Finding the right barber can be one of life’s greatest challenges. The first barber I have any memory of is Cliff, the barber in the neighborhood I grew up in. Cliff loved sports and talked sports incessantly. The Harlem Globe Trotters were staring to make a splash in the 1950s, and Cliff often said, “Those coons sure can play ball.” In those days, such comments were normal. An awareness of racism came much later.
I once pointed to a Rock Hudson sort of guy in a Brylcreem ad on Cliff’s wall and said I wanted a haircut like that. “Look, kid,” Cliff said, “I’m a barber, not a miracle worker.”
If the downside of Cliff’s was the incessant sports talk, the upside was the “dirty” magazines Cliff kept as reading material for customers. They were tame by today’s standards but quite titillating for a kid coming into puberty. One of the sins I confessed to a priest in those days was having impure thoughts occasioned by my haircuts at Cliff’s. My penance was to say ten Hail Mary’s and switch barbers. I said the Hail Mary’s, but I stuck with Cliff. I remember my mother saying after one of her rare trips to the confessional, “I’ll bet that priest could tell me plenty.” It turns out she was probably right. Her views tempered my piety.
Life after Cliff was a search for a barber who didn’t talk sports and kept interesting reading material. I kissed a lot of frogs. Once I went briefly to a Greek barber who kept the sports channel on and gave a running commentary on the game, often cursing this or that player or the referee. I finally leapt up from the barber chair, grabbed the TV, and smashed it to the floor. I got back in the chair and asked him to trim the hair in my ears. No, of course, I didn’t do any of that, but I fantasized about doing it through the entire haircut. His reading material consisted of Sports Illustrated. One haircut from the Greek was enough.
Sometimes a little sports talk would have been welcome. One hair stylist I tried was a young woman with a ring in here nose, a tongue stud and purple streaks in her hair. Our conversation went like this.
Hair stylist: So where do you work, Alan?
Me: I work at the university library.
Hair stylist: Awesome! You must read a lot of books.
Me: I suppose I read my share.
Hair stylist: Awesome! Do you want some off the top?
Me: Yes, a bit.
Hair stylist: Awesome!
Hair stylists were out.
For a number of years I went to a barber named Blair who talked a lot but never about sports. The reading material was irrelevant because Blair took appointments. Alas, Blair couldn’t cut hair and talk at the same time, so the haircuts took forever. I was pretty sure that Blair put a little hair down my neck after he finished the haircut. I always had to rush home and take a shower
Blair retired, and I searched for a new barber. I finally settled on Lulu’s Barbershop. Lulu was a Chinese woman from Vietnam, and her shop was staffed entirely by Chinese women from Vietnam. None of them spoke English well enough to carry on much of a conversation. They chatted with each other while working, and the rhythm of their tonal language was soothing. Their great haircuts included a shampoo. I missed Lulu’s when we moved to Victoria, but I realized what I wanted in a barber was either a mute or a non-English speaker.
What I found was a taciturn English speaker with no interest in sports. Adrian always has classical music playing. He doesn’t take appointments, but his reading material includes back issues of The Economist. I get a good enough haircut, listen to good music, read interesting material, and have nothing to confess. What more can you want?