I’ve been going to this barbershop for the last 11 years or so. My original barbershop, where I got my first haircut as a child, closed when Wayne retired and moved himself to Florida to chase the widows and lonely old spinsters. Wayne was a man of the late 1970’s, open shirt and gold chain, finely trimmed beard and mustache and a slightly smarmy attitude toward the fairer sex. His barbershop was riddled with rather misogynistic posters and printed sayings all over the walls. There was one poster of a small boy of maybe three or four years old looking under a woman’s short skirt with the words, “Seeing is believing” written underneath. The small boy’s face is one of shock and awe mixed with curious desire. Wayne’s was the first place I ever saw a pornographic magazine. It was Penthouse of course; Playboy surely wasn’t enough to satisfy Wayne’s tastes. My father and Wayne laughed and laughed when they saw my face as I looked at the graphic depictions of sex in Penthouse. They thought it was hilarious and yet never took the time to explain what the hell was going on in the torrid pictorial. It was a den of men and manly things. Wayne’s Barbershop was for dirty jokes, for validation of male superiority and relaxation. When it closed I was a bit lost on where to get my haircut. I had always gone to Wayne and now I was like a babe in the woods, with too much hair.
That was when I found my current barbershop, Vince’s Barbershop. It is run by an older Italian man. At least I think he’s Italian. I’m not really sure, but his accent is almost comically Italian. It’s the stereotyped Italian accent we’ve all heard from TV and movies for our entire lives. Yet, he says very little. He’s diligent about his work and once a haircut begins there’s almost no talking. It’s something I actually like. There’s absolutely no pressure to say anything at all. There are no dirty jokes flying around among the male patrons as they wait their turn in the chair. There are no sexist posters on the walls; there isn’t anything on the walls other than the hours and days of operation. There are no dirty magazines left out for anyone to grab. The rattling of newspapers or Popular Mechanics pages are mixed in with the sound of the TV which is tuned to that station that broadcasts reruns of shows from the 1960’s. It’s a peaceful respite from everything else in the world.
The sun blasts in through the large picture window at the front of the shop and fills the bare storefront. There are four unmatched chairs on one wall and three other unmatched chairs on the far wall. They are big, classic heavily stuffed metal legged chairs that only seem appropriate in a barbershop. The walls are white. There are two barber chairs that face the seats in the waiting area, but only one is in use. Vince is the only barber on site. They are old barber chairs and have seen better days. They are so old that they still have ashtrays in the arm rests. I can’t imagine smoking while getting a haircut, but apparently there was a time.
I walked in on Saturday morning expecting it to be crowded with post New Years and Christmas patrons waiting for their first haircuts of 2015. It was empty however and Vince was sitting on a large pillow he had placed on one of the waiting area chairs. He was watching the old TV show station and eating grapes.
“I thought you’d be packed this morning,” I said as I walked in and hung up my coat and hat on the coat hooks along the wall under the clock.
He got up from his seat and put his pillow and grapes away in the small back room that must make up the office. I’ve never seen what is back there so I can only assume it’s an office. Wayne’s had an office in the back area so I can only assume that all Barbershops have a back office of some type.
He motioned me to get into the barber chair, which was pretty well covered with the gray hairs of the previous customers. I blew some of the hair off and sat down. Vince washed his hands in the sink behind the barber chair and wiped them off. Vince is an older man, he has a gray buzz cut hair style himself, he has thick glasses with a thin frame perched on his nose, and he wears the classic barber’s jacket, which looked like an old dentist’s uniform. Vince’s barber shirt is covered with black and white pictures of razors and combs and clippers and other tools of the haircut trade. He is short and has to lower the barber chair a bit so he can reach most of the heads he is to barber.
Vince knows how I like to get my haircut. I haven’t had to tell him how to cut my hair since the first week I went there. #2 on the sides, square in the back, a little off the top, thin it out if need be. Nothing too complicated. On very busy barbershop days he can knock out my haircut in about 15 minutes. This Saturday, since there were no other customers, he could take his time. It’s a funny thing about the barbershop. There are no appointment times, no scheduling for the next haircut. Men just walk in, look around and sit in the next available seat. There is simply a known order of who came in first and the succession of men that followed. The first guy gets his haircut, and then the second man that entered the barbershop is next, followed by the next man that entered. It is the patron’s responsibility to know who was in the place before them and to follow accordingly. It’s a silent organization that men just automatically seem to follow. Depending on the number of men in the place, dictates how fast or slow Vince will cut your hair.
