My first haircut with Morgan was nearly two years ago, after she won the classic cut category at New Zealand's national barber championships. She worked at a shop just down the road from my office and charged only $35 a cut. She was funny and would never meet my mundane anecdotes with awkward pauses or meaningless catchphrases.
Last year she broke her collarbone, meaning I had to get my haircut elsewhere and I was reminded how awful it is. I normally get cut on a 5-6 week rotation but I was at a ragged and unkempt 10 before I forced myself to visit some guy and was reminded what a big part of a haircut is the caring. I missed Morgan's skills, yes, but also her thoughtfulness, her sass and her upbeat attitude in the face of life's vicissitudes.
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I have discovered ways to accommodate most of my life's needs while in isolation but not haircuts. In that, I know I'm not alone. When I made contact with Morgan a week into lockdown, she told me she'd already received photos of appalling haircuts three customers had given themselves.
I have never considered cutting my own hair - and wouldn't - although I had joked about flying to Australia, which would have been pretty ironic given the country itself is now a joke. What does it say about that country's government that it has allowed hairdressers and barbers to remain open in the midst of modernity's greatest public health crisis? That it's a sewer clogged with immoral and vainglorious political offcuts? Yes - but it's safe to assume history will judge it even more harshly. I like a good haircut and last week I needed a haircut. Now I've had it, I need one even more but does it need to be said that I would rather look ridiculous than put lives at risk? Australia's government, in an astonishing sleight of hand, has managed to do both at once.
One of the many great things about Morgan is I could say that kind of thing to her and she would laugh wryly and agree and then I would tell her my dad was from Australia and she would laugh and say: "It all makes sense now," then we would exchange catchphrases from The Castle, even though I usually hate that kind of thing.
Two months ago, my wife bought a hairdressing set, including cutting scissors, thinning scissors and a comb. She had bought it to give our son his first haircut, which she delivered just before his 3rd birthday, while watching a YouTube tutorial that he turned off a few minutes in and which she couldn't be bothered putting back on. The end result looked great: short and textured at the back, floppy and cute at the front. It really was a stylish haircut; lots of people said so, not just me. Zanna was quite self-deprecating about it. She said halfway through she had become bored and just started chopping, which I guess I should have taken as a warning but I'm embarrassingly in love with her and often miss these signals.
When Morgan appeared on Zoom on the laptop I'd placed in front of me on the kitchen bench, our place was crawling with children. Clara (4) sat on my lap, while Tallulah (6) and Casper (3) snaked in and out of the screen, looking at themselves in the small box in the corner. Later, Zanna would make a big deal about this, as if the presence of the children had been responsible for what happened.
I asked Morgan what her advice she had for Zanna and she said the most important thing was to be confident. She said: "If you do anything with confidence and convince someone it looks good, you're fine."
Things started well. Everyone seemed happy. Morgan, sitting in the kitchen of her Ponsonby flat, gave Zanna tips on how to use my beard trimmer to cut around the back and sides of my hair. I felt smooth bundles of it falling on to my shoulders and lap.
"You're flicking off beautifully," Morgan said.
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After a few minutes, she asked me to turn around so she could see the back.
She said: "Oh, it's looking great already! He's not going to want to come back to me.!"
Zanna kept moving around, steadily, implacably. Her calmness in a crisis is one of the things I like about her and one of the reasons I had been confident this would not turn out as badly as it did.
The first hints of trouble came about 10 minutes in when Zanna said confidently, "The chances of this haircut being even are zero." But with Morgan there, I felt in safe hands. She asked me to turn around again and at least pretended to be happy with what she saw: "It's looking beautiful," she said.
Her body language was so positive, her words so encouraging, even when Zanna started providing increasingly clear signals all was not well. "Does that make sense?" Morgan said after explaining some complicated procedure.
Zanna replied: "Ummmmm."
It took a while to complete the clipper work around the back and sides but when she did, Morgan gave it a double thumbs-up and said, "Go team!'
A normal haircut with Morgan takes less than 30 minutes but 30 minutes into today's cut, Morgan was trying to explain to Zanna she'd left an enormous tuft of hair sticking out the left side of my head.
"Here?" Zanna asked.
"No, further back," Morgan replied.
Zanna moved her fingers further back.
"No," Morgan said, "further back."
"Back here?" Zanna asked.
