One More Cup Of Coffee: Bird’s & A Haircut

I drive to Florence for a haircut. Walking past the barbershop’s front window, I see fifteen thousand people in there waiting. I say “fuck that” and cross the intersection to Bird’s Store and buy a coffee and a fat little Mead notebook. My coffee is the dregs from two almost-empty coffee pots but it’s actually pretty good, which is wonderful since I one hundred percent expected it to be terrible. I take a seat at one of the two large plastic folding tables marked “Keno-Only,” which are positioned in front of two video screens above the double-sided counter. Three older guys are already parked there. Two are silent screen watchers, the third sighs and mutters a lot. They all smell like cigarettes. Our chairs have tennis balls impaled on their feet.

This is an old corner store (established 1867, according to the sign on the brick facade) in the heart of Florence center. It has giant windows obscured by assorted crap, tin ceilings twelve or fourteen feet overhead, and a nice angled double door entrance on the corner which is blocked off from use. “Thirty-three! Go ahead, tease me!” the mutterer says. “There it is! Cha-ching! That’s better!” We’re sitting in a wide aisle between stationary and hardware. The hardware side has everything you might need in a pinch: A pizza slicer which will surely break the first time you use it, a plastic power strip decalled to look like it’s made of steel plating, and a selection of Leggs Sheer Energy Revitalizing Sheer Pantyhose. An unseen someone in the back of the store greets a friend with a Budweiseresque “WASSSAAAAP!” because that is a thing that still happens. “All right, let’s get going,” the mutterer says to the dollar bills in his hand. All right. I head back to the barbershop.

I look through the front window again: Three people in the chairs, three more waiting. Not great, but tolerable. I take a seat and sip my coffee and write in my notebook while the Cooking Channel blathers at the room from two little TVs. I’ve been coming to this barbershop for almost a decade now, and it is generally my biggest exposure to shitty cable television and advertising. Family Feud on the Game Show Network. The chick from Will & Grace shilling for a skin cream. Authentic Italian spinach dip on the Food Network. Ty Pennington shilling for a mortgage loan website. When I’m in the chair, I get to take off my glasses, which is a blessing. But I still have to listen to the endless stream of bullshit, and make noncommittal hmmms when the barbers comment on what’s happening onscreen, because they have no idea how blind I am.

Mike answers the phone by saying the word “barbershop.” It’s usually someone confirming that the place is open. Sometimes it’s someone looking to sign out the Florence Community Room, which Mike is in charge of. He used to have jokes about Obama taped up to his mirror. Before that, he had jokes about Bush. When he cuts my hair, he mumbles semi-dirty jokes that I usually can’t hear because there are hair clippers buzzing against my ear. I do my best to sort of laugh.

The self-policing barbershop waiting system fills me with anxiety and worry. Who was before me? Who came in after me? I’m fourth. Fourth, goddamnit! I AM NUMBER FOUR. I assess the speed of the haircuts in progress and deduce that I will get Hue as my barber. She is a really nice lady, Thai I think, with a thick accent and a passing acknowledgment of verb tense. I can’t understand a goddamned thing she says, usually. My noncommittal hmmm mechanism gets a hell of a workout when she cuts my hair. I’m bad enough at small talk in the best of circumstances. This will practically kill me. I will almost die.

There’s never any chit-chat between waiting customers here, which is true of most every barbershop I’ve ever been in. Silent men staring at the TVs or reading newspapers, separated by empty chairs whenever possible, looking straight forward, no eye contact. I slouch in my chair and keep writing and watch Drew Carey’s career spiral further into the abyss and wait to get my hair did. All I’ve got is this cup of coffee and you.

This story is from an ongoing series/eventual collection called One More Cup Of Coffee.