The door creaks open when you come in, and there are 3 heavy chairs, two of which are occupied. This is a place of men, like a hardware store or a pirate ship, a place where people spit and smirk and start sentences with “you hear bout?” The men who cut hair here are made of granite – wide-shouldered, gray-haired, and unbreakable hands with bent fingers.
I walk in and wait next to the old cash register, which is out of commission but stays visible like a relic, a sign that things never really change as much as we press them to. There are caricatures on the wall that aren’t far off from their muses. Magazines that nobody dares to touch sit on an end table between waiting chairs, and a broom hangs on the wall with a tuft of hair from the late-80s stuck to its bristles.
The middle patron leaves and I’m called up. The barber is barrel chested and bald, with a goatee that extends long over his neck. He sports the t-shirt of a local bar, and white New Balances, the type that is customary for men who are equal parts post-50 and exceeding 260 lbs. I’ve never actually caught his name, but I presumed it to be Steve, or Rick, or John, or quite possibly Mike – he probably didn’t want me to know it anyway. He slings a black sheet over me to protect me from falling hairs, and asked me “what’ll ya have.”
“A 1 up to a 2 and a little off the top.” I reply.
He doesn’t acknowledge my request but gets right to work fulfilling it. This is the type of business that the world will miss when it’s gone, the type that is carved into stone, and is without big data, the ability to tell a person what you’d like, and to receive just that. He shaves the sides slim with clippers and doesn’t bother to wet my hair before getting to work on the top.
“Sun coming out today.” He says.
“Yeah, was a hot one yesterday.” I reply, in an attempt at rhetoric that is foreign to me.
“Yesssssir. Gonna be another one today.”
“Yeah.” I say.
He goes about his work; this will be the last conversation we have for the duration of the haircut, and I am completely content with it. He releases the clip on the sheet and is hangs limp over my shoulders. He props a paper towel long-wise on the collar of my shirt, and begins to distribute shaving cream over my neck/hair border. Next comes the straight-blade razor, the kind that they use in cowboy movies, and he edges my hair quickly and proficiently, like he’s done to a million scalps before. The shearing of it sends a current through my spine, an overwhelming adoration for skill and connection. When he’s done, I stand up.
“Don’t you want to check the mirror?” He says, handing me the hand-held mirror.
“Eh, I trust ya.” I return, and I hand him a 20.
“Appreciate ya, sir. Have a great weekend.”
“You as well.” I reply.
When I exit the sun is harsh and the mid-day humidity is at a fever pitch, but I am secure and comfortable from the experience, from the intimacy of it all.
This is the America that doesn’t get screenplay, the type that the rest of the world would be lucky enough to know upon visiting. This is the America that cares and doesn’t have to tell you how much it does. This is where folks put food on the table, and time stands still, and there isn’t any reason why it shouldn’t in a place like this. This shop has never been advertised and it never will. Folks come here because they trust the people inside, and they know that they don’t have to relate to them on a level that is political, or racial, or financial, but that they know they can just walk in and get their hair cut at a fair price. And although it sounds staunch, and genteel, and conservative to romanticize a little barber-shop on America’s main street with a pole that spins red, white, and blue in dimming color all hours of the day, I find it important to notice that little part in us that still flickers and cares about our fellow man, and if the only price of that is $20 and a few minutes out of my day, then count me in for another go two weeks from now.