Barbershop Conversations

Posted May 20, 2014

I don’t talk at barbershops.

It’s not a conscious decision. I’ve even attempted on multiple occasions to make the concerted effort to strike up a conversation. It just never seems to work. My eyes inevitably seem to get heavy, and I tend to zone out. If a barber could give me a legit haircut as I slept, I would probably pay extra for it.

Having that moment of peace and quiet wouldn’t bother me so much if I didn’t feel as though there was something socially shameful about doing so. Movies have engrained in us the image of men coming together in the masculine fortress of the barbershop to talk about sports, women, and whatever other problems they may have faced during the day. Even if we accept this as an outlandish and typical silver screen fiction, societal norms have taught us that speaking to somebody who stands three inches away from you for thirty straight minutes might be a kind thing to do.

However, I still can’t seem to pull it off.

“Is this your first time here?”

“Technically. I came once when you guys were located around the corner.”

Done. Conversation over. In normal circumstances, I can talk to a brick wall for two hours straight. I’ve gotten through many dates simply because of my ability to bullshit and feign interest in any topic of conversation.¬†Just not in the barbershop.

No matter where I go to get my hair cut, it’s always the same result (well, not with the hair. Unfortunately, money does buy better cuts). This week, I was one of five people getting my hair cut. Everybody was engaged in conversation; except me. The recent New York City transplant was speaking Mandarin to the female stylist behind me. An uptight businessman was demurely, and unsuccessfully, flirting with the other female stylist next to her. On the end of my row, a retired frat boy from New Jersey, straight off a Bravo TV show, was talking about his upcoming week at the Shore, and the college graduate next to me was discussing his celebratory end of finals trip to Miami.

Me? No words.

I began to wonder if the guy cutting my hair was offended. Maybe he thought I wasn’t talking because there was something about him that was off-putting. Maybe he thought I was judging his Jesus locks and facial hair or his blue overall smock. However, that wasn’t my intention. I was kinda digging all of the above. Plus, he was doing a great job cutting my hair. But he worked in silence, and I sat silently in front of him.

Yet, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that maybe my silence wasn’t only appropriate but well deserved. When barbershops became a supposed haven for railing against the ills of society and commiserating about your day, there weren’t many avenues to do that. Now, it seems like the only things that keep getting invented are different ways to talk shit about every aspect of your life and the lives of others around you. Maybe finding one place where I could sit in silence wasn’t just a bad thing. Maybe this stylist, barber, haircutter, or whatever he wants to be called, was glad for the thirty minutes where somebody wasn’t using him as a sounding board for whatever was going through his/her head.

As the haircut when on, I started to think that maybe sitting with my own thoughts was actually more rewarding. How many times do I sit without talking, listening to music or podcasts, or reading articles on my phone? How often do I get to just be, and not feel like I’m wasting my time? In an existence constantly filled with sounds and judgments, those thirty minutes where I merely focused on how heavy my eyelids felt and tried to watch individual strands of hair get cut might wind up doing more for my sanity and brain function than repeating mindless key words and phrases.

In fact, I was able to do that and still say, “Bless you” when he sneezed and “Thank you” when I left.

My mom didn’t raise an asshole, but she did tell me not to speak if I had nothing worth saying.