October 27, 2010

Die Haird, Part 2: Avi the Barber-ian

If you missed Part 1 of this exciting entry, click here or just scroll down a bit to the last entry.  Otherwise, you'll miss key plot points and a kickass drawing of my barber dressed as Peyton Manning throwing a football to my disembodied hair, which is wearing an adorable miniature Colts helmet.  On to the latest bloggy goodness...

So Avi sucks at cutting hair.  This much we've established.

Maybe he missed his pre-ordained life course.  Maybe he was supposed to be a great politician or actor or chef.  Or, if he's not supposed to be a star (and certainly not supposed to cut their hair), maybe he was made to protect them, Costner-in-Bodyguard style.  Because when shit gets real, Avi will throw down.

A couple weeks ago, I headed to the barber shop after work for a quick trim before I had to head off for something else.  An old, long-buried feeling of dread began to stir in me as I stepped inside and saw the waiting bench nearly completely full of people.  I felt like Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings when they were all in the mine and he realized that the Balrog was coming for them.  (And yes, I just dropped a Bodyguard and a Lord of the Rings reference within the first two paragraphs of a blog post.)

I'd hoped to be able to get ushered to the front of the line, VIP-style, by my guy Roman, but he was faced with a guy who had a wee bit of hair to tackle.

More than half of the line was, of course, waiting to be enhanced by the glory of Cesar's shears, so for the second time in my life, it fell to me to trust the mustache and accept the invitation to sit in Avi's chair.

That chair might as well have been the electric chair.  Settling into it, I felt like Michael Clarke Duncan in The Green Mile, except not huge and black.  The cut started off in typical silent, Avi-like fashion: going too high with the clippers for a very "just joined the Army after trusting that recruiter outside the Walmart" look, one or two "whoops" moments that led to a completely different haircut than he'd originally intended, a couple instances where I felt like I was in legitimate danger when he switched to scissors, etc.

And then the front door opened, and a decidedly out-of-place customer stepped in.

As I've covered before in the blog, seeing homeless people is as much of an everyday occurrence for New Yorkers as hearing cabs honk or stumbling into a movie shoot, so having one amble into the barber shop wasn't completely out of the ordinary.  Except that this bum was stinking drunk, rocking soiled camouflage pants, and, to top it all off, wearing a dirty Spice Girls t-shirt that was about two sizes too big for him.  It was fantastic.

No one quite knew what to do, except for the normal New York thing when a strange/potentially dangerous person enters their midst: pretend like the person's not there and nothing is happening.  (Oddly enough, this also applies to celebrity encounters.  In Mel Gibson's case, it's both.)  Expecting everything from pulling out his dick to pulling out a gun, we all watched, out of the corners of our eyes, as the homeless Spice Girls fan walked into the shop, sat down on the bench, opened up an US Weekly magazine, and started catching up on the latest Lindsay Lohan news.

The initial weirdness having passed, business carried on as usual in the shop, with the barbers keeping one eye on the hair they were cutting and the other on Bum Spice. They would speak in quick, hushed tones to each other in whatever language they speak, I assumed to try and formulate a strategy to get rid of the eyesore currently residing on their bench and scaring away potential customers while reading about 10 Ways to Drive Your Man Crazy in Bed.

Avi, more so than any of the others, appeared very uncomfortable with what was going on.  I was fascinated by the fiery volcano of rage that was so clearly roiling behind that happy, mustachioed face.   He wasn't able to go more than five seconds without stealing a glance over at Bum Spice throughout my haircut.  But, despite his bumism (that's the word I just made up for people who are inherently prejudiced against bums), for those first couple of minutes, all was well.  At least until Bum Spice started heckling the customers.

It was pretty innocent at first.  Somebody in Cesar's chair said something about how he wanted his hair to be longer because he was getting fatter, and Bum Spice chuckled and muttered something under his breath.  Okay.  No harm done.  The glances between the barbers resumed, but nothing really out of order had happened yet.

But then he just started getting belligerent.  Apparently the sight of Angelina Jolie adopting another brown-skinned baby set something off inside of Bum Spice.  (Either that, or it was the cheap whiskey that did it.  Maybe it was the whiskey.)  New people would walk into the shop, Bum Spice would yell something unintelligible at them, and they'd walk right out again.  One guy was told he had a "head like a burlap sack, mothafucka."  The guy who was unfortunate to be sitting next to Bum Spice was subjected to constant pokes and prods and what I can only imagine to be just awful-smelling, hot-garbage breath.

Still, nothing pushed anyone in the shop completely over the edge, until a, well let's call him "effeminate," customer walked through the door, said hi to Cesar, and Bum Spice peppered the air with a single, "Faggot."

