I drive my dad's Toyota Camry by the street side parking spaces adjacent to the shop. The shop's parking lot is spare and not very forgiving, oftentimes forcing one to parallel park, but I am fortunate today and find several empty spots. I slowly turn the steering wheel to the right, guiding the car to park in the middle spot right in front of the shop and exit the vehicle while watching for oncoming traffic. The process of getting to the barbershop alone is memorable, so how does the service fare?
Entering the barbershop, I'm greeted by the owner's playlist of Arabic, Hindi, and Spanish songs that reflect the diversity of their customers. I hang my coat on the rack, expecting to take a seat and wait upwards of a half hour for a barber to be available, but the man in the back-left corner smiles at me and motions for me to take a seat at his station. Each of the barbers at this family business greets me as they do any customer with a sincerity that makes you feel as though you are part of their family. They speak in Arabic to each other as they style their customer's hair, and though I don't speak their language, I detect from their tone of voice the friendly banter that you'd find between uncles, brothers, and cousins at a gathering.
As I take a seat, I tell the barber what I'd like to get done today. A short haircut and a beard trim. He nods as he wraps a paper strip around my neck. Some stylists might prioritize efficiency and cut quickly to get through as many customers as possible. Not so here. He works with a meticulous attention to detail, often switching to trimmers of different sizes to better remove stray hairs. Yet the haircut doesn't seem frantic or mismanaged in the slightest—the barber appears in control at all times. He gently tilts my head down or to the side to cut different hairs, unlike prior stylists who've yanked and shoved my skull every way possible.
I doubt any barber thinks of their work as art, but the process of cutting can certainly be artistic in the right hands. Barbers must be careful as they cut and style hair, much like how a sculptor chisels to form works of a grand scale. Although there isn't as much of lasting appeal in a haircut as there is in a sculpture since it fades as soon as the hair grows back, It has a powerful emotional significance. Your image can unconsciously impact how you view yourself as a short and a long haircut each produce different reactions. Placing this power in the hands of a barber creates an unspoken bond of trust, one that attaches meaning to your haircut and makes the barber's work more meaningful for him. When you get a great haircut, there's a sense of gratitude for the barber's work that is often overlooked.
As I get my beard trimmed, I need to hold an even greater trust in the barber—one that hinges on not just my appearance, but also my life. He nudges my head backward and pulls out a blade in order to shave my grotesque neckbeard. After applying gel, he scrubs the blade across my cheeks and my neck to remove the stubble and smoothen out the skin. While I'd prefer a more modern method of shaving with a razor, using a knife delivers a cleaner shave, and despite my apprehensions about willingly lying down defenseless as a man holds a short dagger at my throat, I trust in his abilities and let him do his work. It's kind of like a higher stakes trust fall; the blade has this power to bond barber and customer.
When his work is done, I glance at the mirror, feeling reborn again. I walked into the barbershop a disheveled man. I walk out cleansed of excess hair, yes, but I also walk out with an appreciation and newfound respect for the barber's work and environment. I pay, making sure to give a generous tip and leave soon after. My stubble grows back within days thanks to hair growth genetics and I once again appear unkempt. Despite my better attempts, I fail to achieve as clean of a shave as a barber can, yet I do not distress this failure, for it means I can once again enjoy the experience of going to the barbershop and appreciating a hidden and unappreciated art form.