The Long and Short of It

| 02 Mar 2015 | 04:30

    i had resolved to end my relationship with nick. but after our 25 years together i found it difficult to cut him out of my life.

    when i started seeing nick, he was working near my upper east side apartment. he was tall, with wavy black hair. the first time we met he motioned me to sit and ran his fingers through my hair. after a few clips with his scissors, i knew i had found my barber.

    having a good barber was important to me, as i had been traumatized by the afro i had as a teenager.

    "it looks like brillo," my parents would say.

    they wanted me to get it straightened, and i acceded to their pressure.

    but worse than my parents' disapproval was my friends' reaction to the straightened locks. they called me secretariat (after the triple crown winner), suggesting that my head looked like it was covered with horse hair.

    today i am back to my natural look, which includes a bald spot on top. i am frequently told that my hair is too short, but i can't blame nick. i like my hair cut close to my scalp, lest i become a brillo-head.

    nick has been more than a barber to me. he has patiently listened to me talk about my romantic ups and downs, comforted me about my bald spot and pretended not to notice when my hair started turning gray.

    he even set me up on a blind date. she was a french graduate student studying at columbia. she was gorgeous! but intimidated by her looks and parisian accent, i never called her again.

    "i can't believe you didn't call that girl," nick would say, every time i saw him over the next year.

    a few months after the date, nick's wife was in the barbershop. it was the first time i had met her.

    "remember the guy i told you about, who didn't call the girl? that's him," he said, by way of introduction. still, i felt fortunate to have a barber who cared about my love life.

    i recently let my hair grow so long that several people told me i needed a haircut. fearful that my afro would return, i rushed to the barbershop, but nick had the day off. desperate, i asked another barber in the shop, wilfredo, to cut my hair.

    "short," i instructed.

    he cut it short but made it look long. it was the best haircut i ever had. everywhere i went, i received compliments about my hair.

    i agonized over what to do. how could i look at my bald spot in the mirror again if i gave nick the brush-off after 25 years? i thought of going with the joe-the-plumber look so i wouldn't need to get my hair cut.

    "he'll understand if you switch barbers," said my friend allan, who is obsessed with the godfather movies. "it's not personal, it's business."

    allan was right. after all, nick was a professional.

    when it was time for my haircut, i decided to tell nick about wifredo and i.

    "i heard you got your hair cut by wilfredo," nick said angrily, as i walked into his shop.

    "i needed a haircut really badly, and you were off."

    "you couldn't wait a day?"

    i glanced at wilfredo, his clippers gleaming. then i faced nick, our 25 years weighing on my shoulders, like 1,000 pounds of dandruff.

    with loyalty and vanity competing for my scalp, it was time to decide the fate of my hair follicles.

    "the usual," i said, sliding into nick's chair. -- ben krull is a lawyer and essayist who lives on the upper east side.