Most folk who undergo chemotherapy lose hair and choose to get rid of it all. Thus, women with turbans. Easier for us guys these days that a shaved head is fashionable -- my current Facebook avatar Yul Brynner was an oddity in his time, though it helped he was strikingly handsome, in terrific shape and had those exotic looks that allowed him to play a Dostoevsky character and the King of Siam. That is, one is not advertising one's health issues. It can be a style choice, like a shoulder-length mane or a Mohawk.
At least that's what I tell myself. I also tell myself I look good this way and remind myself I'd been thinking about it for years, same way I used to think about growing a beard -- now gone. However, I wanted to ease into the look, so first I had my hair cut very short, something I'd do every once in a while just for the hell of it. So on a visit to my lady Joyce in Brooklyn I looked for a local barber -- I knew Manhattan prices were beyond my reach.
Online I found a place that got excellent reviews, Bosphorus Hair for Men in Sheepshead Bay. It was a spiffy modern salon where, as elsewhere in the neighborhood, no one spoke English. I "pass" among the Eastern Europeans in this section of Brooklyn, where shopkeepers address me in Russian, a language I don't know at all. But these barbers were not Russian. The shop was Turkish, thus the name.
Unlike the androgynous vibe of hair salons I'd been to, the only word to describe this one was macho. Both clients and barbers looked like tough guys, as, in fact, do most of the men in these parts. The barber who took me was not tall, but compact and muscular, with a shaved head and a black beard. I would cast him as a special-op in an action movie. Actually, though he seemed to be a man of few words, specially since we barely had a common language, he was courteous and gentle when he did speak. And he gave me a fine haircut.
With clippers. All the clients at this very busy salon were getting some version of a fade. No carefully gardened locks cut with scissors, as at all the effete salons I'd known before. Oh, the work was careful all right. But the haircuts were tight, precise and short. All the men in these neighborhoods wore their hair that way. And now me.
A couple of weeks later my treatment began back in Florida, and soon I started to notice I was shedding. Time to buzz. It was a home cut, out in the yard, a sheet wrapped around me, and my sister wielding a hair trimmer. Pretty soon I had become what I called here a Roundhead.
But that was not enough. The fuzz began to grow, unevenly, and I decided to take it to another level. A shaved head. Like the fade, that style is everywhere, but I figured if anyone had practice doing it it'd be at a black barbershop. So I took myself to The Corner at the Panama City Mall, where I'd seen the shop advertised with graffiti-style lettering and art.
Do you shave heads?, I asked the first of two rows of about five barbers each. He pointed me in the direction of a gentleman whose chair happened to be vacant and I sat down for my first head shave -- in fact, though many clients patronize particular barbers, all of them, based on my observation, can deliver any kind of work with finesse. Mine explained what kind of lotions he was putting on my scalp before and after the shave, usually something with aloe and aromatics. And after buzzing me down with clippers, he shaved my head with a straight razor.
The Corner was a lively gathering spot for men, though occasionally a woman was there with a child or getting herself a very short do. And given the size of this one, the gathering was big. There was constant patter, between barber and client, between barber and barber, among the whole group, particularly if a particularly clever-spoken client walked in full of anecdotes. I was too shy to join the larger conversation, but when it turned to an appreciation of Lebron, I quietly added my two-cents' worth, though only to my barber.
Needless to say, clippers ruled, though in my case the straight razor did. Hardly any scissors. Occasionally, the one Latino barber would cut a Latino client with "white" hair. But even in those cases, it was mostly clippers for the very short hair on the sides.
I started to reflect how these cuts, originating in the African-American community, had become or were becoming the way many American men of various ethnicities wore their hair. A return, in a way, to the old haircuts of my early years. But these had more style. The Latino client in the chair across the aisle from mine had reddish wavy hair, very short on the sides and a modest but clear pompadour on top. The style mark, however, was a ruler-straight "part" on one side of his head, way below where traditional parts were worn decades ago and clearly demarcated with a razor or clippers, not a comb,
These haircuts were sculpted. The barbers took their time shaping heads with their clippers. It was an aesthetic I liked. I did minimalism with my shaved head. Had it done today. It was great being there getting carefully shaved and watching the other barbers do their head magic, while soaking up the soothing vibe of a group of men enjoying each other's company. The experience turned something spurred by medical necessity into not just a style choice but something artful and immensely pleasurable. Which is how all of life should be.