The guy that usually cuts my hair wasn’t in today. I always wait for him when I go in. Not because he’s a particularly skillful barber, but because of an awkward moment that happened the first time I went to that barbershop.
I had gone in for a haircut after a two year hiatus. For one year I shaved my own head for reasons that I could never really articulate. At the end that experiment I just stopped cutting my hair. I had never had long hair before and being a married guy in his mid thirties with a stable job I couldn’t think of any reason to not take the time to see what I looked like with long hair.
One day having observed the inescapable conclusion that I looked like a homeless person with long hair I impulsively chopped it into what resembled a shoulder length Rachel.
Obviously I couldn’t walk around looking like a tranny who couldn’t afford hormone pills, so I headed down to the Southside Barbershop. I chose that shop because I knew the guys that worked there were the tattooed rockabilly type and I hoped they could do something interesting with my hair.
When I got there I found two barbers with customers in their chairs and a couple waiting on the side. I sat down and read the comics from the eviscerated weekday newspaper. After a few minutes one of the barbers got my attention and invited me up.
Upon arriving I had already selected a barber in my mind. The other guy had a great beard. This guy, the one ready to cut my hair, was mostly bald with a wiry and patchy beard. Usually I would prefer the barber with worse hair as I assumed they cut each other’s hair and I’d want the guy who did a good job and not the one that did a bad job. This guy didn’t leave me much to work with. They both had beards and I figured the rules were reversed for beards. So I wanted the guy with the full lumberjack beard not Wiry McPatchyface.
So I said, in a manner that I hoped would hint that this was a long standing tradition, that I was waiting for the other barber, Tom.
“Oh, ok.” Wiry said and sat in his chair. I looked at the other two guys waiting.
“Do you…” I pointed, Vanna White style, toward the chair.
“No, ” said one, “I’m just here to hang out.”
The other guy shook his head. “I’m waiting for Tom.”
“Oh.” I looked back at Wiry who was sitting directly in front of me. I wanted him to know it wasn’t because I thought he was a bad barber. My mind raced and in a moment of cringe-inducing fail it settled on: “I, uh… I just think he has a better beard.”
“Yeah.” Wiry said. “That’s ok.”
We all sat in awkward silence until another customer came in the door and got Wiry busy again. Finally the door chimed. It was the mailman. A few painful minutes later the door chimed again. The guy looked at the three people waiting ahead of him.
“Is there a long wait?” he asked.
“No,” Wiry said, “I’m open.”
“Oh, I was…” the man hesitated. “I usually have Tom cut my hair. Are you all waiting for Tom?”
The guy ahead of me said yes. I considered changing my plans. I didn’t have a real reason for waiting for Tom before but now that everyone else was insisting on it I felt like I might be on to something. I nodded.
“I’ll come back later then.” The man said and left with a wave. Wiry went outside for a cigarette.
Since that day I’ve been committed to Tom’s craftsmanship out of sheer social awkwardness.
Today, however, Tom wasn’t there. Wiry was thankfully busy with someone else. Not wanting a repeat of my first visit I immediately accepted the invitation of a new barber I’d not seen before.
After getting through the first pass on my overgrown head the new guy, let’s call him Ponch, noticed my forceps scars. I have two small bald patches on either side of my head that stem from some aggressive forceps work by the doctor who delivered me. They’re not particularly noticeable and most barbers have seen them before. Ponch, however, seemed new to the razor.
“What’s this man? You have a big scar up here.”
“Yeah,” I replied, “there’s another on the other side, too.” Ponch looked and confirmed this.
“What happened, man?”
“I was shot.”
“No way! For reals?”
“Yeah, it was a through and through. 9mm.” Ponch’s eyes grew wide.
“How’d you not die from that?”
“The doctors say it was a miracle.” I said. “It was a first for medical science. My brain actually ducked.” Ponch looked confused. “They don’t even know how it happened, but I had an MRI and the doctors could see some stress marks where my brain ducked to avoid the bullet. It only had to go down about an inch or so.”
Ponch put a finger on each scar and considered the trajectory. He whistled. “Wow, you were lucky. Who shot you?”
“My dog.” I said. Ponch stopped clipping. “She was scratching at the door of an old farmhouse we had rented in Vermont and knocked over a gun display. Apparently one of the guns was loaded and fired. It hit me right there on the skull as I was bending over to put on my shoes so I could take the dog out. My wife found me and got me to the hospital.”
“Oh my god,” Ponch said, “What happened to the dog?”
“That was the saddest part.” I said, “She felt so bad about what happened that she stopped eating. Would just sit by the back door and whimper. The day I got home from the hospital she had thrown herself against a bookcase until it came down on top of her and killed her.”
Ponch blinked. He finished my cut and I paid him, thanking him for doing a great job. A new customer came and settled in Ponch’s chair as I left. As the door closed behind me, I could hear Ponch saying, “Man, you have to hear about how the last guy got shot in the head!”