Friday, April 04, 2014

Mad men and mermaids

ROUTINES play a big role in barbershops. When schools open, nearly everyone who walks in sits for a clean cut: ears in the open, hairline clear off the top of the collar.

In summer, the walk-ins invariably ask for the bald-as-a-billiard-ball look. In our “suki barberohan” near the old Mandaue City public market, nearly everyone who walks in often walks out looking alike. You could rob a bank or own it: for P35, you got the same look.

There are exceptions.

After spending months in a city I’ve not grown fond of, I see my sons’ barber to lose unwanted hair as soon as I’m back in the city of my birth.

Why pay more for the same cut in a “beauty salon”? Instead of fashion magazines and showbiz gossip, I get back issues of tabloids, commentary about local politics or boxing (two topics our barber is a specialist on), and a spine-tingling neck-and-back massage capping a trim. Only P35, tipping optional.

The best part about going to a barbershop are the opportunities for watching men. Perhaps less majestic than the whaleshark but even more mysterious is the gender that I spend much of my adult life with (I have three men in my life: two sons and a husband).

Stereotypes hardly do them justice. Just the other day, I was submitting to our barber’s scissors and political predictions when two men in sawed-off sleeveless shirts, denim shorts that have yet to be tamed by soap and water, and serious silver jewelry walked in with a delicate-looking tyke.

The barber on my left whipped out a small box and placed it on top of the seat. In malls are grooming dens specializing on stress-free kiddie haircuts. Instead of the red upholstered seats that look like the ones that shoot killing voltage into convicts are miniature planes, racing cars and submarines with enough gadgets to lure a tot into having his or her first haircut.

In these cheerful cubicles, the barbers or hairdressers must have advanced degrees in psychology or, at the very least, crowd control. Ensuring that the tot doesn’t burst a fuse when a snippet of hair is trimmed is an entourage of relatives, usually female, cooing, cajoling and bribing the minor to at least walk away from a session without a haircut that would not look bizarre on an alien.

Not a word was wasted as the two aging he-men nodded to the barber, barber nodded back, and the tyke was hoisted on the kiddie seat. One of the burly escorts, who had a thick dogcollar lacking a leash, barked just as the barber was about to apply an electric shaver on the boy’s tresses: “Dili na sad semi-opao. Tapered kuno (not the usual shave, tapered this time).”

Dogcollar turned out to be the grandfather. A much worried one, harassed that his grandson tried to cut his own hair, leaving a near bald spot on one side. The remedy, proposed by his “apo (grandson)”: longer hair at the top and sides, tapering to the nape. Should cover the “mistake” and leave enough bangs to “style”.

All eyes in the barbershop swiveled to Dogcollar, who sheepishly said he was just repeating his grandson’s choice. Then, half-reluctantly, half-proudly, Dogcollar blurted: he wants to open his own salon.

This made the barbers instantly joke and clamor to be hired by the young entrepreneur, who was silent, staring at the reflection of the scissors moving over his head. The other escort paused in his reading of a tabloid to comment: Is that what you want to be: a businessman or a mermaid?

I wondered about the choice of word: why “salon,” not a “barbershop”? In the latter is space for barbers with minds and mouths as sharp as scissors; no space perhaps for that in the former, which can fit hairdressers, cosmetologists and all genders, including queer.

An hour later, the barber laid down the scissors. Dogcollar and fellow macho made the manly version of fussing, still joking about the grandson’s definite dreams and undefined gender.

The tot, whom I had never heard speak the entire time, watched as the barber styled his bangs by combing up and flipping back. When he finally got down and faced Dogcollar and fellow macho, there was no sight of the telltale bald spot.

“Guapa (beautiful)” was all Dogcollar could splutter.

( 09173226131)

* First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s Mar. 30, 2014 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”

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