That was the last straw for Avi.

It had been a slow burn ever since Bum Spice walked in, but now he was pissed off.

The quiet comments to his fellow barbers ceased.

The shears dropped.

Looking up at my increasingly enraged barber, I could only imagine what would happen if one of those x-ray poles that showed the size of the Grinch's heart swooped in...

And then zoomed in on his brain...

Regardless of how the thought process actually occurred, or whether it was Dr. Seuss-ian or not, Avi suddenly launched into full-on bum-battling mode.  He would fight him in the shop.  He would fight him with a mop.  He would tussle with his stench.  He would kick him off that bench.  He does not like bums in his biz.  He does not like them, Avi-he-is.

Avi stepped away from my chair (and almost took off half of my scalp in the process) and faced Bum Spice.  This broke the bum away from his heckling, and he stood to face Avi in turn.  The tension in the air was so thick, you could cut it with a pair of shears (or at least give it a nice fade).  It was like an Old West showdown.  A tumbleweed blew by (or maybe it was a big clump of hair, I can't remember).

No one said a word, but we all knew:  It was on.  It was like watching the intro before fighting a boss while playing Mega Man as a kid.

The following is not a direct transcript of the dialogue that transpired, because I am not a tape recorder, but it's as close as my memory can reconstruct:

Avi:  You go now!

Bum Spice:  What the fuck you talkin' about?

Avi:  You're not getting haircut, and you're bothering customers, so go!  Get out!

Bum Spice:  Man, I'm just readin', ain't no need to tell me to go!

Avi:  No!  Our shop!  We can tell whoever to go!  So go!

Bum Spice:  Motherfucker, don't try an' tell me what to do, fuck you!

Avi:  Fuck ME?  No, fuck you!

At this point, some sort of bomb went off inside Avi.  Note to my readers, if you're ever vacationing in Israel, do not, under any circumstances, say the words, "Fuck you," to anyone.  I'm not sure if Avi had served the required years of military service back home, or if he was a secret master of Krav Maga, but he came at Bum Spice like he was Steven Seagal, and the bum was a gun-toting, Asian henchman.  Or a sandwich.  Depends on whether we're talking about modern Seagal or '80s Seagal.

Seagal or no Seagal, Avi took two steps toward Bum Spice, and that was all she wrote.  All we were missing was Howard Cosell calling the action.  Avi gave the guy a quick shot to the face, shoved him back, spun him around, and chucked him right out the door of the barber shop.

Girl power, indeed.

Having done his good deed for the day, Avi calmly walked back into the shop, picked up his shears, and finished my awful haircut.  I was almost proud to walk out with that mess on my head.  Avi might fail when it comes to taking a little bit off the sides, but he's definitely not one for taking any shit.

October 18, 2010

Die Haird, Part 1: The Hair Necessities

No one appreciates the value of a good barber like a man who's going bald.

See, I'm a little more generous, follicle-wise, in the drawings of myself in this here blog, but I assure you, dear readers, I'm going quite bald.  I have a sad future of looking like Ron Howard ahead of me.  (Despite my numerous warnings about this, Girlfriend seems disturbingly OK with it.  Reason #2,813 why I love her.)  While you'd think that a man would stop caring as much about finding a decent barber shop when this tragic process really kicks in and instead go to the nearest cheap Supercuts, you'd be wrong.

When you reach the point where if you squint at the mirror juuuuust right after taking a shower that you can actually see your scalp and picture what bald-you is going to look like, you're reduced to a whimpering, more-foreheaded shell of your former self.  Brushes and combs openly mock you.

To keep yourself from leaping off a tall building with a note pinned to your shirt that reads, "Goodbye cruel, hairy world," you seek solace in the arms (or rather, clippers) of a knowledgeable barber, some kindhearted gent who will not judge you for your bald spot, but embrace you, tell you it's alright, and make it all better by clippering away your sadness.

After a few trials and errors (1. No man should ever be tricked to pay $50 for a haircut, 2. No man should ever have his hair cut by a barber with 9 fingers, 3. No white man should ever assume that he can just slide into a barber shop with the word "Soul" in its name), I found my Valhalla in a great little barber shop in Chelsea.  $15 for a cut, ESPN on the TVs, good selection of magazines for your perusal, and that general old-timey barber feel that either relaxes the hell out of you or makes you think that any moment, someone's going to bust in and whack you like at the end of The Godfather.

The shop is run by a bunch of guys, a couple of whom are brothers, who came over to America sometime during the 90s, mostly from Israel, to pursue their dream of offering affordable haircuts to the fair people of New York City.  Given the, um, particular clientele of the Chelsea area, the fact that they've been up and running successfully for so long is a testament to how well these guys do their jobs.

