The Barbershop

Let’s call it “Sid’s”*.  A barbershop on the corner of 135th and Frederick Douglass (or 8th for lower Manhattanites).  It dons a maroon awning with with the shop’s name written neatly in cursive across it. Inside the walls are beautiful exposed brick and bright glamourous movie star bulbs frame each shiny mirror.  The two front chairs are occupied by two brothers who own the shop and their name covers that awning.

I know this is their last name because I was told it would soon replace my own on one of my first visits to the shop.  The elder of the two brothers tries to get my number almost every time I step in the shop while the younger one often stares at my ass.  I’ve also witnessed them hitting on my friend when she was eight months pregnant and had her other two other kids in tow.  The last time I went in one of them said, “You know I’m not tryna have any more babies but I sure would like to practice with you.”  In front of my child.

This happens nationally. One barbershop at home in Baltimore had a long corridor that sat about 8 seats where guys would sit and wait for their turn in the chair.  This meant that every time I walked up to seat my son I had to slide past numerous guys with that starving wolf look on and try to hide my thick thighs all while holding all my stuff and a kid’s small hand.  And another shop in Harlem that I tried a few weeks ago had so many men drinking what seemed to be moonshine out of plastic containers I thought maybe I was in West VA.

I have grown to loathe barbershops.

What is it about a barber’s pole that turns men into animals?  Why do they feel they can say and do anything they want within these walls?  What secret fraternal bonds have been created that force all men to act like they just got out of jail and haven’t seen a woman in decades in these establishments? I am such a dork, I actually researched barbershops to see if there was something in the inception of the institution that causes this behavior.  But nope, nothing there says these acts are ok; in fact most information says the exact opposite.  The tradition itself dates back to ancient Egyptians and Greeks who used barbers as not only hair technicians but nearly holy men.  Ancient cultures often believed hair to be a carrier of evil spirits and to cut it rid your soul of demons.  In the Middle Ages, barbers were renaissance men who could perform blood-letting to cure disease or pull an aching tooth.  How the hell did we move from blood-letting to cat-calling?

I mean I also get the fact that in especially for the black community the barbershop became the only place people could speak out.  Black men could get away from any and every problem in a barbershop; talk about anything from race to politics to sex.  It was just the place to be and a place for conversation; a place for talk.  It was also the only place that is exclusively male.  NO KIDS, NO WOMEN, JUST MEN. Except for the occasional “1st haircut”, young boys are rarely seen and their presence is seen as more of a rights of passage than an deterrence to debauchery.  As one of my friends put it, “Its only two places a man can be a man; a strip club and a barbershop.”  He said he gets so tired of having to watch his mouth all the time.  In a world where we are constantly asking men to “get in touch wit their feminine side” I guess he feels suffocated.  And “Men Only” establishments are dead with women powerfully penetrating every arena from boardroom to bedroom.  So, maybe I understand a teensy bit where he’s coming from; I’d be madder that Sugar Honey Iced Tea if men came into the fitting room of H&M with me and tried to make me talk sports.

So the next time I am forced to drag Max to the barber’s chair I’ll think about it like this; I have entered “The Man Cave” and I must act accordingly.  Smile politely at those hungry eyes while cursing them out under my breath and ignore all phone numbers passed to me with my change for a $20.  Maybe that guy in the Doo Rag and gold tooth is simply trying to express his manhood in a world that constantly suppresses it.  And one day, my own little Max will be among these men.  So I will have to teach him to compliment a girl’s eyes as a distraction while he’s actually staring at her chest and waiting for her to walk away so that he can slap five with his friends over how “phat” her ass is.  Oh Max, say it ain’t so.

*Names have been changed to protect the identities of those who cannot defend their assholery.