Friday, November 10, 2006

Mike the Barber

I just broke off a five-year relationship. It wasn't a valued relationship, although services were provided and pleasantries exchanged, but as these things go, some measure of loyalty has accreted over time with familiar intertia.

When I first came to Massachusetts, I chose to patronize Mike for no other reason than his proximity to my place of employment. It wouldn't really be correct to call Mike a barber, recalling, as it does, gruff men with buzzing shears and worn-through formica, and newspapers and coffee. Mike is more of a stylist, and he ran his own place. I watched a couple of Mike's halfhearted business adventures come and go. He'd rearranged the place a couple of times, and tried to support a manicurist for a short time. He never really seemed into it.

Mike has a lisp and a Greek accent, middle aged with dark, full hair and the slouch of a healthy man who does nothing physical. He smells of hair product and the cigarette he smoked an hour ago in the back room. I'd have guessed he's a gay man (the lisp), and maybe he is, but he's got grown children and a brother-in-law with whom he's resigned enough to drop the business for a week and drive to wherever. I'd have said "happy enough", but Mike doesn't ever really look happy. He's amused on rare occasions, but most of the time he trudges around just a hair cowed, just a hair desultory. "How's the family?" he'd drawl without enthusiasm, remembering, without details, that I have young children. "How's work?"

I usually came in during lunch--what I'd think would be peak hours--but I never saw very many patrons in Mike's shop. One time, a fat, loudmouthed woman bowled the man over about her trip to Greece, flirting with him, at which Mike looked profoundly uncomfortable. She left him a suggestive thank-you card, which he uncomfortably asked me to read for him as her car crunched away in the driveway. Maybe he can read Greek.

Mike always did a terrible job cutting my hair, but you can probably guess how much that bothers me. I came back every month, and left the poor bastard a tip, as I did the last time. "I've moved," Mike told me on the phone as I arranged my appointment. (He wasn't comfortable with a walk-in.) It wasn't really any further from work, but as I walked in, it was apparent Mike had a new partner as well. He must be the sort of guy that draws heavy obnoxious blondes, because he looked more broken than ever. I asked him about the move, and he glanced at the sow by the door before he answered that "the place was too big for just me." I asked if many clients had followed him here. "Not many," he softly replied, after looking at the scowling heifer by the register. Nervously, he handled my fourteen bucks plus tip. "I- I'm not so good at the new machine."

"Should I ask for you when I come back?"

"Okay...but only on Fridays and Saturdays now."

"I'll try to remember. Thanks."

"Okay," he mumbled.

I held out for about twice as long as usual, but couldn't bring myself to go back. Even if I could prop my eyes open to the shame, Mike made it damn inconvenient with the whole Friday-only thing.

So yesterday, I went to the commercial place. "We cater to men," the owner (yet another tubby and annoying blonde) bubbled at me. "TVs at every chair. We shampoo after we cut. A neck massage with every visit."

A massage, you say.

"I love cutting wavy hair," my young hairdresser told me.

"Really? What the hell do you do with it?"

"For you, just some gel."

I made the obligatory remarks about hairline recession here. It's not as bad as I whine about. "Do what you think works," I said.

I took off the coke bottles as she did her magic, but afterwards, I must say that I liked the shampoo. I'd forgotten how pleasant it is to have some nubile, delicate-fingered girl massage your scalp. And then the vibrator on my back. Yowza. I didn't want to go back to work.

She was right about the gel, too. I walked out with the best haircut I've had in a decade. When I got home, my wife noticed, and if that wasn't out of character enough, I think she was a little turned on.

I hope Mike does well, but I think the poor fella's on his way out. I can't help but feel somewhat responsible.


LentenStuffe said...


Honestly, I think one can say that Mike's biggest problem was Mike. Why pay for a service that makes you feel this way?

Interesting piece.

twiffer said...

redundency (on my part): the trick is to rarely get your hair cut. then you don't worry about the cost so much.

i understand the convienence factor though. big driver.

Keifus said...

One part familiarity. One part sympathy. One part inadequate motivation to tame my appearance. But eventually the inertia was overcome.