Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Good Hair(cut)

With a deeply saddened heart, I have to admit that at the tender age of twenty-seven, I am prematurely balding. I blame my mother. What I cannot blame her for is my inability to handle relating to Black people when I was younger. As in- complete inability to have a conversation with Black people. It's a total mess, but that's for another day. I digress.

Issues notwithstanding, I don't handle the brunt of my hair maintanence, and ever since I was in the Army, I would rather patronize a barbershop than take a blade to my own head. Now, growing up in the area that I did, the only places that I could go for a long time was a Supercuts, and that's something that I wouldn't wish upon anything else. However, I moved around a lot, and after a while, I managed to find a few that fit the bill.

Keep in mind, I have only seen real barbershops in television and movies up until I was well into my twenties, so I looked for Black-owned whenever I could. I felt odd walking into anything else and asking for a fade. It just seemed... wrong. Even when I was living in Phoenix. I couldn't place the feeling, but it wasn't a good one.

The one time that I did, I frequented a particular place that was White-owned, not that it mattered. They were friendly enough, but I would go in for the same thing- a straight razor to my head and a simple trim to my beard, and half the time, it was either underdone, or he would cut me. I was young, and figured that everyone had to deal with that while the barber got used to their hair, but after a couple more times in his chair, I realized that he wasn't getting any better, and I never went back.

It took another three years before I was able to find a Black-owned barbershop, and boy, oh boy, was it something else. It was run by two twins who used to work for the original owner, then got enough to buy it from him later. At first, it was really nice, but as to my aforementioned awkwardness, when the place had any other patrons inside, I was not able to strike up a conversation with anyone. They all just seemed to be on a different wavelength than me, but the real issue was that the place was a cacophonous mess. It was freaking loud. And stank of several different kinds of food, and strange people were walking in and out constantly.

I stopped going there, too. Ice Cube movie it was not. I wanted the feeling that Cedric the Entertainer's character was talking about- a sense of community. That
was not what I got. What I got was an assault on the senses, a feeling of unease, and a half-assed, overpriced haircut. I tried another in an adjacent city, but soon thereafter took to taking care of it by myself.

I later left Phoenix for the DC area. Rife with Black-owned business, and barbershops all over the place. I picked one relatively close to my home, and with a huge smile that I dared not wear on my face, stepped over the threshold to a real-life barbershop in a Chocolate City, and- immediately wished that I hadn't. Everything that I hated from the Phoenix barbershop was even worse here. The television was so loud that I had to yell to to find out who was open. The stink of food was so heavy that it threatened to kill my appetite for the rest of the day.

I finally settled with one barber in particular. He was fast, courteous enough, and didn't smell funny, so I was already paying attention. However, he was prone to rush, which I thought that I could counter with tipping better, because he was worth it, and when I made the mistake of sitting in another barber's chair, I was less than happy with their work. It didn't help. "Seriously?" I thought to myself, "How did that not work? That works with every single establishment in the States. You pay extra for a service, they do more to deserve it." I didn't get it. Until I did. I was a sucker. I was trying to show my appreciation, and he thought that I was praising him for his "good" work.

It came to a head in two parts; first, I came in early, and told him that I was in a rush, as I had somewhere to be, and I was a couple weeks past my last shave, but I could still wait for him to see me. He had a long queue of people waiting, but he said that he would do what he could. When you normally tip someone 50%, that is code for, "you just hopped the line". What he apparently meant was: I'll get to you when I get to you. I would give him the little polite "I'm here, don't forget about me," wave between customers, just to make sure that I wasn't lost in the fold.

It wound up being an hour and a half, and when there was a break in the line of customers, he walked out! Just draped the cape over his chair, grabbed his cellphone, and walked right out the door. It got better, because when he got back, he grabbed another patron who walked in ten minutes earlier, and walked right past me. I told him that I was waiting, and really didn't have much more time, and he replied, stating that he had forgotten about me! I stood there in the middle of the shop, partly embarrassed (mostly angry), yet still, somehow, managed to maintain my composure enough to gather my book (which I had nearly finished), and walk out without a word. I remember him calling after me, telling me that he could see me the next day. I tried really hard not to reply. It would have been fun for an instant, but there were children present.

A week or so later, I was chatting up a good friend of mine, and consequently, the person who got me to see that barber in the first place. I was asking about his shave, because it was way sharper and nicer than usual. I inquired if he was still going to the same barber, whom for the sake of expediancy I will call "Ralph". "Oh," my friend sucked his teeth. "That ." He then confided in me that he no longer goes to him. His story was eerily similar to mine. He is also a heavy tipper, expecting that the repeat patronage and substantial tip would garner improved, or at least consistant service, yet in his story, he was also in a rush. He only had about an hour and a half, yet wound up spending two hours waiting for a cut, and when he was finally sitting in the chair, Ralph rushed throughout the entire shave, and my friend had to tell him to go back and fix it twice. When time came to settle up, he realized that he was bleeding from both sides of his mouth. He paid him less than a third of the cost of a cut, and walked out. Hasn't been there since.

I was horrified. I could understand being busy, but such an amateuristic display wasn't just shameful, it was embarassing. If it was an isolated occurance, I could understand, but seeing that it wasn't just

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