White Guy, Black Barber Shop and Larry Bird

“No problem.  Maybe next time.”

I was annoyed – maybe a little angry, but tried to keep cool as I darted out of my son’s barber shop.

We were on a mission Saturday morning – my son’s unintended, over-grown kinky curls had become unmanageable.  Yosef needed a haircut when I signed him in at 10:30 am, and, to my disdain, he stills needs one today.

I failed.  My simple mission is now temporarily aborted.

But, it’s not the barber shop’s fault – it’s mine.

The problem is, I’m a type-A white guy raising a black son – a combination that makes visiting a black barber shop akin to mixing oil and water.

Those trips seem to test my mettle, particularly if I focus on four main differences between my son’s barber shop and my high-volume, discount chain salon.

Difference #1: ‘What’s up’ versus ‘Phone number please?’

As a white guy walking into a black barber shop, my first few steps are taken with one goal in mind: to convince all in the area that I have swagger.  Actually, if I’m honest, I’m just trying to prove to the other patrons that I’m closer to Justin Timberlake than Rick Moranis.

I’ve mastered the bro-hug and the generic enough fist clasp – the prerequisites for the low-level of swag required for initial admittance.  A warm, “What’s up?” from my son’s barber tells me I’m welcome.

Entering Cost Cutters, the only piece of information needed to secure my spot is a phone number – and, maybe, a $2 off coupon.

Difference #2: ‘Who’s your guy?’ versus ‘Who’s next?’

Finding your “guy” at the barber shop is critical for one, main reason – there is no real appointment-making or a waiting list that pushes the pace.

Instead, the check-in protocol at the barber shop is as follows: (a) find your “guy”, (b) give him a nod and some dap (bro-hug and/or fist clasp), and (c) confirm that Yosef needs a haircut by telling him to sit down until your “guy” calls him over.

At this point, my son is on the list and I am left hoping he is next without any real clue of the order.

When I visit the local Great Clips, I hope for my favorite stylist to free up when my name rises to the top of the completely-visible-to-all waiting list positioned next to the cash register.  I must admit that if given the choice between waiting 30 minutes for my lady and getting in instantly, I’m taking the latter.

Difference #3: ‘Is that good?’ versus ‘Sign here’

Most of the barber shops I’ve visited with my son have no prices displayed.  If the barber shop has a list of prices, I find them to be little more than a suggestion – certainly not hard-and-fast amounts.

Upon entry, my type-A, white-guy-self is ready.  I come equipped with $20 for my son’s fade with a $5 bill tucked in my wallet in reserve.  I never ask the price but always ask, “Is that good?”

If I get anything less than, “Yep, all good,” from my “guy”, I’m reaching for the additional $5 with the hope that he’ll, again, accept my awkward bro-hug in three weeks.

After my chop-job at Fantastic Sam’s, my check-out is a quick and efficient: I compliment, then coupon, swipe the debit card, calculate the tip and offer a generic, but polite, “Thanks.”

With that, I’m out – complete with hair clippings on my shirt and a free Dum Dum sucker.

Difference #4: ‘Later, brother’ versus ‘Next’

Leaving the barber shop is like the end of Thanksgiving dinner at Mom’s house – everyone is ready to go after spending so much time together but, at the same time, is dreading the end of the respite.

Yosef’s “guy” squeezes his shoulder, dusts him with a towel and flashes an endearing smile, saying, “Later, brother.”

I can see the connection in Yosef’s eyes.  That makes the long wait worthwhile.

When I am able to shed my type-A hurry for a few hours a month, my son and I actually, I think, become closer  – all by virtue of entering the barber shop with surface level differences and exiting with a similar sense of unity and acceptance.

These trips are important.

I even feel that cohesion each time we leave – even when my son turns to me and asks about an issue that remains unsolved from the two hours spent unsuccessfully at the barber shop.

“Dad?”  Yosef quietly queries.

“Yes, Yosef.”  I respond.

“LeBron or M.J.?”

I stop, grin and cannot resist saying, “Don’t be silly, son.  Larry Bird.”


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