Light stirs inside men’s souls; people resuscitated report seeing a light before death. It’s a force that both pushes and pulls. It keeps ships at bay, and welcomes us into skylines.
Advertisers know its value. Using bulbs and shaping neon to pull us into their walls. Signs are faces, and like the faces we see every day, some you pass and forget, and some grab you, and require a second look.
I grew up on the fringe of Austin. We regularly drove on I-35 to get from A to B. Counting the strip clubs became a pastime for me (For over twenty years Rick’s Cabaret has served as a land mark that you’ve left Austin and entered Round Rock). At night the signs twinkled, and the parking lots were full. Acceptable, I muttered, forehead pressed against the window. But, driving to hockey games Saturday mornings I worried about the car owners who were still in Rick’s parking lot.
I imagined them weary, and slouched in stained chairs. Unconcerned that the sun caught them. Did they hope that the next dance would rejuvenate them? Give them the wanted reprieve before resuming their lives. Poor souls. There is, however, an alternative. Like the strip club, they offer a service for men, they prefer cash, and when you leave you are marked with a smell. If you own one of the cars in Rick’s parking lot on a Saturday morning, renew your spirit at the barber shop–where the poles are outside.
They are tucked in pockets of skyscrapers; and sown in towns pulled from Norman Rockwell’s The Saturday Evening Post covers. New hope grows for the trade as men return. But why are men drawn back to the smell of bay rum? The chair made of wood and leather? The smooth shave with a straight razor? A clear answer evades me. But, I can offer an anecdotal theory: traumatized by salon style books from decades forgotten, and waiting areas filled with old Cosmopolitan magazines, men escaped the shampoo chairs and entered a barbicide awakening. Enlightened, a haircut was no longer a chore–but a ritual, looked forward to like a monthly date at the brasserie.
You need skilled hands to handle your head. Combs create parts. Clippers shape beards. Hair maintenance is a task that requires focus. Once, my mom took my brothers and I to a salon for a routine trim. It was in a strip center near our house. It was plain and forgettable. We asked for simple cuts–no highlights or layers–but, simple doesn’t mean easy, and a simple haircut still needs focus. My mom’s passive nature was deteriorated when my brother returned from the chair. A hybrid between a broom and crew cut sat on his head. She sent him back–twice. But it was unsalvageable. Mom asked the stylist to shave it off, and still gave a tip. It was inferior quality at a great price.
New barber shops serve local craft beer as you wait. It is, however, bad taste to choose a shop based on hops. Quality barber shops share traits with people you want to surround yourself with: humble and authentic. Pool tables, and flat screens are thoughtless gestures. But it's more than that isn't it? My favorites cover their walls in stories: they sponsor little league teams, hang pictures next to clippings of local celebrities, and fundraise for first responders. They have an authenticity that can’t be remanufactured.
Here the banker and busboy are equal. Bad sports teams, and stories of rogue tourists on scooters are traded and debated. The stress of life carried by tense shoulders relax. Your fellow customers become the thing you need most at that moment: a judge or dad, an accountant or meteorologist, a veterinarian or film and food critic. The problems of the outside world are on pause. You leave facing the day renewed–and with a clean neck.