This Saturday Vince could take his time. He put the paper apron around my neck and tucked it in to the back of my shirt and then he draped the larger apron over me. He grabbed his clippers from the back wall and with a very delicate touch moved my head forward. It’s a very simple touch and I know what it means. It’s like a dance and you know what each touch means in order. A touch to the right side of the head means tilt your head to the left, to the left and your head tilt right. It’s very simply but when a haircut is done in the same order every time it becomes a finely choreographed event.
Vince is not talkative. He goes right about his work. There’s just not much to say. He’s there cutting hair, I’m there getting my haircut. It’s not even just me who says nothing. The majority of the patrons that do come in on the busy days say very little too. There’s just nothing that needs to be said and I think that’s why I like it so much. There’s a pure simplicity about the act that does not need to be commented on. It is what it is. It is just a quiet place to be at peace with your thoughts.
Vince was about halfway through my haircut when his cell phone started ringing. I’d never heard his cell phone ring before. I’ve heard the old store phone ring but never his personal cell phone. He put down his scissors and answered his phone, leaving me in a head down position.
“Hallo,” said Vince.
There were mumbled, incoherent sounds from the other end of the call. It sounded like a man’s voice but I couldn’t really tell.
“So-a you will-a be by Sunday,” said Vince, “Ok, ok, so if-a you come in da morning I-a make you waffles.”
“Waffles?” I thought as I sat in the chair, still in my lowered head position. “Vince makes waffles, how curious”.
“So you-a think… so-a by nine you-a will… by-a nine… I make-a waffles,” said Vince, “yeah, waffles. Yeah. Yeah. Waffles. I make-a for breakfast”.
I lifted my head up a little bit as my neck was getting tired. We were out of the normal choreographed synchronicity of the haircut dance now. I smiled a little bit though since I’d never heard Vince say anything other than how business was doing, that he was going to be out of town for a week on vacation or to have a nice day. Now I was hearing about his desire to make someone waffles. In fact, his insistence on making waffles.
“Ok, ok. So tomorrow… ok, ok, so I will have-a de waffles ready. Ok. Ok. Bye,” said Vince.
Without word or other comment about the call he touched the back of my head and I obediently lowered and he returned to cutting my hair. It was as if nothing had happened. His affinity for waffle making would go out there in the universe without any comment or judgment. It was just part of the air of the barbershop, like the episode of Gunsmoke on the TV or the cars roaring by on the street.
It was then that something strange happened. It was something that hadn’t happened before in the numerous years of my patronage.
“So-a how are you,” asked Vince, “still looking for-a work?”
I was shocked that he remembered I told him that I was looking for a job about a year ago.
“Yeah, I’m still looking for a job. Yeah,” I said.“You-a think it’s-a getting better for de jobs,” asked Vince.
“I think so. I mean, unemployment is down to 5.6% this week,” I said.
Vince stopped cutting my hair and took a step back from me. I looked up at him and was shocked as he looked at me.
“You-a actually believe that’s-a real,” said Vince with an amused scowl.“Well, I don’t disbelieve it,” I said.
“You-a know that’s-a not-a real number,” said Vince.
“I know they don’t count those that have fallen off unemployment, but I think it’s pretty fair,” I said.
“That’s-a no real number,” said Vince.
I smiled and nodded. I realized, after all this time, all the haircuts, all the peaceful silence, that Vince was a hard core Republican. Vince, the Italian immigrant, was at his base Republican through and through.
“This-a guy, this-a President, it’s-a no real number,” said Vince as he shook his head.“Well, I guess we’ll just have to see,” I said.
“Yeah,” said Vince.
He returned to cutting my hair. We didn’t say much of anything else through the rest of the process. We performed our usual dance. He used the hot shaving cream and straight razor on my neck beard. It is my favorite part of the process. It’s soothing and calming and has on occasion almost made me want to doze off right there in the chair. Vince made quick work of it and after a trim of the eyebrows and a brush through the top to make sure my part was straight, he spun me around to the mirror to review the work.
It was the same as it always was, trimmed, neat, and square.
“Looks good,” I said.
Vince spun the chair back around, used the barber brush to wipe the loose hairs from my neck, took off the apron and shook my graying hairs to the floor.
“Okay,” said Vince.
I put on my coat and hat and paid Vince the $13.00, plus tip.
“Okay, you-a stay warm,” said Vince.
I exited the barbershop and went to my car. I was still thinking about Vince though, more than I have in the past. Usually I’m out the door and on my way doing the things that my own life requires. But today I was sort of baffled by Vince; my waffle loving, republican barber. It was a glimpse through the crack of Vince’s life and made me think of all the other keyhole cracks we see in people every day, even those we’ve seen hundreds of times. There is always something left to surprise us and the world is imminently larger than what we just see before us. Plus I had a powerful craving for waffles.