Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Barber Shop

(Written by Troy)
Tonight things almost got ugly at the Livesay House. Actually, we did experience some full-on ugly for a short period. Fortunately, things have calmed down now and all the little ones are tucked into their beds - including Isaac and his beautiful new nearly bald shaved head.

Let me back up - this afternoon Tara reminded me that Isaac has been in desperate need of a haircut for a while now. I think subconsciously I had been avoiding the topic because of an acute awareness that the cutting of the hair on said head always seems to be a stressful experience.

Each time Isaac is due for a haircut, there is mounting pressure and increased awareness that:

  1.  This hair is much different from my own
  2. I do not really know how to properly care for/cut/manage it yet myself
  3. Caring properly for this hair is culturally important in ways I do not fully understand
  4. Isaac thinks he wants an afro but only when he forgets that it means we have to pick/comb through it and he hates having that done. The tears of keeping it tangle free are too hard.
  5. Not only are there cultural ramifications to take into consideration - also a great deal of the wedded bliss I generally experience is at stake -- AND --
  6. I make some really bad decisions under duress

We have a lot of things happening over the next few days, some of which include visits to the kids' school and many moments where I can almost hear people saying - “What are those white people doing with those brown kids?” Knowing how important one’s personal appearance can be in such situations, I reluctantly agreed to take Isaac out to get the job done.

I hesitated for a while - then Oprah was on the television and I was happy to have any excuse to get out of the house.

I set out with my two sons in tow and resolved to make this a positive experience. I have had a few failures in the past regarding the realm of Isaac’s coiffure, and really wanted this time to be different...

I began having visions of a powerful bonding experience with the boys - hanging out in the barbershop - crossing differing beliefs and boundaries with ease - laughing at stereotypes - teaching my sons  and others important lessons about our shared brotherhood with all peoples - scoffing at cultural mores........
What I was really picturing was me, Noah, and Isaac kicking it with some dudes like Ice Cube and Cedric the Entertainer a la ‘Barbershop’ the movie.  I wanted it to be a really great afternoon.

In case you don’t want to read about the rest of this train-wreck I will cut to the chase right now: I failed on all fronts.

We regularly pass a real old-school barber shop down the street - it’s got a real barber pole and looks totally legit. I have fantasized about my cross-cultural experiences in there many times and knew it was the place to take Isaac for this round of beautifying. The sign by the road boasts “OPEN SIX DAYS A WEEK”, but Tuesday is apparently not one of them...even though the sign in the window was flipped to “Open” and the plaque on the door proved we were there during regular business hours.

Next best idea - stop in and see J.B. - the beautiful, patient, amazing, sweet, talented woman that has helped us with Hope and Phoebe’s hair during our time in Waco. I needed her advice. (Part of the reason I was so looking forward to rocking it Barbershop-the-movie-style was because of my positive experiences sitting around for hours in her salon as the only white boy in a female beauty salon that specializes in braids - I know you’re jealous.) J.B. recommended a place called “Nappy Roots” and gave me a loose idea of its whereabouts. Sounds perfect, right?

Too bad I couldn’t find it.

I cruised through town for a while in search of barber poles and life-changing experiences. I found ‘The Jockey Club’ - sitting empty and locked up during normal business hours. I considered the Baylor University Barber Shop but something told me that wasn’t going to be quite what I was looking for. Next up were the ‘Star’ and ‘Solutions’ Shops - one closed...and one I could not locate. I got on the phone and talked to Britt who was driving home in another part of town - I briefly explained my predicament and she did a drive-by check on a real dive of a place called ‘Cuttin’ Up’ or something similar....closed. Britt reminded me that I had technology in my hand that could help me search for what I needed. I had been searching for a while and finding the right place was important.

I used some fancy phone app that tells you what businesses are near you - search terms - “MEN’S BARBER” - response - did you mean BARBERS - clicked - YES - saw - TITO’S DOWNTOWN BARBERSHOP - got excited - drove to Tito’s - expected great things.

Seriously - Tito’s Downtown Barbershop? How perfect does that sound?

Well, it wasn’t.

Here’s where the bad decisions really start. I walked in and had a bad feeling. This was not the experience I had desired.... I was looking for urban and instead I got Old West, like cacti and tumbleweeds. I knew I was risking it because Tara had specifically stated that no one even remotely whiteish was allowed to touch Isaac's head. I was trying to turn around and leave but then got pressured by the two desperate barbers in the empty shop to “get a haircut man - no problem - we can do it”.

I explained to ‘Tito’ that the handsome young man with me was in need of a nice haircut and politely asked if he was familiar with cutting the particular type of hair that he has. Then I asked a couple more times more loudly and with less words - as Tito does not hear too well these days. Later, I learned that he apparently does not see all that well either.

He was very convincing and reassuring. Noah was very distracting. I really wanted this to work out. Oprah was also on the television in the men's barber shop and that really troubled me. These are my excuses.

