He Used to Have a Mohawk

“Mark is a good man,” the best man said, before raising his glass in a toast. “But he used to have a Mohawk.”

The best man’s sentiment was echoed by the maid of honor:

“I like Mark. I found out he used to have a Mohawk, and it used to be blue. I couldn’t believe it. He seems so nice.”

The theme of these toasts, and the conversations that followed was: There may be something wrong with those that wear Mohawks, but not Mark, he’s nice. Throughout the course of the day, we learned that Mark’s Mohawk was blue at times, and that it was spiked eight inches high at other times. No matter what form it took, we were informed, Mark was always nice, and he would always talk to you just like any other feller. Mark appeared to take this all in stride. He either agreed with the sentiment of this theme, or he didn’t hear the underlying condescension. Whatever the case, Mark appeared to miss the associations, the looks, and the reactions that occurred in the days when he used to have a Mohawk.

mohawk-mohicanI was at this ceremony, at the behest of my uncle. My uncle was quite fond of the bride. He did not know the man that used to have a Mohawk however. As such, he did not know if it was an identity crisis that led Mark to cut his hair in such a fashion, or what caused him to get the haircut in the first place. He also did not know the psychology that chased the man after relenting to chop it off to begin mingling with common folk again.

My uncle had only met the man a couple of times, but he assured me that the man that used to have a Mohawk was nice. Based on the fact that my only conduit into Mark’s mind was as unfamiliar with him as I was, I can only draw on personal experience with like-minded souls, when I write that those that will get an attention-drawing tattoo, or a Mohawk, do so with the intent of drawing some attention to themselves. Their goal, I can only assume, is to change the perception of being that person that sits in the corner of a party and leaves such a poor impression that no one recalls him even being there.

To distinguish themselves, these types begin by trying to establish some sort of association. They might start by punching people, or displaying characteristics that lead those around them to believe they have a fiery temper. “Don’t mess with Jed,” they want said, “He’s insane.”  I’ve even witnessed some go so far as to say such things about themselves with the hope of kick-starting such a reputation. They don’t conclude this with “Tell your friends,” but it’s obvious to those on the receiving end that this is the end game. If this doesn’t happen, the plan B of ornaments of self-expression begin to appear, that take the form of physical shouts of “I am here!” from their otherwise anonymous corners.

I’ve heard some with Mohawk haircuts speak of sitting in front of a mirror, for over an hour, to get that hair gelled up just right, to achieve a perception that only an eight-inch Mohawk can offer. The unspoken goal is to get someone, somewhere to look at them. Some may consider them strange, but at least they’re looking. Some will ask questions, but at least they’re asking. Some may even ostracize, but at least there’s some sort of concerted effort directed towards them when they do so.

“For God’s sakes, Helen, the boy’s got a blue Mohawk!” is something that a senior citizen may say to his wife, unfiltered by social graces. The rest of us whisper for fear that a Mohawk may feel further estranged, but in my personal experience, they love it all, as much as I think Mark did, in the days when he used to have a Mohawk.

“It turns out Mark has a great heart, and he would,” the best man would say to complete the circuit of the clichéd best man toast, “Give you the shirt off his back.”  At one point in his toast, the best man said that he “Was attracted to Mark, because Mark used to have a Mohawk. And it wasn’t one of those flat, more acceptable Mohawks either. This one was spiky, and eight-inches high. It was even blue at one point. This was a Mohawk!”  

The best man laid a deft, joke teller’s emphasis on the words ‘was’ and ‘Mohawk’ for the purpose of punctuating the joke. Laughter did make its way around the room. Polite laughter. There was nothing raucous about it, because there was nothing raucous, shocking, or rebellious about Mark anymore, sans Mohawk.

Men with sensible haircuts now felt so comfortable with Mark that they felt free to laugh at his Mohawk days without fear. They feel like they are laughing with him now, and he had to sit there and take it. He was nodding with silent vulnerability in his proverbial corner of the room. His nod had an unspoken ‘yep!’ to it that suggested Mark either regretted losing the Mohawk, or for trying it out in the first place. My money was on the former.

In the years that have occurred since this wedding, I’m betting that he still tells those people that ask him how he’s doing, “I’m an old, married man now, but I used to have a Mohawk”.

