Bad Haircut Stories of the Seventies
Two-Faced: Characterization in Bad Haircut
Tom Perrotta’s Bad Haircut is a collection of short stories about Buddy, a boy growing up in New Jersey in the 1970s. In these stories, Perrotta often introduces characters who bear false facades that do not resemble their true selves. Later on in the book, these pretenses are stripped away and the persons’ genuine personalities are revealed. Buddy’s first impressions of Jane, the Weiner Man, and Sharon are very different than their true characters.
Although Jane Pasco appears to be a normal and balanced teen, her home life reveals that she is very overworked and stressed. At the beginning of one story, Buddy sees Jane as a normal girl with an average life. Buddy remarks “The Pascos? They’re the Average American Family?” (Perrotta 174). Buddy sees Jane’s family as the quintessence of ordinary. They literally achieved the title of most average family and everything appears to be splendid. As the story progresses, however, Buddy discovers that Jane’s life is anything but ordinary. After Mike, Jane’s boyfriend, broke up with Jane, he realized his mistake and “started pestering Jane, calling her every night, leaving presents by her locker, and generally making a spectacle of his misery. It turned [Jane] into a nervous wreck,” (167). Jane is not really the happy, regular adolescent that America sees. She has a man stalking her constantly, the pain of an emotional breakup, and Mike’s suicide attempt on her conscience, causing her great anxiety. On top of all of her social struggles is her home life, which is riddled with problems. The factory where Jane’s father worked “shut down without warning. He spent a few months looking for work, then go depressed and settled in for the long haul in the living room couch. He…sometimes threw tantrums…She was rushing home from cheerleading practice to cook dinner for her father, Matt, and Pam, and then spend another hour cleaning up,” (170). Jane has a mountain of responsibility, much more than the average teenager, that taxes her physically and mentally. Jane’s father is a boorish bum whose unemployment causes Jane’s mother to work arduous hours and her brother is an acidhead who needs constant care. As the book advances, Buddy discovers that Jane and her seemingly mediocre family are not the normal family they appear to be.
Similar to Jane, the Wiener Man seems to be a joyful, loved hero, but in reality, he is a sad, lonely man. When Buddy first sees the Wiener Man, he appears to be a larger than life figure: “The Wiener Man towered over his opponent…The Wiener Man was taller than the yellow umbrella on the hot dog stand” (5,10). These initial impressions display Buddy’s awe at finally seeing the great and mighty Weiner Man. However, Buddy’s brief glance does not equate to reality. “Up close you could see that the Wiener Man was not as tall as he first appeared…He wasn’t the Wiener Man anymore. He was this normal-looking guy” (8,15). Once Buddy gets a closer look he realizes that the Weiner Man is not a “superhero”. He sees that Mr. Amalfi is just an average guy. And not only is the Wiener Man just a plain man, he is also a sad, lonely one. The Wiener Man himself exclaims “It seemed like a fun way to live…zooming down the highway…Happy?…I don’t know about that… It gets kind of lonely sometimes” (18,19). Buddy sees the Wiener Man as a fun, free, man traversing the country. In reality, Mr. Amalfi lives in a cramped trailer and has to journey from town to town in solitude. The Wiener Man is a dejected and deserted man- not an esteemed hero.
Likewise, Buddy discovers the reason for Sharon’s peculiar personality and family life once he delves deeper into Sharon’s past. Buddy notices how timid and agitated Sharon is when she first moves to his school: To Buddy, it seems as if “She just appeared out of nowhere…Skinny, bird-like girl with watchful eyes…She ate by herself…She was lonely” (181,182). Buddy has no idea why Sharon is quirky and has difficulties trying to find out. When Buddy asks Sharon why she moved, he gets no response. He begins to see more signs as he gets to know her. Buddy asked if he “could kiss her. She leaned against the refrigerator and hung her head. ‘Oh boy’ [Buddy] heard her whisper. She didn’t resist when I pressed my lips against hers, but she didn’t respond” (187). These clues to Sharon’s past hint toward her dark secrets; almost foreshadowing the plot twist ahead. Near the end of the story, the reason for Sharon’s peculiarity is revealed. Sharon explains to Buddy what happened between herself and her friend Lorraine: “That’s Lorraine. She was my best friend…We spent a lot of time together…It happened” (199). Sharon tells Buddy about her sexual orientation. This caused tremendous stress and commotion in Sharon’s family, so much so that Sharon was not allowed to talk to Lorraine and Sharon even had to move. By unearthing Sharon’s hidden history, Buddy reveals the reason for her offbeat attitude and character.
Nothing is as it seems with the Weiner Man, Sharon, and Jane. Hidden behind walls of deception, these characters conceal their bona fide personalities from Buddy until the end of the stories. Jane seems to be an average adolescent with a normal family life, but she is actually severely stressed and overburdened. The Wiener Man appears to be a larger than life hero, but in reality, is a depressed and desolate dude. Sharon’s true feelings and history are revealed once the reader burrows into her past. All three characters mask their true selves behind veils of duplicity.