My ‘hair-raising’ experience in the United States
By Aditya Dash
So finally, I got a proper haircut at my usual salon. Masks, gloves and the constant threat of droplets ensured that there was very little conversation. I am yet to find an ideal barber, someone in the middle, not the “touter talkative types” or the “professionally silent ones” and don’t even get me started about barbers upselling hair care products. I guess with the new social distancing protocols, the complimentary head and shoulder massage at the end is no longer part of the haircut package. It got me reminiscing about my haircut experiences during my college days.
My college was in Washington DC. While some of my Arabic friends showed me what night life and glamour is, I was always trying to save money; dollars saved are rupees earned! My first haircut was at an Asian salon, a flat fee of $10, not a great job. Someone came up with the idea that they will raise $100 if I agree to get a Mohawk and wear it around campus for a week. Wow, I get my dream hairstyle and get paid for it; too good to be true, but it happened. One weekend my African American friends took me to a special barber shop, I didn’t see what was so special. However, that was the day I fell in love with Popeye’s fried chicken and Jamaican patties. By this time, I had learnt all the customs peculiar to America, like you have to tip the barber. There is no sign saying so but apparently that is a thing.
There was an Italian Barbershop next to our college, it was called Puglisi. This is where I found my spot. The magazine rack had Playboys, Maxims, Penthouses, you name it. My first time, I went for WIRED. “Hey kid, that magazine you can read in the library, but the other ones you will find only here”. Laughter all around. I don’t think I can blush. Boarding school gives you a thick skin, and he was simply “bustin’ my b**ls” as the Italian Americans say. The next time I went for a Playboy and was reading the articles (they have great articles by the way). “Hey kid, in this country you are allowed to look at those pictures”; laughter all around once again. They had a really old barber, drunk most of the time. While he was giving me a haircut, the song ‘Nights in White Satin’ by The Moody Blues was playing on the radio. I happen to like this song, and we had a nice discussion about the lyrics. You know the usual, unrequited love, typical guy talk.
Once I was waiting for my AIESEC group meet up across the barbershop. Some of our members were attractive young ladies. As we were walking by Puglisi, out comes the owner. “Hey, no wonder you don’t look at those centerfolds, you been hangin’ out with all these cute college broads all this while!” Some more banter back and forth. What I didn’t realise that for a moment there, my group held me in awe, that I was in friendly terms with the crew of Puglisi. It was almost like I was a ‘made man’.
Being back in India, that is what I miss the most. A barber I can have a good conversation with. Now keep in mind I can’t really do the talking here, the initiative has to be taken by the guy holding the razor, not the person whose cheek its being pressed against. At the salon at Mayfair, our conversations are limited to colour or no colour. Apparently salt and pepper is in fashion these days, so I am a natural once again.
__ The author is an “Authority Member” of Marine Products Export Development Authority. He is also Managing Director of Ram’s Assorted Cold Storage Ltd, the seafood exports division of Suryo Group. He is passionate about aquaculture and writes frequently on it.