I don’t have a Twitter account, never donated to any Kickstarter projects and my flip phone forces me to text like a 13-year-old girl living in 2001. But I believe in social media. I have used Facebook to make announcements (yard sales, favorite articles) and often receive recommendations about dentistry, handymen and where to purchase Jurassic salt. What I’m trying to say is that I believe in people, so I didn’t hesitate to follow up on a referral for a reasonably priced male haircut from a young, handsome hipster named Matt who steered me toward a place called Johnny’s Classic Barber Shop, a men’s only barbershop near Whole Foods.
I’d been having a tough go of it lately, and I thought a haircut might brighten my spirits. I didn’t think this Johnny could make me look like Ryan Gosling—or even Matt, for that matter—but I thought the least he could do was shape the Planet of the Apes hair helmet I’d been hauling around.
When I walked in, I noticed framed black-and-white photos of Elvis and Sammy Davis Jr. lining the walls. The man whose name was on the door was shaving the neck of a stocky bearded guy with a straight razor. Johnny has the face of an extra in The Grapes of Wrath: square chin and longish flat-top that’s black on the top and gray on the sides. The only thing that reminded me that I was in Santa Fe was the deep sound of Gregorian chants growling on the sound system. That, and when Johnny told his client that phone calls interrupted his “Zen flow.”
As I said, I believe in people, so I didn’t see anything wrong with a barber laughing theatrically at the end of his time with a client by saying, “I can’t believe I get paid for this!” Johnny seemed quite happy with his job, and he was obviously popular. Both his cell and landline traded turns ringing while I was there, and some old coot with wraparound shades stopped by to get a business card since he’d heard, like I did (though admittedly by different means) that Johnny gave a damn fine haircut. After some cleaning, restocking and a few answered calls, I got my time in the chair.
“Fifteen minutes behind schedule,” he said, eyeing the clock by the door. “Not bad for me.”
I briefly articulated my wishes. Johnny nodded, his gaze toward my scalp intense. His fingers are knobby in a workingman’s way, and he took his time with every approach he made on a new quadrant of my skull. He concentrated on the right side of my head, slowly, and I was worried I wouldn’t make the 4 pm appointment I had with the editor of this paper. Johnny had this methodical way of combing a bit, flipping his scissors up to cut a strand or two, then flipping the scissors down so he could tease out the tresses. I told myself that he was an artist, and I shouldn’t rush him. This sense of forced optimism was capped off by Johnny exclaiming, “Oh, you’re gonna like this!”He apologized for not offering me coffee, beer or wine—a kind gesture especially given the $20 price point. Then I noticed his face start to change. At first, I thought he was hooking into a higher gear (or power). His eyes bugged; his grin dropped. He kept clipping, but his pulling and teasing ceased. “Wow,” he said. “I need to tell you something.”
Was he going to declare that this might be the best haircut in the history of Western civilization?
“I can’t do this,” he said gravely.
I was confused. “Can’t do what?”
“What do you mean?” After all, he’d only tackled 50 percent of my head.
He released the metallic clasp on the black drape that covered my now sweating torso. “I usually cut short hair. Don’t want to ruin this.”
Maybe it was my tumultuous emotional state or the disappointment in not getting my neck shaved by a bona fide straight razor, but I started laughing.
“Sorry to punk out on you, bro,” he said. Not only did I have to suffer his idiocy, I thought, but also his idioms. I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror on my way out and was reminded of two icons with similar hairstyles: Skrillex and Two-Face from Batman. With a little gel and mousse, I could surely go full Flock of Seagulls status. Even with his premature ejection, I was still running late. I met my editor at the Reporter offices, and we walked to The Palace. Once we had our cocktails, I asked, “How do I look?”
She knew that I’d been having a hard time; this led her to believe I was checking to see if my stormy emotional state had altered my appearance. “You look great! You really do,” she said, her voice liquidy with care.
“No, really.” I turned around.
“I’m being serious. You look fine. Really good.”
“All right.” I sighed and gave her a brief version of my cutus interruptus at Johnny’s. Then I did my best half-man/half-woman carnival side-show impression.
“God, dude!” she exclaimed. “He really messed you up.”
I almost felt a twinge of satisfaction until she added, “And he left a long piece of hair.” She pointed to a rat tail that hung on the side that I thought was complete.
“You need to cut it off,” I demanded.
“Dude, no way am I cutting your hair in a bar.”
“You have to,” I said. “It’s part of your editorial duties.”
It took her one Manhattan before she allowed me to fetch some Fiskars from the bar. “Do it quick,” I said, like a reluctant bride on her wedding night.
I shrugged. “Far worse things have been on this floor.”
“Not cutting your hair in a bar.” She wouldn’t budge, so we hit the harsh light of the street, and my editor expertly revised the rough draft I once called my head.
I felt my shorn side. “You fulfilled your editorial duties.”
“We call that a favor, dude, not a duty.”
If this story were a movie, the next part would be a montage (accompanied by Nirvana’s “Half The Man I Used To Be”) as I spent the weekend with friends: Cat and Emily, who had no qualms telling me that the baseball cap I wore at Counter Culture Café made my hatchet job look even worse; Peter and Nouf, who started referring to any small tragedy as “Rob’s haircut”—as in “Spilling coffee on my lap was so Rob’s haircut.”
It may sound crazy, but I still had faith in crowdsourcing. I posted another update asking which haircutter was skilled at fixing other barbers’ not-so-handywork. Two different peeps suggested B Beautiful Luxury Salon and Spa on Early Street. I got there about 15 minutes before they opened on Monday and paced outside like a caged animal that had lost half its fur rubbing against a wire fence. When they unlocked the doors, I ran to the counter and asked, “How much do you charge for a half a haircut?”