Fresno, Calif--My buddy hadn't seen me in three or four months. His San Francisco Bay Area hipness oozes from him like cologne, and when I opened my door, he looked at me with a critical eye.
"Cool," he said approvingly. "You look just like Luke Perry."
I've never been surfing, I don't drink and drive, and as far as I know, my last shopping mall appearance didn't include hordes of screaming women.
"The sideburns," he replied. "They're cool. You look like you're in the cast of '90210.' "
Beverly Hills, that is. Swimming pools. Movie stars. A high school populated by people from the pages of a slick fashion magazine.
Ah, the sideburns. Well, I stammered to my friend, they really weren't completely my idea. You see, the woman who cuts my hair . . .
It all started three or four haircuts ago. The stylist was doing her monthly battle with my meandering cowlicks when she said casually, "You know, if you grew your sides a little longer it would look really nice with this cut."
"Hmmm," I said. I wasn't sure. Who cares about sideburns? Isn't that just too trendy?
"I'll think about it," I promised.
The next morning, electric razor blazing, I started to make my usual run up my cheek. And then I thought, why not? I brought the blade down half an inch.
Next time in the stylist's chair, she nodded and smiled. "Looking good. A little longer, and we'll get you down to the middle of your ear."
I didn't even argue. It was obvious I needed a strong hair figure in my life. Next morning, the electric razor dropped another quarter of an inch.
Next haircut, she smiled again. "We're getting there," she said.
I began noticing sideburns on other men: That guy has 'em to the base of his ear. The man in the car next to me needs to keep his trimmed.
And I watched an episode of "90210," the show that has shaped a hair generation. I didn't pay much attention to the socially significant plot; I looked at sideburns. My first question was: How do these so-called "kids" on this show manage such full sideburns? When I was in high school, most guys' attempts at facial hair resembled the wispy undergrowth that sprouts up in a forest after a major fire.
My second question: How do they keep them so close? The actors probably get a touch-up every day from professional stylists. Not everyone has that luxury, which is why the mutton-chop look probably evolved in the first place.
And the most important question: Should I grow mine as long as the guys on the show? I was still only halfway down the ear. After all, I'm in the "real" business world; I'm not bucking for a date to the prom.
Haircut time again. I felt daring, ready to be told to go all the way. But the hairdresser didn't say anything. Finally, I brought up the subject.
"Mmm, well, I think they look fine," she said.
I was almost disappointed, but I am not one to argue with my shampoo shaman. Halfway down the ear they stay.
And not a word from you, Luke Perry. It's not like I'm trying to imitate you, or anything like that. But please don't even think about getting a perm.