I had to leave and get cash around the corner because Tito’s establishment is in every way exactly the same as it was fifty years ago. The chairs. The smell. The decorations. The brooms. The combs. The straight-edge razors. The liquid antiseptic. The warm shaving cream. The cash register. The no credit/debit/any sort of plastic card machine. Normally, I would have really enjoyed that. As I walked out I noticed some of the wall decorations indicated that Tito was probably Native American. I naively trusted that he had a better shot at handling Isaac’s hair than the blonde lady up at Supercuts. Boy was I wrong.

When I returned from the cash machine I found Isaac standing in the dusty waiting area - Tito’s attention now turned to the next victim in his chair - and the sight of quite possibly the worst haircut I have ever seen in my life on my son’s head.

To sum it up briefly - there were clumpy and chunky parts on top ‘faded’ down into swirls on the sides and a large C-shaped swoop carved into the back of his head. It looked like someone threw a weedeater at his head while I was gone.

I was horrified. I felt really bad for Isaac for enduring the pain and stress of it so tried to maintain a brave and complimentary face. I stammered a kind of a questioning ‘you’re done?’ to Tito even though it was clear he had started on the next guy already. Tito, of course did not hear me. I was at a total loss and after watching him work over the buttons on the cash register fumbling to see each one - I decided that any attempt he made to fix this disaster would most likely just make it worse.

I knew one thing at this point: I could not go home.

I discussed the situation with Isaac - he wanted me to fix it at home. There was NO WAY I was going home with him looking like that. Noah, on the other hand, thought it looked awesome and wanted ‘designs’ on his head, too.

Noah is not generally helpful in any sort of stressful situation of any kind. Consider yourself warned.

I really wish now that I had taken a picture to document this monstrosity but I was far too stressed out to consider that at the time. I wanted no proof whatsoever of what had just occurred.

I recalled seeing a salon inside of the Waco Wal-Mart store that was staffed by women that looked like they knew what to do with pretty much anything - and decided to see if they could save me. (And Isaac.)

We walked in, the lovely young brown woman at the register did her best not to shake her head at me as I explained our predicament. She did crack a smile, however, and I was encouraged that we had found our solution. There was some consultation among her colleagues and looks over shoulders at us...then she sent us back to the chair of a slightly less lovely and less young woman that could not have been more disapproving of the whole affair. She did not like my jokes. She did not sympathize with me on any level. I thought she might kill me before this was through. (Ok, it wasn’t that bad but I was definitely scared of her.) Over the next fifteen minutes, she managed to salvage the disaster and turn it into a very nice closely-shorn well trimmed head and my handsome son looked beautiful again.

Once she had finished saving my life and was taking my money (for the second haircut on the same head that I had paid for on the same day) - she lightened up and really enjoyed making me tell her again how exactly I had managed to get his hair so messed up in the first place.

Tito’s Downtown Barbershop - zero.

Smartsyle Salon in Wal-Mart - a million

Thank you Smartstyle ladies - without you I could very well have ended up sleeping outside tonight...because I could NOT have gone home to let Tara see what I had done to her son.
Lesson learned - no one. NO. ONE. EVER. Who is not brown... Will ever. Ever. Touch my boy’s head again.

I should have listened to Tara in the first place. I had to add this or else I know she would tack it on at the end anyway. ;)

The next barbershop experience will happen in Haiti and I fully expect to fulfill my dreams of hanging with dudes just like Cedric and Ice Cube - but we’ll be speaking Kreyol and pulling electricity off of car batteries for the shavers and it will be awesome. I can’t wait.


Helen said...

You should check out "Happy Girl Hair" a blog from a very smart white mama who has learned how to take care of her children's hair!

T & T Livesay said...

Have read all sorts of blogs and lots of advice on hair. Just not talented in that way like many other mamas. The girls want long extensions put in and I am not even skilled enough to braid white-person hair. Ask Paige. If she wanted french braids she had to go to grandma. We have plenty of people really happy to help us out at home so it is never a problem when we're in Haiti.

Kristen {RAGE against the MINIVAN} said...

I saw the title and before reading, I quickly scrolled down to see the picture of the barber. And I knew this could not be good.

Laughing at your expense and glad the haircut/marriage was saved.

I know this will not be believed because we live in Orange County - but we actually have the full-on Barbershop experience at a place here. It took me several visits to understand that half of the men sitting around did not actually work there . . . they just hang out to socialize. I love it.

lavendergardener said...

I am so thankful for the amazing barber shop I've found for my boys. I loved the part about being the only man in a ladies salon...that's my experience taking my boys to the shop....it's so much fun!

Mama D.'s Dozen said...

Too funny!

You had me laughing out loud ... all alone in my office ... at midnight. Hope I didn't wake the children in the room next door. :)

Really ... the black boy haircut with the razor isn't that hard. I was scared the first time, but it certainly turned out better than Tito's.

The photo of the barber shop in Haiti, totally reminds me of the shops in Ghana. Fun memories!

Has Paige ever tried to do yarn braid extensions on the little girls? I learned how to do those by watching a youtube video. My girls love their yarn braids.


Laurel :)

A Stone Gatherer said...

Thanks for the laugh I so needed that this morning!

Deneen said...

