Essays on Technology and Culture

On a Great Haircut

Boris cuts my hair.

Boris is a Russian immigrant, and looks the part. A hulking rock of a man, with black hair, and a thick black mustache whose corners come down to the edge of his lips. The mustache, up close, has a few silver hairs in it, as does the hair visible beyond the edges of his kippah. He wears a barbers smock, white with blue line drawings of scissors, razors, mirrors, jars of Barbicide. His accent is thick. English is not his first language. And yet, he is friendly, polite, well spoken, if terse.

And he wields the fastest pair of scissors in the Borough of Queens. Possibly, in the entire city. Fast enough, I’d say, that he could hold down a second job as a Cuisinart.

One of the first things on my list once I arrived in my new home was to find a good barber shop. Back in Philadelphia, as my move grew closer, I put off getting a haircut. I’d twice tried to go to my old barbers in Center City, but found they were closed. Once, it was my fault for forgetting they were closed on Sundays. The other time, I don’t know why they were closed. I was depressed, my hair was long and shaggy, and I decided it would be an added incentive to find a barber shop once I moved.

During my college years, I had long hair. I grew a wild mane that, at one point, fell down to the top of my backside. When it was time to remove it, I went to a proper hair salon, spending fifty dollars to have a professional cut and style it. Money well spent. While I was comfortably well off, I kept going back to her, but this grew unsustainable. I went to the local beauty school, paying students to cut my hair, unsure of what I was getting. I gave them up when I found my barber shop. For sixteen bucks, they cut my hair, trimmed my sideburns and eyebrows, and did it quickly.

There’s a risk in trying any new place to get a haircut. Before settling on my barber in Philly, I poured over Yelp reviews. I didn’t want to go just anywhere, and take my chance. I only get a haircut every six weeks or so… more like “or so” for me. I didn’t want to travel out of my way, or pay out the nose if I didn’t have to. I had made my home, but it was doomed to be temporary, knowing I would be moving after only a handful of cuts.

I found Boris by near serendipity. Yes, I used Yelp, but I didn’t discover his shop immediately. Not far, down on Jamaica Avenue, there’s another barber shop, one famous for its cuts. I was all set to make the hike down there, only to find out that they focused on a different clientele, and didn’t provide the sort of haircut I was looking for. Dejected, I returned to the Internet.

There was one review of Boris’s shop, but it was glowing. Five stars. Excited. One bright, warm, Thursday morning in late Summer, I made the hike. It’s a mile from my building to Union Turnpike and 162nd Street. The shop is unassuming. No name, just a pale red awning with the words “Barber Shop”, and a rotating red, white, and blue barber’s pole by the door. I thought it may have been closed, but looking in, I saw Boris. I entered, was seated in a red leather barber chair, enrobed in a black barber’s cloth.

I told him to take an inch off the top. Clippers on the back and sides. Trim my sideburns, but keep them the same length. Out came the clippers, at a 3. I felt my hair slip away, the weight holding it down going with it. We spoke, politely. I told him I was new to the neighborhood, came from Philadelphia. He told me about his trip to see the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall.

Then, out came the scissors.

A few tentative test snips in the air, first, like a batter taking a practice swing before the pitch. I felt him take up some hair, and then felt a swish of air, followed by a quiet click. Again. Again. Hair flew away from me like leaves on the wind. He adjusted my head, kept snipping away, and before I knew what had happened, he handed me my glasses, and I could see what this man had wrought.

And I looked, and I saw that it was good.

Boris asked for ten dollars, a price that seemed, as I looked and preened in the giant mirror, far too good to be true, especially for New York. Walking out the door, and back home, I felt like a new man, holding my head high—easier to do without two months of hair growth weighing it down, and singing the praises of Boris. I’ve been back since, and I will be back again.