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What I wasn’t prepared for when I ditched my shaggy, parted hair for liberty spikes was the huge difference between being the weird, awkward kid at high school and being the weird, punk kid everywhere.

I expected I’d have to go through an intensified version of the usual insults and threats from school bullies, but the second I stepped on the bus it was clear I was going to have to deal with way more attention than I was prepared to deal with. At the time, Princeton, New Jersey, wasn’t used to punk rock hair, so everywhere I went it was the same thing. People turned to stare at me in the halls, at each class I went to, in grocery stores, and grocery stores. I hated it. I wanted to climb inside myself and disappear.

As the days went on, things got more absurd. Random adults stopped me to insult my hair. Old ladies yelled at me from passing cars. Store owners started following me around to make sure I didn’t steal anything.

Soon all the attention caused my embarrassment fuse to overloaded and permanently short-circuit. I just didn’t care anymore. Up to that point, I had never fully been able to shake the feeling that the popular kids were right and something really was fundamentally wrong with me. But after seeing how freaked out people of all ages could be made by a silly haircut, all my embarrassment was replaced by a sense of amusement at how stupid it all was.

I doubled down by dying my spikes fire-engine red which caused an increase in insults shouted from passing cars and two security guards at a mall to eject me on fake claims of a fight that never happened.

Later I buzzed my liberty spikes into a spiked mohawk, causing a bouncer to shove me forcibly in the chest, knocking me out of the Marriot I was walking into. He let me in when I showed him my room key, but he didn’t find the need to apologize.

Surprisingly, it all seemed to have an opposite effect on the jerks at school than it did on the jerks out in the world. All the kids that had previously messed with me stopped. They didn’t embrace me, but they left me alone. They knew how to mess with the awkward, nerdy kid. They didn’t know how to mess with the awkward, punk rock kid. There wasn’t a bully template for it.

I still have a fondness for mohawks, but eventually, I cut it off. Being able to walk around without a lot of fuss is welcome, but I never lost the willingness to face baseless ridicule. I work in San Francisco now so I doubt a mohawk would cause much of a stir, but a part of me is glad everyone was so closed-minded when I was growing up. I don’t know if I could make a comic that really mattered to me if I still worried about embarrassment. Thank god for that silly haircut.

Come back on July 3rd for the next page!