Monday, March 14, 2005


Minor crisis

For the past couple of months I've let my normally well-kept coiffure grow to great lengths. So today I called to schedule a haircut.

Narrowly-spread panic ensued when I was told that Jason, my regular barber, was gone. "Gone?" I asked, a frog in my throat. "Yes," came the ominous reply of the receptionist, "he left us about four weeks ago." (And yes, it has been more than four weeks since my last trim.) Where had he gone, I demanded to know. The receptionist professed ignorance, perhaps sensing that I was a customer on the verge of being a former customer. "He just up and left us," she said, vaguely hinting at rumors that Jason had gone to work for his father. No specifics were forthcoming.

This has sparked a minor crisis in my chimney corner. I used to be one of those hapless haircut customers who simply threw my ten or twenty bucks on the counter of the neighborhood cuttery, which more often than not was the kind of place that offered two haircuts for the price of one and threw in a frequent-cut card to boot. But because my former practice was so haphazard, getting my hair cut was always too close to an adventure. Every snip of the scissors brought a wince and a prayer. For about three and a half years now, I've at least known that Jason would be cutting my hair. I could know what I was getting.

But it's not my hair that will suffer most now that Jason is apparently gone. Mine is certainly not a particularly difficult wig to work with. What I'm worried about is going through the complicated process of finding another barber who understands the fine balance between awkward silences and too much conversation. Most people think of the dentist's chair as the most uncomfortable place for small talk, but I've never been good at small talk in the barber's chair either. In my days of wilderness wandering from one neighborhood cuttery to the next, I could expect about once a month to cycle through the usual questions, beginning with "What do you do?" and leading inevitably to "So what are you planning to do with that?"

I suppose the ideal hair salon would be something like its Parisian namesake. But in my personal experience, conversation in a salon rarely rises above the level of introductions to regions of the mind -- unless you already know your fellow salonistes. With Jason, conversation usually did rise above small talk, because our introductions were taken care of long ago. Frankly, I feel sort of like I've abruptly lost touch with a friend I knew fairly well. Of course I wish him the best wherever he has gone, but tomorrow at 1:30, when I drag my hirsute self into Gotti's Classic Cut and mumble about my dissertation, I can't say I won't miss the days when I could get a haircut without having to break the ice.

I'm tempted to close by quoting the first line of the Cheers theme, but I'll restrain myself.

UPDATE: I've had confirmed that Jason has left to work for his father, who apparently sells medical supplies. Jason's replacement is a guy who just moved to the United States a few weeks ago and used to fly helicopters for the Russian military. My appointment, though, was with the owner of the shop. I only mention the Russian because the owner spent the first ten minutes of my haircut trying to talk to the new guy about when he should show up. The questions I was asked during the haircut were, in order: "What's your first name?" and "What do you do?" I volunteered a few things about a new coffee shop and restaurant that are opening in the area, which sparked a little conversation, but not much. At the end of the appointment, I discovered for the first time that Jason had been charging me four dollars less than the usual haircut price. I think the sticker shock showed on my face. I think I'll look somewhere else.

Collective Improvisation:
May I recommend that you consider an African-American barber shop? Scott found a really great one in Greenbelt; it had lots of conversation, about hair and otherwise, and best of all, the guy really did a great job with his hair too.

(This is even considering that Scott has about the "whitest" hair I've ever seen: It's straight, and fine, and subject to even the slightest changes of static electrical balance).

All of it leaves me with a question: Why can't white guys have barber shops like this? 

Posted by Jason Kuznicki

Posted by Anonymous Anonymous on 3/15/2005 08:37:00 AM : Permalink  

I have gone to the same barber for 33 years and over the years we have become good friends. He has had a heart attack and a couple of angioplasties and finally sold his shop and retired. But, he still cuts hair for special customers, like those who have been around for 33 years. Unlike many my age, I still have a full head of hair although now it is mostly grey and no longer rests on my shoulders. If something were to happen to my barber or he just throws up his hands and says "no more," I think I would probably just shave my head down to the point where I could run a clipper through it about once a week in what we used to call a buzz cut and let it go at that. The thought of breaking in a new barber at this point sends shudders down my spine.

In answer to Jason's question; before you were born (I know you are fairly young) white guys barber shops were all that way. But unisex hair butchery-er-cuttery is more profitable so with rare, hard to find exceptions, greed won out. 

Posted by James

Posted by Anonymous Anonymous on 3/15/2005 10:51:00 PM : Permalink  

Thanks for the comments and recommendations. The crisis isn't necessarily a result of the kind of cuttery I've been going to, though. It's more a product of losing an amicable relationship that took a while to build. Even if I find a great place to go, it takes a long time to get to know your barber because you only see him or her 10 or twelve times a year. I had only known Jason for three years, so thirty-three years ... wow. That would send a shudder down my spine, James. 

Posted by Caleb

Posted by Anonymous Anonymous on 3/16/2005 05:05:00 PM : Permalink  

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