You Can’t Go Home Again, Even With a Mullet
Sometimes trying to reconnect with a younger version of yourself is a terrible idea.
All (good) photos by Troy Manning.
I am, by no stretch of the imagination, the most fashionable man in the world, but I understand that hairstyles, much like clothing, can make a statement about a person.
They can be a time capsule to a different place or encapsulate one's personality—think Sid Vicious in the Sex Pistols, Grace Jones' box-cut fro, or the Weeknd's original flow—and at times they can be personal and have significant meaning to the person. So it was for both professional and personal reasons I decided to get a mullet—the famous business in the front, party in the back cut that saw its heydey in the 80s—to see how it would affect my life.
But I have to admit, it really wasn't for the content. I've always had a soft spot in my heart for this particular 'do. Here's why.
A decade back, when I was a teenager in Buttfuck, Alberta, I was straight-up wasted in some basement with my cousin and my friend Graham. Long story short, we, like good drunk Alberta boys, went into the washroom and gave each other mullets—it was all the rage in Fort Saskatchewan at the time, Fubar being at the height of its success and all. It was a rah-rah camaraderie kind of thing: we looked gross but we looked gross together. My cousin and I only kept the mullet for a short time, but Graham, who we mostly called by his last name—Gabert—was a trooper and kept his. In fact, he kept it so long whenever I think of a mullet I don't think of Fubar, I think of Gabert and that time.
Every small town has a person like Gabert—a man loved by pretty much all. If you got your vehicle stuck Gabert was there, heart of gold and all that. He was a funny, charming guy and loved nothing more than taking his truck places it shouldn't go, or dropping a line into the North Saskatchewan river. Partying with him was a riot.
Some of the best times I've ever had were with that mulleted madman—and despite being a grownup now, I miss those days desperately. In all honesty, since moving from blue collar work, to a job that involves an extraordinary amount of desk work and, on top of that, bringing my ass from small town Alberta to Toronto, well, I've never really felt comfortable. I know I'm not alone in this feeling but I just feel out of place ever since I left home—like I'm wearing someone else's skin and haircut. Maybe it was time to get back to what I know, where I'm comfortable?
All that starts with a mullet.
Chapter 1: The Haircut AKA The Inferno
I met Gabert at a New Year's party thrown by my cousin. Two friends of mine were "working" the door, I cracked a joke at their expense and, in good fun, they, being much larger than me, tossed me in a closet. I was in there for a minute or so when the door opened and into the dark void a tall, skinny figure was thrown. We looked at each other in the dark. "Cracked a joke?" I asked, "Yup" he responded. I gave him a beer which we cracked and cheersed. From that moment on me and the guy were practically attached at the hip. I've had friends for longer, so had he, but I've never connected so quickly than I did with Gabert. We were made to be buds.
As you can probably tell, I'm no stranger to well-meaning stupidity. That said though, I was not looking forward to this story. Have you ever ordered something at a restaurant you thought would be funny but then immediately came to regret it when dinner arrives?
That's what this fucking story was to me.
I was exceedingly bummed about this project when I woke up early to get the cut, but I keep my word and so off to the salon I went. When we got there—I took a film crew obviously—we basically had to talk the hair stylist into going against her instincts to purposefully give me a bad haircut. Luckily for us, we made her sign a form that required her to fuck my whole life up fam, and goddamn did she ever. She officially made me look like a bassist that was kicked out of Loverboy for enjoying too much BBQ.
"This is by far the worst haircut I've ever done, absolutely," Sharon told me and I had to agree for her sake.
As I walked out of that Parkdale salon, I quickly found that having a glorious mullet didn't feel at all like it did back in the day—the teenage social anxiety was there but it lacked any of the fun of being young and dumb. For starters, I was alone in this adventure and took every side eye and every extended stare personally. Secondly, Toronto, unlike small town Alberta, doesn't really view mullets with a subtle grin but with more of a barely hidden grimace. I was in a Starbucks shortly after getting the cut and noticed a pretty girl looking at me and smiling. Well that's nice, I thought to myself before realizing it was because of the mullet. I came to hate the smiles more than the grimaces. The grimaces didn't involve pity.
