Saturday, April 22, 2006

My Barber Has A Mullet

You're right, it's a bit embarassing to admit, but it's true: my barber has a mullet. Ever the quitessential fashion statement of the 1980s, The Mullet defined a certain aspect of Life In The 80s. Not necessarily a positive aspect of the 80s, but an aspect of Life back then regardless.

Of course today, The Mullet is seen as the epitome of, well, you know. But my barber has one and he's not planning on cutting it off anytime soon.

Overall, he's a pretty good guy. Has a wife, kids and enjoys fishing on his days off. That's really all I know about him. Oh, and he knows how to cut hair pretty well too. He's a quiet kind of barber. He doesn't talk much. Just a casual mention of his latest fishing outing when I ask, otherwise, we don't talk much. I just sit back and enjoy the haircut.

But honestly, I don't enjoy a haircut as much as I used to, but I don't hate it as much as when I was a child. When I was young, back in First through Eighth grades, I was sent to Military School. Crewcuts, uniforms, marching and guns. Eight years of military school. That's two tours. And I hated every haircut I had to endure. It was worse than going to the dentist. And it happened every three weeks. Eight years. It's probably the reason why I never joined the military as I got older.

After military school came years of long hair. It was high school and the Days of Rebellion: The Late 1980s. Deconstructed jackets, thin ties, parachute pants, leather jackets, black eyeliner, Doc Martens - ah, the heady days of youth and discontent. Back then we were stuck on Comme des Garcons, Jean Paul Gaultier, Azzedine Alaia and expensive stylists who would shave the lower part of your mushroom cut for $30 a pop. VooDoo Economics, nightclubbing at Nell's Basement and at parties thrown by Michael Alig and John Sex. Such good times.

Then I moved away from the fast paced, blurry and unfocused direction of being Hip and Stylish on the East Coast while clubbing all night and going to art school during the day to a more slow and serene pace in Honolulu. There I found myself floundering from stylist to stylist, looking for something real in a haircut. I still held onto my mushroom cut for several years before transitioning to something less extreme. Toyed around with some barbers, but no one really caught my attention.

One thing about growing up in the 80s and 90s is that we're lost on tradition. There's something satisfying and comforting about tradition - especially after spending half my life telling tradition to Fuck Off. But finding that in a barber would prove to be next to impossible.

For me, the fantasy is to find an Old School style of barber. One who does it all: cuts your hair, scalp massage, blackhead removal and a straight-razor shave. Manicure would be a plus, but not absolutely essential.

Shortly after returning to live on the East Coast, I heard about an Old World English barber that had opened on Michigan Avenue in Chicago. For $185 they would give you the full treatment: haircut, shave, massage, manicure AND pedicure. Established in 1805 and barbers to British Royalty? Well, my anglo heritage demanded a visit!

Not too long after, I found my way to 900 Michigan Avenue for a visit to Truefitt & Hill. Glorious. Wood paneled and very British-looking, I thought I too could be landed gentry. And with a bill fast approaching $200 for a haircut, they thought I had the money of landed gentry. It was a great time. I must have spent at least an hour there. But at those prices, it's a luxury that I could only afford once. But I understand they now have locations in Toronto and Las Vegas. And since I'm building a house in Vegas, I just might have to go for a comparison test.

But really, jumping on a plane to get a haircut is just foolish. For that kind of money, I could keep my hair long and buy a gaggle of women to do my bidding. But a haircut is what I want and a gaggle of women just won't do.

My search continued back in Baltimore where I eventually found an old Italian barber named Enrico in the suburban enclave of Timonium - not too far from where I would start Jay's Shave Ice years later. Enrico had been cutting hair for over 40 years starting in Italy when he was young. He prided himself on his clippers. A model that he had kept running, repairing and upgrading for thirty years. This guy was the barber's answer to the traditional barista: a Lifer.

Enrico regaled me with stories of Italy and with his own homemade red wine. It was always a good time and he could cut hair. He prided himself with the fact that he "shaved the neck" with a straight-bladed razor. The first few times really wigged me out and I was shaking as he put the steel to my neck. But over time, I've found warm comfort in that carbon steel blade. Today, nothing is more reassuring than that blade expertly trimming away errant hairs.

On top of all that, Enrico would give you the full-service: a straight-razor shave - straight out of the movie The Untouchables. A hot towel covering your face to soften your rough, manly bristles. Then warm cream. Finally, the razor came down for a shave so close you'd swear you were a 7 year old boy again.

There was nothing "nice" about Enrico's shop. Just hard linoleum floors, old school white barber chairs, big mirrors, 1950s style cabinetry and pictures of baseball players, jockeys and boxers on the wall. Not the kind of pictures that had been signed by the players when they came to sit in his chair. Oh no, these were the pictures of the sports heros. Atheletes long dead who had never come to the shop, nor ever would. It was pictures of male heros for males in a completely masculine setting. No foo foo and nothing feminine. It was the kind of place where a man could be "a man" and not be apologetic about it.

As years passed, Enrico became older and his skills a bit shaky. He's retired (I think) and hopefully sitting back and enjoying his homemade wine - which, by the way, was pretty darn good for red table wine.

Someday, I'm going to open my own Male Haberdashery. It's sort of a dream. Like Enrico's, it will be a place where men can be men. A place to come in, smoke a cigar, enjoy a stiff drink, have a haircut, shave and manicure, and outfit yourself with a new wardrobe. God willing, it will even be a place where a man can select a new handmade trap shotgun.

But for now, I'm enjoying my time with my Mulleted Barber.