I have not been home to Pittsburgh for more than two months now, and I could not put it off any longer. I had to get my hair cut (or risk being what my father always referred to as “a sheep-killin’ dog). Typical of my neighborhood here in Queens, there is a place just a few blocks away with the familiar spinning barber pole. So, I walked over.
As he began, however, I knew immediately that I was in the hands, not of a barber, but of a stylist. For one, he did not respond to my friendly verbal gestures of conversation. But, no doubt remained as he sped around my head like an Indy pit crew. In those fleeting moments, I wondered if I would emerge looking like Yul Brynner.
After ten minutes, I left the shop. His work was perfectly suitable and reasonably priced. However, I sensed a strange emptiness, as if I had somehow not gotten my money’s worth. I felt somehow sad, like an opportunity had been lost.
Now, I have been going to the same barber, Ron, in Pittsburgh for…I don’t know…maybe 20 years. I probably know his last name, but somehow it just isn’t an important part of our relationship. A haircut at Ron’s Barber Shop takes 30 minutes, minimum. For me, add another 10-15 minutes because Ron is the only person I trust with my beard. And, of course, if there are others waiting in the chairs, you can count on spending one or two hours, perhaps more.
What you get in that time, for the same money the stylist charges, is conversation. But, talking with Ron and the other regulars isn’t just idle chat about the weather, fishing, high school football, or politics. The time spent in Ron’s Barber Shop is time spent among men, being men, talking about men’s issues.
Because, as soon as you cross the threshold into Ron’s shop, you are clearly entering the domain of men. No decorations, a black and white television (no cable, only rabbit ears), linoleum, a single bathroom (no gender designation needed), the morning paper, and well-thumbed magazines about golf and rifles (with a few comics for the boys, which I donated).
Now, some of you may be thinking that this is a rather old-fashioned notion of manhood, bordering on the macho sexist, or at least insensitive and unenlightened. But, Ron’s is not a place of judgment or intolerance. We talk about our families and relationships, but I have not once heard a disparaging remark made about another person based on anything except that person’s character or actions. Ron, an unassuming and gentle man, is a Delilah sheering the pretense of bravado and bluster away from dads, mates, brothers, and sons in a bastion of raw, honest maleness.
That is what I missed when I got my hair “styled” this morning. I missed spending time with other men in honest relationship, away from the cares and responsibilities of life for a few moments. I missed experiencing this special type of ministry, a laying on of hands if you will, that leaves one feeling respected and renewed.