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Photographs by George Sakkestad

The Great Mullet Hunt

A trek through the urban wilderness of Silicon Valley reveals a sad truth: the Tufted Mullet is indeed an endangered species

By Kelly Luker

THE ONLY SOUND disturbing the still night air was our own shallow, excited breathing. My hunting partner, George, and I walked softly through the San Jose Arena parking lot, wincing as a twig snapped loudly beneath a carelessly placed step.

We froze, praying that we would not be discovered.

By now, of course, the legend of the oddball haircut has reached epic proportions. At one time, or so the old-timers say, the short-on-top, long-on-the-bottom hairstyle was so plentiful it threatened to darken the skies and plains of an '80s America. One could not visit a watering hole, nor channel-surf past MTV or TNN, without bumping into the overbred mullet.

What happened to the vast herds, the thundering hooves of a million proud, beer-swilling, head-banging mullets? No one knows. Over time--perhaps a decade or less--the thriving mullet population dwindled to near-extinction. Haircutters refused to cut it. Men clinging to the long underhair of their youth simply decided to whack it off. It is precisely this scarcity that makes tracking the cagey coiffure such a thrill.

Chuck Oliver
Photograph by George Sakkestad

Chuck Oliver, operator of the Miami Vice-era downtown hot spot D.B. Cooper's, maintained a well-tended mullet for this 1982 shot.

OUR NERVES are like overwound viola strings. Besides the ever-present danger that the startled mullet can present to the unwary stalker, George and I are faced with yet another pressure--to provide proof that mullets actually exist in Silicon Valley. They have become the fodder of urban legend, with sightings aplenty reported by friends of friends. Apparently unretouched photos of mullets appear often on the Internet and they are still known to roam freely in East Texas. But Silicon Valley?

So far, we have failed miserably. On another evening, we waited patiently at one of the mullet's reputed rutting grounds, a country-western bar. While form-fitting Wranglers and poodle-frizzed perms were gathered in abundance at this cavernous country music venue, mullets were MIA. Undaunted, we continued tracking our prey at other watering holes--Toons, the Mission Avenue Ale House, the Voodoo Lounge. Lady Luck merely smirked.

Everything rides on tonight, on the ability of decoys such as the once-mulleted Sharks to coax out our skittish prey.

It seems like hours that we spend furtively dashing from behind one protective covering to another, hoping for just one glimpse of the mighty cut 'n' curl. We are close to tears of frustration when George silently nudges me.

There, less than 50 feet away, stands a magnificent specimen. "Holy William of Cyrus!" I exclaim reverently. Indeed, he is a noble specimen. His hair tumbles past perfectly moussed tufts down below his proud shoulders to a fiery mane of gold. Like a bad soap opera or a good soft-porn movie, everything else fades into a hazy, gauzy background. There is only now. There is only the mullet.

We move cautiously, praying that our low, soothing voices and steady hands will prevent the skittish beast from bolting. His nostrils flare at our approach but he holds his ground.

Patrick Simmons Doobie Brother Patrick Simmons sported this mullet in the 1980s after trimming his trademark waist-length locks.

Photograph by Dan Pulcrano

HE SAYS HIS NAME is Ralph, that he has had his hair like this since he was 37. We are too dumbstruck to ask his present age, but guess that it is several years past 37. Ralph admits he keeps his hairstyle like this for work.

As I keep Ralph talking, my trusty partner pulls out his camera. A tragic mistake. Ralph shies from the cold metal's glint, refusing us permission to take a photo.

There were other mullets that night. Mini-mullets, faux mullets, semimullets; none that could compare with thegrandeur of Ralph. Yet without proof, we leave feeling no better than the Area 51 kookballs. Who will believe us?

We have heard there is another promising mullet grazing ground, which we'll be visiting soon. We've heard that many of them like loud motorcycles and musicians that favor Spandex. This is all good information. Whether any of them will approach the splendor of Ralph, well--I don't hold out much hope.

A mullet like that only comes along once in a lifetime. And seeing it, listening to it and talking to it will just have to carry me through the hunt for the rest of my years. And Ralph, wherever you are, just two words: conditioner, conditioner.

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From the January 18-24, 2001 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2001 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

For more information about the San Jose/Silicon Valley area, visit sanjose.com.

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