Try shea butter from Walmart if you want to develop a fro. It is in a white tub with an orange lid. It works!!! We love shea butter. Stock up before you go to Haiti.

Kathy C. said...

My husband brought my mixed race son home with the equivelant of a white boy high and tight UGLY military cut. It has to have been the worst haircut I've ever seen. Not that great on white boys either! I sent him right back to tell the lady that this boy is not white and get it recut.

Melda said...

I can't comment at all because I have "been there, done that"
A good friend, taught me his motto......

Keep it low
brush and go......

I'm sticking with it!

John and Diane Crews said...

thanks for sharing this experience can't wait to hear Tara's side of the story when things settle down.

Marcia Erickson said...

hilarious t-man...i needed less creamer this morning with this sweet-sorry story!

Happymom4 aka Hope Anne said...

LOLLLLLLLLLL!!!! I can NOT WAIT to show this post to my Dh. He's as white as they come . . . but has a similar hair story to tell about an old guy in a barber shop in a town we were traveling through. The old guy didn't respond when my Dh said he wanted a tapered block hair cut. Put my hubby in the chair and turned him away from the mirror. I was unsuspectingly reading a magazine and didn't look up until a couple of short minutes later my Dh was standing before me ready to go. When we walked outside I couldn't keep from exclaiming in HORROR at the train wreck the guy had made of my Dh's head. The fact that every male in that shop was about 75 maybe should have been a clue? The guy had done a BUZZ CUT with GASHES clear to the skin all over his head--and then pomaded what was left with some kind of grease that required 3 or 4 vigorious shampoos to get out. And my Dh was supposed to meet some of my elderly relatives for the first time ever in 24 hours time!!! To this day, a re-telling of that story leaves my husband alternately chuckling and growling, and our kids (who didn't exist at that point in time) howling with laughter at the idea of their dad with the worst hair-cut of his life one day before he was supposed to meet the relatives!
Anyway, Isaac's a handsome dude . . . so you got through this one . . . bet a Haitian barber shop will look SOOOOO good when you get "home".

Anonymous said...

Haaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa. I loved this story. I am glad Troy knows to listen to Tara now. Happy wife = happy life.

rarejule said...

Thanks for the chuckle at your expense... you wrote this experience very eloquently, Troy. I hope the next haircut experience is REALLY all you dream of with your sons!

Terri in Colorado said...


Troy, So glad you realized the entertainment value of this story and shared it with us.

Issac looks very handsome, in my opinion.

Terri U.

Jodi said...

He looks so handsome! But, there's always dreads!

Lindstrom Livesays said...

Laughed out loud!! Good job of hanging in there Isaac!! Felt like we were there! :)

The Sexton Crew said...

My favorite thing about this post is Troy's healthy fear of his wife. =)

Gwenn Mangine said...

I took all 5 of my boys to "The Brothers" this evening to get shorn. Even though they just got theirnhair cut like 3 weeks ago their teacher said they couldn't come back to school unless they had haircuts. Fortunately, it's only 50 gourds a piece for the kids and they sell Prestige for only 35 gourds. Which means both you and your barber are drinking during the experience. I normally wouldn't recommend letting someone use clippers and a razor balade on my children when they are drinking, but the Brothers have it down to a science. Glad it worked out...
I have been there.

Gail said...

I remember walking into 4 or 5 shops when we got back from Haiti. I asked everyone of them "have you EVER cut a black childs hair?" Not a single one had. I finally gave up and cut it myself. Not the best job but it had to be better than some white girl popping her gum scaring the daylights out of my boys. I finally found "King's Cuts". A honest to goodness black barber shop ran by a pastor and his 3 sons. Best $30 ($15 per head) I spend every month. The boys love it there. I am always the only white woman in the shop but I get the best advice from the guys in there. Love it!

jeff said...

Dude. We listen to Tara and we don't even know her. What's up with that?

A T & t said...

This post is so funny! Don't know how I missed it the first time, but I loved it.

It made me think of our time in the Philippines. Andy had a hard time finding someone to cut his hair while we were there. Many of the hairdressers are transvestites (called baklas) and they would pretty much just hit on him instead of cutting his hair. He would put it off as long as possible and whine as much as possible.

One time while we were on vacation at the beach, he decided to get his hair cut and scoped out this little place where the thought a "regular" lady worked. Upon entering the shop and seeing the "lady" turn around, he about died when he saw it was a bakla - "a man with a woman's heart and feelings" as later described to us by said person. Wanting to be tolerant and accepting, he decided to go along with it.

I left him to go shop and returned an hour later to find 1/4 of his hair cut and the bakla rubbing his shoulders. Andy was livid and totally uncomfortable. After 20 minutes of the bakla rubbing his shoulders and hitting on him (with me sitting there) and not touching his head once, we realized that no more of the job was going to be accomplished, so we paid and left.

We had to go to the market in search of scissors. The only pair we could find were a pair of kindergarten scissors, but Andy didn't care. He bought them and made me cut the rest of his hair, all the while swearing that he would never let another person but me touch his hair while we were in that country! I felt kinda bad for him, but it was really really funny!