"No," Morgan said, then put her face in her hands, made a sound of bemused hopelessness, caught herself, picked her head up, forced a smile and said, "We're going great team! We are doing great!"
Zanna cut in the area of the problem and said to Morgan: "Did I fix that problem or not?"
"That looks better," Morgan said, lying, then suggested moving on to the other side, to which Zanna inexplicably replied: "Should I start on the back?"
"We'll get to the back," Morgan said. "We'll get to the back." Then she put her head in her hands and muttered something that was hard to hear but I'm pretty sure was: "This is so bizarre."
I said, "Morgan, you're looking stressed."
Zanna said: "You're looking stressed but I'm getting more and more confident."
Morgan said: "Remember what I said at the start? If you do everything with confidence, it will turn out great."
"It's like using a power drill," Zanna said. "At first you're like, 'Eeeeek! I don't want to do it' and then you start drilling holes everywhere."
Roughly 40 minutes in, Zanna started with the scissors. Morgan tried to give her instructions but I'm not sure how much they were helping. As the first chunks fell thickly past my eyes, Zanna said, "Oh! That's a lot of hair."
Reassuringly, Morgan said, "Not at all!" although I noticed she was looking not at her laptop screen but down at her phone.
"Morgan, are you on social media?" I asked.
"No," she said, "I'm quickly googling how to fix a bad haircut."
She asked me to turn around so she could see the left-hand side of my hair. I could see a big bald patch above my left temple, and two other patches of varying baldness in the vicinity.
"Looks good for me!" Morgan said. "That looks blended!"
For some time, I've been asking Zanna to stop putting our keep cups in the dishwasher with their silicone sleeves still on, because they're not getting properly clean. The last time I mentioned it, rather than apologising or promising to do better, she said, "Maybe you just need to accept it's not going to happen. You've been telling me for weeks and I'm normally a very fast learner." I've thought about this exchange many times since and each time I find it more astonishing: her shameless bestowal on herself a particular quality in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. This is the very essence of self-confidence, and I'm frustrated by the fact it's one of the many things I find attractive about her.
More than an hour after we began, she said: "I've got this really odd tier here that I can't seem to shift."
Morgan said: "Okay, let's have a look."
I turned in my chair and could tell from Morgan's silence and facial expression it was worse than "an odd tier".
I said "Is there a hole?"
Morgan said, "I would go more with: 'Dent.'"
Poor Morgan. Before we began, she had been so excited but I could see the whole experience had sucked the joy out of her. Zanna's commingled high self-confidence and low skill level had rendered her effectively unteachable. She had gone rogue.
Morgan said: "I think at this point it's called quitting while you're ahead. The aim of the haircut was to be shorter and you've done exactly that."
I said: "That wasn't the aim," but I don't think she heard.
She went on: "You have done a fantastic job and don't let anyone else tell you otherwise." She added: "Don't tell anyone else that I gave you the green light to walk away."
For some reason, to who knows what end, Zanna was still cutting. "I don't think I have the patience," she said, inexplicably still cutting. "I think what I'll do is keep cutting it every day. It's very poorly blended on this side and I think I might hack at that tomorrow."
Perhaps to try and stop her, Morgan asked her for a close-up view of my entire head. Zanna picked up the laptop and walked around me.
"Yeah, I see now the dent," Morgan said.
Zanna said, "I'm going to call it a flourish."
I could see Morgan reaching for something positive to say but Zanna's circumnavigation of my head made that increasingly difficult. Eventually, she said: "I would give that a solid four and a half."
"Out of five?" Zanna asked.
"Out of five!" Morgan said. "Yes! 100 per cent!"
Afterwards, I ran my hand over the back of my neck and discovered several patches Zanna had failed to shave. I said, "You missed some bits."
She said: "Morgan told me to do that."
I said, "I don't know what you thought Morgan was saying but I have been having haircuts for a long time and I know there's no way you should be leaving patches of hair on the back of my neck."
Bafflingly, she continued to argue. I asked why she thought someone would want patches of hair on the back of their neck. She didn't have an answer and nor did she care. She continued to insist Morgan had told her to do it. Even in the face of extreme and obvious wrongness, she would not give way. Eventually she said, "Okay, because the customer's always right, I'll do it."
So much confidence, so much self-belief. An attractive quality but not as attractive as humility. Sitting up in bed the next morning, she looked over at me and laughed. "That haircut looks so bad," she said. "I can't look at you." I had never been more in love.