Jeffrey L Brown
Once I conceded that my wife is the better day-to-day decision-maker, we rarely have any disagreements. She wanted us to adopt a dog. I thought it would complicate our lives, but I became a convert. Now she complains, “You don’t look at me the same way you look at the dog.” Next, I traded my sports car for an SUV because my wife said, “It is silly to own a car with a stick-shift.” She never drives my car, but she was right. The automatic transmission is easier to drive and there is more room for the dog. Then, I stopped wearing my favorite golf shirt because, “The green color reflects off your skin and makes you look sickly.” Right again! No more green shirts, and my doctor says I look healthier than ever.
So, it was no surprise that she came to my rescue when Vinnie, my barber, shuttered his doors and retired to a warmer climate. “No problem,” I thought. I only want a generic medium-length no-frills haircut and minimal conversation. Unfortunately, all the local barbershops had morphed into unisex salons. I ignored them because they reminded me of “beauty parlors” where women of my mother’s generation had their hair cut, colored, and curled before giant drying-hoods swallowed their heads like aliens in a sci-fi movie. The name-change did not fool me. Beauty parlor was marketing hyperbole. Looking-better-parlor would have been more truthful and less stressful for the operators – but maybe not so good for business. Salon implied sophistication. Unisex meant that men could wander in too.
So, when my wife learned I was searching for a barber who would give me a boring haircut, she referred me to a nearby salon. She told me with a straight face they have a barber named Amanda who cuts lots of guys’ hair just the way they like it. I had a premonition this would not end well. My barbers had always been named Tony, Richie, Nick, or Vinnie – a.k.a. Anthony, Ricardo, Nicholas and Vincenzo when they worked in salons. None were ever named Amanda! And, there was no striped barber's pole at the shop’s entrance.
The salon’s waiting area was populated by two wet-haired women and one sheepish-looking man with a towel on his head. Instead of the traditional narrow storefront with dim lighting and hard barber-chairs, it was spacious, well-lit, and featured pastel colors and contoured lounges. High-quality speakers played comfort music – a definite upgrade from Vinnie’s counter-top radio that played Yankees baseball, operatic arias, and Golden Oldies. And, Amanda’s cute pants outfit was a clear winner over Vinnie’s side-buttoned dentist shirt that barely covered his expanding midriff. The strong scent of perfume brought tears to my eyes and itching to my nose. But my biggest complaint was the slippery pink-nylon smock – management’s version of prison-orange that discouraged me from making a quick dash to the street.
Mandy (her preferred name) offered me a cup of coffee. A nice touch except for the little hair clippings that swam on the surface like tiny amoebae. I broke the conversational ice with, “Please clean up my hair a little and don’t cut it too short.”
I liked my barber Vinnie because he seemed like a really nice guy, but I knew nothing about him. I would say, “How’re things goin’?” and he would say, “Good.” End of conversation. Mandy immediately chronicled details of her complex love-life, summarized local gossip she said was confidential, and described medical symptoms that are too embarrassing to repeat.
My head was spinning from all this information when she tilted my chair backward and gently massaged my temples with warm soapy water. I closed my eyes. This seemed unexpectedly intimate. “Why are you doing this?” I whispered. “I can give you a better cut when your hair is wet,” she said softly. “Okay,” I whispered. At least I knew that her hands were clean. When I was catapulted to an upright position, I stayed very still and very alert because Mandy waved her arms while talking and her scissors were pointed at my right eye. My hair was sprayed with enough lacquer to withstand a tropical storm and she asked what I thought. It was hard to see through the mist, but I thought she cut it too short. I dutifully replied, “It looks very nice.” Then I paid a bill that was twice what Vinnie charged, over-tipped her, and went on my way.
Not admitting defeat, my wife had already scheduled the next haircut at a different salon – this one with an Asian motif. She warned the manager about my haircutting proclivities in advance. The Caucasian operator never spoke. A brightly colored pseudo-kimono offset her stone-faced expression. She bowed while motioning me toward the well-padded chair. I nodded. Once I was seated, she bowed again, and I nodded again. “I just want my hair cleaned up a bit,” I said. “And please don’t make it too short.” This time, she bowed and I nodded in unison – a good sign. I tried to relax. The earth-tone décor was pleasant, and I already knew the salon-routine from my first experience. But then a young Asian lady presented me with a wooden bowl of steaming-hot lemon-scented towels that had no obvious purpose. Not wishing to offend her, I removed each steaming towel by its edges and tossed it from one hand to the other hoping to avoid a trip to the hospital's burn unit. Their green tea was garnished with the traditional hair clippings and the music sounded like ocean waves crashing onto a beach. An excellent choice because my shirt was soaked from a minor mishap during the hair-washing ritual. After 20 minutes of snipping-combing-snipping-combing, the kimono-lady massaged my shoulders with her knuckles. When she held up a mirror, I was too distracted by the welts on my neck to notice that my hair was the same length as when I entered. “It looks very nice,” I said. Then I paid the expensive bill, over-tipped the stone-faced lady, and returned to my car.
It was time to take the initiative and deal with any negative comments from my wife later. I spoke into my phone using a military command voice. “Okay Google,” I said. “Directions to nearest barbershop.” I was in luck. Google said Tony’s Barbershop is only 4.6 miles away with light traffic. I recognized it immediately by the familiar barber’s pole and an old-fashioned sign that read, “Tony’s Barber Shoppe.” I peeked through the window to confirm that the shop was narrow, dimly lit, and had traditional-looking barber-chairs. There was even a table-top radio and I could hear it playing Yankees baseball. I sighed and took a deep nostalgic breath before entering. When I opened the rickety door, a little bell tinkled to summon the barber from a back room. “Hi,” the 20-year-old said. “My name is Britney. How can I help you?”