I got a haircut today. It’s odd, but sometimes these minor events are worth thinking about. I used to love getting my haircut. When I was a kid all you had to do was sit there and they snipped away. I could always hide behind my shy, childhood exterior and no one bothered me. But now that I’m in college I can’t do that anymore. I always dread going to the barber. It’s the cheapest place around (aside from having your roommate do it–and walk away with an Eddie Munster do) so that’s where I go. I think the barbershop, as it’s come to be known in America, is dying. Barbershops used to be friendly places where the old people in the town hung out. Everyone would talk and joke and it was a happy place. Not anymore. Now you walk in and give a brief nod to the barber. He nods at you and the victim in the chair gives a brief nod. Nods all the way around.
When it’s your turn you sit in the chair and the barber asks you how you want it cut. In as few words as possible you tell him what you want and he goes to work. The conversation is basically over. I think all barbers took a class on this. For some reason there’s a tug to be social, to carry on a conversation. But what are you supposed to say to the barber? I just want my haircut. Occasionally you’ll get a talkative barber who shoots questions and you just have to answer them as they come. I usually get stuck with the guy who skipped his Barbershop Conversation class. He asks me one or two questions, and I’m left there awkwardly wondering if I’m supposed to talk.
Barbers themselves are a strange breed. They’re always men in their late forties or early fifties. Never in my life have I seen a man under forty-five working as a barber. Perhaps there’s a middle age requirement for Barber School. They also all seem to be horribly behind the times. Their own haircuts don’t make you feel too good. And they’re always preoccupied with the weather. If today’s weather isn’t interesting enough to talk about, then the coming season is just as good a topic. Is it gonna be a cold winter? Is it gonna be a hot summer? They’ve always heard the right answer, too. Apparently the meteorologist always gets his haircut just before I do.
Today, however, was a strange exception. It started off well and good, I didn’t have to wait in line. Which usually isn’t so bad because there’s a vast array of popular magazines from three months ago. But I knew things were going to get interesting when I noticed the new guy. He looked about forty-five, probably fresh out of Barber school. I gave the obligatory nod and he said hi. I said hello and started to tell him how I wanted my hair cut. The last time I got my hair cut at this barbershop the guy didn’t cut enough off. You see, my hair gets really shaggy when I need a haircut. So the best way to avoid that is to get it cut really short. Then I can go that much longer before the next time, and put off spending the money. The last haircut only lasted me a month, so this time had to be short.
“Cut it really short in the back and the sides cuz it likes to get nice and shaggy,” I explained, “and cut the top so it’s just long enough to comb over.” At this point most barbers give you the nod. This guy took one look at my hair and said, “Oh yeah, your hair’s just like mine. Mine used to get really shaggy like that. No problem bud.” Whoa. His hair was shaved closer than my goatee. That didn’t make feel too good. And ‘bud’?
If this guy was fresh out of Barber School, he apparently remembered his Barber Conversation class. A TV was spouting off to itself in the corner and it mentioned something off hand about Valentine’s Day. Immediately the Barber made a commented how the price of a dozen roses just keeps going up. “Oh, yeah,” I said. I’ve never bought a dozen roses in my life. I said something about not caring too much about Valentine’s Day. It’s a Hallmark thing. He proceeded to tell me how when he was in grade school a newspaper reporter took a picture of him giving a box of chocolates to a girl in his class. It sounded like one of those Kim Anderson pictures that any guy just can’t stand to look at. The picture made it on the front page of the St. Paul paper. For a moment I wasn’t sure if they guy took Valentine’s Day serious and was hurt at my insult. But then he told me how embarrassing it was. Every time he sees the girl now she brings it up. He’d rather forget it.
In the middle of the whole cutting ordeal I checked the progress on my shagginess and asked him to take a little more off. Like a good barber he went right at it. Except he kept telling me what he was doing. “I’ll trim that right down and blend it in and you’ll notice the difference. That should be good.” When he finished I put my glasses on to see how it looked, and he had a few more touch ups to do. “Oh no, you can leave your glasses on. I’ll go right around the rims like this and there we go.”
When he finally finished and wheeled me around to face the mirror I took half a look and moved to get up. “You see I left you with kind of a half part. It was being stubborn and I decided it would go better that way. And see how I cut your bangs with a nice feathered look–not like a mom or grandma just lopped ’em off. It’s kind of the style like that.” I nodded in agreement. I wasn’t sure, but I think he just broke a major rule of Barbershop School: never talk about how you cut hair. Any of the other barbers would have just given me a grunt.
I walked out of the barbershop leaving my winter coat of hair behind, and wondering about the new barber. I’ve never seen a forty-five year old man talk about hair cutting techniques. Yet somehow I smiled. There were relatively few nods this time, and I think I liked it better that way, hair cutting techniques and all.