The all-star of the crew is Cesar.  Now, throughout the course of history, there have been a select group of people who have been lucky enough to do for a living exactly what the good lord had intended for them to do.  Wayne Gretzky was supposed to be a hockey player.  Jean Georges was supposed to be a chef.  Nickleback was supposed to make terrible fucking music.  Cesar?  Well, Cesar was destined to cut hair.  The man's a freak of nature.  You don't even really have to instruct him.  You just sit down and before you know it, he's made you a better human being.

As you can imagine, the line of people waiting to be transformed by the magic of Cesar is ridiculously long.  It's like walking into an Old West brothel in the 1800s and requesting the hooker who doesn't have the syphilis; you're going to be waiting behind a lot of cowboys.  When you're forced to settle, then, you have to go with a hooker, er, barber who may not be a visionary of Cesar's caliber, but is solid and reliable, like an old Chevy.  My Chevy is Roman.

With Roman, I know I'm going to walk in, he's going to point at me and let me cut in front of the other suckers sitting there reading magazines, I'm going to tell him the usual, and I'm going to walk out with a great haircut.  It's like watching a football game and knowing that Peyton Manning's going to lead a late 4th-quarter drive for the game-winning touchdown.  Roman's my Peyton and my hair is his Reggie Wayne.

And then there's Avi.  Avi is the Fredo of the group.  The Ringo.  The Oates.  The Rocky V.  The fat Kardashian that Lamar Odom married.  It's not that Avi is bad at what he does, it's... Well, no, it is that he's bad at what he does.  I'm not sure what sort of nefarious, implicating evidence he has on the shop's owners, but it doesn't seem like he won his chair through merit alone.  When the shop is full of people sitting on line for a haircut and Avi calls out, "Next!", the response is less than enthusiastic.

To be honest, I felt bad every time I saw people awkwardly turn down Avi's offer to sit in his chair in favor of waiting for another barber.  But time and time again, I'd join the crowd, because I was afraid of why everyone seemed to avoid this guy like a deadly, mustachioed plague.

And then one day, I stopped into the shop to get a haircut before I had to run off somewhere else.  There was a bit of a line, like usual, but I didn't have time to wait for Roman or Cesar like I normally would.  So, this time, when Avi wiped the stray hairs and shame away from his chair and called, "Next?", I had no choice but to man up and accept his barber cape 'round my neck, which he promptly tied so tight that my Adam's apple turned into a banana.

When I finally regained consciousness, Avi set about his business.  His deathly silent business.  I'm a pretty chatty guy, so I like when a barber engages you in a little old-timey, barber-to-customer banter, where you talk about the ball game or politics or what stand-up dame you happen to be takin' out on the town that night.  Nothing major.  I don't need a Larry King interview, but it's nice to have something.  Avi, though, is completely silent as he goes about his business.  Normally, you'd mistake that for intense concentration that will undoubtedly result in a stellar haircut.   With Avi, it's just... silence.  Which, as you can imagine, makes it all the more unsettling when he was buzzing the back of my head and uttered a single word:

There are a handful of people in the world who you never want to say, "Whoops" while they're working on you: your surgeon, your accountant, your mohel (Google it if you're not among my Jewish readers), and your barber, to name a few.  I feared the worst, thinking I'd wind up looking like an NBA player in the '90s with some lightning bolt or gang sign carved into my head.  But before I could tell him to just get over with it and start putting in cornrows, Avi audibly exhaled and muttered something that sounded like, "Eh, it's okay," and went about his business.

The haircut progressed with a few other little almost-screwups along the way, but for the most part, Avi seemed to be at least performing his basic job duties.  After the customary edge-trim with the straight razor (another old-timey barber shop touch that I love), Avi went to the back and fetched a hot towel (another appreciated touch) to finish up with.

He pressed the steaming towel to my face, wiping off the last of the shaving cream and engulfing me in the warm, fibrous embrace that only a hot towel can provide.  For a moment, I melted into a zen-like state of bliss and relaxation, and waited for the equally satisfying moment when the towel is removed, and the coolness of the air hits you like a dive into the ocean.

I waited.

And waited.

And waited.  Panic began to set in.  Some of the barbers let the towel linger, sure, but at that point, I was beginning to lose air.   Surely he had to realize...?

I accepted my fate and prayed to Jesus, knowing that this, indeed, would be how I left this world:  A hot-towel smothering at the hands of an inept Middle Eastern barber.  Just as I began to see the glorious light of Heaven approaching me, Avi snapped the towel away, and declared my haircut finished.  Looking in the mirror, I could tell the finished product was a wee bit uneven.

