In an age of economic uncertainty amidst debate on international trade, the global economy, and relative values of currency, there is a certain desire for freedom from the grand scheme, for business that is separate from the rest of the world. Of all the businesses in my life today, there is one that consistently strikes me as being particularly practical and enduring: the barbershop.
For as long as humans have walked the earth, hair has been growing on their heads. For as long as hair has been growing on their heads, humans have wished it was shorter. For as long as humans have wished it was shorter, there has been a need for barbers.
Today I walked to Rinaldo’s Barbershop, my preferred hair-cutting establishment in State College, PA. My entrance was greeted by a row of barber chairs, some holding people. On most visits, the first task is to walk to the back and take a number of the dispenser, the same sort that is found at supermarket delis. I remember loving those numbers as a child; I enjoyed their non-rectangular shape as I tried to fold them into perfect squares. But today the clientele was light, and so I was seated immediately, numberless.
Thus began the process of barbering. First I had to describe how I want my hair cut, “Shorter, but not too short, but certainly not long. Not a buzz, I don’t like that, but I also don’t want to have to come back for a few months.” The barber seemed to understand. It’s always a question in my mind, “Does he understand what I mean? This is a trained professional. I will trust him with my hair.”
With a clip-clip here, and buzz and a snip there, my hair began to fall away, casting itself on the floor. From there grew the obligatory conversation, halted periodically when scissors by my eyes inclined me to remain silent, lest the movement of my mouth cause the barber into error. Today I learned my barber has been at his work for eleven years, having gone to barber school just out of high school. We chatted briefly about the weather, with today’s much-needed rain. But soon my hair lessened in length, and our conversation dwindled with it.
I love getting my hair cut. Letting gentle, skillful fingers run through my hair is one of my favorite feelings in the world. And the outcome of hair cutting is a new approach to the world, and hopefully a better appearance.
But the absolute best thing about visiting the barbershop, at least Rinaldo’s, is the neck shave at the end. After stray hair is vacuumed and brushed away, wonderful hot lather was lathered on my neck. A straight razor caressed my skin as it cut through the hair. And then a cool lather replaced the hot, and my pleasure was complete.
All this experience cost $15.00, a reasonable price for a barber visit around here. Slightly cheaper, perhaps, might be a visit to a chain haircutter like SuperCuts, but those hairdressers lack the atmosphere of the classic barbershop, and they lack the close shave.
I once heard a young couple walking by outside, and the girl said disapprovingly to her boyfriend, “A barbershop? How old-fashioned!”
I laughed. How old-fashioned? Why do you think I’m here? How classic!
The barbershop is a remnant of days gone by, when all men worked with their hands on tasks of immediate value to those around them. It was a hub for conversation, the social interaction that our society has forgotten with its technological, me-first obsessions.
In fact, I would argue that few businesses are as enduring and necessary as these. My money goes directly to the barber: there is no fear of outsourcing. I find there good conversation, which is necessary for good health. Barbershops engage in the natural world and are inherently environmentally friendly. I wish I could go more often, and perhaps I would if money were no object; my hair continues to grow.
For as long as humans walk the earth, hair will be growing on their heads. For as long as hair grows on their heads, humans will wish it was shorter. For as long as humans wish it was shorter, there will be a need for barbers.
I am proud to be a patron of the old-fashioned, classic barbershop.