Adding to all of this is the fact that, in some circles, like the alt-right, the mullet is a goddamn hit. Furthermore, the hairdo is connected strongly to redneck culture which, even though that's where I proudly come from, I can't lie, has itself a pretty strong connection to racism and bigotry. (While most rednecks aren't racists, most racists sure are rednecks.)
Honestly, as a man who is pretty goddamn anxious already about the way he looks to begin with, I'm sure you can tell how the first few days went.I would walk around with my coat's collar popped and scrunch up my shoulders so that people wouldn't look at me. You better believe I tried to avoid eye contact with as many people as I could and whenever someone would question me on it I was quick with a response of, "I know right, so dumb!"
What I'm getting at here is simple, the first few days sucked.
Chapter 2: Pop Tarts and Board Games AKA The Purgatorio
Gabert and I worked two jobs together, the first he got me and the second I got him. The first one, in the lumber yard of a Home Hardware, is when our friendship really took off. It was hard work but we made it fun. The entire time we would be lifting 60 sheets of plywood into the back of the truck bed of some bastard we would try and make each other laugh or talk about what we wanted to do in the future. I remember talking about a possible future in writing with Graham, something I wouldn't actually do for another few years (at the urging of another good friend)— Gabert may have been the first person to ever take me seriously.
Within a few days, however, I was slowly getting acclimated to having a mullet again. I went to a couple sports bars (a mullet's natural indoor environment) to watch some hockey games (a mullet's natural sport) and, at work, I even got a few compliments on it. I think. Still though, I hadn't really gone on a proper social outing with it where I wasn't surrounded by either hosers or hipsters. With great mullet comes great responsibility, so when a couple co-workers asked if I wanted to go out for drinks I jumped at the opportunity to take this puppy out for a night on the town.
On the walk to a fairly new "dive bar" I could tell that while several of my coworkers thought the cut was funny, one or two genuinely didn't like to be seen with me. After some choice comments, I quietly pulled my toque from my pocket and slipped it on for the duration of the stroll with one thought rebounding in my head: This haircut is dumb and I'm a fucking idiot.
There have been few times in my life in which I was more homesick than that moment.
When we got there, I was finally was able to let my guard down and not have the mullet at the forefront of my mind. So we went and had a little party in the back of the bar. It was all going pretty well until someone found an You Might Be a Redneck if… boardgame and, just like that, the shit was on. The jokes came flying—best one being "your hair just told me all lives matter"—and I was forced into taking a picture.
In all honesty, I should have seen that one coming—it's an easy joke after all. An origin story of rural Alberta (really rural anywhere) is fodder for comedy, which is kinda bullshit. Sure, it has its eccentricities but I'm proud of where I came from and who I grew up with—it's what shaped me. In the modern day political climate it's certainly not chic but the rural or small town experience has given rise to many women and men who have not joined the alt-right. I wouldn't trade growing up there for anything.
Chapter 3: "Dirrrrrrtttyyyy mullet, guy!" AKA The Paradiso
One night, Gabert and I decided to attempt to drink 24 beers each in a single night. Neither of us did it, but we made a valiant effort and lied to everyone, telling them we had. Even though we hadn't pulled off the stunt of slamming a flat of beers into ourselves we were still, by far, the drunkest people at the party. We were climbing trees, messing with people's things, laughing like maniacs, throwing shit into the fire—that sort of thing. We were essentially acting like two drunk toddlers. Everyone at the party said it kind of seemed like there were two ragers going on—one with everyone else, and one with Gabert and I. I'd be willing to bet that ours was a hell of a lot more fun.
Now for the final chapter of my mullet chronicle, I thought I needed to take it out into its natural habitat. A country bar.
Of course in Toronto, a country bar is about as authentic of an experience as spending time in a zoo is to being in the wild.
After paying the $14 cover and grumbling all the way up the stairs we were greeted by pure, unadulterated ridiculousness. From wall to wall were people, some in Canadian tuxedos, others in cowboy hats, everyone with a drink in hand. Under all that denim and cowboy hat were a bunch of bankers, social media marketers and ugh, journalists—we disparagingly call these folks urban cowboys where I'm from. I doubt anyone there could change the oil in their F-150 or, frankly, even a tire.
