Saturday, November 13, 2010

The Black Barbershop (Blarbershop)

          My hair has always been a point of contention for me. I'm a nappy headed hoe and with that comes certain responsibility to be educated about the diligence in maintaining these naps. There are many things that a person of color must do to upkeep one's Chia pet. Having your Caucasian mother drag you out on the front porch and cut your hair with sewing scissors is not one of them. Bless her heart; she did the best she could. Occasionally I went to hair dressers but they were of no help as I was probably the first Black person they had ever met. One time I was at my Grandmother's apartment out on the deck and I looked over at the apartment next door and there were two African men out on their porch; one was cutting the other's hair. Of course as soon as my mother saw them she couldn't help herself. My mother is the kind of person that could strike up a conversation with a waffle iron. She can talk to anyone; thus her conversation with Black people. Somehow she convinced one of them to cut my hair. She successfully managed to talk the man into it with almost no effort; I, on the other hand, was in need of a compelling argument that I should let this unlicensed stranger who barely spoke English to touch my precious Chia pet. Even though my hair was no doubt a hot mess at the time on account of it never been cut or taken care of properly, I still enjoyed my poofball. I took a strange pride in it and I really didn't like others messing with it too much. I got dragged over there and this man proceeded to cut my hair. I don't think I spoke an entire word to him the whole time. Quite frankly, I felt bothered by Black people. There were none of them in my family or school but on the seldom occasion I ran into someone who was Black it usually was not a pleasurable experience. It annoyed me how so many of them stuck together like glue and pretended to immediately understand me and act like my friend because I was a "brother" too; while in the same breath they wouldn't take the time of day to extend the same welcoming  behavior to any of my White family members. Eventually, I got over that but at the age of 12 I wasn't quite there yet. I'm not sure that this make-shift African barber's number he did on my head helped me progress any further into the understanding of Black people either. After he finished, I went and looked in the mirror and immediately burst into tears. My head looked like a piece of Lego. It was like the Fresh Prince of Bel Air except without the fade; just one solid block on top of my egg-shaped face. It was atrocious; a complete abomination! At that moment I promised myself that I would never go back to the likes of the Black barber. I would keep true to my promise for 10 years. But then there was a day where the experience repeated itself. Jesus has a really good sense of humor. 

         I had been living in New York City in Queens for 2 years when I lost my clippers. I had somewhere nice to go that night and there was no way I would show up in public with my hair looking like Spongebob Squarepants after being run over by a dump truck. I don't think I need to explain why at this point in my life I had been cutting my own hair. Unfortunately, without clippers I was out of luck. I had to improvise. Everyday I had walked by what seemed like a very quiet humble little barbershop on the corner. I never would dare or even dream to step into this establishment considering my past history with letting others, particular African Americans, take control of my fuzz bucket.  However, on that Sunday I had no time to keep looking for my clippers so I gave in and decided to enter the unknown world that is Black barbershops or Blarbershop for short. I walked across the street to the entrance, I took a deep breath and tried to erase all of the painful hair memories I had experienced in my youth and walked in. One thing became very clear to me as soon as I entered; Black barbershops are absolutely insane. They have Nintendo, football games on the television, a tattoo parlor, high chairs to get your shoes shined, a pool table, chicken wings, and a refrigerator There were about 30 people in there! All men. All brown. I felt like I was on Lava Life. So I walked through the door in my Black Jones New York trench coat, tight jeans, and pointy shoes. I took a look around  and quickly realized that actually I was the one that looked crazy. I was a little intimidated by the loud noise and the billions of people crowded into that small place. I didn't walk up to anyone. I just stood there. I just stood and took it all in. I saw the poster on the wall with deceased Black celebrities. I was very proud of myself because I could name almost all of them: Tupac, Notorious B.I.G., Aaliyah, Run DMC, Bob Marley and one more that I couldn't figure out. A man in the corner gestured for me to come over to him as he proceeded to boot whoever was sitting down out of his chair. I thought he was a customer but apparently random Black men just come and hang out. Who needs online dating? The man greeted me, shook my hand and sat me in his chair. He wrapped a black tarp around my incredibly thin neck and started with his interrogation. He said, "Do you want points?" I said "Yes". I had no idea what he was talking about. I found out later that points are triangle shaped sideburns. I liked them. I felt like Elvis except without diabetes. Then he said, "Do you want it round or square in the back?". I still can't quite figure what this nonsense is all about. First of all, what shape is it normally? If a barber could just simply try to return my hair line to its original shape I wouldn't need to endure this ridiculous line of questioning. Second of all, I can't even see back there. A billion confused thoughts raced through my mind. At this point I was sweating because I clearly was out of place and had no idea what was going on. What was worse was the fact that my barber was catching on. I knew I couldn't ask for clarification or explanation of any of these questions he was asking me because it would only lead to further embarrassment. So I said " I'd like it square in the back please", but thought to myself "I'll try round next time and see if people react differently to me from the back". He used 2 different razors: a medium sized white one like the one I have and a tiny red one that's very hot! I found out the red one is a trimmer.  Then, he flipped up this thing on the back of a chair and shoved the back of my head back on it. Of course I didn't realize that he had flipped up anything I just saw this Black man push my head back with one hand and magically something had appeared behind my head to support. I was beyond perplexed at this point. It would only get worse. He did something quite disturbing. He brought out a straight razor. I had only heard about these contraptions in books and movies. Then, without announcement, he shaved me. It was so bizarre! I mean, I loved it! But still! Shouldn't you ask permission first? I thought that would be the polite thing to do. At first I thought he was trying to kill me. He didn't though. I made it out alive. He finished shaving and proceeded to spray some delicious and suspiciously gay mist all over my head. I learned at a later date that these were disinfectants. He even did my eyebrows with the straight razor right before he let me out of the chair. The total came to $14 which although is very cheap, it definitely sounded like he pulled the number out of thin air. I feel the same way about the copious amounts fried chicken that people were eating casually. I gave him $20 and left. I went home and took another look in the mirror. This time there were no tears. I actually looked really good. It's been long since the days of my mother hacking away at the wild bush on my head out on the front porch with her sewing scissors. Maybe I was growing up. Maybe I was changing. Perhaps the world of African American hairstylists wasn't as petrifying as I once thought. Not only did I look fabulous at the party that night, I basked in my own glow for the next five entire days.Unfortunately my coiffed look didn't last long. Beauty is so fleeting. My French Canadian roots literally grew back with a vengeance. They were pissed that my naps were being treated with chocolate love. In no time my curls grew back and my head returned to its normal state of looking like the set of Anne of Green Gables. I suppose there really was no easy fix to my nappy problem. It would just never go away. However, there is one solution that I have found and I have stuck with more recently. I've found away to be truly content with my natural African-descended hair. I now follow in the steps of Mr. Clean.


  1. Sean, what a great story! I love your mom!

  2. So this black men-gone bald thing isn't actually so much a statement as it is a last resort...besides the other possibly 3 or 4 options. And now I know. O