MICHAEL GOLDFARB is a contributing writer to Renaissance Magazine.
I went to Tony's Village Barber Shop for my bimonthly hair trim. Tony's is the type of barber shop where people sit and talk about important world issues like starving children in the Ugandan Republic, or the recent French presidential elections, or sports. However, when I walked in, I was met by an eerie silence.
"Hey Tony," I said to the proud Italian barber, who tendered no reply. "Ralph, how's that new job at the power plant? Mario, looking good!"
I stood confusedly in the doorway. Had I mistakenly ignored a common etiquette pertaining to barber shop behaviour? I hadn't deviated from my regular entrance and greeting routine. Maybe I wasn't wearing pants. I looked down and realized, thankfully, that the problem must be larger, more cosmic; something that would cause the planets Mercury through Mars to realign.
For ten, fifteen, maybe twenty millennia, I waited by the coat rack for the next chair to open up. Usually, the constant debate filling the air with obscenities and conciliatory remarks make the waiting time pass without notice. The tension in the room was unmistakable; like people wanted to talk but couldn't. Finally it was my turn to have a little taken off the top. As I stepped into the chair, I heard the excited sound of the olde style cash registers popping open and the musky scent of fifty year old money changing hands.
I remembered a debate that happened two years ago about the ownership of money. Tony had basked in the possibility that we could be touching the same money as Mickey Mantle or President Kennedy. Ralph had said that fingerprints and dirt - and dirty fingerprints - do not connect us to these famous people, so it was irrelevant who spent the money in 1956. I pointed out that while the argument was going on, Tony had left an electric razor buzzing on my head. Everyone quickly agreed with me and Tony ended up charging me double for service "above and beyond the requested."
With the grace of a adolescent boy falling into his first kiss, I settled into the chair and picked up a copy of Gino's (the world's best-selling barber shop magazine). My premonitions were correct; there was trouble brewing in the barber shop industry. On the cover of Gino's was a picture of Mr. Clean with the heading screaming "Balding Boomers To Banish The Barber!" I looked at Ralph and Tony and Rob and Mario and Dino and realized what they feared. A total overhaul of the industry meant no more skilled barbers were needed and as a result, no people were needed to sit around talking to these skilled barbers.
I sat quietly and watched as Tony did a horrible job on my short black hair. He spent only five minutes before he removed my protective blanket and lightly brushed my neck with baby powder. He lowered the chair to the ground, flung me out of my seat, whisked me off to the dark corners of the extremely well-lit barber shop, and fired up the cash register. With sheepishness and embarrassment he said something that I will never forget, "That'll be $142."
"Excuse me? It's been $12.50 plus a two dollar tip since '83," I argued.
"Come with me," Tony said as he led me to a back room filled with mounds of brown, yellow, and multi-colour hair.
Tony asked me if I had read page 42, I replied that my brief tenure in the barber's seat had not allowed me that opportunity. He grabbed the nearest copy of Gino's and ripped out the offending page.
"Read it out loud," he said gruffly. He could no longer look at me; only at the blond hair.
"'Barbers will soon become as extinct as dinosaurs. In a study done by the New York Times, it is estimated that seventy percent of males over the age of 39 are bald, will be bald or know someone who is bald. The younger generation is also awash with the balding style. Dr. Ron Higgenstein, a practising doctor who also teaches at Harvard University, has pointed out that many of his students have had their heads intentionally shaved bald. More evidence pours in from small-town America. Ms. Russet, a housewife and mother of eight living in Hotwater, Tennessee, has repeatedly said under oath that seven of her eight children go to school bald! Is this a society where--'"
"No more," Tony was in tears as he cut me off. "I can't take it anymore."
I carried him back into the hair cutting room where we were met by the guys.
"This individual, whom I hold dearly in my arms, is a true man," I said starting to choke up. "Do we really want to live in a world where hair is evil and, dare I say it, not wanted?"
All of the guys were now bawling. They realized how much this small dent in the wall meant to them.
"I love this place and I love all of you guys and I'm not afraid to say it," Dino sobbed.
"I took Tony for granted. I thought he would be here forever," Rob added.
"Heaven must be like this," Mario proclaimed.
We all started crying and sniffling like a family of beached whales.
Just then Alberto burst in through the door, "I have good news! Being bald is out of style and new masculine products promote the growth of hair. We're saved!"
Tony quickly picked himself off of the ground and attended to his next customer. I looked over at Dino, Rob, Mario, and Ralph, all of whom had been crying hysterically only moments before. Their faces were blank as if nothing had happened. I was still standing there dumbfounded.
"I heard Australia is having a problem with foreign fauna," Dino said.
"I think it's due to the gigantic international airport they just built in Sydney," Rob pointed out.
"No, no, no. You're all wrong," Ralph spoke up. "Ever since the frost killed the cucumber crops in New Zealand..."
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