For those who think reality is pretty dull compared to literature:

Understandably creeped out by the charges against accused TriMet barber Jared Weston Walter, transit officials say the case is among the most unusual they have encountered.

Walter is suspected of sitting behind women on Portland area buses on at least three occasions and quietly cutting and supergluing their hair. He is also a “person of interest” in burglary and additional hair-gluing cases in Clackamas County, and faces similar charges in King County, Wash.

If true, it’s pretty dang strange, even for this nearly bald guy. But unusual?

Actually — historically speaking — no, says Sean Silver, a professor of British literature at the University of Michigan.

Writing from Ann Arbor, Silver e-mailed to say he read my story about Walter on Hard Drive. He thought the case might have a place in a book that he is finishing on the “collecting habits first articulated in the early eighteenth century.”

He writes:

“Alexander Pope’s ‘The Rape of the Lock’ is of course about a famous hair-snipper– the event occurred in about 1712 (can’t remember the exact date, but Sophie Gee has a novel about it) — but there are numerous, if slightly underground, examples since then (including a book by Jan Bondeson about a 1790’s hair thief, and Jack Wood, an 1897 Chicago resident nicknamed ‘Jack the Clipper’). I think most of the stories of modern-day hair-cutters are in the microfilm archives, but there are a few pieces about Michael Howard, the Long Beach, Calif., man known as the ‘Haircut Bandit,’ which are now online.”

Sure enough. A Google search found a couple stories about Howard, a bicycle shop owner who cruised the streets and cased bus stops in December 2001, looking for women with ultra-long tresses.

At Howard’s home, police discovered a thin carpet of hair covering the floor, huge mounds of it on the bed, piles of it in the closet and photos of severed ponytails lined up neatly.

On TriMet, police say Walter was quiet as a mouse as he sat behind a woman on a No. 33 bus on New Year’s Eve, snipping her locks with scissors.

But there was nothing sly about the way Howard — described by his brother as a “family man” (with a carpet of hair?) — approached his victims.

Pope’s lines on the stealthy approach of Sir Plume, for comparison:

Coffee (which makes the Politician wise,
And see through all things with his half-shut Eyes)
Sent up in Vapours to the Baron’s Brain
New Stratagems, the radiant Lock to gain.
Ah cease rash Youth! desist ere ’tis too late,
Fear the just Gods, and think of Scylla’s Fate!
Chang’d to a Bird, and sent to flit in Air,
She dearly pays for Nisus’ injur’d Hair!

But when to Mischief Mortals bend their Will,
How soon they find fit Instuments of Ill!
Just then, Clarissa drew with tempting Grace
A two-edg’d Weapon from her shining Case;
So Ladies in Romance assist their Knight,
Present the Spear, and arm him for the Fight.
He takes the Gift with rev’rence, and extends
The little Engine on his Fingers’ Ends;
This just behind Belinda’s Neck he spread
As o’er the fragrant Steams she bends her Head:
Swift to the Lock a thousand Sprights repair,
A thousand Wings, by turns, blow back the Hair;
And thrice they twitch’d the Diamond in her Ear,
Thrice she look’d back, and thrice the Foe drew near.
Just in that instant, anxious Ariel sought
The close Recesses of the Virgin’s thought;
As on the Nosegay in her Breast reclin’d,
He watch’d th’ Ideas rising in her Mind,
Sudden he view’d, in spite of all her Art,
An Earthly Lover lurking at her Heart.
Amaz’d, confus’d, he found his Power expir’d,
Resign’d to Fate, and with a Sigh retir’d.

The Peer now spreads the glittering Forfex wide,
T’ inclose the Lock; now joins it, to divide.
Ev’n then, before the fatal Engine clos’d,
A wretched Sylph too fondly interpos’d;
Fate urged the Sheers, and cut the Sylph in twain,
(But Airy Substance soon unites again)
The meeting Points the sacred Hair dissever
From the fair Head, for ever and for ever!

Severing the sacred hair from the fair head, for ever and ever? I shudder even to imagine it.

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