Last year I was traveling in Florida and in need of a haircut. Being that I’m an old guy with pretty short hair, I’m not all that picky about to who cuts it. My vanity level is quite low and my haircutting guidelines are reasonable.
So, I walked into a shop that clearly was not what would be called “high-end.” This was a barber shop, not a stylist. “No big deal,” is what ran through my head. “It’s just a haircut.” Whatever the results were going to be, I was certain I had worse cuts when I lived in the islands.
“Got time for a walk-in?” I asked the skinny guy who was standing alone in the otherwise empty shop.
“Sure. Have a seat,” he motioned towards his chair. With one hand, he picked up the cape and tossed it around me in a fluid motion and it landed perfectly in place. He did it more expertly than I had ever seen. It was like he had been a matador in a past life. He grabbed a clip and snapped it to the back of the cape and then started combing my hair.
“Oh. I don’t comb my hair,” I said.
“Okay,” he mumbled and picked up the electric clippers. He checked to see what number the attachment was and then started buzzing away. After a minute or two, he set the clippers down, changed the attachment and started buzzing again. Something seemed off, but I hadn’t placed it yet. The second attachment cut my hair just a tad shorter then I liked on the sides, but it wasn’t the end of the world. It would grow back in a few days. Then he set the clippers down again and picked up the comb and ran it through my hair a couple of times. When he picked up the comb, that’s when it hit me. Oh shit, he’s only got one good hand. The other was in his pocket but it look as though it was paralyzed. Shit! There was a one handed barber cutting my hair. My complete indifference to a so-so haircut was being replaced by tinges of curiosity and mild stress.
On one hand, I was impressed. This guy, with only one good hand, was coming to work every day and making a living… as a barber. That’s no small thing. On the other hand, he had just done a mediocre job skinning the hair off the sides and back of my head, and now he was eying the top of my head. That’s no small thing either. He took the comb and combed my hair straight up in the air and then let it fall back in place. He did it again, as if he thought it would keep standing up so he could somehow cut it with the buzzer. Meanwhile I was looking in the mirror at the skinned sides of my head and trying to imagine what I was going to look like when he finished the top. Since we were traveling, my wife was with me and I could see the look on her face and it lingered somewhere between hysterical amusement and a look of horror. Meanwhile I was sitting in the chair wondering what was going to happen next. The scene was being set.
When he combed a third and fourth time the suspense was beginning to build. Was he going to reach the point where he simply buzzed the hair off the top of my head and make it obvious that he actually had no haircutting skills, one handed or not? Or, was he going to miraculously fade the hair from the sides to the top and give me at least a reasonable cut? The fifth and sixth combing, combined with his repeated head tilts, as if he were trying to figure out how to finish this puzzle, tightened the rubber band and now the suspense was really building. I was beginning to wonder whether he was actually trying to figure out how to pull this off, or was he working up the nerve to just go for it. The results of a miraculously respectable haircut and a possibly hideous haircut were both in play.
Of course, there was one more option. At that time the sides were too short and the top was too long and there was no transition between the two. If I were a trendy young guy the haircut may have been stylish, but I’m an old gray haired guy. It just looked like a bad, half-done haircut. He combed and tilted a couple more times. My wife looked on with anticipation to see what was going to happen. She looked like she needed popcorn and a soda. He continued to look at my head with a clueless look on his face. And I did what I always do. I analyzed what was going down. I weighed my options and made a quick decision.
“You know what? I think the top looks good. It was mostly the sides that were too long,” I said and nodded with confidence, letting him know that we were done. A wave of relief and mild disappointment washed over the shop. On the upside, there would be no more damage done to my hair on that day. On the downside, we’ll never know whether he could have pulled it off, and I almost let him continue just to find out how it would all end. Being that he seemed relieved as I was that the cutting was done, I’m guessing that I made the correct call.
“That’ll be fifteen dollars,” he said as he removed the cape as gracefully as he put it on. I handed him a twenty and told him to keep it. My wife smirked and said nothing.
“A one handed barber,” I mumbled as I started the truck. “I did not see that coming.”
“Nice haircut,” she answered.