Every other month or so, Dave’s hair gets a little fuzzy, and we take a drive out to Aloha to Dave’s barber. He’s been going to the same barber for much of his life. Except for in the 1990s, Dave’s “lost decade,” when he had long hair, which he kept in a ponytail and he never cut. And when he had long hair, he told me he never understood the concept of conditioner. He thought it was greasy stuff that you added back to your hair after you shampooed. Why make your hair greasy just after it was clean? And he wondered why he had split ends. What a boy.
At first, I wondered why we couldn’t just go to any of the dozens of barbers nearby, instead of driving out to Aloha. Dave basically has the easiest $12 hair cut in the world: A 1/2 inch buzz cut. But he’s been going to the same barber, who was his dad’s barber, since he was six years old. And when Dave was an adult, he used to make a day of taking the MAX out to meet his dad, get his hair cut, and go to lunch. His dad has since passed away, but he still goes to the same barber. When I heard this, I was ashamed that I ever suggested going someplace else.
His barber had moved locations once, but it’s been in the same place, with the same two guys since the early 2000s. It’s in a sleepy strip mall in Aloha, with most businesses closed on the weekends. This strip mall has heritage, probably built when strip malls were just coming into vogue. It’s now seen better days, amidst newer, flashier neighbors, and long past its time of keeping up appearances. I’ve scratched my head that any businesses survive in such a place. But nothing has changed in the two and a half years we have been going, and probably much, much longer than that.
When I visit the barber with Dave, it’s like stumbling into a hallowed retreat from another era. The barber chairs are from the space age 1960s, with automotive chrome and collapsed, cracked vinyl seats. The cabinets have wood paneling and sharp-looking faux colonial metal drawer pulls that I remember from my grandparent’s house. There’s a 20 inch box TV, with rabbit ears, usually playing whatever sports the season calls for.
In the times I have visited, there has never been an indication that the place has been cleaned. Ever. There are layers of hair clippings on the floor, in every shade of gray, brown and black, with every customer, a new layer. The back counter is littered with old newspapers, bottles and jars, a perpetually dying plant.
We sometimes walk in and there are no customers, and the two old barbers are sitting in the chairs, their necks craned on the TV. They are probably both in their 60s or 70s. One gentleman has a surprisingly thick head of strawberry blond hair. He is the one who cut Dave’s hair as a kid, and cut his dad’s hair as well.
We visited Dave’s barber this past Saturday. Despite the hundreds, if not thousands of faces, they remember Dave. He took a seat in one of the old barber chairs. There was small talk. Murmurs and low voices under the blare of sports on the TV. How are things? What have you been up to? Oh, you’re married now, how does she want your hair? How about those Blazers?
I tried to sink as far into my chair as possible. There were smiles in my direction, but it was impossible not to feel like an intruder in this sacred refuge. I realized my impulse to tidy the place up was akin to sacrilege.
Other men came in and waited their turn, mostly the same age as the barbers. I’ve never seen anyone in there younger than Dave. The barbers shuffled around the chairs with clippers and combs, their backs hunched over their task. For years on end. There was very little talking or chit chat. For some, maybe getting a haircut is a moment’s peace, a regular, predictable, authentic moment of peace.
Business was brisk that day. Dave’s haircut took ten minutes, and in that amount of time, two men departed and two more arrived and waited. Now after Dave gets his haircut, we usually go take his mom out for lunch.
I couldn’t help but think about those guys later. The barbers, sitting in their chairs, in between customers, watching the little TV in that has-been little strip mall in Aloha. Imagine the hours they have spent there. The hours of small talk, or the hours of comfortable silence. That is their work every day. And they have been doing it for a very, very long time. Who knows where they go when they turn off the light and lock the shop door behind them. Perhaps they have dreams of tropical islands, a bigger house, or a fast car. Or at least a Cadillac. But I doubt it. This may be all they ever wanted.
It’s nice to see them every other month or so, when Dave gets a little fuzzy.