I’ve been meaning to get a haircut for weeks. Just a trim, mind you. Nothing too drastic. I rather like the white mane that’s appeared since I last went to the hairdresser. Note the word hairdresser. I haven’t been to a striped-pole men’s barbershop in years: too many bad memories of pudding-basin haircuts inflicted on my tender scalp under matron’s watchful gaze when I was a kid at boarding school.
But I’ve been on the road working and travelling for a couple of months and I’m beginning to look like Einstein on a bad hair day. So as I walk past City Barbers on Worth Street, New York and notice that it’s devoid of customers, it occurs to me to break the habit of a lifetime and go inside. I poke my head in the door and am greeted by a moustachioed, bear of a man with a thick Slavic accent.
“You. Come in. Sit.”
“I just want a trim, please.”
“Trim. Yes. Sit.”
He swirls the bib across my lap and fastens it firmly round my throat. It’s tight but I decide it would be unmanly to complain, and that appearing unmanly would not be a good thing right now.
Without another word, Dimitri (which should be his name even if it isn’t) picks up the scissors and launches himself into action, hacking at my locks with a frenzied mania that wouldn’t be out of place in a slasher movie. With his right hand he frantically combs my hair into sheaves to be scythed by the razor-sharp shears he is wielding in his left.
Soon we are both engulfed in a blizzard of white hair. I consider reminding him that I just want a trim, but the blades are snip-snapping so fast that if I distract him now it could be fatal. I hazard a nervous smile. Perhaps he’ll be merciful?
But Dimitri is an artist, impervious to all but his own inner demons. Scissors, comb, and electric clippers perform a danse macabre on my head until the topiary is completed to his own original design. Finally, he draws breath and reaches for the doomsday weapon. It looks like a small flame-thrower but turns out to contain water. He squirts it vigorously until what’s left of my hair is drenched and can be combed flat.
He holds up a small mirror and grunts.
Not wanting to excite him further, I pretend to look in the mirror and also say nothing. This seems to satisfy him. He puts the mirror down and picks up the electric clippers once more.
“You vant eyebrows?”
I consider the proposition carefully. Is he asking if I want to retain my eyebrows intact or have them also receive the benefit of his trichological ministrations?
He forestalls my indecision with a few sabre-like slashes of the clippers, which reduce my eyebrows to stubble. For an encore, he lunges at my ears and denudes them of the straggling hairs that it has been my unfortunate custom to pluck out absent-mindedly on socially inappropriate occasions. I am beginning to appreciate the severe genius of the man.
I assent with the barest flicker of an eyelid.
I turn to stone. The clippers do their murderous work and my upper lip is suddenly liberated from most of its hirsute confinement. I fear that its sudden appearance will repel the fair sex and frighten small children.
“Good,” says Dimitri unfastening the bib from my throat and flacking it like a matador’s cape to remove all signs of my shorn hair. It’s a statement rather than a question. He holds out a stubby, calloused hand.
I hand him a $20 bill plus an extra $5 as a tip. It’s a generous amount, even by New York standards, but the thrill of getting out alive goes to my head. Money seems unimportant at such times. Dimitri looks pleased with the exchange and gives a conspiratorial nod. As I turn to leave, I fancy I hear him, soto voce, uttering the old comrade’s farewell:
“Dos vedanya tovarisch.”
Later, walking down the street, I catch sight of a reflection in a shop window. It takes few moments to realise that it’s me.
Now that’s what I call a haircut.