I haven’t been able to afford a haircut for a smooth three months, which is to say, the kitchen is on fire, which is to say, I’m embarrassed at this point by my hairline and the weird bald spots on the edges that become apparent any time my fade—whose blend may determine whether I go to bed alone after a long night sweating on a dance floor, in a nightclub where it is certainly too hot to wear a headwrap or a beanie, though the latter may at least serve to indicate that I am not a wayward straight girl trolling the gay bar for a story (though I, too, have been ensnared by a curious look and a flannel shirt, and this is Colorado, after all, where the look is as much a pragmatic battle against cold as a nod to other queers)—that style that remains a standby of both my blackness and queerness (though the odds are high that no one cares about it nearly as much as I do, except that I feel justified in my care, because I’m not really looking for anything insofar as I’m trying, at this juncture, to have more reckless sexual encounters than reckless romantic ones, which I suppose is in itself a mission, but a mission that necessitates equal parts game and swagger, and critical to that concoction, of course, is the fade)—is less than fresh.
Having left my last Denver barber due to both lack of funds and his insistence that I’m a “Nubian queen,” a phrase I have never heard uttered in the absence of lofty No-tep expectations of my womanly responsibilities, an Ankh or a wooden pendant of Africa (no specific nation; always the entire continent), and a little of that conspiracy theory blogspot slow burn (“KENDRICK LAMAR AND TOP DAWG ENTERTAINMENT SACRIFICED AALIYAH TO ACHIEVE COMMERCIAL SUCCESS ***FULL POST AT BLACKILLUMINATI.BLOGSPOT.COM***”—the words are always screaming, never whispering as you might if you were confiding a real conspiracy), not to mention the abject horror with which I watched my fantasy of looking like that cute blipster from Pinterest tumble to the ground when this barber, pontificating about something political, took clippers to the bangs I had been diligently growing for three months, and I have neither time nor patience for any of the preceding—so little time and patience, in fact, that I am willing to risk the inevitable assortment of boys and men lined up to get their hair cut, the sometimes hourlong wait, and my own immediate general sweatiness at the daunting prospect of entering a space where I don’t know what to do and where, for that matter, the Southern gentility of my Georgia upbringing, with its emphasis on honorifics and amenability, is not helping, nor is the way I show up in a Male Space, where I can tell they’ve stopped talking about pussy just before I’ve entered the room as though I have no pussy stories to share myself, yet in the face of these plights, I am trying to find a new barber.
When I find myself at a shop up the part of Colfax beyond white bravery (for now) off a friend’s recommendation, I am pleasantly surprised to find that there is no line in the sparse room, white- walled and bare but for a mounted television, three vanities, five chairs, and five men, though the smallness of this circle of people does little to alleviate the anxiety I fully expected, my toes curling and uncurling in my old sneakers involuntarily as I mull over and over whether my entrance was rude or would my limp “hello” suffice, and could they see right through me like all the women seemed to at my childhood salon Gifted Creations, where the hairdressers—whose hands had been blessed by Jesus himself for the divine purpose of slathering no-lye relaxer on the scalps of all the little children—appraised with dissatisfaction my fifteen-year-old knowledge of The Wiz, The Color Purple, and Kirk Franklin, who was as far removed from my life as I was, at that point, from anywhere that would cut my hair short and shave a stylish line in the side to the accompaniment of drum machine R&B, so I am struggling to tell the barber who calls me over to his chair after only 20 minutes what is meant to happen to my head here today.
This barber—having just addressed both his plans to stain and epoxy the bare concrete floors of the shop and to buy new grow lights for his personal weed plants, he who is now painstakingly trying to figure out what the hell I’m asking him to do—is not Buddy, but he is thorough in his questions before he picks up his clippers, and goes simply by “O.”
Now that he has parsed my inelegant request for what it turns out is just a faded frohawk, O chats up Buddy’s customer, a man who appears to be edging up on 40 and sits in the other styling chair. “Yup, the president of Mexico said Fuck You! to Trump!”
“You know, this is a lot like ’92.” The customer, reminiscing.
“I mean, what’s the next president gon do? In four years, he’s just gonna knock the wall down.”
O, optimist. “How y’all been?”
The customer, curious.
“Aw man, I been goin through the ins and outs.” An older man, waiting.
“Me too. I’mma tell my momma I seen you.” The customer, reverent.
“Yeah, had a stroke the other day, but you know it take a strong man to keep me down!”
The older man, optimist. “Take a whole army.” The customer, chuckling.
The walls of the shop receive, as a staff accepts song, the curious metallic pitch of kinky hair sliced and falling lightly to the beige floor, the floor waiting reverent and quiet, the men laughing, reminiscing, talking shit, and my own optimistic chuckling beneath the buzzing, buzzing, buzzing.