Forgot your password?

We just sent you an email, containing instructions for how to reset your password.

Sign in

  • During the last thirty years, I’ve only once been to a barber. Well, counting today, twice. You see, my wife is not a barber but a “stylist.” Under whichever moniker, she’s been cutting my hair since our days of courtship. Luckily for her, I have naturally curly hair which lends itself easily to a radial cut, meaning she can just cut it the same length all over and let it do its spring thing. Not so hard, once you get the hang of it.

    For many reasons, I like to keep in her good graces. For one, if we were ever to divorce, she might demand back wages for all those haircuts. She takes my grandson to the Village Barber Shop. “Why don’t you go there for a haircut? Maybe he’ll have a different take on it.” The economic logic of home remedies always prevailed. “What’s he going to do, honey? You know how to cut it right.”

    Actually, I had gone to the Village a few years ago to have my head shaved. My sister was doing chemo; I thought it would be nice to match. Al was the proprietor and the barber who took on the task. As we chatted while I was under the scissors, I learned that his own son had died of brain cancer. He’d thought of shaving his head too, but things progressed too fast, cascading to a tragic end. A parent’s worst nightmare: losing a child.

    The second time I shaved my own head, to acknowledge yet another round of chemo and a colonostomy. I was emboldened by my earlier experience and months of shaving. I clipped my own top in front of the mirror and shaved the resultant stubblefield smooth. My wife got a reprieve from her duties for almost a year.

    On the other side of a Christmas reunion with my sister, I let it go. Around March, I had enough hair to comb but not enough to do my usual “run fingers through three times and call it good” technique of hair styling. Combs are strange things. I always remember some dude on the stage of a Seventies rally for this or that saying, “We all use a brush and a comb,” in his mind demonstrating our human commonality. What brush? What comb? I felt alienated.

    For a month, my hair was semi-flat. I went to the local drug store and bought combs at two for a dollar: one for the gym bag and one for the bathroom. Soon my head had enough hair to sprout curls, and I was back to fingers. Now what do I do with these combs?

    “Why don’t you go to the Village and get a hair cut?” suggested my wife. “Maybe he’ll have a different style.” Thirty years had been a good run. Maybe I should try something new.

    So today as I cruised through town, I queried: twenty bucks for gas to get to my next carpentry job or spend it on a hair cut? Gas made more sense; but women love a makeover. “Why not me?” Given my thinning top, maybe I could negotiate for a discount. If there were no waiting lines, I resolved, I’d get a haircut. Otherwise, I was out of there!

    Al was finishing up with one young fellow and the row of waiting chairs was empty. He recognized me, either from years ago or times I may have accompanied my wife and grandson. He said “Hi!” with a familiarity I hadn’t expected. I knew him, but everybody in the audience knows the rock star on stage. I sat, passed on the other barbers, and waited for Al.

    “How have you been? You know, I didn’t get your permission, but you’ve been on our website. And see, you’re in our sample book!” He flipped the pages and showed me an image of myself, a few years younger, grinning and newly bald.

    I took the chair, received the white collar band like a newly ordained priest and watched the hair-deflecting cloth drape over me. Al began to talk. I listened. I asked questions now and then, added a comment here and there, and heard an emerging tale of career and life.

    His openness was partly due to the camaraderie of age: we discussed the draft in the sixties. It was also an appreciation of a trade: his father had advised learning a trade before college so one always had something to fall back on. He learned barbering. I had learned carpentry, a fallback currently in play.

    It was also a bond of deep, personal loss: for him, his son; for me, my dearest sister. We didn’t need to speak of that; we just knew.

    Al had started out in real estate. He knew a fellow who encouraged him into investment real estate, got his license, and was at it for thirty years. “Hey, here’s the guy who showed me the business!” he said as he shook hands with a customer leaving the shop. After he shouted a goodbye, he told me the fellow’s name, which I matched to shopping carts at our local Safeway.

    “It was a good business for a lot of years. But then in the late nineties, I was getting stressed. It was changing. People weren’t being honest and upfront.” He spoke of “lier loans,” no-doc loans, of hypster salesmen getting into the profession for a quick buck, of an immigrant buyer changing his position at the last hour and when challenged, defending himself with “in my country, you say what you have to say to get the deal done.” Al figured it was time to go.

    “I came in here to maybe get a chair, cut hair as a kind of half-retirement. The owner said he was selling. I bought. Here I am!” It was a sweet story. I could tell how much he enjoyed the social aspect of barbering. Al was in his place.

    The waiting chairs were beginning to fill up now. Al hadn’t quite finished his life story and reverted to little snips here and buzz cuts there. I was wondering whether I was really done with the haircut but not the story, or both were still unfinished. I resolved to sit patiently until the exchange came to its own end.

    After a few last words, Al revealed me to the world by removing my Christian neckwear and casting me free of the linen shroud. “Thanks for the cut,” I said. “When I came to you the last time, I didn’t even know how this worked … was I supposed to make an appointment or what! How much do I owe you?”

    “Keep your wallet in your pocket,” Al said. “You’ve been in our book and on our website.” He handed me a business card. “Here’s the website right here.” I resolved to check it out, thanking him again as I walked outside into the sunlight.

    I remembered one day last year when my sister called me to say, “We’ve decided you have the most ‘moments:’ those times in any given day where you just stop and notice the wonder, where something is awe inspiring and you know it.” It was high praise, acknowledgement of a goal to which we both aspired. As I left Al’s little barbershop, I knew my sister would be pleased. I had found another.
    • Share

    Connected stories:


Collections let you gather your favorite stories into shareable groups.

To collect stories, please become a Citizen.

    Copy and paste this embed code into your web page:

    px wide
    px tall
    Send this story to a friend:
    Would you like to send another?

      To retell stories, please .

        Sprouting stories lets you respond with a story of your own — like telling stories ’round a campfire.

        To sprout stories, please .

            Better browser, please.

            To view Cowbird, please use the latest version of Chrome, Safari, Firefox, Opera, or Internet Explorer.