It's a cliché to claim that a barber is a counselor or an advisor, but it's a claim with merit. That a proper barber possesses skills in the cutting, trimming, and shaving of all things growing from a man's capital follicles goes without saying. But any barber worthy of his chair provides much more for the common man than a simple ear-lowering.
You see, a man makes himself vulnerable in a barbershop - trusting his own flesh and blood to the scissor- and razor-wielding hands of another. Such trust, cemented over time and trimmings, opens one up to his fellow man. Perhaps it starts (and indeed may stop) with talk of sports, fishing, food, or events around town. Eventually, however, a loyal customer may feel comfortable sharing the minor trials of life and work. Nothing shared in a barbershop ever passes from those walls. One leaves his stress and clippings behind as he steps out beside the candy-striped pole, refreshed.
True barbershops become more difficult to find every year as fewer men enter the trade and the old professionals retire or pass away. This is problematic for me because I have such finicky hair; it grows out rather than down, almost fro-like. Most unisex hair salons, consequently, ask little more than what guard size to use on my head. I see no point in paying for what I could do myself (and certainly no point in tipping for such lack of imagination). So I was excited, several years ago, to discover a younger barber working at the William Byrd Hotel Barber Shop here in Richmond, VA. Dave was only in his later 30's but possessed the demeanor and skill of the elder barbers of my youth. After a few months he needn't ask me how I wanted my hair cut; he simply told me to have a seat and got started. I left each month feeling like my hair had a style and shape heretofore unavailable to a Brillo-headed boy like me.
Dave was from Pennsylvania. So each month when I parked my tukhus in that chair we extolled the virtues of a real deli and a genuine pizzeria. We lamented the paucity of decent bagels in Richmond, talked about the real New Jersey Shore, and traded jabs over the Giants (my team) and the Jets (his). Dave wasn't perfect and he had his issues, but he was always affable and a welcome sight on a Friday afternoon when I walked in with a head full of fuzz. One time my wife and I even ran into him at the bar in Lemaire at the Jefferson Hotel and he bought us each a drink. Each month I tipped him well (I believe) and tipped much more in December before Christmas. And Dave called me Danny. You see, everybody generally calls me Dan or Daniel, except my family. Now Dave was hardly family, but he sounded like my family in his manner of speech, so there was something reminiscent of my Yankee childhood when he greeted me.
Today I stepped into the William Byrd Hotel Barber Shop just as I always do on the first Friday afternoon of the month. Dave's chair was empty, and when I asked the short Slavic woman where he was she informed me that he left.
"Day off?" I asked.
"No, he left. He's gone."
Gone? He'd left without notice, it seems. Too dumbstruck to simply walk out, and no back-up plan in my head, I sat down in her chair.
"What clipper size? Number two on side and three on top?" she asked. She proceeded to give me the most boring haircut I've had in years. She rushed those clippers over my head with all the style, grace, and craft of military in-procesing.
I don't think I'll be going back to the William Byrd Hotel Barber Shop anymore.