U.S.A. Barber

by Sir Francis of the Suburbs


            “Happiness,” says Scotty in his heavy accent, “is the only thing.”

            “There are three kinds of people,” he says, spinning the chair so that I am facing him. He steps directly in front of me, hands bent, shears in one hand clippers in the other, with his wrists touching his hips. I’m seated in the barber’s chair, haircut halfway finished.

            Why do I come to this barbershop? Because the barbers, staff, whoever, they rarely speak to me. They speak to each other in Vietnamese, I think. The speed and grace with which they work, coupled with the foreign cadences of their conversations makes for a very relaxing atmosphere.

            But today Scotty wants to lecture me. No, not lecture, he wants to rap with me. I’m no good at this. But I combine head nods, appropriately timed (shears not near), with “uh huh” and “you got it” well enough not to insult him.

            “One kind of person keep all the money for himself,” he says gesturing grandly, now waving his hands and shears dangerously. “Second kind of person keep some money for him, and give some to others. Giving this money,” he says pointing to his chest/heart area with both equipment-filled hands, “makes him feel something. Feel something good.” Although his speech has only lasted maybe thirty seconds, it feels a lot longer. And it feels as though everyone else in the shop has stopped what they were doing to listen. I’m afraid to move my head much, not because I’m restrained but because I’m not usually supposed to—in the barber's chair, I’m supposed to be completely still. Anyway, I’m not sure how many others are in the shop with us, but it feels like a lot. And it feels as though all eyes are on us.

            “Third kind of person. Do you know what they are?”

            “Uh huh, you got it” I blather out, smiling stupidly.

            “He gives all his money away to others,” answers Scotty, only slightly deterred by my non-answer to his pretty straightforward question. He follows up with, “Why does he do that?”

            Scotty is still directly in front of me, both hands in the air, palms up and still grasping the clippers and shears. His entire body seems like a question mark. For a terrifying second his gaze is locked onto me. I’m following his logic but I have no idea how to answer his question. He waits through my silence just long enough to show everyone watching/listening that I have no clue how to solve his riddle.

            “Because he’s poor and the government come and take it all!” roars Scotty, now bent over clenching at his stomach with laugher. I momentarily worry that Scotty may injure himself with his tools.

            I had misjudged Scotty. He wasn’t quizzing me. He was performing for me. I wonder how many times he’s performed this same, or similar, joke before. “Oh yeah of course. I agree with that!” I lamely reply. Scotty and I are the only ones laughing (and I’m too anxious to really be laughing), so I surmise that the others in the shop hadn’t stopped to watch his performance so much as gauge my reaction.

            “No, but happiness man, that’s the thing,” says Scotty as he goes back to cutting my hair, clippers buzzing away in one hand, shears slicing away in the other.

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