The Old Barber Shop


I got my haircut yesterday. And for the first time I found my 68 year old barber preaching. He does not know my name. I never knew, until recently, his, as he now has his name on the awning over his shop.

I still go back to the barbershop where this barber was working when I was in high school. I have learned a few things about the neighborhood, from him. Things that had occurred over the years. Like about the Bamboo Hut down the street that is no longer there. It was a massage parlor, which had been replaced by a fire station. A massage parlor with all the vices associated with the profession. Those were the things we normally talked about. Or such as how Sandy Stephens had led the Minnesota Gophers to the Rose Bowl when he was a college student at the University of Minnesota. Most people under fifty would have a hard time believing that as fact. It seemed so unreal.

My barber had been talking to the previous customer about Iran and Israel, and about the end of the world. He was reading this book called Heaven, which had accelerated his discussion. He was telling the man with the newly trimmed locks that he did not see how God would allow either Israel or Iran to blow up the world. I had been waiting in his chair for a couple of minutes, wondering where the scissors were, and interjected. I asked him how his theory about God explained Hiroshima, if you happened to be Japanese.

Born a Baptist, he now was just some kind of Christian who never danced. Born again, betting the odds that there is a God, he said he was no longer praying with Baptists, but he still went to church. He thought it was too much like those games of chance, as in gambling and playing cards.

He talked about the book he was reading, about heaven. About how everyone who ever lived was coming back here at the end of the world. And with their pets. I asked if the author was an academic. Or what his curriculum vita was. He did not know.

My barber thought that the stories of Genesis had really happened. Like the manner that he cut hair, he was, I noticed as he was lacerating my hair today at the beginning as if it was a war, a strict constructionist. There was a certain amount of violence, as he grabbed a handful. I could tell in the first 60 seconds that there must have been some kind of inner tsunami going on, that I was feeling, as an after affect to the prior customer. No one had pulled my hair like this since I was in high school. And it had been a sister.

I had my own theory, I told him 10 minutes later. About something in the Bible. After hearing about the Book of Revelation. I asked him if he really understood it. The Book of Revelation, that last book. “Your own theory!” I told him someone had to have a theory, like the author of Genesis. He seemed surprised to think a human actually wrote the book. I asked him how he thought that the Bible was created? He asked if I went to church. Or if I had a church affiliation. When I told him I had attended the closest school to his barber’s chair, he was able to figure out my religious affiliation.

Eventually he mentioned the genealogy in the Bible of Jesus involving Joseph and the House of David. I expressed my belief in the irony of all this focus on Joseph’s genealogy, when none of Joseph’s DNA ever made it into Jesus. He went on to say that there was a genealogy of Mary written in the Bible. And I begged to differ. I had wanted to make a wager, but realized respectfully that Baptists do not bet. And he had said he had never quite escaped from the beliefs of his youth. Nor had I.

The barber’s preaching, about how only a soul could be saved through the Messiah: the barber’s opening line to me when he cut his first strand was how he did not like to be judgmental. But his theory of heaven judged every Muslim, Jew, or Hindu on earth. To say nothing about all those born into a family without belief, and never went in search. I wondered about the kid in the next chair who was to be 25 years old. The barber had attempted to bring him into the discussion. The kid claimed not to have heard, avoiding controversy. Because people did not talk about this stuff on a Saturday unless maybe you were born again.

The barber’s preaching: the 68-year old who had never danced, still did not partake in those games of chance, but he had married. He told me there was no difference between the beliefs of a Baptist in Minnesota and those Southern Baptists.

The barber’s preaching, but for me, not real convincing. As I had first asked him how his theory about God explained Hiroshima if you happened to be Japanese, I left him in his muddle about salvation for the non-Christians, or about 75% of the planet. The planet where everyone including our pets would one day be coming back to, according to the author. In that book about heaven. The Creator, this God of Love, was not real generous to 75% of the people on earth, if you believed in the barber’s theology. Like the Southern Baptists had not been real generous to Sandy Stevens, and black Americans from the South, maybe because salvation in their eyes was restricted to people of the same beliefs, who looked like white barbers.

When he mentioned the Roman Catholic belief in such things as purgatory, I told him that I thought everything he had said today I had heard from priests over the years. I made reference to the fractured Christianity in all these denominations, as I had picked up a silent scorn for Catholicism. Like it might be my fault, about purgatory. If there was one. I told him, as I gave him a tip and was ready to leave, that all the discussion had today had yet to involve the various Christian dogma. Until now.

Listening. To the born again. With the perspective a lot like that Beattles’ song that was playing. As the orthodox listen, I had become one of the orthodox. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I was silently humming, as the barber’s was preaching. About games of chance, trying to figure out the house rules. But not real convincingly … to me. Or maybe for himself.

I had gone more than 13 years in my life without visiting a professional barber. Like many 18-year-olds, my fling with the unaffiliated barbers had started in college. A woman I knew cut my hair. And for free. Those unprofessional haircuts started just after I had sat in the same barber’s chair more than 25 years ago.

Having a real haircut for the first time in years. Like the Beatles affected forever the well-being of barbers, with a quietly developing hostility towards the next generation.

The family was more excited than I was. About my return to orthodoxy. And haircuts. Those thirteen years had become a family jokes. I had returned for a professional haircut when my sister got married. Yeah, she had asked. And then I just kept going. But only for the high holy days, as it were. Christmas. Earth Day. Over those thirteen years, Phil the Barber had become my father’s barber. (I think that his barber had either died or been affected by more than just the music of the Beattles.)

Yeah, I had my own theories. Now I know why there were no longer Playboy magazines where there used to be in this barber shop. And not many men waited on a Saturday for a haircut, any more. Maybe hair no longer was growing as fast.

Yeah, I had my own theories. And the Bamboo Hut was closed.

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1 comment so far

  1. paperlessworld on

    At the time, neither I nor the barber made reference from where the Book of Genesis came, as to Exodus Chapter 24:

    “And to Moses He said, ‘Come up to the Lord, you and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel, and prostrate yourselves from afar. Moses alone shall approach the Lord but they shall not approach, and the people shall not ascend with him.’

    “So Moses came and told the people all the words of the Lord and all the ordinances, and all the people answered in unison and said, ‘All the words that the Lord has spoken we will do.’

    “And Moses wrote all the words of the Lord, and he arose early in the morning and built an altar at the foot of the mountain and twelve monuments for the twelve tribes of Israel.

    “And he sent the youths of the children of Israel, and they offered up burnt offerings, and they slaughtered peace offerings to the Lord, bulls.


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