The Barber’s Oath

lemurThe barber is the most trusting relationship I have.

A barber is someone I don’t know very well and into whose hands I put my looks. Moreover, a barber probably gets closer to me than just about any stranger I meet on a normal day. She stands behind me with sharp scissors, pulls a tarp over me, and cuts off a distressing amount of hair. And yet, she somehow makes me relaxed.

I have been going to the same tiny barber shop in a city metro station for ten years. There are probably five barbers who rotate and it doesn’t matter who I get, I love whoever it is.

The barber I have today is beautiful. She was touched by the pretty fairy when she was born and twenty-three (give or take) years later, she can surely stop traffic or get out of a parking ticket. It should be noted that all of the barbers here are women and that probably makes them hairdressers and this place a hairdresser’s, but I just cannot bring myself to say “I went to the hairdresser’s today,” so this is a barber shop and she is a barber.

And she begins cutting.

And cutting.

OK, let’s pause.

Even after the thirty or so haircuts I have sat through in this barber shop, I still never judge my Czech more harshly than when I’m ordering a hairdo. I become paranoid that the barber has misunderstood my request for a “normal trim and I’m keeping the beard,” to be “give me a feathered fauxhawk dyed green, also cut patterns into my beard like Christmas cookie cutouts.”

So when the barber keeps cutting away, I hold my breath. My mantra: Trust. Trust. Trust. I convince myself that barbers have to take an oath, the Tonsorial Oath, taken by all those who trim, cut, dye, or frost hair, and which conveys their sworn duty to help whoever sits in their chair leave looking better than when they sat down.

In any event, the barber senses my worry and drizzles me in small talk.

Problem. While I am delighted to chat with such an appealing person, someone who would probably never give me the time of day if she weren’t wrist deep in my cowlick, small talk in a barber’s chair is always a thing of worry.

In the first place, I don’t want to distract anyone who has a pair of scissors this close to my ear. Moreover, we have to chat in Czech, which I enjoy, but the mere act of sitting in a barber’s chair sends me into a zone of enormous relaxation. My eyes get heavy and my brain downshifts into second gear, which essentially means it is doing little more than keeping my spinal column upright and vital organs going. I devolve into a lemur who carries a wallet and a travel pass.

In this devolved state, conversation in my first language is difficult enough; conversation in Czech takes a monumental effort.

Anyway, I try.

The barber asks me a few things, I answer. I ask her a few things, she answers. She compliments my Czech, my face gets red. Success. Having done my part to promote friendship between nations, I slip back into lemur mode.

I don’t know why I do it, but after moments of mutually subscribed to silence, I decide to ask one more question: Do you have plans for Easter? The barber hesitates and mutters something about a boyfriend. Nice. Easter plans with the boyfriend.

It occurs to me a short while later that I have just asked my barber on a date. This horrifies me for a couple of reasons. In the first place, it was fully unintentional and is embarrassing.But more importantly, I have just breached the oath. Perhaps she is now free to punish me with bad hair or a splash of purple dye.

I begin to aggregate the language I need to fix this, but the barber is already holding up the little mirror to show me the back of my head. I nod and say it’s good. She holds my head steady and checks out my ears. Then she takes clippers and shaves off the little flairs of Hobbit hair that grow along the helix. She pulls off the tarp. I breathe a sigh of relief.

But I guess I knew the barber wouldn’t do me wrong.

She did take an oath, after all.

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