The ceremony that preceded these toasts was, indeed, unorthodox. Yet, one look at Mark and his bride, Mary, should’ve informed the observer in attendance that they were, at the very least, in for something unorthodox, but most of the observers were unorthodox too. The church we were in was unorthodox, and it appeared to have seen its best days thirty years ago, but unorthodox can be quaint, and quaint can be romantic, and colorful, and the best way for two people to express their unique, and unorthodox love for one another in a quaint, and memorable way.

If you were there, and you put forth any effort at all, you found that unorthodox nature, and you gained an appreciation for what it was, and you gained a grasp on the individualistic statement Mark and Mary were making with one another. There was something unique and beautiful about the ceremony, and something that influenced you to think about the individualistic statements you might want to make in your own ceremony. If you went through any of that, and I must admit I went through all of it, your appreciation ended when two singers stepped to the mike stands positioned at the side of the altar.

The songs these two teenage girls chose to sing weren’t Gershwin or Schubert. The songs were as hip and nice as Mark and Mary wanted the congregation to believe they were. The songs were informal, and the best way Mary had found to express her love for this man that used to have a Mohawk. The songs were also terrible.

A song in a ceremony should be added to provide your wedding group a brief, abridged interlude to the overall theme that the bride and groom are trying to establish in their ceremony. The best case scenario, learned by way of the contrast available in Mark and Mary’s ceremony, is to condense those songs to the meaningful lyrics, or the meaningful portion of the music, that the ceremony architects hope to capture.

Most architects of a ceremony would be well-advised to focus on song’s refrain to establish some familiarity with the audience, but these same architects would be well-advised to avoid including the entire song.

I’ve been there. As an enthusiastic music fan, that regards some songs in the manner some view religion, I have some songs that I regard as staples that define me. I’ve fantasized about using them in my ceremonies, so that my friends and family members are provided a window into my soul. Common sense has prevailed upon me the logic that this might not be the time, or the place, to proselytize on the virtues of the undiscovered, aberrant songs I enjoy.

Mark and Mary had no one to offer them such objective perspectives, and we were all forced to listen to songs that these tone deaf, teenage girls sang in kitschy, wonderfully amateurish, and endearing, and embarrassing manner. It didn’t work for this disinterested third party. I can’t sing, and I do have some empathy for anyone attempting to do anything artistic in a public forum, but this display made me cringe.

“But, it was sung from the heart,” a sympathetic listener might have said, to give this rendition of whatever song they sang endearing qualities. ‘Fine,’ I would reply, ‘keep it under two minutes.’

“But this was Mark and Mary’s ceremony,” I can hear others saying, “Even if it was unorthodox, it was unorthodox to your conformist orthodoxy, and who put you in the seat of professional critic? Get over yourself man!”

The two girls sang their second song, ten minutes in. It was as painful as the first. It interrupted the flow of the ceremony. It was agony for those of us that didn’t know Mark and Mary. It took the moment Mark and Mary were supposed to cherish for eternity and altered it into an early segment of American Idol for all of us to try and avoid becoming frustrated, mean-spirited Simon Cowells.

Humor with a Haircut

There were risqué moments in the reception too. The father-in-law turned an old, iron, fold out chair towards himself. He scooted it across the room, so he would have a scandalous view of the bride when the groom removed the garter from her leg. “You should be embarrassed,” the groom that used to have a Mohawk said to his father with good humor. We all laughed in a polite manner.

 “I should be embarrassed?” the father says. He’s aghast. He’s winking. “I thought Mary would have the decency to, at least, wear some under garments.” 

We all laughed in a polite manner. We were all polite and bored.

During the garter portion of the ceremony, Mark removed the garter and shot-gunned it to the one person in the room that didn’t want it. Hilarious. Boring. We all laughed in a polite manner. Mark did this after having everyone line up for the flinging of the garter. He laughed after breaking the tradition of sending it to those lined up for it. His laugh was a little too obnoxious, to give the moment a sense of obnoxiousness it lacked.

It was one of those jokes that seems hilarious, and obnoxious, in those impulsive moments where we’re dying to do something different, but they don’t often play out that way. I assume it worked well in the retelling however. “Remember when I flung the garter to Rick?” Mohawk man would say afterwards to rewrite everyone’s memory of the moment, “I only did it, because I knew he didn’t want it.”  Not even the bride could work up a decent smile at the time, and the contingent of prospective garter recipients went back to their seats without smiles.

