April 3, 2007

Only recently have I realized what a great thing a haircut can be.  I love to get my hair cut.  Since I’m balding both in front and back, I get my hair cut as short as possible–my current complement of barbers have a special clipper that gets my pate clean and smooth, at least for a day or so when the stubble starts to emerge.

I used to cut my own hair or get a friend to cut it at home.  I didn’t want to “waste” the money on the little I have to work with.  But I’ve reformed.  I’ve begun to think of my haircut at the barbershop as a unique opportunity for human touch and contact, for male pampering, and for a few minutes of rest.

The barber’s touch is firm and gentle.  He turns my collar inside my shirt with a steady hand and wraps tissue paper and then a cape around my throat.  As he cuts off successive lengths of hair, his fingertips hold my head in place; he uses a soft brush to remove the little hairs.  Sometimes we talk a little, but I keep my eyes closed through the whole cut.  I can’t see anything without my glasses anyway.

My favorite parts come at the end.   First, he smudges my neck and ears with warm shaving lather and neatly trims my hairline with a straight razor.  The warm lather always made me feel like a man when I was still an unshaving boy, and now it still makes me feel like a man.  He wipes away the excess lather with a cloth and then shakes the aftershave into his hand.  The barbershop uses bay rum, and it smarts when it hits my bald head and neck, but the barber takes a hand towel and fans the aftershave on my head, which gives both a cooling sensation and a rush of the perfume up and over my face.  After this, with his smooth barber’s fingers, he massages my temples and the crown of my head.  Finally, he puts a massaging-machine over his hand that makes his fingers pulsate.  He rubs down my head, neck and shoulders for a few minutes.

The whole thing costs $14, including tip.  I think I’d go every day if my hair warranted it.


6 Responses to “Haircut”

  1. Dave Bonta Says:

    Great writing. But you left out the whole social aspect of barbershops! (Which has something to do with why I stopped going to the barber, myself. It’s a small town.)

  2. sheepdays Says:

    Thanks for the compliment. The social aspect is the one part of barbershops that makes me tense. I don’t do male small-talk very well. Fortunately, all the barbers at my current place are from Mexico and don’t speak English all that comfortably. I pretend like I can only speak English, and we get along swimmingly and quietly!

  3. Dave Bonta Says:

    Oh, that makes this even more interesting that they’re Mexican! I’m surprised you didn’t mention that in the essay. I can’t imagine a white male barber around here giving a massage as you describe.

  4. sheepdays Says:

    I had originally written this along with a few sentences about how unusual public male-to-male touching is. But it wasn’t quite accurate, since I don’t touch the barber.

    I have the sense that this is a pretty typical Mexican barbershop. So, does that mean that the stereotypical machismo can somehow take a break when you get your haircut in Mexico? I don’t know. The other clientele is pretty mixed–white guys like me but also Hispanics–and the massages are standard for everybody. In other words, it’s not just some weird class or race thing where the poor brown guy rubs the better-off white guy.

    I do know that in upscale, non-Mexican barbershops you can also get a massage like this, but it costs you, and it’s considered a relic from the past.

  5. Matthew Says:

    I remember the place I loved to get my hair cut in downtown Denver, more than ten years ago. It was as you describe, but the barber was white, so I think it is more of an old school thing than a Mexican thing. I was a poor temp doing crap clerical work at a bank, but I loved going to that barber and once even had the shoe shine guy touch up my shoes (big splurge). I remember it was one of the first times I felt like a grown up, which means I felt like I was pretending to be a grown up.

  6. I would agree that it’s probably more of an old-school thing. The exception I would make is for the barbers who learned to cut hair in the military. We had one of these in the town I grew up in. He was anything “gentle” – “firm” yes, “gentle” no. He was the model of efficiency. It didn’t really matter what kind of hair-cut you wanted, you ended up with either a simply buzz or a true crew-cut, straight from the 1950s. On the plus, it was incredibly cheap ($8, no tips accepted) and really fast if you only had a few minutes. You were in and out of the chair in under 5 minutes. And there was basically no talking unless it was about the military or football. Period.

    And somehow, despite all this, the guy has been in business in the same location for at least the last 20 years!

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