Twenty Dollars and a Hat

A 1938 barber pole, symbolizing the blood and bandages of an ancient trade.  Bloodletting anyone?

A 1938 barber pole, symbolizing the blood and bandages of an ancient trade. Bloodletting anyone?

Going to the barber is a personal thing; it’s one person laying hands on another.  It’s as intimately, clinical as what goes on in a doctor’s office but without the possibility of dire consequences.  Then again, who hasn’t gotten a bad cut in their life and had to deal with it until their hair grew back?

It’s a highly subjective practice driven mostly by selection and comfort levels. Making such a choice is not to be taken lightly; the act of doing so is hindered by age as the ordinary scheme of life takes its destined shape.

People retire, they close up shop, move away; and unfortunately, sometimes they die.  It’s a  human transformation that will eventually challenge all who try to be well-groomed.  So, Saturday morning saw me rise early in the hopes of trying a new shop I’d heard recently opened where my old frequented parlor had once been.  I had hopes that maybe some of the old crew might have returned.

Getting there I saw that it was a Latino shop; a fact that doesn’t immediately dissuade me. While it doesn’t specify that a student must learn to cut all hair types-black, white, whatever-the New Jersey State Board of Cosmetology and Hairstyling requires that anyone operating or working in a barber shop or hair salon in the state be licensed.   Such license has to bring with it some acquaintance with a wide sampling of demographics, doesn’t it?  One would think so.

Besides which, I’d practiced this peculiar type of “hair cut diplomacy”   before.  Like  I said, I don’t have a problem sitting in an other-than-black barber’s chair; or an other-than-man’s chair for that matter.  It’s not the color of the person’s skin; it’s their ability with razor and clippers that matters.  I’ve gone to shops where you find Black barbers, as well as Asian, Latino, White and female.  Today, women make up almost half of the barber workforce.

Since the early turn of last century, barber shops have become places of meeting and celebration rather than the mixed breed, ancient multi-purpose of medicinal as well as cosmetic applications.  It’d be a wonderful thing if we, as a people, could recognize this resource we have at our disposal.  Think of folks of all races meeting at the barbershop, communing together; it’d be the new millennium watering hole, a place of refuge and tranquility.

Instead of a beer summit, the President could hold open meetings with world leaders at the barber shop.  Imagine it: he and Putin talking over their differences, voices muffled because they’re coming through hot towels. This would especially work for Putin, the man’s man that he is.  They’d talk out their concerns; maybe call each other a few names to get something off their chests.  But afterwards they’d come back to the table to work it out; the barber shop has that effect on you.   It could work; who knows?

Of course, like any diplomacy, it doesn’t necessarily have to go right.  I guess that’s why it’s called diplomacy, there’re two sides; yours, mine; right or wrong; success or failure.  I’ve had my share of failures, too.  There’s always the initial distrust, evident in the stares locked on when I go into a non-black shop; even if there are some African Americans in the queue.  And there’re always ways to make a man feel unwelcome.

This particular Saturday, after the  early tension eased, the young brother relaxed.  There’s frequently an issue of communication but trial and error has taught me to be able to say what I expect and the barber was able to give me what I asked for; a nice cut and line.    All in all, I was happy with this morning’s cultural excursion; that is until I went to leave.  I found that my hat was gone.

There was only one other chair occupied and there had been only one other would-be patron inside.  He’d since gone before I got out of the barber chair.  I knew I’d come in with it; I’d taken it off and put it on the chair.  I looked around but didn’t find it and more to the point, no one really seemed to be interested in helping me find it.  Hey, a brick wall doesn’t have to fall on me.  With the going rate of today’s negotiation, I figured I’d gotten off easy with what it costed me and simply chalked it up diplomatically:

  • Never fully trust anyone and expect the unexpected
  • Watch your environment at all times, and most importantly
  • Always, always have an exit strategy

Barber facts from Barber Schools and the New Jersey State Board of Cosmetology and Hairstyling

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