I couldn’t be much whiter. For example, I get my hair cut at Great Clips. For another, I do my best to pretend that I’m not the least bit racist.
My wife, Miss Sally, and I were surprised one Saturday morning when we pulled up to the local Great Clips and it was shut down. I really needed a haircut and remembered a barber shop around the corner in the strip mall, so we drove over there. I knew it had to be a barber shop because it said, “Donnie's Barber Salon” on the sign and there was a barber pole spinning thing on the outside. You can’t go wrong with the spinning blue, red and white pole.
We walked in and immediately noticed the lack of whiteness. The barber was black. The customer in the chair was black. The guy hanging out and reading a magazine in the other barber chair was black. We were getting paler by the second.
The magazine guy in the chair took one look at us and stood up. He apologized, “I don’t cut hair,” and sat in one of the waiting chairs. The barber said hello. I asked if I could get a haircut and he said yes. We sat down.
I made the decision not to leave. My instincts told me to leave, but I told my instincts to stuff it. I wasn’t going to let my ignorance get the better of me. I shouldn’t be worried about a hair cut from a black man. The guy was a barber and barbers cut hair. Hair is hair, right?
The Vibe magazine I picked up was at least six months old. I pretended to be interested in an article about P.Diddy. Miss Sally excused herself and went around the corner to the Rite-Aid.
Holy shit if cutting black guy’s hair doesn’t take forever. The barber was detailing the customer’s head with a determined precision. I think at one point he used a protractor to get top just so. This barber was good.
I had a Caucasian sigh of relief when another white guy walked in. He was a big dude with a definite brother charm. The guys in the barber shop warmly welcomed him. The not-barber stood up and gave the white guy a hand grasp which was then used as a man shield to fill the void between them when they did a quick hug. The white dude asked if he could get cleaned up. The man who wasn’t a barber suddenly remembered that he was actually a barber and had the guy sit in the second chair. I was just about to be offended when the amnesia struck, now a barber, black guy pulled out the clippers and took white guy’s hair down a sandpaper thickness with a few quick passes over his scalp. It was a shearing, not a haircut.
White guy left and I waited.
The barber finally finished up with his customer and called me over. I sat down in the chair and the barber asked me how I wanted to get my hair cut. I told him the standard, “#4 on the sides and scissor cut on top. I like to part my hair.” What happened next was a hair cut that can only be compared to the awkwardness of a one fingered teenage boy trying to open a bra for the first time. The barber got out his scissors and started cutting my hair on top first. This was new to me. The chicks at Great Clips use the trimmer first on the sides and then move to the scissors. There was a lot of clipping and pausing and more clipping. Of course, I wasn’t going to say anything. This guy was a barber. A professional.
At one point the barber moved around to the front and I noticed his hands. His hands were covered with hairs. Other men’s hairs. What looked to be the hair from 1,000 men. Little tiny bits of straight and curly black hairs. I think my white guy hair was repelled from his skin because there were none to be found.
Miss Sally returned to the barbershop with her purchases and sat down. I think she was amazed that I was still there. She had been gone about forty five minutes. She, too, feigned interest in P.Diddy.
The clippers came out, but only for a minute and then back to the scissoring. He started to get exasperated, combing my hair over and cutting. Stopping. Staring. Tentative cutting again. I finally stopped him and said, “That’s good. That’s fine.” The barber literally shrugged his shoulders and mumbled what sounded like an apology. I waited for him to remove the hair cloak from my neck when there was a clink of a bottle and two man hands rubbing my hair. I hadn’t asked for gel, but just wanted to get out of there and… wait… what’s that smell? Coconut? I reached up and felt my hair… it was oily and coconutty. Barber put coconut oily something in my hair. I’m not sure what the product is supposed to do, but if the bottle said “Pisses Off White Boys” then shit, it was working.
I stood up and looked in the mirror. I looked like a wet dog with a bad haircut. I paid him. He gave back my change and I held out $5 for a tip. He said, “No. You don’t have to.” I gritted a smile and said, “No, take it.” He did. We left.
I steamed silently the entire ride back home. Oily something dripped down my neck. I showered as soon as I stomped in the house. Small black hairs flecked the shower floor. We drove to the Great Clips across town. The lady asked if I had tried to cut my own hair.
Perhaps I should have better communicated with the barber about my concerns or directed him on how I wanted my hair cut. Or maybe he should have told me that he didn't cut white people hair. Neither one of us wanted to offend the other. Both of us ended up feeling foolish. Though I was the only one who looked foolish.