I’ve always hated getting my hair cut. I blame this on every guy in 1996 that decided they would look good with hair that was faded on the sides and had spikes on top. When you have a long face with a large forehead, you want something that hides these features, not showcases them. This fashion phenomenon seemed to spawn a new breed of incompetent barbers that were essentially one trick ponies. “Keep it fairly even all the way around, just a light trim,” I would instruct before I sat in the padded swivel chair. They would smile and nod as I could hear the ominous sound of the electric razor buzzing next to my ear. I eventually learned it was a pointless argument which I was sure to lose. They seemed to know no other way to cut hair, kind of like in that episode of The Simpsons where the family visits the land down under and Marge tries to order a non-alcoholic beverage from an Australian pub.
Marge – ” I’ll have one coffee please.”
Bartender – “You mean a beer?”
Marge – “No, coffee.”
Bartender – “Beer?”
Marge – “C-O-. . ”
Bartender – “B – E . . ”
Perhaps I’m pointing the finger at the wrong decade. Maybe I should be blaming every guy in 1986 that decided they would look good with short hair on the top and long flowing locks in the back. The backlash of this fashion trend caused everyone to go to the extreme opposite in the next decade. Hence the invention of the “Step” haircut, which myself and many of my fellow classmates wore from 1991 to 1996, in which it is closely shaved on the back and sides but kept long on the top. Some notable television characters that wore this look ; Zack Morris (Saved by the Bell) Brad Taylor ( Home Improvement) Young Indiana Jones (played by River Phoenix)
After years of searching, and a seemingly endless number of embarrassing haircuts, I have been able to compile a list of characteristics that separate the good barbershops from the bad. If you happen to notice any or all of these things, you have come to the right place
1. There is a red-white-and-blue-striped pole outside the building and it is nowhere near the 4th of July.
2. The staff predominately consists of men that look old enough to be Vietnam veterans.
3. There is a pot of coffee with non-disposable cups sitting next to it for patrons to enjoy while they wait.
4. For an extra 5 or 10 dollars, you can opt to get a shave.
5. There is some sort of clipped out and framed newspaper article about the shop hanging on the walls that has turned a yellowish brown with age.
6. Perhaps in the article there is a picture of the owner who looks much younger and skinnier but has the exact same hair.
7. Prices are listed on an old white board with black magnet letters and numbers.
8. The employees think a weave is something their wives do to make baskets.
9. The gentleman who went before you asked for “the usual”.
10. It does not have the words “Super” or “Fantastic” in the name.
In my hometown of Simi Valley, I was able to find two places that matched this criteria. One is called The Razors Edge, no relation to the signature move done by the WWF wrestler Razor Ramone. The second is called The Mens Room, no relation to the place with urinals and sinks. I had recently moved to Marina Del Rey where I was attending school and spending an increasing amount of time. After much debate, I decided it was time to venture out and find a new barber shop closer to my apartment. It had taken me 10 years to find a place I finally liked, so I was reluctant to give this up. Economically however, I knew something had to be done. I was paying almost twice the normal rate for a trim, when you factored in the gas I was burning driving back and forth from the two cities just to get a haircut.
To explain what happened following this decision, I first need to give a short geography lesson. Marina Del Rey is a beautiful beachfront town surrounded by not so beautiful, not so beachfront towns. As suggested in the name, it has a well-kept marina filled with sailboats. An upscale plaza is built around this marina which is filled with high-end seafood restaurants and fancy art galleries that contain paintings of sailboats. If you are looking for a good location to have a post-graduation brunch or a pleasant birthday dinner, this is the perfect spot. However, if you are looking for a good location to score some crack, you need only walk one mile south where you will find yourself in Venice; a mecca of drugs, drug-related shootings, and scary looking bums that are strung out on drugs. Bordering the east side of Marina Del Rey is the city of Inglewood, a name which may sound familiar to you from various gangster rap songs. As Dr. Dre puts it “Inglewood always up to no good.”
One summer afternoon, I was driving back to my apartment from Culver City and noticed a barbershop on the east side of town less than two miles from my place. It was a hole in the wall crammed between a sandwich place and a liquor store. It had no visible advertisements outside other than the words “Barber Shop” written in old western looking font accompanied by a red-white-and blue striped spinning pole. It had been almost 8 months since my last trim and I was horribly overdue. In a moment of spontaneity, I pulled into a nearby supermarket parking lot.
