Gus and His Hair
Gus didn't have much hair when he was born, but he had some blonde hair. He got his first haircut when he was about a year and a half old. His grandmother gave his hair a little trim while he was playing so he would not notice and get scared. But he DID notice. And he LIKED it. You can see in my notes that he liked the feeling and held very still. As he grew up, Gus had a lot of fun experimenting with hairstyles.
When he was in third and fourth grade, Gus decided he wanted to grow his hair long. He wore it all one length. It was still blonde, but it was getting darker. During his fourth grade year, he came home one day and asked me to dye his hair different colors. When I told him hair dye was terrible for your hair, and if you didn’t like it you were stuck with it anyway (unless you decided to cut it off). Gus responded by telling me that there were hair dyes that were not permanent—they were temporary and washed out over time. They did not, he informed me, damage hair. He told me he knew the names of such hair dyes and that I could buy them at a local beauty supply store in Oceanside—a neighboring town. How he had all of this information, I had no idea.
So we went to Oceanside and picked out some temporary hair dye. He chose purple and green. Once we returned home, I was instructed to make a purple stripe on one side, from Gus’s scalp all the way down to the end of the strip of hair, and a green stripe on the other side. I believe Gus was nine or ten. That was his first experiment with hair dye.
After that, Gus sported a mohawk for a while. This was an intimidating look when he pitched in baseball, but it lasted only briefly. He tired of the hair dye, and cut the hair all off.
Following closely on the hair dye experiment came the real deal: bleach. A couple of months after the mohawk, Gus shaved his head short at the barber shop—a place called Rivoli Barber Shop in Long Beach. Gus loved the special treat of getting a haircut at Rivoli. The barbers were always very kind and gentle with both Gus and Oskar, and Gus especially loved the hot towel around his neck at the end. He just loved that part, he told me.
After his hair had grown out to be about an inch or so long, he told me he wanted it bleached blonde. This was around the time that he had discovered Eminem, and so I believe that may have been a stylistic influence. I warned Gus this was a toxic process, but I went ahead and bought the platinum blonde box at CVS and brought it home. Gus sat patiently on the toilet lid, both directing me not to miss any spots, and holding still so I would not get the acid hair bleach in his eyes. When it was done, he looked fantastic. This look can be seen in Gus’s first and only Swedish passport photo taken in the fall of his fifth-grade year. I thought he looked like a kid Steve McQueen. You can google him if you don’t know who he is. He was very cool and handsome.
Gus typically frequented Rivoli for haircuts and hairstyles in middle school. He had a beautiful widow’s peak, but for a time he had that shaved off into a straight geometric line, and had careful lines cut at the edges of his hair, almost above the ears. The haircut was a real work of art—done with the barber’s buzzer. The gradual “tape up” at the nape of Gus’s neck was another feature of this amazing barber work. (I once tried to cut Gus’s hair with a CVS buzzer, and only made a bumpy lumpy buzz cut which necessitated an immediate clandestine trip to Rivoli. After that, I was barred from ever using that buzz tool again. Even the dog would not permit me near him with that thing.) The barber shop was the main staple of haircuts and hairstyles during middle school. (That was also when Gus got his ear pierced. He wore fake diamond studs—sometimes set in a large square setting. He used pencil erasers—freshly broken off new pencils—for an earring back.)
Beginning in high school, Gus kept his hair short, but became more casual about the hairstyle. He let the hair just grow out on its own and let his widow’s peak return. It was mostly a matter of grow it out for a few months, and then shave it super short. Grow it. Shave it. Grow it. Shave it. He turned his attention toward piercings. He got the other earlobe pierced. He got his nostril pierced. (I took him to a store in Merrick, near where I taught, for the nose piercing.). He may have gotten his lip pierced around then, too.
Once Gus, Oskar and I moved into our own place, Gus had me bring him to get his eyebrow pierced. The man there showed me the sterilized, surgical instruments he would be using on my son. The sight of it made me need to sit down. It made Gus nauseous, too. But he only told me that afterward. He had nearly fainted, he told me. He saw stars. Gus liked the eyebrow piercing. It was simple. Just a silver ball. But after a while, he came home saying he was taking it out. The teachers were starting to give him weird and disapproving looks. He was mad that he was getting dirty looks because of that eyebrow piercing—more than the ears. More than the nostril. The eyebrow piercing seemed to have crossed “the line.” It had turned Gus into someone adults did not seem to like—or want their children to be around. He took the piercing out.
All of these events took place under my supervision. The hair dying. The piercings. I brought Gus to the places. I dyed the hair. I knew who the barbers were. But the first tattoo was done in the garage—by a friend—behind a locked door that Gus would not open until the tattoo was completed. When it was done, Gus took good care of it, covering it with Aquaphor and wrapping it with Saran Wrap, and it healed nicely.
I believe that new and more experimental hairstyles were a natural accompaniment to the ever-growing collection of tattoos Gus began to place on his skin. The skin decoration seemed to overtake the hair experimentation, but it also worked in conjunction with it.
Hair dye and styling took a back seat to tattoos. But Gus would bleach his hair, let it grow, and cut it off short—with a quick trip to Rivoli for a hot towel. When Gus left Long Beach to go to school at Glendale Community College, he had his hair buzzed short. That was all.
It looked like that when he came home on Super Bowl Sunday, February 1, 2015. That year, he pretty much let it grow, looked pretty wooly with his new beard, and had me bleach it. He looked kind of like Taz. I told him that one day, and he picked Taz up and held him right up alongside his face to show how they both looked alike. I got a photo of that.
After that, he shaved his blonde hair off. When it was beginning to grow out was when Gus was getting ready to perform with Schemaposse in Tucson in February, 2016. Gus decided he needed a “look,” and so decided to dye his hair pink. Emma, Ian and I were with him. Emma was pretty good at all of this hair stuff, so she went out to get a pink dye. When she was done with him, Gus was mad. The pink was too light. He was going to shave it all off, he said. He had wanted a darker pink. So, Emma told him to give her another chance. She marched right back over to Rite Aid and got a darker, magenta sort of pink. This time, Gus was pleased. The color was just right. That was the color he performed in at his first performance ever on February 12, 2016.
After that, the hair dye faded and the hair grew. When Gus returned in May, it was a beautiful pale pink on blonde hair.
You can see so many photos of Gus in his many hairstyles. He clearly had fun playing with his style, and fearlessly decorating his body the way he felt like. There had been a moment when Gus decided he would no longer care about the dirty looks—or at least no longer allow the dirty looks define who he could and could not be.
The hairstyles, the tattoos were all part of expressing himself, and telling the world he got to decide who he wanted to be. That self-expression, from nonchalance to “in your face” color and design, was a sign of increasing strength and self-confidence.
I'm glad Gus did all of that.