I guess the clincher in the tapestry of motivations that formed my desire to get a bowl cut, was watching Ernest Scared Stupid.
My family watched the Ernest movies the way that diabetics urinate—often.
When, in the year of 1992, we saw Ernest Scared Stupid, I learned that comedy could be blended with horror and mythic tropes to create a satisfying dramaturgical experience. I felt that maybe the filmmaking team could have gone easier on the horror aspects of the film. At the same time, my night terrors needed a shot in the arm. They’d become rote and predictable. The villain of the film, Trantor the troll, was a welcome addition.
I’ll catch you up on details of the plot, as the film has fallen out of favor somewhat:
Trantor the troll has an army of trolls at his disposal. But before his forces can be unleashed to take over the world (?), he has to turn five children into wooden statues and put them in special cubbies carved into a special tree. Standard operating procedure. He almost did this in the 1800s, but the townspeople stopped him, and buried him alive, because they’re heartless bastards.
Ernest’s family was cursed to someday free Trantor from his imprisonment. And guess-what-he-does. He frees Trantor, who immediately goes out and grabs a kid named Joey.
If the people who cast Ernest Scared Stupid were smart, they chose the actor who played Joey, Alec Klapper, because he was instantly sympathetic. He had glasses and a bowl cut, and for whatever reason, I fixated on this kid’s look. I thought that his look would be a good look for me.
It can be hard to find aesthetic models as a child. Especially achievable ones. When one comes along you have to snatch it up and never let go.
The idea of a bowl cut appalled my mom, probably because she’s a woman of sense. When I was eight, I convinced my hairdresser (I had a hairdresser when I was eight) to let give me a rattail. I then went home with a rattail. My mom’s reaction was such that within an hour of getting a rattail I cut it off myself with our orange-handled Fiskars. The point is, my mom was strongly affected by my grooming choices. My bowl cut had the stink of scandal.
Slight digression: the orange handles are important on the Fiskars. They seem to indicate danger. Scissors are sharp. That makes sense.
But it’s weird that the Fiskars people think we need to be warned about the fact that these scissors are scissors. We don’t have to be especially careful around scissors. It’s not like we have to let the scissors know we’re in the same room, or approach them carefully, speaking soft and low. Scissors don’t camouflage themselves in with the knives to ambush you. I don’t know what the orange handles are accomplishing. I like the orange handles, but I can’t claim to understand them. And that bothers me.
Risking estrangement with my mom, I got a bowl cut. I looked in the mirror. I was close. So damn close. But I didn’t have glasses. And that’s when my headaches came to the rescue. My wonderful tension headaches, born of constant reading.
My parents are good people. They were busy people when I was twelve. They also both have professional medical degrees. It took a little while for us to connect the headaches with the reading and to get my eyes checked. I’m not saying longer than it should, since I recognize that part of my impatience definitely stems from how this failure (too strong?) affected my quest for the look I was going for. I had the cargo jeans with elastic cuffs. I had the chambray shirt. I had the bowl cut. How about some glasses, people?
I got the glasses. I put the glasses on. I shook my bowl cut in the mirror. I had done it.
Now, finally, I looked like a kid in Ernest Scared Stupid who wasn’t even the main child protagonist.
At last, I looked like a kid who played a supporting character and immediately got turned into a little wooden statue, immediately, in Ernest Scared Stupid.
Now I could rest.