The Barbershop

David - Evanston, Illinois
Entered on June 12, 2006
Age Group: 30 - 50
Themes: family, love
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I believe in the sacred institution of the barbershop.

Growing up the son of a barber in the upper peninsula of Michigan, I quickly realized that pastor’s kids had nothing on barber’s kids. The veritable church of my youth, my dad’s barbershop was the hallowed, Aqua Velva-smelling sanctuary that any man of any class or life-stage could immediately find solace, refuge, forgiveness, civilization and a stick of Double Mint chewing gum, all for less than 10 bucks.

Whether it was during a businessman’s lunch break or the entire afternoon of chatty retiree, the taxidermy adorned pews that seated the congregation awaiting my dad’s depilatory sacrament were constantly full. Resembling the format of a Quaker meeting’s un-programmed worship, my dad’s barbershop was a place of unfettered and free debate, council, folly, confession and idiosyncratic masculine social bonding that parishioners could lose themselves in as they caught up on high school football scores, shared where the biggest walleyes were being caught or opinionated about what country we should bomb or get the hell out of.

Behind the constant hum and buzz of clippers scientifically shedding piles of hair to the floor were the good humored “Eino and Toivo” jokes about Swedes and Fins, summer jobs being offered to high school students and the occasionally awkward silences that ensued after a mother would enter and sit down to wait for her son’s haircut to finish. Yes, the barbershop could be inappropriate and down right crude at times, but the barbershop could also be polite, reverential and considerate.

Amidst this peculiar mix, the barbershop was where I learned my first lessons about being compassionate to others through observing my dad smile, greet, name and listen non-judgmentally to anyone who’d sit in his chair. And oh, how I loved to sit in that chair myself. But unlike others, I’d sit there without saying a word. Not because we didn’t communicate well or because I somehow wanted to spare him the chore of having to listen to yet another person. But selfishly, because I needed to be quiet to fully appreciate the spiritual experience that began once I’d feel the crinkly tissue paper being tucked underneath my shirt collar and the silky pinstriped sheet being draped over my clothes and fastened behind my neck.

My eyes would roll back in trance at the “snapping on” of the purring clippers and there could be no purer reemergence to consciousness than through the warm, menthol-scented shaving cream being applied and straight razor shaved from behind my ears at the culmination of each cut. After getting neck tickled from the snake-like vacuum, I’d take my communion just like any other patron and be offered a piece of spearmint chewing gum.

Despite my dad’s obligatory complaining to his peers that I was a “deadhead,” that is, I never paid for a haircut in my life, I know he loved cutting my hair in that barbershop as much as I loved sitting there with him.