I had the same barber for 15 years. When he left Commercial Dr for the West End, I mourned him like a long-time lover. A less than satisfying roll in the hay with a stranger I can shake off in a couple of days, but a bad haircut, well, that shit takes time to heal.
When I first got to Ottawa, I made the mistake of stumbling into a fancy salon in gaytown. My bangs were hanging in my eyes, I couldn’t see my own ears, and I was desperate.
Eighty dollars plus tip and a disturbingly sensual mint and rosemary infused scalp massage later, I emerged back onto Bank St with a slightly more effeminate replica of the hairdo I had walked in with, approximately three and one half millimeters shorter than it was when I woke up that morning. It looked great for about four days, and then I needed a haircut again.
It was a great consumer experience, but at that rate it was going to cost me approximately six hundred bucks a month to keep my bangs out of my eyes. I needed a barber. A good old fashioned wait your turn twelve bucks take a little off the top kind of guy like I used to have back home.
I found him at the other end of Bank St. A sun-faded swirling barber’s pole led to a staircase, which turned into a narrow hallway that boasted decades-old carpet hammered down by thousands of work boots and dress shoes, a worn roadmap that directed me to a doorway.
You know you’ve got the right place by the smell. Old Spice scented men’s talc, cologne, and a leftover waft of someone smoking a cigar late last night when everyone had gone home and the doors were locked.
My new barber is Lebanese, with hands the size of a small ham, boasting a handshake that could crack a walnut.
The first time I went in I brought my sweetheart with me. This turned out to be a brilliant move. She is, of course, gorgeous and her silver curls and dimples bought me the kind of street cred that a barely bicepped moustacheless guy like me needs when being introduced to all the good old boys from the neighbourhood.
Maybe I am a soft-spoken young fellow with long eyelashes, or maybe I am the kind of woman who could never land herself a good man, who knows what they are thinking, but at least my girlfriend is hot.
“Sit down right here, boss.” He always calls everyone boss. “And will you take a look at your lady friend? What a beautiful girl.”
He got no argument from me. I’m not sure exactly what it feels like for her to be talked about in the third person when she is actually present to overhear conversations about how attractive she is, but we both just assumed he meant well.
Some would call this allowing my female partner to be treated as an object, and trading on patriarchal standards of female desirability in order to garner favour in a male-dominated environment. I call it getting a cheap haircut.
After he was finished giving me the perfect haircut in under 10 minutes for a total of fifteen dollars with tip, he whipped off the towel around my neck with a flourish and held up a hand mirror for me to take a look at the back.
“Would you take a look at that? Handsome guy.”
There is always a chance that at any point in this interaction something, and it could be anything, will tip the scales and whomever I am talking to will all of a sudden realize that I am not what they may have thought I was.
They might not care at all. They might care a whole lot. They might change their body language, their tone of voice, or their mind about how much they like me. I have no control over any of this. My options are limited.
I could choose to go about my business, and each and every time I interact with a stranger I could say, “Hello, my name is Ivan and I need a haircut, car wash, library book, or a latte. In case you are wondering, I am a predominately estrogen-based organism. You may proceed to treat me thusly, based on how much you respect women, and how you feel about people who are born with vaginas but don’t advertise that they still have one.”
But this would be unwieldy, none of their business, and a definite overshare.
Mostly I just try to be personable and polite, not assume anything about anyone, and hope for the best.
I went in for a haircut again yesterday. My barber went on at length about how much he missed my beautiful lady, and why was she breaking his heart by not coming in to visit more often?
“You are lucky guy, that such a beautiful girl loves you like that. I’ll tell you a secret, where to get a leg of lamb, the best butcher in all of Ottawa. You get a nice bottle of wine, okay, and make sure she keeps coming back here to see us?”
I asked him how long he had been married.
He shook his head, sweeping the back of my neck with a brush coated in talcum powder. “Me, boss? I been divorced now 26 years.”
I laughed out loud, and asked him why I should take advice on keeping a quality woman around. Maybe I laughed like a girl. Maybe he finally noticed that I have wrinkles and grey hair but still don’t need to shave. Who can know what it was?
He stopped for a beat, his eyes meeting mine in my reflection in the mirror.
“You bring that lady in next time she comes to visit. You tell her I love her.”
He held up the mirror in one hand, and turned the chair so I could see the back of my neck.
“Look at that now.” He smiled, patting my shoulder. “Aren’t you beautiful too?”