(This is the second installment of a two-part story; if you missed the first section you can get caught up right here).
The first thing I noticed about my new barber was his chest: he had one of those concave varieties that looked like someone had once violently passed him a basketball that he had failed to properly catch, and the impact had forever left his upper torso bent inward like a serving spoon.
He was tall and thin with the beginnings of a gut that spilled like a soggy diaper over his belt-line. He had wiry gray hair that sat like a frizzy robin’s nest atop his skull and his large protruding ears looked as if they had been stolen from a Mr. Potato Head doll. Atop his large puckered nose sat a set of wire rimmed glasses, and a few inches below this his Adam’s apple jutted out violently as if striving to eject itself from his throat.
We exchanged pleasantries as I settled myself into the black hydraulic barber’s chair1 I asked his name and he looked me in the eyes, cocked his head and eyed me seriously.
“I’m Harry,” he said, and paused briefly for dramatic effect before continuing. “Harry the Hair Guy.”
Both his voice and his eyebrows rose in synchronized step and he tilted forward nervously on his toes as he spoke the italicized words. I smiled one of those You got me good-type smiles and shook my head at him, and a very self-pleased guffaw rattled in the hollows of his throat. I got the sense that every day he eagerly waited for that moment to happen. I was pleased to have participated.
Harry was around my age and when he bent down to reach for a set clippers I noticed a bald spot on the crown of his head; the space was yellowed like old typewriter paper and for a moment I worried if he was jaundiced, and if so, was it contagious? Anchored in the middle of this empty sour space two Asian characters had been firmly tattooed; it saddens me to acknowledge that I never discovered their linguistic content.
As we talked I quickly concluded that Harry was gay, which given the combination of the neighborhood—Seattle’s Capitol Hill—and his profession is about as surprising as finding a sailor aboard a ship. But his was a quiet, shy gay, and I had the feeling that he probably still takes home female “friends” for Thanksgiving dinner with his parents.
As he ran the clippers around my scalp he told me that he’d worked for years at a Great Clips store in Kirkland, a Seattle suburb known for its wealth and shine. He’d moved to the city only a few months before and had found that managing this store was a completely different experience. Which it has to be, given that he relocated from a rich white suburb to ground zero for the crazy, the destitute, the addled and addicted.
I know this because I live only four blocks from Harry’s Great Clips store. The section of town along Broadway where he works is located in a lowland confluence of several diverse neighborhoods. When walking through this area you get the sense that the dregs of humanity get siphoned down to these dirty streets like runoff after a heavy rain. You look about and are surrounded by tattered persons begging for a hand, yelling at walls, pissing in alleyways, eyeing street-lamps in anticipation of an impending fist-fight, and generally suffering the world’s torments.
When I commented on the neighborhood and the people populating it, Harry regaled me with a brief story of a homeless man who had come in and asked a female employee to shave his genitals clean. I sensed that stories of this nature were probably legion, and as I wanted to learn more about Harry I changed the subject and asked him if Great Clips was a good company to work for.
He enthusiastically assured me that they were: they pay him well, give him benefits and even occasionally send him to managerial training sessions, the latter of which I imagine being held in windowless conference rooms at grimy airport hotels over weak coffee and day-old pastries. But whatever: it all sounded like just the right sort of thing for Harry. A moment later he leaned close over my ear and whispered in his hoarse old maiden’s voice, But this particular franchisee…, ohhh boy, could I tell you stories. And I bet that he could, but for better or worse he did not.
As he trimmed around my ears Harry told me he liked Great Clips because it’s customers generally preferred a “wash and wear” style, which didn’t really sound like much of a style to me. In fact, it seemed like a definitive acknowledgement of a general disinterest to all matters of style.
Lest I sound superior I must pause and confess that I haven’t actually styled my hair in years, though it’s also worth noting that this reality is driven largely by the lack of hair remaining atop my head than any disinterest to looking nice on my part.
And I don’t mean to discredit Great Clips services, as limited as they may be. Sometimes you’re happy to shell out big bucks for a high-end hormone-free hamburger topped with house-cured bacon jam, red onions en escabeche and smoked radish aioli on a brioche bun; other times you just want to plunk down five-bucks and get a plain old burger with mustard, pickles and onion, and a side of fries.
In the end the haircut I got was exactly what I had expected: nothing fancy but it looked just fine, and that was plenty to content me. As Harry said, I could wash it and wear it, and that was good enough.
And I believe that phrase sums up my entire Great Clips experience: good enough. That is, with the exception of Harry, who exceeded everything I could have imagined. And for that, well, Thanks for being you, Harry. I appreciate it.
- On the barber’s chair: I honestly think this has to be ranked as one of the coolest furniture developments humankind has ever had the fortune to create. I mean seriously: it’s a chair, that goes up-and-down, with the simple pressure applied by one’s foot. That’s the sort of genius that gives me hope for our future in these troubled and thunderous days. [↩]