Okay, maybe it wasn't that bad.   But it was definitely in the top 3 of Worst Haircuts of My Life (#1 most certainly being the time I decided to cut my own bangs as a kid because "they were getting in my eyes," which later resulted in me having to get a buzz cut to "even" it all out and pissing off the regulation-setters at my Catholic grade school; but I digress).  Even Girlfriend noticed, asking, "Why does your hair look so different?" when she saw me afterwards.  Because I took a gamble and lost, Girlfriend.  Because I took a gamble and lost.

But that's the funny thing about people.  Where they lack in certain areas, they make up for it in others.  For instance, if you happen to be threatened by a homeless Spice Girls fan, Avi's the guy you want on your side.

Stay tuned for Part 2 for the reason why...

October 6, 2010


It's hard to remember now, but there was once a time when emoticons didn't exist.

Or rather, their raw components existed, but the process of stringing them together like some weird, "Good Will Hunting"-style equation in order to show exactly how you were feeling at the time had not yet been foisted upon the typing masses.  (I like to think that it happened by accident; that one day, a man with an end-parenthesis and a man with a colon bumped into each other in a typographical version of, "You got chocolate in my peanut butter/You got peanut butter in my chocolate," and lo, the smiley face emoticon was born.)

Today, though, they're as prevalent as anything else in the English language.  Kids seem to spend more time coming up with clever ways to string characters together than they do on complex portions of their education, like math or finding our country on a globe or tying shoes or making it through 9th grade without getting knocked up.  To parents, it must be a pain; looking over their kids' shoulders has become the modern version of studying hieroglyphics, leaving Mom and Dad frustrated and unable to decipher the run-up to the aforementioned middle-school pregnancies.  To the youth of America, though, recognizing actual human emotion through the process of looking at someone's face has taken a backseat to emoticons.

I should probably get up off my porch chair and stop the charade of separating myself from the young, emoticon-using crowd, considering that I've basically been part of it for years now.  And maybe it's even my generation's fault for extending the traits of our adolescence into our adult lives and influencing the older generations around us, who look to us for what's cool and current in their attempts to keep up with the times and regain their lost youths.  (I'll be covering this so-called "Extended Adolescence" period in a future post.)

With our generation's lack of what was once a common and necessary distance between different areas of life, the divisions that normally separated things like work, family, social time, etc., have basically dissolved and resulted in complete dissemination.  As a result, much of what we'd typically associate with social or home life has gradually become more and more accepted in the workplace.  Watching Mad Men now, for example, wherein a character like Don Draper has completely different personas at the office, at cocktail hour(s), and at home, is like watching footage of cars without seatbelts or pregnant women smoking (both of which you can see on Mad Men, Sundays on AMC!); it seems foreign to the point of being unsettling.

Whether it's because we sort of claim ownership of the emoticon-writing phenomenon or because we don't yet associate it with something that a boss can and/or should do, the existence of smiley faces and LOL's and the like just don't belong in the office.

It's just an odd thing when you click on an email from a boss at work...

And see a random smiley face thrown in at the end of a strictly work-related email...

It's like seeing underpants on Lindsay Lohan.  Something's just a bit off about it...

Is there some sort of deeper meaning to it?  Why would they include that?

Is it some weird flirtation?  Some attempt to be hip or casual?

This person has the power to fire me.  Is this a test?  Am I supposed to emoticon back in response?  If so, what's the proper one?  A similar smiley?  A winking face with lashes?  That monkey face thing?

This is like in Silence of the Lambs when Hannibal Lecter talked about Clarise's childhood to screw with her head...  

That smiley face has become the harbinger of my doom...

There's no reason to put a smiley face there.  It'd be like putting a frowney face after a memo that said, "Here are the specs for the quarterly report."

It's smiling into the very depths of my unworthy, mortal soul...

Why?  Why do you mock me, smiley face??!!

This is what Hell is like.  An unending barrage of context-free emoticons sailing at you from all angles, tormenting you and making you question your faith in social norms, interoffice dynamics, and your faith in god up above...

Or maybe it's just a smiley face.

That's the problem.  We've allowed two simple characters to hold so much power that they shatter the calming, safe barriers that we put up like cubicle walls.  They stick out worse than that creepy guy in Accounting's weird neck mole.

I'm not calling for a professionalism renaissance or anything like that.  Far from it.  I like the idea of a workplace being casual and loose; I think creativity is more easily spawned from a mind at rest.  But it just seems like certain things, for the sake of professionalism or decorum or whathaveyou, should be kept as "work stuff" and certain things should be kept outside of the office, like socks with holes in them or hookers.

I'll have to be more diligent in my own work-related email writing from now on, I suppose, to be the captain on this rickety boat back to normalcy.  I should be able to pull that off, right?