While immersed in the crickets chirping response to his joke, I wondered if our reactions to these jokes would’ve been different had Mark still had the Mohawk. If a man with a Mohawk rebels against pedantic rituals in a pleasing manner, are those with sensible haircuts so grateful that he didn’t go so over-the-top with his rebellion that we find his pedantic displays of rebellion pleasing to the point of laughter? Whatever the case, this current version of Mark, with a sensible haircut, couldn’t make such a moment funny. He was a fish flopping out on the dance floor for all to watch in silence, while he yearned for the reactions he used to receive when he used to have a Mohawk.

Bereft of Brevity

The groom cried during the wedding ceremony. He was so shook up that he couldn’t maintain his composure while reciting his vows. The evidence that he wanted to cherish this moment was so palpable that all but the cold-hearted were moved by it. It suggested that Mark may have been digesting the idea that it might be possible to move past all that he had been through, and everything that had led him to getting a Mohawk in the first place, and all that happened as a result, if this moment went just right.

How many chances in life does one have at such moments, and what do we do when they arrive?  This moment was stolen from Mark, in a symbolic manner, by two four minute songs that the bride selected for this ceremony, to ostensibly make the moment even more seminal than it may have been otherwise.

The bride, the groom, and the priest had been forced to stand up there like jack asses, staring at one another while those two songs dragged out to four minutes each. Four minutes may not seem long, unless you’re the one stuck up on a stage, trying to make more of this moment than it might otherwise have. The effort and emotion Mark put into this moment suggested to me that he may even exerted such effort if he still had his Mohawk.

Less is more when you’re looking for a moment, I realized, watching all of the moments fail to accumulate into something seminal. A seminal moment occurs when you’re engaged in a moment, and no amount of choreographing will move it there. You can try, and you shouldn’t be so tied to the “less is more” principle that you do nothing, but as you continue to add moments in the hope of achieving the seminal, you begin to encroach upon a tipping point.

That tipping point may never become apparent to you, but if it ever is, it will probably arrive soon after the moment it’s too late to change anything, and the only people that will learn anything from it will be those that witness the fact that brevity allows all participants to define the beauty for you, and with you, through the contrast of your efforts.

When our moment is taken away from us and defined by others, we try to take it back. Cheesy, choreographed lyrics about tenderness, togetherness, love, and always being there for your partner, appear beautiful and purposeful on paper. In reality, they’re show stopping, moment-stealing, and over-wrought ideas that you regret later, even if you refuse to admit it. You’re left trying to disassemble and reassemble your moment in any way you can, until you’re left with nothing but tears of frustration at your inability to relive those seminal, life-affirming moments when you used to have a Mohawk.

Feedback: The knee-jerk reaction to this article is that I’m making fun of those that used to have a Mohawk, but to those people I suggest that we all used to have a Mohawk. Whether it be an actual Mohawk, that frayed jean jacket that felt like that perfect projection at the time, or the Ocean Pacific T-shirt that said I belong, or I don’t belong “Look at me!”  Have you had an image that you’ve grown out of, and pined for in those quiet moments when no one is looking at you anymore?  Do you ever think about those days when you were so insecure that you found security in something that led you to feel included, or excluded from them in a manner you preferred?  What was it, what did it gain you, and do you still have mixed emotions about it?    



6 thoughts on “He Used to Have a Mohawk

    • Thanks Dan, how is the editing process going for you? Is it as grueling as the others you quoted in your blog described, or is it the labor of love for you that it was for me when I did my last novel? I think you hinted at that in one of your blogs, when you wrote about seeing all the ideas you came up with and how that was so exciting. Refresh my memory.


      • Early days, but I’m enjoying it so far. The first pass of chapter 1 didn’t yield a huge number of changes, probably because I rewrote that a few times before I moved to my ‘don’t edit at all while drafting’ approach. I know chapter 2 is going to need some brutal cropping – there are at least 1000 words of exposition in there that I’m sure I don’t need now.

        Fun times!


  1. Pingback: Let Your Freak Flag Fly! | Rilaly's Blog

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