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The Column You'd Never Expect Me To Have Written

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I was chatting with the National Post's Andrew Coyne and a bunch of others at a party last weekend, and he mentioned a column I'd written for the old Financial Post that drew more response than anything the paper had experienced at that time.

I couldn't remember, and thought it might have been about my dogs -- all Jack Russells, which I get teased about at the Sun because I occasionally suggest good reporters should emulate JRs: curious, fearless, relentless, fun and smart -- but not too smart.

But no, Andrew was thinking of an early column I'd written about cutting my own hair, that provoked a huge, unexpected response.

"Do you still cut you own hair?" someone in the group asked, looking appraisingly at my rumpled head.

"Of course," I said. "The difference between a good and bad haircut is about three days."

While I firmly believe that, it's not quite true that I never go to a barber. I go about once a year to Pat's Barbershop in Leaside where Tony repairs the damage of 11 months of hacking and trimming myself.

Sometime in the early 1950s, my father rebelled against the rising price of haircuts -- from 75 cents to $1 -- and starting cutting his own with a gizmo that was a comb that had an adjustable razor blade. After each trimming he kind of looked as if he had mange, but hair was not one of his vanities. Nor is it mine, perhaps because I've still got lots of it, though it is no longer jet black.

After a dozen years of cutting his own hair, the company that made the gizmo sent my father a gold-plated replacement out of gratitude for his loyalty. My father was inordinately proud of this honour, though my mother was mildly embarrassed at it.

When my father died in 1967, I inherited the gizmo and used it until I ran out of its special razor blades in the mid-1970s. I wrote the company, explained the situation, and wondered where could I buy blades for their gizmo?

I got a rather sad letter back, saying the company had gone out of business, but they'd managed to find a bunch of blades which they were sending me, free of charge and full of gratitude for being so loyal. And God bless my father.

A dozen years later the replacement blades had all been used up, even though I tried sharpening them by honing them on the inside of a glass (as my father did).

I've since tried various replacements, none of which have had the versatility of the original gizmo. Most are quite adequate nonetheless.

The one I use now, is Chinese-made that I bought at a drugstore for $1.50. One side has two standard shaving blades end to end, the other side has one blade for trimming the sides really short.

When they get dull (you can tell because they tug the hair and it kind of hurts) you reverse the blade and you're in business again. Replacement blades are cheapest at the chain of dollar stores. If I'm really careful when trimming myself, the hair looks more or less normal. But if I'm in a hurry or impatient (which is more usual than not), I seem to have curious patches of skin showing through the hair, and I look a bit lopsided.

Yvonne, my wife, is inclined to say disparaging things about the appearance, but I launch into my spiel about three days covering up the difference between a good and bad haircut.

She is rarely convinced, but what do I care?

My family thinks I cut my own hair because I'm too cheap to go to a barber.

It's not that at all. It's because it's quicker and easier. You don't waste time at a barbershop, even though the one in Toronto's Leaside is really efficient and friendly.

When you cut your own hair, it's best to do it naked, otherwise you get covered in strands of your own hair. Naked, you take a shower and wash your head, and use dampened toilet paper to wipe up all the hair that lies scattered on the bathroom floor.

Maybe the above is more information than most people want to know, but if anyone decides to follow my lead, it's good to know before you start.

Back in the late 1980s when I wrote the original column, I discovered from the responses that I wasn't alone in do-it-yourself barbering. That was strangely reassuring.

Ever since, I occasionally find myself looking at hairlines -- especially sideburns -- and wondering if the person has a haircutting gizmo stashed away that no one knows about.

Times have changed, and maybe today no male cuts his own hair.

That I still do, both puzzles and amuses my grandkids -- none of whom would dare risk going to a "barber," but prefer to spend a small fortune going to a "hair-stylist."

They think I'm nuts, while I know they're nuts. Vanity, vanity... The saga continues.