I sat in my car and assessed my hair in the rearview mirror, which was now a giant Greg Brady-esq ball of curls. I cautiously openend my door and took a deep breath as I stepped out of my truck. The beaming sunlight reflection off the white stucco walls of the supermarket forced me to squint as I walked towards the door. When I got closer to the front, I developed a new nonchalant kind of stroll as if I was running a routine errand. I opened the heavy glass door with the hand written sign reading “Open” and was temporarily blinded by the change of light inside. When I got my vision back, I looked around and started to wish my temporary blindness was more permanent.
My first thought was to take two steps back and out the door, but this proved to be impossible since my entrance had caused a chiming sound that alarmed everyone, informing them of a new customer at the front. I stood awkwardly and rummaged through my pocket with my keys, as if I had just needed them to open the door and was now putting them away. A large black man with a pencil thin beard and fake diamonds in his ears turned off his electric razor and looked up at me. “Whatchu need brotha?” he asked as he jerked his head up slightly. “Um . . . a haircut?” I asked, as if I was making some sort of outrageous request. He looked me up and down, then nodded his head behind him and said “Big T will get you when he’s done,” then turned his razor back on. An even larger black man with an even thinner beard looked up at me and nodded his head slightly.
I sat in a a chair between the two and watched Big T run his razor over the bald spot of the back of his customers head for about 5 minutes until the tedium got the best of me. I got the courage to advert my eyes somewhere else and noticed a white board with black magnet letters listing the specific services they rendered. Ironically, at the top of the alphabetical list was a haircut that fit my exact needs: “Afro’s – 15 dollars”. I wondered if they thought I purposely chose this place because of my unusually ethnic hair. Among the other choices were: Cornrows, Dreadlocks, Flat Tops, and Fades.
Next to this list was a poster with pictures of various hairstyles one could choose from. It looked like it could be a mock advertisement for the product Soul Glo in the Eddie Murphy movie Coming to America. The models were all black and had greasy jerry curls or Kid n Play-style high top fades circa 1990. The last time I had seen anything like it was in a Supercuts when I was nine. I had pointed to a picture of a model that looked like Vanilla Ice and desperately begged my parents to let them shave zig zags into the side of my head.
A new Jay-Z song came on the television mounted on the wall in which he sang about the 99 different problems he had, none involving women. The screen had a small icon in the bottom right corner that read BET, indicating the name of the station. I watched for a while until I found myself bobbing my head up and down while playing the drums on my lap and then quickly stopped.
Not wanting to look like I was enjoying the song too much I began to browse through the literature they had scattered about on a nearby coffee table. I noticed a magazine called “King” which is kind of like Maxim only if Sir-Mix-A-Lot chose all the models. The cover portrayed a mocha-skinned woman showing off her unusually large backside. I picked it up and began to thumb through the pages and furrow my eyebrows to indicate that I was reading the articles and not just looking at the pictures. In a small paragraph one of the models described her perfect man as being well groomed and clean cut. I wondered if they gave me one of those tight hightop fades with a neatly trimmed beard it would make her wanna get all up on my shit.
Quickly realizing the situation I was in, a skinny white kid looking through half naked pictures of black women in the middle of a barbershop that could have easily been the set of the 2002 Ice Cube movie, I set down the magazine and tried to make myself look occupied in other ways. I searched through my phone book desperately wishing any of the names on the screen would call me. I looked back up at Big T who was grazing his razor over the same bald spot he had been trimming for the past 10 minutes. I watched the other barber whose progress was equally unnoticeable. I looked through my inbox and outbox and re-read all the text message conversations I had had over the past week. Finally, when my anxiety level had entered the red zone, I held the phone up to my ear and said “Hello” out loud as I stood up and started walking towards the door. “Hey whats up” I said, talking to the imaginary person on the other line while I opened the glass door and stepped outside and into the sweet release of freedom. I put down the phone when I got a safe distance away and lifted my hands up in the air like Tim Robbins did in Shawshank Redemption after he had finally broke out of prison. I called my girlfriend when I got in the car and when she answered, I started our conversation with “Holy shit, you will not believe what just happened to me.” The story I told her was slightly exaggerated in order to achieve a higher level of sensationalism. “I finally escaped after the drive by shooting was over” I explained.