The haircut that made me cry

Today it was time to get a haircut. I’m not sure why I have such mixed feelings about haircuts — I always come out of them looking and feeling better, and vowing to not wait so long next time, but then when “next time” rolls around it’s always weeks before I can be bothered. Weeks of horrible, shaggy hair, weeks of looking like a crazy person who lives under a bus, weeks of not being pestered for money by bums because they think I’m one of them. I guess there are some benefits.

Maybe the reason I put it off is because I always agonize over where to go. It’s easy enough to go to the Supercuts or the Fantastic Sam’s that’re both open till 9pm — in fact, there’s one of each in a shopping center not far away. I guess I’m hipster enough to not want to buy into some Corporate Haircutting Machine, though, and while the haircuts there have always been fine, I’ve never left with anything resembling delight. It’s always, just, “Well, that’s taken care of.”

At other times, I’ve made it a point to patronize local little barbershops, often run by adorable old men. I’d like to be the kind of guy who has a regular barber, someone who calls me by name and asks how the family’s doing. I thought I’d found that, once: a place right across the street from my house. I got my hair cut by an extremely talkative old man who’d been there for fifty years or something absurd, and I was practically bursting with excitement as he regaled me with tale after tale of funny old barber stories. It was great! I had found my barber!

So I eagerly went back, next time — and he greeted me warmly and sat me in the chair and told me ALL THE SAME STORIES. I was crushed. I was back to square one. I couldn’t bear to return.

More recently, I found ANOTHER funny old man barber, but like all old men, he closed his shop up at 5pm on the dot. I got one great 8am haircut from him (he was the only place that was open on the rare day when I needed an early-morning haircut), but then I never mustered the energy to make it over to his place before 5pm ever again. I doubt I’ll ever go back. Nothing personal, funny old man barber, but MY world usually gets going late. Us rascally kids! Joyriding around town! Etc.

Today I tried another new barber. It was a “beauty salon” I’d visited before, where a pleasant middle-aged woman had cut my hair. This place is between my studio and the post office, so I walk past several times a week but have rarely seen anybody sitting in there. Today, though, I noticed that they were open till 7, and they sure didn’t have a line. So I went in.

I got my hair cut by a guy barber with an enthusiastic assistant, who rushed to straighten my cape and plug in the barber’s clippers and brush hair from my ears at every opportunity. I guess he was an apprentice barber? A yeoman barber? This was confusing at first, but I quickly realized why it would be necessary to have an apprenticeship program here: because this barber was INTENSE.

Here is a PARTIAL LIST of things this barber did that I have never experienced at Supercuts:

• Trimmed my neck AND my temples with a straight razor

• Used a straight razor and comb to do some kind of flicking thing to the top of my hair

• Trimmed my beard, with scissors and comb, without being asked

• Used some kind of string and a whipping motion to pluck the hair from the rims of my ears

This last is the thing I still can’t get over. Look, I have hair on my ears. It’s a thing. I don’t love it but I can’t really escape it. My dad always looked like he had a bunny stuffed in each ear, such were the bursts of white fuzz that flanked his skull. I’m sure I’m headed down that road too.

But this guy knew what to DO about it. Maybe because, like my dad and me, he was clearly of Arab descent (he and the assistant conversed entirely in Arabic), he was prepared for the ear-issue. In my peripheral vision, I watched him unwind this string from a spool. “What?” I thought to myself. “Is he going to…floss?”

And then he pulled the string tight, leaned in, did something rapid with his hands, and…OW!!!

Ping! Ping! Ping! Each motion of his hands was like a pinprick on my ears. He was pulling the hairs from my ears, with this string, one by one. 

I know this is called threading. I’ve mainly heard of it as a ladies’ beauty-salon practice. I’d just never experienced it before, and was completely unprepared for it. But this guy took one look at me and thought, “Bust out the string. Let’s get to WORK.”

After that, he attacked my eyebrows and temples and cheekbones a little. By the time he put the string down, I felt like I’d just blown a raspberry into a porcupine. This is the part that made my eyes well up with tears a little. But MY GOD, man, is my head free of stray hairs now.

Here is the larger question that I have suddenly, unexpectedly become fixated upon:

What arcane hair-treatment practices are being lost by the Supercuts-ization of our barbershops? What mystical follicular alchemy is still possible that I have never experienced? HOW DEEP DOES THIS WELL GO?

I —I just NEVER KNEW ABOUT THIS. And this is the part that worries me:

What else do I STILL NOT KNOW about what a haircut can be?