Friday, October 6, 2017

Vaudeville at the Barbershop

I got my hair cut today.  This happens every so often.  Probably not as often as it should, to be honest.

For one thing, as a middle-aged white guy what happens if I go too long between haircuts is that I slowly begin to look like Benjamin Franklin, which was a difficult act to pull off in the 18th century and an impossible one to pull off now.  Franklin had some very interesting habits that don’t make it into the standard fifth-grade civics textbooks, let’s put it that way.  I’d probably be arrested.  On the other hand, though, he lived to a ripe old age and had what can only be described as a fascinating life, so maybe?

For another thing, it had been so long since the last haircut that when I went in to see if my favorite barber was there it turned out that she had left some time before.  This meant I had to break in a new one, and I never really know what to say when they ask, “How would you like it?”  Umm, shorter?  Try to make it not look like a comb-over?  More of the same only less?  So mostly I end up saying things like, “See if you can make me look good.”  And when your new barber is a fairly hip young man, perhaps he can be forgiven for trying his best to make me look like a fairly hip young man.  That’s what looks good to him, really.

I have never been hip, even when I was young and cared.  It was a valiant effort, though.  You have to give the guy credit for that.

So now my hair is much shorter than it was and I no longer look like Ben Franklin adapted for the 21st-century stage.  I’m much cooler, literally if not really figuratively.

What I love about going into real barber shops – as opposed to salons or chain hair-cuttery places – is that they always have something of an edge to them.  They are not polite places, and you either laugh along with people busting your chops and give back what they throw at you, or you go somewhere else next time.

The first real job I got after I graduated from college was as a residential counselor in a home for delinquent teenagers.  I lasted three weeks before I figured out that this just wasn’t for me.  But one of my favorite experiences while was there was taking one of the kids - a young African-American man - to get his hair cut.  I was the only white guy in a black barbershop, and those guys thought my pasty suburban self sitting in their shop was just the funniest thing they had seen in weeks.  It wasn’t mean-spirited, but it wasn’t gentle either.  And even as the subject of much of it, it was funny.

Today there was a guy a couple of chairs down from me jawboning back and forth with his barber while I was there, and it was all I could do not to fall over laughing, which would have been bad considering there was a guy working on my head with multiple sharp-edged tools at the time.

“How come nobody ever says babies are ugly?!  Some babies just ugly!”

“You ain’t never gonna say that about no babies.  Give it up.”

“Naw, man.  If my own kid was ugly, I’d come out and say, ‘That is an UGLY baby!’”

“The hell you would!  That baby’s mama kill you right there.”

“But I’d be right!”

“Don’t matter!  You bring in your own son and say he's ugly and you’ll never get a haircut in this place again.  They cut your hair, I quit right then.”

“I would!”

“No dad says his kid is ugly.  That’s what uncles are there for.”


“That’s what uncles are there for, man!  If I’m your brother and you bring your ugly kid in, I’ll be the one tell you that kid is ugly.”

“Oh no you won’t!  I can say that about my kid, but nobody else can!”

And on and on.  Seriously – these guys should take that routine on the road.

You’ll never get this kind of entertainment at the local Chain Hair-Cuttery, no matter how hip you end up looking.

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