Saturday, September 28, 2013

Tonsorial Tales

These days, my hair is easy to cut.  Due to its reduced length and thickness, I no longer require a styling salon, and it's been years since I've been to a traditional barber shop.  My childhood barber, Mr. Johnson, owned a tidy little corner shop at the corner of Homer Street and Rockwood Avenue in Memphis.  There were no appointments at Johnson's Barber Shop -- you just went in and sat down, pored over well-worn issues of Field & Stream, and waited until the next barber was available.  One afternoon as I was getting my hair cut, only four or five days into first grade, Mr. Johnson asked me if I had any girlfriends yet.  Not knowing any better, I told him that yes, I had six, and then I proceeded to give him their names.  This was, of course, a source of instant amusement to all the other customers in the shop.

The last time I visited a genuine barber shop was one morning in 2002, when I was vacationing in Gulf Shores, Alabama.  The barber shop owner cut my hair using a Flowbee, a vacuum-assisted clipper thingy.  He said he hadn't used it that much and asked if I would mind if he tried it out on me.  I said no, thinking that I was on vacation, after all, and I wouldn't run the risk of being seen by anyone I knew, at least for a few days.  After the first or second pass across my head with this mysterious device, he asked if a woman had cut my hair last, and when I said yes, he replied that "women do not know how to cut men's haar (sic)".  Since I always have my "haar" cut by women and quite like it that way, I did not agree with his assessment.  I didn't want to tell him that not only was my hair cut by a woman, but that my favorite stylist was actually a Persian woman. Heaven knows what dialogue that might have started.  However, the Alabama Flowbee experience is worthy of a blog post unto itself, and I digress.

One night not long ago, feeling that my hair, even with its reduced length and thickness, was becoming a bit too spiky, I headed to my neighborhood Great Clips for my standard cut.  Since I went in after 8:00 PM for the "special night rates", the place was fairly busy, and I had to wait about ten minutes, during which I whipped out my iPhone and worked in a few games of Words With Friends.  And then I heard my name called by a stylist who hadn't previously cut my hair.  For the sake of this post, I'll call her Tricia.

Tricia sported a big, broad smile.  She looked like a friendly lady, and right away, she asked me how my day had been.  I replied that it hadn't been bad, but that I was awfully tired for a Monday.  She said that she was too, and then she asked me what kind of cut I would like.  When I said "Number Four on the sides, and Number Five on top", she said, "Aww!  I could kiss you right here!"  And then she repeated herself.  In the world of tonsorial science, the Number Four/Five Clippers Combination is an easy one, and the lady in her chair before me had presented Tricia with fine, flyaway hair that required a careful scissor cut, so I guess my clipper trim was a relief.

I've found over the years that when you're getting your hair cut, you can discuss just about anything and everything, given the right stylist.  My own aunt Ida Mae was a hairdresser in a small town in Tennessee, and she ran her beauty shop out of her little house.  It seemed that no matter which room you ventured into, you couldn't escape the lively conversations taking place in the shop.  But this was always fascinating: I learned a lot about who was going where and with whom, whose particular congealed salad had run amiss, and who was wearing inappropriate clothing about town.

Back home that night, Great Clips Tricia was one of those people you could open up to.  She asked me where I worked, so I told her about my job, and about how after a day of looking at numbers, databases, and logic, it was nice to just talk about regular stuff.  So that we did.  She told me that she didn't like all this new music, that she was a child of the Eighties, and that the music being played nowadays gave her a headache.  We talked about music of the Seventies: The Stylistics, Stevie Wonder, and her favorite, Donna Summer.  Tricia said that she drove a cab at night and listened to Pandora, and that she had overflowed her free listening minutes and had no more Pandora until May.  Pandora was where she got all her Donna Summer.

And then we started talking about my growing up in Memphis, listening to so much good music back in the day.  Tricia said, "My girlfriend lives in Memphis, and I wanna go over there and get me some barbecue, but she ain't invitin' me yet."  I replied that this seemed unfair, which then led to a discussion of how Tricia's native North Carolina barbecue resembled that of Tennessee and how neither of us could find local barbecue that we really liked, or in Tricia's words, "I don't care what anybody is sayin', they ain't no good barbecue in Georgia at all."  I guess that regional taste for barbecue is like crab cakes to a Marylander -- authenticity is ultimately dependent upon geographic location.

When Tricia finished my haircut, in probably all of ten minutes, it was perfect...the best one I'd had in a while.  And what's more, in those ten minutes, I'd made a new friend.  Tricia was so incredibly pleasant, even working long hours at two jobs just to make ends meet.  I told her about a trip I was planning to Memphis in the next month, and that I'd be sure to raise a sandwich to her.  She said, "Please do that for me...raise that sandwich...for real."  I thought, you can count on that, Tricia.  Absolutely.