Finally tired of the increasing unmanageability of the too rapidly thinning, African curled but interspersed with myriad straight strands evincing the peek-a-boo genetic inheritance of my American native and White Irish roots, and more than a few not so easily hidden anymore greys, not too long but not short enough hair, I made the pilgrimage that all men must invariably make to that hallowed hall of grooming known as the Barber Shop.
Stepping inside, I entered the court of all too familiar sights, sounds, and smells. Alcohol and clipper oil mingling unevenly with the sounds of a too loud TV in a too small room; ancient swiveling chairs bought who knows when and for who knows how much; magazine pages crinkled with the handling and bending and perusing of too many hands flipping through pictures of cars and girls and sports teams; seats scavenged from some theater, the vinyl seats complaining with every shift of weight. This is the Barber Shop.
And it is here that one can glean from simple silence, the social, cultural, and political mood of the waiting clientele. Of all places in America, the Barber Shop is the most segregated; separated not only by degree of kink or curl but by chasms of tradition and culture.
Words spoken here are not softened for the ears of women or children or political correctness. Here is raw expression.
So in I stepped and sat and listened, waiting my turn while CNN droned on and the “buzz buzz buzz” of the clippers continued, interrupted only by the occasional “click” as the barber changed the guard height.
“Man, what you think about that man yellin’ out at the President?”
“Aw man, he don’t know sh*t. They wasn’t doin’ all that when Bush was in there.”
“Yeah, all them crackers out there protestin’. They don’t know what the hell they talkin’ about. Just mad that a Black man is in the White House. That’s all that sh*t is.”
At this I sighed, daring not open my mouth to reveal that I too think the president is a liar and resentful that without saying it, I would be an ‘uncle Tom’ in their eyes. And so I sat, grinding my teeth silently, flipping the pages of an ancient Vibe magazine with Obama on the cover, listening to the entrepreneurial barbershop owner whose very life and business is the embodiment of conservative principles put to work.
I wonder what he thinks about all the taxes he will have to pay to foot the bill for Obama’s government expansion. This barber owns two shops and several businesses, AND rental property. I wonder if he realizes he’s one of the “rich.”
“Yeah, man. If you asked one of them crackers what was in the health bill they couldn’t even tell you. They just mad that’s all. Don’t even know what the hell they talkin’ about. Just mad that a n*gga in the White House.”
“You right man. Look, when he got in there he told them it was gone cost some money to fix all the sh*t Bush messed up. Now they cryin’ about it.”
“Obama just tryin’ to do something, and them d*mn crackers don’t like it.”
“It’s just racism; pure and simple. That’s all.”
By now it was my turn to sit in the chair and get my cut.
“Cut it low, but not tight.”
“You want it faded?”
“Naw, that’s alright.”
I sat silently while the clippers buzzed. We talked about my family. My sister, my father, people the barber knew.
“Is that good?” he asked, holding up the mirror for me to examine my new cut.
“Yeah, its fine.”