My Barber

Call me a tightwad, but I refuse to spend $40 on a men’s haircut. Changing the color or texture? Sure, I’ll pay for it. (In more ways than one. I am an ugly blonde.) But clipping me from one and a half inches to one inch? Sorry. A specialized skill, yes, but not rocket science.

This stubbornness has gotten me in trouble more than a few times. I lucked out with the nice Vietnamese lady at Cost Cutters back in Minnneapolis, where I paid $12. But sometimes she wasn’t in, and the sub would invariably screw it up. Sometimes if I was feeling adventurous, the nice moustachioed homosexual gentleman (who looked like a non-verbal Mark Twain — he seemed to communicate only with gentle grunts and the reassuring clicking together of his many gold bracelets), at Great Clips one strip mall over, would give it his best. But he usually went too short or trimmed up the back in a weird shape.

Not long after starting my job on the Lower East Side, I found my place. There’s a $9 barber — the least I’ve ever paid — about five blocks away. It’s a father-and-son operation. And typical of many small New York City businesses, these barbers also repair broken watches and replace batteries on the side.

Because … well, why not?

They’re from Uzbekistan, I think, or somewhere in eastern Europe. I once asked the son if they were Russian, and he said yes. But then the next time I saw him, he explained that they were actually Uzbek. Or whatever it was. (I wish I remembered.) So I don’t know. All I know is they are Jewish. Not that this fact is in any way remotely related to barbering.

These guys do a fine job, but they could use a little help keeping the place clean. I’ve seen occasional roaches crawling up the walls or across the sink. But they don’t wash my hair there. So who cares? I’ve seen roaches in my own kitchen, and I don’t shoo visitors away from it.

Plus: It’s Nine Dollars — for a perfectly functional haircut. (Still, it wouldn’t kill them to tidy up a bit.)

I prefer when the son cuts my hair. He’s probably in his mid-20s. Dark features. Heavy, but not fat. Robust. Thick arms and fingers. He was probably shaving once a day at age 13. He remembers me and always says hi when I step in on my lunch break. He does a better job than his dad.

When a bad barber’s chair is free, should I wait for another barber who I trust? Anyone would. It’s common. But it always felt rude to me. It’s just a haircut, and I’m kinda in a hurry, so why fuss? I’m pretty utilitarian about it. If it’s bad, I have my Detroit Tigers cap. And it’ll always grow back again.

The father is a big old bear of a man. When he leans in to cut, his ample belly presses against my arm and he has to stretch to reach. The main problem with this is the fog of body odor that tumbles out of his shirt sleeves whenever he raises his arms. He keeps his brow furrowed at all times, and he keeps his mouth firmly shut in a frown — which is a good thing, because his breath also smells terrible. Sometimes he sighs heavily through his nose, and I catch a whiff. I try to match his breathing so I don’t inhale when he exhales.

He’s quiet, unlike his son, who asks me about work, tells me about the new coffee shop in the neighborhood (right next door to his uncle’s shoe-repair shop — nudge, nudge — I love the Lower East Side), tells me about his sister-in-law who is having a baby. I’m not attracted to him, but I like being around him. He’s so comfortable. I guess I feel safe around him or something.

The last time the father cut my hair, everything looked good at the shop. But when I got back to my office and caught a glimpse in the mirror, I saw that the front part on the left side was about a half-inch longer than on the right. Combed over, as he had done, it all blended. But flat against my forehead? We had problems.

So, I wetted my hair down when I got home that night and took a pair of clippers and snipped a better line across my forehead.

Good as new.

Nine Dollars. What can I expect?

I’m totally going back.


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