This blog contains short stories, thoughts and other writings in support of my memoir: The Other Side of Town
If you’ve moved around as much as I have, you know how difficult it can be to find a new barber or hair stylist. I’ve probably moved at least 7 times over the course of my life and each time I struggle with this same problem. And while there’s plenty of technology and other things around I’m sure could help me out, I never usually think about it until it’s basically too late and I’m now looking like Don Henley circa 1972.
I recently moved again and found myself in this situation one Saturday. Luckily, I had woken up extra early so theoretically had plenty of time to find a place, make an appointment or even get a walk-in spot. But instead of prioritizing, I procrastinated until nearly 12PM. Finally I stopped what I was doing long enough to notice how my thick growth and massive hair sideburns started making me look like some bad Elvis impersonator. So I shut my computer and decided to get dressed.
CORPORATE CHOP SHOP
At about 1:00PM I began making my way over to Supercuts. I didn’t really want to go to Supercuts. But at this late hour, I didn’t feel I had a choice. The quality at these franchises is barely suitable for kids let alone adults that perhaps care about their appearance. I had gone to this store before. And while I was happy with my haircut at the time, it was during off-peak hours. Not that I’m all that fussy about my hair anyway. And so long as the cut is reasonably even, and absent of visible tuffs of hair sticking out anywhere, I’m generally okay with it.
The time I’d gone previously was in the middle of the week and in the middle of the day when they were slow. Otherwise they probably would have rotated me out inside of five minutes, paying little to no attention to the long sprouts of golden hair jutting from my ear lobes like some kind of wild, grassy meadow.
I walked in and the girl at the desk took my name. I stood for a minute in the waiting area. But suddenly changed my mind after noticing a line of kids coming towards me with haircuts that looked like a blind person did them.
LOCALLY OWNED AND OPERATED
My only option now was to try and find a local, independently-owned hairdresser. But first I was hungry so got something to eat at Panera Bread. After eating, I started driving around town looking for something. I knew there were a few high-end-looking places close by to where I lived—walking distance really—but never went in to avoid a potentially uncomfortable situation requiring me to immediately leave after hearing the price for a man’s haircut. I didn’t want to pay more than 20 dollars for a haircut. Why should I pay more? I think 20 bucks is more than fair for what I wanted.
I finally convinced myself to stop at a joint that had a barber’s poll out front. But when I got inside the girl greeting me said I needed to sign up for a membership. A membership? Where were the old men cutting hair since WWII and using straight-razors to shave the backs of other old guy’s necks? Not here apparently. The deal was, for 38 dollars a month, I got one haircut and discounts on manicures, pedicures and other spa treatments. Just based on this story so far you can probably imagine what happened next.
JIM LONGS UNISEX SALON
As I got back into my car again, I recalled seeing a few places on the main drag near Morris Avenue. So I hightailed over there. A small place on the corner looked promising but when I got inside, no one spoke English. What were the odds of me getting what I wanted out of this place?
Back in my car again, I pulled into the parking lot of an establishment with a sign out front that read: “Jim longs unisex salon”. As fantastic a name as that sounded on the outside, wasn’t nearly as exciting on the inside for some reason. But it looked inexpensive and approachable so I decided to give it a try. Upon entering I saw all the barbers were busy with customers already. And with at least 4 other people still waiting, I figured I’d be there for a while. As it turned out, one of the customers was actually a barber. He saw me walk in and immediately ushered me over to his hair station.
WHERE WERE HIS CUSTOMERS?
There were three other customers waiting before me. So why wasn’t he servicing them, I wondered? But I stopped trying to answer this question after he'd adjusted the height of my chair and laid a hospital gown over my body. He then finished his preparation by wrapping my neck with toilet paper. He asked how I wanted my hair cut and I told him: “a number 3 on the sides and short with the scissors on top, please”.
DON’T JUDGE A BOOK
He went over to his station, opened a drawer and started going through it. It appeared he didn’t know where anything was because he was messing about like he didn’t know where anything was. It took him a minute to find what he was looking for but after that everything was fine. Actually, it wasn’t fine at all because none of the clipping heads fit the electric razor he had and he seemed genuinely confused by this.
At about this time I was starting to take more of an interest of the inside of his drawer anyway. It was pretty disgusting actually, with hair and filth everywhere and looking like it hadn’t been cleaned in a week. After witnessing the filthy drawer, I started to get nervous. And the more he fiddled with his equipment the more I suspected that he didn’t know what the hell he was doing. One would think that a man of his age and experience would have all the ancient, barber wisdom necessary to cut hair with the same ease that most people can turn a door knob. I guess you can’t judge a book by its cover. At least I knew then why none of the other customers were letting him cut their hair. Would you let a disgusting slob that couldn’t even manage to affix a number three clipper to the head of a razor cut your hair?
Finally I had seen enough. I threw the barbers robe from my body, yanked the toilet paper off my neck, got up and told the guy: “actually, I changed my mind”. I felt a little bad when his head slumped slightly and he replied “are you sure?” I’d never been so sure about something in my entire life, actually. I existed quickly and didn’t look back.
Figuring I had just avoided a potentially brutal, imprecise butchering and a severe case of head lice, I felt relieved.
HOME SWEET HOMEAt this point I’d pretty much exhausted any or all salons or haircutting places that didn’t require an appointment, I did the only thing I could think of to do: drove all the way to my home Town of Berkeley Heights and paid 28 dollars at Hair Art.
" The Other Side of Town was so good! It doesn't sound like jokes a lot of the time which is brilliant. I was laughing out loud! " ~ George Verongos LS