clean sweep

I never realized getting my hair cut would be such an ordeal, especially because I don’t have much left. Just sip the shaggy parts and let me be on my way. But it hasn’t been that easy. Living in one city, working 6-7 days a week in two other cities, and battling a depression that exhausts the hell out of me has not made it easy to disrupt my binge eating and extended nap sessions in order to sit in a barbershop surrounded by screaming kids so I can get a crooked crew cut.

But I also don’t want to look disheveled so I got up super early Saturday morning (usually my only day to sleep in late) so I could walk into the barbershop as they opened. I thought I’d be one of the first in line but when I opened the door, it was already packed. I almost turned around, my anxiety peaking, but I took a breath, scanned the room, and found the one empty seat next to two older men in Member’s only jackets and retired Navy hats.

The shop is about the size of a refrigerator and there’s 3 barbers and probably only 8 seats for customers, which wouldn’t be much of a problem except lots of little kids get their hair cut at this particular establishment. That means mom and dad and siblings have to tag along, which clogs up the already narrow space of the building.

It’s an old-timey barbershop, complete with a vintage drink machine that dispenses glass bottles. Their sign is hand-painted, their floor a cracked linoleum. Not dirty, just well-loved. Almost charming. Football jerseys representing each of the barber’s high school football teams hang from wire hangers above their stations. Cheap shaving cream and hair gels line the sinks below a giant mirror that extends from one end of the shop to the other. From a customer’s seat, you get a great vantage point of men’s bald spots I always worry people are looking at mine.

As I waited, I noticed a man jiggle the handle through the clear glass door of the shop. He was in his late forties, hunched over with a grizzled unshaven face and tattered tobacco-colored shirt, black Dickie pants and a scuffed pair of black-brown boots. He jiggled the handle some more until one of the barbers stepped over and opened the door for him.

“Musta got stuck,” he said loudly as he shuffled inside. And I mean loudly. He followed it up with a phlegm-filled laugh. And sure enough, he sat down next to me. Then he proceeded to chat up the barbers. “Y’all, I needa good lookin’ haircut so I can find me a good lookin’ woman,” he said with more phlegm laughing.

Within a few breaths, I smelled alcohol on him. Great. Recovering from a late night. Or starting early that day. Maybe both.

He then tried to chat up a nervous 10-year-old in the barber’s chair in front of him and asked him if he was getting a good-looking haircut to find a good-looking girl. The boy shrank into his shoulders and shook his head before scanning the room for the safe familiar face of his mother. Make the man stop talking, Mommy.

Yes, Mommy, please, for all of us.

“I know a little girl, she’s about fourteen. Probably too old for you,” he said with more chuckling and phlegm.

After enduring the loud lush for about fifteen minutes, it was finally my turn. I got in the chair, told the lady what I wanted, and she started to buzz me up. After another few minutes, I noticed what looked like hairspray in the air. And then I noticed more. And then detected a smell.

I turned to my right to see a cloud of smoke hurl toward me.

“Oh, that’s not good,” one of the barbers said.

My barber opened the shop door and the smoke floated out like a patient dog slipping through to have a potty break. “You’d better call the fire department,” one of the barbers said to the shop owner. “Oh, yeah, I’m on it,” she replied as she raced out the door with her phone in her hand.”

“Probably it’s the A/C unit,” another said. “We turned it on this morning but it just kicked in a few minutes ago. I bet it caught on fire.”

And that’s when a few little kids started screaming. And I screamed inside my head. I sat in the chair wanting the barber to get on with the cut. But she was hesitant, fearing if she turned on the clippers, it would cause a spark that would blast us all out of the building. I was willing to take the chance.

“Of course this would happen,” I thought as screams and smoke filled the building, like we were all bits of bread caught aflame in an oven set to broil. We were probably never in any real danger. The only thing on fire was my nose from the acrid smell of smoke. And my patience.

Sirens called in the distance, followed by three firefighters in blue uniforms. They brought some sort of vacuum with them and sat it outside the door to suck up the smoke. And as it cleared, the drunk man who’d sat next me came into view. He was sweeping hair up off the floor.

“Hehe, well, I thought if I could help out, I would,” he said between sweeps. “Sometimes in life, you just gotta do what you gotta do.” A laugh that turned into a cough that sounded like he was gargling buttermilk. He stumbled around my barber’s station, sweeping and swaying. I half-thought he’d fall right over.

“Uh, thanks?” my barber said, confused.

When everything was determined to be all clear, my barber finished me up and my hair actually looked decent, you know, for a balding dude. I’d definitely gone too long without a cut and running my hand over the back of my head felt soft and smooth. I actually felt lighter. Although I wished the morning could have gone better and quicker, it felt good to get it out of the way. I supposed giving up a late morning was worth the shearing. My buzzed buddy with the broom was right. Gotta do what you gotta do.

Every once in a while it’s worth it.

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