When I was a young boy growing up in Weymouth, getting a haircut wasn’t something to look forward to. It meant consumption of valuable playtime on Saturday morning, followed by an itchy sensation in my shirt all afternoon and finally the dreaded Saturday night bath to rinse the loose hairs away before settling down to watch Donnie & Marie.
As the years went by and my routine changed, it became my responsibility to get a haircut. There were a variety of barbershops in South Weymouth at the time and they all were about the same distance from my house. There was Dick’s, Mike’s, two different Al’s and a salon of sorts on the first floor of the Chauncy Building. I narrowed down the field by the quickness in which the barbers had me in and out of the chair. I had tried each shop a number of times, but I eventually found the one for me.
Across from the Stetson Building, on what’s known as Ruggles Block, Al had his barber shop in a brick building with a giant front window. Often times, Al stood at the corner of the window with his foot on the sash having a smoke and looking deep in thought. Al’s son Mark was friends with my older brother Mike, so I always felt a kinship of sorts when I went in for a haircut.
Al was a stocky man who spoke with a gravelly voice. He wore a dark blue uniform of sorts and always seem to have a cigarette in his mouth. Al would squint his eyes and hold his head at an angle to avoid the smoke that wafted continuously around the chair while simultaneously clipping away at my hair. My favorite thing about Al was that he was incredibly quick but equally precise,. because of these qualities, it didn’t seem like a hassle anymore to get a haircut.
Al passed on some time ago and since then ownership has changed hands. As a result, I started to roam again from barber to barber trying to find an adequate replacement. It’s been quite a while since I’ve been in Weymouth, but my search continues nation wide. Sometimes I’ll go five or six months between haircuts, because I’m a chronic procrastinator. I don’t wait till I’m having a bad hair day, but more like a bad hair month.
I got a haircut in Salt Lake City, Utah last September at a Mormon barbershop and it was an interesting experience. The barbers sat on a long bench like bellhops at a fancy hotel and when a customer entered one would spring to his feet to assist. It was the first barbershop I’d seen where barbers consistently outnumbered the customers. A clean cut man began his routine of seating me and then draping my clothing with a poncho. Once I got settled in, he then asked what my religious background was. I thought for a moment he might ask me a trick question like “how would I like my hair cut”? As he combed and snipped away at my mop, we had a conversation about world religions. He answered my questions about the Mormon Church and told me of his missionary work in numerous countries. He aspired to teach people about his faith, but at the moment he was between assignments.
The next time I got my hair cut was March of this year in Los Angeles, CA. It was rapidly getting to be a matter of either wear barrettes or find a barber. I started off by asking random strangers “where could I find an old fashioned barbershop”. Most people I surveyed recommended going downtown to the Spanish speaking part of town. The best suggestions I’ve gotten have come from total strangers, so I decided to give downtown a shot.
After a few wrong turns, I ended up in an area known as South Central. It’s springtime here in LA and the fashion conscious in this neighborhood are wearing brightly colored body armor. Luckily I didn’t have to go too far before I spotted the telltale barber’s pole. I parked in front of a mortuary that was having a sidewalk sale and walked past the coffins to the adjoining barber shop. When Lupe wasn’t doing the hair of the deceased, he would take a few live ones in his chair. Over in the corner, a small group of women were crying and comforting each other. I wondered if it was over the quality of Lupe’s work. Apparently, part of his waiting area doubled as the grieving area for the mortuary. I sat and tried to decipher the Spanish tabloids while children ran in and out looking at the stranger who had the funny motorcycle outside.
Lupe was dressed immaculately in wingtip shoes and a silk outfit that made him look more like a bandleader than a barber. He motioned for me to approach the chair and in his best English asked how I would like my hair cut. After describing to him how I wanted my hair cut, he pointed to his own head and said, “just like me”? It was close enough, so I gave him the thumbs up. After getting my hair washed, a big towel was wrapped around my head. Lupe had stepped out to go have a smoke and I wondered how long I would have to sit there looking like a spokesman for the Taliban.
Lupe returned and took out his scissors and got down to business. He danced around the chair like tango music was playing in his head stopping sporadically to comb with dramatic movements. Rather than worry about his eccentricity, I decided to just sit back and watch the show. Older men from the neighborhood came in to drink coffee and children rode their bicycles in and out of the shop, but nothing broke Lupe’s concentration.
We talked a little about our backgrounds to break up the silence that hung in the air. I told him that I had been roaming North America for the last 10 months trying to develop short stories based on people I meet. Lupe reminisced about his convertible that he had forty years ago and the big German Shepherd that loved to ride around town with him.
When he finished, we walked together toward the register and judging by the amount of hair I left on the floor, I expected a pricey bill. Lupe held up a big stack of bills that were business related and said,” I envy you, you’re a free man”. Lupe was tied to his business, it had a strangle hold on his life and he resented it. He said he once had dreams of going places, but now he was immersed in responsibilities. He wouldn’t take my money for the haircut, and as he walked me to the motorcycle, he said “remember to stay free”.
I sometimes forget how differently I live from most people and often my situation is used as a gauge by the individuals I meet to measure their own contentment. I’m not working on a cure for cancer or doing something completely unique, I’m just trying to be true to myself in the pursuit of what makes me happy. This is something that becomes less obtainable with responsibilities, expectations and the duty of family, business and most obviously time. For a while, I’ve felt that what I’m doing is crazy, but most people I meet say I’d be crazy not to give it my best shot. As I rode away, I remembered Lupe’s words, “stay free”.
Posted by John Segalla at May 05, 2002 12:02 AM GMT
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