Desperate Times and Desperate Measures

I can usually stretch to a month or more between haircuts and was already planning to do it again when the NYC lockdown order arrived. Having some room to spare, the issue of haircuts never even occurred to me. Like many others, I was focused on assuring we had enough toilet paper, paper towels and, oh yes, food. Haircuts were simply not on the agenda of lockdown concerns.

As it happened, my hair continued to grow. And grow. While many women and some men are comfortable with long hair on their necks, I am not one of them. As time passed, I became increasingly aware that the “mop” on my head was uncomfortable. It seemed to me that my head was warmer than usual. There is probably science to support that idea, but I was not interested in explanations. I wanted the hair gone.

Life is funny that way. When you don’t have enough of something important, or might not, like toilet paper, you get very serious about searching for sources until you’re sure you “have enough.” Conversely, there are some things, like hair, that when you have more than you need/want, you can’t rest until you get rid of it.

Sooo, I commenced to searching for hair cutting tools for men. I had never imagined I would want to cut my own hair, but each morning, as I looked at myself in the mirror, it became clear that emergency measures were in order.

Having not prepared for this situation, I did what I always do. Research. For more serious and long-term projects, I would normally turn to books but in this case that option seemed “off.” So, to learn what the tools are, where to buy them, how to use them, study, watch videos, process, think, process, prepare and …. go to YouTube.  Done. Somewhat intimidating but not overwhelming. You can do this. Then, of course, turn to …. Amazon.

Now the reality begins to dawn. I am not alone. Tens of thousands, possibly hundreds of thousands or even millions of men who would ordinarily go to a barbershop or salon are now in the hunt for the same tools I need. And I am late to the party.

As usual, Amazon has a vast multitude of options but, in the annoying way that Amazon works in times of trouble, you can put them in your Cart only to find at checkout that the items are either “unavailable and we don’t know when they will become available” or “there is no vendor who can deliver this item to your location.” I waste a staggering amount of time studying the user comments (I will be writing about Amazon user comments in the near future) and ratings, unwittingly falling further and further behind the army of men conducting the same search. I fall back to Google searches for men’s haircutting tools. There are surprisingly few sites selling them. All are out of stock or the reviews/ratings are so despairing that I decline to take chances with my precious hair.

Finally, after many hours of searching, I find a recognizable brand name clipper set at a site whose name seems sufficiently familiar that I can trust it. The predicted delivery day is quite far in the future, but this is the reality of being slow out of the gate in a pandemic. I order.

Two days later, the first email arrives, informing me that due to demand and other factors, there may be a further delay of “8 to 14 days” from the original estimated time of delivery. I swallow hard but accept that this is the reality into which we have all arrived.

The next day, the next email arrives, informing me that due to demand and other factors, there may be a further delay of 8 to 14 days from the estimated time of delivery. And so on, every day or other day for a week, at which point I decide that delivery may never occur and demand a refund. Provided with no argument.

Back to …  Amazon, the, then …. Finally, it dawns on me that I have been seeing eBay in some of the Google searches. Now desperate, I go to eBay where, after many years’ absence, I have no account. Once that hurdle is overcome, I find a vendor offering exactly what I need. The vendor has great ratings from other buyers. Desperate times, etc. I order.

After only a few days’ time, the package arrives. Clippers (two!), various “combs” that control the length of the cut, hair clips, oil, brush, actual combs. Twenty-three pieces in all. I am “in business.”

Leaping ahead, after more “research” and overnight “processing” time, I line the bathroom floor with the last Sunday New York Times and proceed to cut my hair. Below, I have boldly gone where I have never gone before. The “before” and “after” photos speak for themselves. It is not a perfect haircut, but it will do for a first try. After two more of these, I will be ahead financially and by then, hopefully, the lockdown will be lifted sufficiently for a visit to a real barber.

So, here are the results. Read ’em and weep.









Barber Shops of New York

When I lived in Northern Virginia, barber shops seemed to be on their way out. I worked for the government in the late 60s, and there was a true barber shop in the basement of our building on Connecticut Avenue. It was as bare bones as you can get. Usually two barbers. Mike, the owner, was much younger than the other barber and seemed to be the favorite for most customers. There were five or six well worn and uncomfortable chairs with a small collection of Playboy-genre magazines to keep your mind busy while you waited. Often there were one or two older men in there, using the place as a social scene, just hanging out and occasionally saying something or other to Mike who was a young man of very few words. He was not into extraneous conversation but did what was necessary to be civil and not discourage these men who would, from time to time, actually get a haircut.

I continued to visit Mike’s barber shop for years after leaving the government but eventually it became too inconvenient. I believe that when that government agency closed around 1985, Mike’s business there ended as well. As is true for so many of the people who play some part in our lives for a while, I have no idea what happened to him.

I ended up going to women’s hair salons for haircuts, a practice that continued, with one interruption, until I left for New York City. The interruption occurred when a friend who was then getting “buzz cuts,” for reasons neither of us could explain, told me how inexpensive his lady barber was. And her shop was just down the street from my office at that time. I went to her three times, I think. The haircuts were no better than fair, but the last two visits she spent the entire time with a phone crooked on her shoulder, cutting my hair and talking loudly to a friend. The thought of what she might inadvertently do to my hair ended our “relationship” and I returned to the much more expensive salon in my office building.

Now to New York City. One of my early questions about moving here was “what is it going to cost to get a haircut in New York City?” And where will I find a salon? Unknown to me at the time, barber shops are plentiful in The City. And they charge half what I was paying the salon in Virginia.

I found one close to our apartment and just walked in. They were not bothered by the fact that I was pretty shaggy by then. The barber was free asked me whether I wanted “scissors or clipper,” a question I had never faced before. In my salon the primary tool was always scissors and I never questioned it. In any case, I am now a regular at Gotham City Barber Shop:

The inside of this classic place looks like this:

Here are some of the tools of the trade, precisely laid out like the instruments a surgeon might use:






The outward presentation of New York’s barber shops is as varied as the population. Here are some examples:

This one is below ground.

Some are located deep inside office buildings like Rockefeller Center or even subway stations:

And some have ingenious, if somewhat mysterious, names:

Just another example of the staggering variety and availability of personal services in the megalopolis.