Unexpected warmth rushed over the skin in front of my ears and on the back of my neck. I looked across the room to my reflection in one of three Texas-shaped mirrors. Without my glasses, I still saw well enough to note bright white on the corresponding warm spots, but I couldn’t tell what he held next to my face.
I cut my eyes away from the distant mirror and to my right, where his thick fingers cradled a straight razor — the same kind used for suspenseful shaving scenes in movies and television. The filmmakers had done their jobs well; before his first swipe, I was in suspense.
“Wow, a straight razor,” I said, resolving to maintain my manly calm.
“Yeah, my daddy taught me how to use one.”
A simple, “and he was the best in four counties,” would have helped assuage my fear.
Instead of offering verbal assurance — after all, I wasn’t showing any worry, was I? — he deftly slid the razor down the back of my neck a few times, then behind and in front of my ears. I hid my nerves as I failed to recall another time in my life when anyone had used a straight razor on me. If I returned here, would I ask him not to do that again? Why was I worried when he obviously was a trained professional? Still, all I could think of were my tender ear lobes, and how I would hate having only one.
He pulled the razor away. “What about your eyebrows?” he said.
What about my eyebrows? I didn’t ask exactly what he thought they might need. I imagined him working that razor near my eyes, but surely that wasn’t what he had meant. “No, thanks, my wife sees something out of control up there, she plucks it.”
“Okay, no problem, I just thought I’d ask.”
Tommy went on to tell me that Larry, busily shaping a young man’s hair into a flattop a few chairs down while disporting him just as vigorously, was a storyteller. “He might entertain you, but don’t think he’s tellin’ the truth or nothin’.” He laughed warmly and smiled.
The shop had been in that location since 1975, and in business since 1968. The founder still cuts hair there, as do at least two of his descendants. Tommy isn’t a family member, “but they make me feel like I am. I go to their dinners and things like that,” he said. His own father, who had employed Tommy at his shop one town over, had died a few years ago.
It had been almost 20 years since a man had cut my hair, and although everything went fine, I weighed the experience before deciding whether I would return. I enjoyed the quiet interrupted only by Larry’s ramblings — there were no televisions in the place, and no music playing. That was a stark contrast to the tiny flatscreen TV in front of every chair at Sport Clips, all tuned to the same channel, the sounds of ESPN blaring out of a shared sound system. There were no women with whom I had to be friendly while not appearing to flirt, a balance that grows increasingly delicate as I approach twice their age. Nothing horrifies me more than a woman feeling uncomfortable due to misinterpretation of my outgoing demeanor.
Except maybe Tommy’s razor.
Despite that, however, the positives come down on the side of the barbershop. It doesn’t shove televised clips of obscure sports at my eyes and ears, and I will have no difficulty resisting telling Tommy that I like what he’s doing with his hair. Now, I can just hope that he doesn’t have allergies, or has the presence of mind to (carefully!) pull away the razor if his nose starts tingling.