Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Salon - Conversation - Eye Contact + Men = Barbershop

Prior to yesterday, I had unwittingly denied my sons a fundamental experience of boyhood. The barbershop.

They’ve had plenty of haircuts. Sadly, these haircuts were done in salons. You ask if there is a difference here and, in response, I ask you where you’ve been the last fifty years. You then ask if I answer all questions with another question to which I reply that is none of your business. Let’s get back on topic.

To go to a barbershop is a completely different experience than a salon. The reason my sons went to a salon was convenience. There wasn’t a barbershop that we knew of close to home. One day they really needed haircuts and we passed a salon near the house who advertised they cut children’s hair. That was it. It became pattern. It became what we knew.

For some reason, most salons are closed on Mondays. My boys really needed haircuts, so we ended up discovering a barbershop in the neighborhood that we hadn’t noticed the first time around. It was open, we went in.

Immediately, I was met with the smell of shaving cream and talc. This took me back.

This was certainly not the barbershop I went to as a kid. There were the old design, comfortable barber chairs, but they weren’t patched with duct tape. You could smell the clean, refreshing scents without any burnt coffee or cigarette smoke. The multiple flat screen TVs were in direct contrast to the old black and white monster I remember squinting to try and watch, my barber walking over to move the antenna around, swear and then punch it several times during each haircut. There was no table covered with old Playboy magazines to keep my sons away from. The tile floor looked clean. It did not seem that if the barber spilled a cup of coffee on it and wiped it up, a far truer representation of the original color of the linoleum which had been hidden under dirt for some twenty years would emerge. The furniture all matched and featured bare metal accents, rather than looking like it was picked up that day at a garage sale. Despite it lacking all these elements from my younger years, there was a definite manliness to the whole thing that was lacking in the salon.

We were greeted by the shop’s lone occupant who was standing near a barber chair, watching sports on one of the TVs. In a salon, you would have a designated receptionist to smile and take your name and assign you a stylist. This gentleman turned and did not smile nor did he seem particularly happy or upset to see us. He simply asked two things.

“Haircuts?” And then, “Who’s first?”

This was decidedly more friendly than the suspicious, silent stare I’d receive from my barber. The way he looked at you suggested he was worried you were going try and shoplift while you were there. What there was to take, I’m not sure. Maybe one of the combs from the jar of blue liquid. Maybe the week’s worth of hair clipping from all around my feet. Perhaps a portion of the aforementioned Playboy collection. Who knows?

While my boys took turns, the barber said almost nothing to them, just instructions on how to tilt their heads. There was no asking if they liked school, liked their teachers, liked Spongebob. There was no telling them how handsome they were going to look with their new haircuts. There were quick, surgical-like movements and accuracy and, despite the mop that existed prior to sitting in the chair, a close-cut, clean head of hair was on each boy as he descended from the chair, not more than ten minutes after having sat down. Then a little talc was put on a brush and the back of their necks were attended to in proper fashion. Furthermore, when going to the counter to pay, the prices were far more reasonable than at your average salon.

This was the way I liked my haircuts. There is no need for pleasantries. This is not a social call. Men don’t get their hair cut to have fun. This is business. A silent, stoic barber, to me, recognizes and respects efficiency and results in this process. You came in for a haircut and that’s what you’re going to get. It’s going to look good and it’s going to be over fast. You can watch the TV while you’re here, but when you’re done, get out so the next guy can get in and out just as fast as you did. Such is the code.

After walking out, I knew we would be coming back here for their haircuts from this point on.

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