Friday, March 20, 2009

The $4.95 haircut

I am very particular and fiercely loyal when it comes to my hair. In the entire 27+ years I lived in Los Angeles, exactly three people cut my hair. I stopped seeing the first guy because he moved out of state. The second one eased himself out of the business. I stuck with the third person right up until we moved.

I wear my hair short, which for me is a double-bind. I have this nasty cowlick on the right side of my head. I have occasionally referred to it as “the divot,” which I have to be careful of. The first time I had my hair cut in a rock ‘n roll barbershop in Portland, I told the woman about to cut my hair I had a divot and she turned up her lip, like she was smelling feces. She gingerly pulled up my hair, afraid she was going to find a gaping wound or cloven skull. I apologized and told her I meant “cowlick.” She breathed an audible sigh of relief and I realized it takes familiarity to get my left-of-center sense of humor. The last person who cut my hair in L.A., (and the first person I went to here in Silverton), thought I should let my hair grow out… beyond the cowlick. My hair is straight and thick. Back in the day, I wore it long. My landlady in Brooklyn thought I was a Native American. Yeah, the way Mel Brooks was a Native American in Blazing Saddles. Those days are gone, as are the Disco-Vinnie days, the Mr. Slicko days and, in fact, all the days that required I spend any time with a blow dryer and “product.” I like it short and low maintenance. The secret is to cut it shorter than the cowlick, but just on the right side of a military buzz. Oh, I use product. Don’t think I don’t. I primp and spike it. It takes about 45 seconds and I’m done.

I was on the cusp of my hair being too long when we went on vacation last month. Then I got sick, with what seemed like the flu, then an intestinal bug and now, I don’t know what it is, but it is still persists, like the Supreme’s nasty lover in Keep Me Hanging On.

Monday was Bea’s birthday. As lousy (or marginal) as I felt, I still thought it compulsory to take her to dinner. I picked a place we hadn’t been to in Salem. Cool. But I had really bad hair. I showered and shaved in the morning. I tried blowing my hair and slathering the industrial strength adhesive I refer to as “hair glue” through my unruly locks. The right side stuck up about an inch and a half above my ear. Below it, the hair laid down nicely, thanks. The other side behaved perfectly. I hadn’t had time to go to the rock ‘n roll barber in Portland. I know, in light of the economic bailout, national record unemployment, churches getting shot up by nut jobs and AIG handing out bonuses like candy, my hair is not a big deal. But, you know what? It is. To me, anyway. In the immortal words of Billy Crystal’s Fernando, “It is better to look good than to feel good.”

I had a morning interview for a piece I’m working on for the Salem Monthly. I figured, for the head of threat assessment for the Salem-Keizer Public Schools, I could have bad hair. But it did distract me from my mission. As he spewed psychobabbly terms, I wondered if he thought I was a total geek because of my bad hair. The thread of wonder wove its way into my thoughts. What was I going to do? Where was I going to go? Could I wear a Red Sox cap to dinner?

Shortly after settling in to our new home and our new life, I did a Google search for hair stylists, barbers and salons in Salem. It was a crap shoot. None of them sounded hip, now, mod or even remotely au go go. I settled for the “spa” on Water Street, where the young woman who would cut my hair until her pregnancy came to term, worked with a dark window behind her and couldn’t really see what she was doing. Welcome to Oregon. I was settling.

I thought of that Google list again yesterday. I did another search for “best barbershop reviews ratings.” Would you believe nothing—beyond the local barbershop quartets—came up. I was getting down to, which Red Sox cap would I wear and can any of them be considered semi-formal wear? I could just throw caution to the wind and wear the yet unworn John Deere cap I have. That would work. Yuk yuk yuk.

Then I remembered seeing the place on Commercial, on the corner of Court Street, across from Nopp’s Pawnshop. The Hair School. After all, as the saying goes, “how hard can it be?” I knew what the woman in the rock ‘n roll barbershop did. She used clippers on the sides and back and scissors on the top and front. I could convey that. I just needed to ask for someone adept at clippers. It was a sperm of the moment decision, but after my interview, I hung a tight left on Chemeketa and another left onto Commercial. I parked a few doors from the corner, let out a breath and committed to tonsorial experimentation.

There’s a lot of red neon in the windows. HAIRCUTS. COLOR. PERMS. And the one that got me right where I currently live: 4.95. The place makes Supercuts seem exorbitant! I had a sawbuck in my pocket. That was it. I could pay for the haircut, leave a tip and still have money left. What is our president saying? Well, he hasn’t actually come right out and said it. Everyone else has. The consumer reporters and local talking heads. The newspaper and magazines. Hard times like these demand creative thinking, an open mind, and less exacting requirements for personal appearance.

When I first walked into The Academy of Hair Design, I thought the place was busy. But it was deceptive. The students were all at their stations, working on disembodied plastic heads with really bad acrylic looking hair. A couple were doing coloring, with foil and white stuff. A shady looking guy—too old and not nearly hip enough looking—was milling about, looking around furtively, as if eyeing something to steal, and in between, dry-styling the head’s stringy hair. The woman at the counter asked if she could help me. Help me, perhaps, with the lump that had appeared in my throat. What was I thinking? Was I ready to relinquish my looks to a hairstyling student?

“Uh, I need to get my hair cut. Is there someone here good with clippers?”

I spent a long moment standing at the counter while she fetched a suitable expert with clippers. Shane introduced himself and directed me to his “station.” I learned he was a high school grad who wanted to follow in the family business. His father is a barber in McMinnville and his grandfather before him. He had no aspirations to learn coloring or perms. Nails or facial treatments. He wanted to be a barber. Fair enough. In order to get his license as a barber, he needs to complete 13500 hours of training. He had done 500 hours. Shane looked every bit of eighteen and had the moves of someone inexperienced. He had thick nerd glasses, what could have passed as a bowl haircut and a scraggly excuse for a beard. Perfect.

I wasn't sure if the rock 'n roll barber used a #3 or a #2. I told that to Shane. He used the more conservative #3. He worked the clippers gingerly and with a jerky upward motion. I remained patient, trying to make conversation. I had time and made sure to convey that. I gave Shane a suggestion or two, but in not exactly short order, he had clearly reached a point where he was stumped. He told me he was going to consult with his instructor and walked away to find her.

I think her name was Jenna. She whipped out her comb in one hand and scissors in the other. With a speed and dexterity akin to Johnny Depp’s Edward Scissorhands, she finished what Shane begun in short order, giving me for all the world what looked like the usual twenty-five dollar cut… for $4.95! Shane looked on, taking mental notes and looking more than a bit overwhelmed. I thanked Jenna, thanked Shane and gave him a two dollar tip. So technically, it was a $6.95 haircut. Still, nothing to sneeze at. Now, I might be able to bid on one of Bernie Madoff’s yachts, or his place in Cap Antibes. My wife liked the cut. Her birthday celebration was nothing but fine. And I will be going back to the Academy.


John Labovitz said...

What an excellent story, Barry!

And you're welcome to borrow my electric clippers anytime you want...

Davaudian said...

Yeah, I've never been so enthralled by someone else's haircut.

barryshap said...

Thank you both!

I am still shying away from investing in a Flowbie.