When “There’s always next year…” isn’t nearly enough.
I think I have a pretty good relationship with my barber, as far as barber-customer relationships go. He’s the youngest guy in the shop by about 30 years, and that includes most of the old grumpies in there getting their haircuts and grousing about how they don’t understand how their new cars work.
The shop is in the old downtown of a coastal college town and has one of those plate glass windows that acts as a one-way mirror. The co-eds stroll by, sometimes with bags full of clothes, sometimes with beers, sometimes with ice cream or frozen yogurt or a burrito wrapped in foil. My barber seems to spend a consistent one-third of his attention on who’s walking by and why and gives me tidbits of voyeuristic information like, “I saw her crying, bawling her eyes out, on her phone during her break—she works at the Italian place—like two weeks ago. Then two days ago, she was making out with some dude in nearly the same place… guess [that’s] how life works.”
I feel good when I’m there, it’s like watching a movie and I’m the main one in it (I’m the one in the mirror anyway.) And when I’m gone, the story pauses for about three months.
He doesn’t know a ton about me. He knows I’m from the Bay Area but lived all over, including Tahoe and Park City, Utah. Because of that, he knows I love the snow and asks me about it even when it’s August. He knows I know one of his best stories, one about the time he got so hammered downtown on a Friday after work that he started stumbling home and realized that it was probably too dangerous even to walk, so he called an Uber and “it ended up driving me only about 100 feet; my driveway was right there.” He knows I don’t have many good stories like that. I told him, last time I was there, that I would come equipped with three or four good “barber” stories and he just kind of cocked a half grin and deadpanned: “Doesn’t work like that man, either flows or it don’t flow.” <– And he talks like this too. Like someone who has a natural rhythm. I would say something like, “It either flows or it does not” which isn’t nearly as effective.
Yesterday, as I was getting my haircut, he was distracted. And keep in mind, this man (see: one eye on the streets, his mind jumping from story to story) is a trained multi-tasker. I tried to get him going on football or the new restaurant that opened a few blocks away (his girlfriend’s a server in town and knows all the service industry skinny; where to go, what place just got sold, what’s on the way out…) but nothing seemed to take. Finally, he sighed and moved the comb away from my scalp: “I’m really sorry man, I’m just a die-hard Dodger fan and I’m super-nervous about tonight.”
Of course. In just two short hours the Yu Darvish would throw out the first pitch to Game 7 of the World Series, geographically just two-and-a-half hours south of us. And OF COURSE he never talked Dodgers with me. I always rolled in, sideburns uneven, in my Giants hat (a World Series cap from 2010.) Whether it was out of politeness, decorum or simply not wanting to mix it up, he kept his fandom on the low from me all these years.
He paused, and sighed and wiped what I could have sworn was a tiny tear. “I was ten when they won in ‘88. It was a big moment in my life—maybe bigger than it should’ve been—ya know?”
“Since then, it’s all I’ve thought about. How to recapture that moment. I realized, sometime this year maybe, that it’s not just about that moment, but it was about being young like that, living in a world that was a little better, a country that was a lot better…”
He paused again and followed that up with: “Sorry, but just seeing what happened to Darvish and what’s going on; racism has never belonged in baseball, it was the first to break that barrier. Now I say, let the other guy play it out because it’s not fair to the team. But he owes a big apology and hit him with a suspension, hit him in the pocketbook. But it’s also—that incident—it just showed a little of where we’re at too… and that’s hard for me on top of everything.”
Everything, it turns out, was not what I assumed (the mood of the country.) He would go on to explain “everything…” was simply in the context of Game 5’s result: “My friends had to take me out of the bar,” he said. “I was gripping the bar top, crying. It felt like something big had ended.”
He paused again, clippers down at his side, and regained his composure. He began cutting again, this time around my ears and we eased into that three or four minutes of comfortable barber-customer silence.
Finally, I spoke up. I don’t know exactly what I said but it was something about me being a Giants fan and them winning their last World Series a few months after my dad had died and my son was born. The same son who happened to be playing with a toy airplane in the chair next to us, waiting patiently and taking in all the grown-up talk of the barber shop.
“That,” he said. “Is a good story man. Maybe I’ll get a chance to share a championship with my son one day.”