Posts Tagged ‘Barber


Shave and a Haircut

MR. VANDERGELDER: I’ve got special reasons for looking my best today. Is there something a little extra you can do? A little special?

JOE: What?

MR. VANDERGELDER: You know, do some of those things you do to the young fellas. Smarten me up a little bit. Face massage. A little perfume water.

JOE: [shocked] All I know is fifteen cents’ worth, like usual. And that includes everything that’s decent to do to a man!

Hello Dolly!, 1964

At my last haircut, my barber made me an offer I regret turning down. He swiveled me to face the mirror, and held a hand mirror to the back of my head to show me the neat shape he’d made at the base of my skull. “Anything else?” he asked.

“Nope. That’ll do it,” I said.

He poked my chin suggestively. “A shave, maybe?”

I noticed earlier that day how scruffy I was looking. I was a little embarrassed, like my careless grooming was an affront to his professional sensibilities. I was curious about what it would be like to get a professional job, but it always seems like an extravagance. My mom always said she could never hire a maid, even if she could afford one, because she’d be too embarrassed to let a stranger into an untidy house. A haircut — sure I’ll pay someone to do that for me. I’d just make a mess of it by myself. But a shave I should be able to handle without help.

“Uh, no. No,” I said.

“Have you ever had a barber’s shave?”

“No. Actually, never,” I said.

“Oh, you should try it!”

But I was in a hurry. I didn’t have the time — even if he’d offered a freebie. And, I noted, he wasn’t offering.

I pretended to consider it. “Maybe next time,” I said.

“Definitely,” he said. It was emphatic. Like we had made an ice skating date or he had invited me over for stuffed cabbage. Like he was looking forward to it. “You should treat yourself every once in a while,” he continued. “And it’s very good for the skin. Opens up your pores.”

A man’s relationship with his barber is a solemn, sacred thing — intimate like a secret, as masculine as pissing your name in the snow. Sometimes it’s friendly, sometimes it’s just business. But it’s not merely a service. It’s a transaction of trust. It takes some letting go to sit back and allow another man to stroke a blade so close to a major artery. It makes that thin line between life and death much more appreciable.

But I admit to having a little bit of a crush on my barber, which can play tricks on the mind. My barber makes a living by laying his hands all over my scalp, my face, my chin and neck. My friends don’t even touch me so much.

Make no mistake, he’s straight. He opened a barber shop, he told me once, because he didn’t want the temptation of a ladies’ hair salon. And thank God, frankly. A gay barber would totally intimidate me, but to daydream about someone off limits is perfectly safe.

He’s not even what I would call handsome. But he has a dark, serious confidence that’s undeniably sexy. He’ll lean in and accidentally brush his chest against my ear. I can feel him breathing close. Sometimes I can catch an improper glimpse up his shirt sleeve at the hair under his arm. The thought of his hands on my chin, my eyes closed, my face steaming and tingling, his quick but gentle hand running that steady razor against my neck, is maybe a little too thrilling.


Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow?

    snip snip

Hanging out this weekend in Philadelphia the night before a rugby match against the Gryphons, one of the Philadelphians observed that New Yorkers seem to be obsessed with gentrification. I think he’s right. Three of us had used the word in separate contexts within an hour, he said.

Living in New York City, how can one not be obsessed with gentrification and rising rents? It’s why I live in Queens, even though we are now under seige. I feel safe in Jackson Heights for now, but we’re worried about Long Island City. Once there’s a Starbucks, all is lost.

The gentrification of one neighborhood in particular has finally hit me where it counts. The hair. My Lower East Side barber has raised his prices so quickly in the last year that I am wondering whether I should reconsider my loyalty.

The liquor store adjoining his barber shop is extending deeper into the little commercial strip it occupies, essentially taking over his space. So the shop has moved around the corner into an empty space in the same complex. Its front door now faces East Broadway instead of an alley between the building and the garden of an apartment complex. They have a new name, a new sign, new mirrors and cabinetry, new chairs, cute new matching cobalt blue smocks, a new flat-screen TV — with cable, by the looks of it — and a fresh coat of paint on everything. And they also must have a new, more expensive lease, because they also have a new price for a basic haircut.

One of the reasons I was so happy with this place was its low price. But this getting to be a slippery slope. For a $9 cut two years ago, it was easy to tip two bucks. When it rose to $10 a few months ago, two bucks still seemed decent. Now that it’s a hefty $12, do I need to tip three? Should I reconsider my loyalty and find a new barber? One invests time and emotion into settling into a trusted barber. It’s not so simple to move on. These guys are neighbors.

The neighborhood is beginning to draw some new commercial tenants. The other day, the barbers were discussing the merits of a Two Boots pizza going in across the street. It’s a welcome addition for those of us who work in the neighborhood and are often at a loss at lunch time. (Hmm… Bagels, pickles, McDonald’s or bad Chinese food?) They were wondering if it would increase business — you know, get a slice, get a cut. Seems a natural combination, right? One guy suggested maybe people would bring their lunch into the shop, or even eat in the chair.

I stifled a gag reflex thinking of hair clippings as pizza topping.

Is our desire for decent pizza and somewhere to go past 6 p.m. going to kill my lunchtime quickies? I guess you have to take the good with the bad.


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.

the untallied hours