in a while they wrestle a bit and try to push each other off the raft.
David and Ted declare a truce. Suddenly David looks up from the raft and catches you staring at him. You try to look away, but you know he saw. He knows. He knows you had been watching him when you were trying not to, trying not to stare at the hot wool Boston Bruins tuque on his head in July. Knows you had been mesmerized by the welt on his cheek that had morphed from a sickly purple into a green that almost matched the stripes on his swim trunks. Knows you were wondering Why the heck did he go and shave his fool head?
Just trying to make a point, I guess, you imagined him saying to you. Not to Ted, just to you.
David Huculak spends the rest of that summer living at your house.
Duff and Sisu had told him he was welcome to stay as long as he needed to. But when September rolls around he doesn’t return to high school. Somebody said they saw him throwing a brick through his dad’s front window and getting dragged away kicking and screaming by the police.
You prefer the version in which David Huculak steals his dad’s car and heads west. Years later you notice a guy with long hair and a Bruins tuque in a coffee shop in Calgary. You’re pretty sure it’s him.
Laurie MacFayden is a poet, visual artist and journalist who has lived in Edmonton since 1984.