Mindanao Times

The barber shop culture


IF ONE were to look at old paintings of barber shop scenes, the analogy to pictures being worthy of a thousand words becomes close to absolute truth. This topic occupies an almost-iconic nook in the visual arts, from old Greek etches to immortal works by the likes of Norman Rockwell. Indeed, while other aspects of daily life, such as street scenes, countrysid­es, still life and all else, whenever captured by the paintbrush, have had universal appeal, scenes involving barber shops are special, at least for me. Safe to say, a lot of men can relate to that.

The impact of this society’s ritualisti­c imposition that all young boys should have their locks cut thus, frequent a barbershop, is significan­t. Most parents even immortaliz­e it in pictures. “First haircut” photos adorn many albums, and I’m willing to bet many have them, as though they were an integral part of family treasures. Much like other childhood “traumas” (such as the first day at school for example), the most common reactions etched in the growing young minds are, “You mean I have to do this always?” and “Why?” This initiation to society, among with other rites of passage, is circumcisi­on enough, although that kind of cutting is another story.

As a child, I used to dread the Sundays whenever any of my parents pointed us in the direction of Mang Pablo’s street side barber shop along Ponciano after church service. Among the boys, my sitting time had always been the longest because I twitched too much he used to say, especially when he was already ready to use the razor. Throughout my teens, up until I finally finished school (and ROTC), wherein short hair was imposed on all students in this part of the universe, I carried this strong distaste for barbers and haircuts. When the time came that I could, I wore my hair long, up until the birth of my first child, when I wasn’t allowed to kiss him because of my long hair and beard. Then, long hair wasn’t fun anymore.

That culture of well-trimmed dos, especially durTHERE ing school season, is an experience that is not easily forgotten by all growing boys; I remember my brother bringing all my nephews when they were younger to the corner barbershop on Sundays for haircuts, with the added-incentive of snacks afterwards. So lucky for them, in our time, it had been, have a haircut or else.

Of course that was ages ago, and I have long overgrown that old hate and fear of haircuts. Society and its imposition­s be damned, but this was now was a personal choice; I had actually begun to look forward to regularly visiting my barber in downtown Mintal. Aside from that occasional trim, my main reason was listening to the small talk by funny old men who always had interestin­g tales to tell, inside the confines of his air-conditione­d little room, and this greatly appealed to me. A native idiomatic expression, “kwentong barbero” (barber tales), is what it is, a rich mixture of history, real or made-up, tall and incredible, but all equally-funny and entertaini­ng.

A look at the faces and one could surmise that some had only been there, not for a haircut, but to participat­e in this cultural pastime. It may even prove to be an oddity for foreigners who may wonder what the fuss is about, with time appearing wasted as these men while their afternoons, but I assure you, nothing’s wasted and everything is relative. In this country, that’s the way things turn. Modern barbershop­s may have their usual television sets plugged to the latest boxing bouts, sports events or soap operas, serving office-goers and profession­als whose time is of the essence. However, a roomful of old men sans the modern gadgets, just interactin­g, is always classic for me.

So from a childhood fear to this is indeed a huge leap, although at this age, I might not be able to leap high enough anymore. Just staying put I guess. I just wish my hair would grow fast enough to merit another visit to that roomful of waiting old men.

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