Ruben cut my hair today in the barber shop next to the corner bar where a sandwich sign sat open on wooden legs proclaiming “Kitchen Open”. I’ve meant to go to this particular barber shop for almost a year since the first time I pumped my bicycle past the bar to the suspicious stares of the bar patrons who were obeying the law and smoking out on the sidewalk between draughts. A sign in the dirty window of the barber shop caught my eyes, “First Time $9.00” which struck me as quite a bargain in Midtown Sacramento for a haircut and convenient to the bar where afterwards, I might perhaps wander over for a beer if I was thirsty or wanted a game of pool or some greasy food or an STD or to get stabbed and left to die in the gravel parking lot out back.
It had been over a month since my last haircut, part of my budget-axing to reduce expenditures – the government should do as well. I had decided to wait as long as possible without being pressured to don tie-dye clothing and I was flirting with that fine line between not-balding, hip middle-aged guy and burned out hippie so I decided this was the week for a good trim. My first visit to the shop on Tuesday was met with a scribbled, handwritten sign taped to the window that Ruben does not work on Monday or on Tuesday and that I should return on Wednesday between 9 – 5. A less committed barber shop tourist might have been deterred but not I.
Another days growth was not going to send me into a frenzy of organic shopping so I waited the additional 24 hours and returned today about noon with ten dollars – one for a tip – to pay Ruben with my first time haircut discount.
Ruben is an older man, apparently Mexican heritage. There are two old barber chairs in front of the low counter cluttered with old-looking scissors, clippers, blow-dryers, combs, brushes, straight razors, jars of blue liquid and a wall-length mirror on the wall. At one end of the counter is a cash register but Ruben handled the cash in his pocket.
He was cutting a man’s hair who was older than myself, maybe 55-60 years old and who talked incessantly as if Ruben might stop cutting if he interrupted his monologue. He wore fancy European-looking, blue running shoes so I assumed he is an aging runner or wannabe, soccer hoodlum as his shirt also sported some type of athletic logo I did not recognize. Ruben focused sternly on his hair cutting making no sign that he even saw me walk in buzzing around the chattering man’s head with an electric trimmer, then to my satisfaction Ruben switched to scissors. I was not invited to, “Take a seat”.
An old couch was against the wall facing the barber chairs and it was covered with a tired-looking blanket and an older-looking one was balled up into a pillow at one end which I presumed was ready for Ruben’s eventual nap. A low table in front of the couch was littered with the daily paper and old magazines. Ruben obviously favors the Oakland Raiders because there were trinkets, pictures and a dancing Raider’s doll on a table near the front window. A television sat talking and blinking on a table and whatever it showed was ignored by everyone while blue shoes droned on and on about a break in at his home.
Ruben finished with his customer and the man paid him and Ruben fished a couple of dollars from his pocket for change. The man left and Ruben invited me with a gesture to sit in the chair which sat on ancient and dirty linoleum. He whirled and draped the cover over me putting paper around my neck and snapping the drape in place while he commented to me, “You didn’t want to sit down?” I replied that I had been sitting behind my computer all morning and needed a break – true – I did not say that the couch looked like it was likely invested with – as my South African friend would call them – “Nue-Nues” and he accepted my explanation without comment. I also did not tell Ruben that he did not invite me to sit down.
Now I am a writer and I am not a talker – unless properly plied with beer or wine – so Ruben did his best to fill the uncomfortable silence left by his previous customer. He chatted amiably asking me questions and we got on as well as a barber and barber tourist might be expected to do. I noted that I did not get the hot foam and straight razor treatment that the last guy got so I figured that was punishment for not regaling Ruben with tales of daring-do about being dangerously burglarized.
While Ruben clipped, the TV talked and the bar music boomed against the wall behind the mirror. Ruben has been living in Sacramento for 30 years and clipping hair in that barber shop for seven years. He informed me that it wasn’t his shop so I’ll have to go back sometime when the owner is in and see what the owner of such a barber shop would look like. I am thinking ancient, handlebar moustache and white shirt with red stripes. I think he was probably next door at the bar, probably looks as worn out as the couch.