The premise of us, me and two buddies from work, being there was simple: three guys who have no right to be in an urban country bar go to one and hate it. The thing is though, we didn't hate it, we had a fucking blast. We drank a insane amount of liquor, danced on a stage, danced to Smash Mouth (see what I mean about authentically country?) and I rode a mechanical bull. I was home, even if it was the Epcot version of Alberta.
The mullet was a smashing success here. I was getting high fives from people in the bar, a few bought me a drink and at one point a man said, with perfect hoser inflection, "dirrrrrrtttyyyy mullet, guy!" as I walked past. He seemed real. If you make a point of just givin'r and not chatting about politics and race, us country folk are a mighty fine bunch to party with.
The entire time I was singing drunkenly along to country songs which had been seared into my head at youth. "This song is about picking up a MILF," I yelled at my compatriots when "Dust on the Bottle" came on—a favourite conspiracy between Gabert and me. At the end of the night, another tune I knew by heart came on, Kenny Chesney's "I Go Back." The premise of the ditty is that old music can transports you to a time and place (apt, I know.) One of the final verses—"I go back to the loss of a real good friend, and the 16 summers I shared with him, now 'Only The Good Die Young' stops me in my tracks"—hit me right in the damn chest, despite the epic amount of booze ruining my liver.
Except, in that moment, it wasn't home I was thinking about, it was Gabert.
I think of Gabert a lot, because only a few years after we cut our hair into mullets out of boredom, drunkenness and teenage whimsey, he died when his truck rolled on his way to go ice fishing.
He was just 19 years old, the first good friend of mine to die.
I've never really gotten over his death (I have his initials tattooed on my wrist) and when he died I pretty much became a different person. A year after Gabert 's death I had applied to go to journalism school, quit my well-paying job in the oil sands, and left my hometown—probably for good. It's a cliche to say (and I know this because I went to journalism school) but it feels like a part of me died with Gabert—I don't fully know why but my connection to my hometown began eroding the moment he went away.
This mullet was, in a way, a tribute from me in my new life to my former self and Gabert—a notion I made abundantly clear in a drunken Facebook post. This haircut was the closest I was able to get to my former self but I was still an entire era of myself away. Those days are done and there's no going back. In this country bar, I was no different than the urban cowboys. Yeah, it was fun to act as a pseudo-cultural tour guide in an excursion to the past, but that's all it was, a short trip.
I'm different now, and I suppose that's fine. Things change, people die, and situations aren't permanent—trying to raise the the dead in any sense is a foolish game.
Chapter 4: Epilogue AKA The Love That Moves the Sun and Other Stars
Gabert died in the winter. So it was cold when a gathering of us left a cross for him at the location where he hit the ditch. We had a large group— as I said earlier, Gabert was loved— but even with the mass of people, it was deathly quiet. A few moments after the cross went up a little bird flew out of the woods and landed on it, looking at us curiously. This bird meant a lot of different things to the people there. Myself, well, I don't believe the bird was anything but a simple animal coming to check out the fuss, but it was nice. I remember that bird.
As I write this, I actually still have the mullet, I wear a toque most of the time, but tucked up there underneath the terrible thing still exists. I try to explain to myself that I'm keeping it out of laziness or that it's superstitiously tied to a sports team who are finally back in the playoffs (Go Oilers!), but in all honesty though, a much larger part is me still kind of waiting for that moment when I feel close to Gabert again.
There can be a lot said about the power of nostalgia—which Don Draper claimed is "pain from an old wound" and wanting to recapture it—wanting to feel like you once did. Young, obliviously dumb, feeling like you and your best buddy had your whole lives ahead of you. I had hoped the mullet would helped reconnect me to that young version of myself and really, to Gabert.
The experiment didn't work, nor do I think it would have been good if it had. Perhaps it's best to stop wishing those moments to come back and just take them as they are—let them warm you on dark days and nothing else.
Anyways, I won't lie, the mullet always did look better on Gabert than it did on me.
Miss ya, bud.
Follow Mack Lamoureux on Twitter.