|All the King's horses, all the King's men, and all the King's product can't save this tragic mess of a haircut...|
I saw my first barber in 1974. He was a bearish man named Lauren--a gruff, gravelly-voiced barber with white stubble-beard and white Cubavera shirt, who always joked that he'd cut my ear off and feed it to his cat if I wasn't still while I was in his chair. Of course, the threat kept me in line, and I was always rewarded with a Dum Dum sucker for my obedience. His shop was in the basement of the strip mall my father started his law practice in--the old Bella Vista Mall (now Grand Mall), in Grand Blanc, Michigan. It had three steel barber chairs...though Lauren was the only barber ever in residence. scissors and combs sat in glass jars of blue Barbasol, and clippers rested under the UV glow on the shelf. Mirrors lined facing walls, creating a cool "infinity" effect if you angled them just right. The air was always heavy with pipe and cigar smoke, and there was always one or the other sitting in an ashtray, its ember patiently glowing as it waited for him to take a puff. Next to them, he'd rigged an AM car stereo to take power from the wall and play over speakers. To this day, when I hear the old CBS radio news sounder (dun-dun-DUN-dun-nana-bleepbleepbleepbleep...), I can flash back to that shop. When I have a Dum Dum sucker, I always think of him. It felt like my first trip into a male-identified space. Even then, I always felt a little older when my father (mom never took us there) would take my brother and I got our hair cut--like I was being slowly initiated into the fraternity of manhood.
Lauren wasn't a "designer" or a "stylist." He was an old school barber, cut from the cloth of the men from the Greatest Generation--Hemingway with shears...and a cat with allegedly curious eating habits.
When I went to Arrow for the first time, I was awash in nostalgia. It looked like the barber shop that I remembered from my youth. As I first looked about, I almost expected to see Lauren spin around in one of the chairs, putting his newspaper down and pipe in the ashtray as he asked me if I was going to be good, or if his cat was going to get a bonus in its evening Tender Vittles. The floors were stone, the walls finished with raw wood and metal sheeting. A faint hint of talc laced the air. A man offered me a beer...or bottle of water if I wasn't feeling like alcohol.
I had three haircuts at Arrow last year before deciding to make yet another middle-age-driven attempt to regrow the ponytail of my younger years, only to have lost patience in the dreaded "awkward phase" and head to the barber to get it cut. I knew I was going back to Arrow.
I know myself well enough to handle styling decisions confidently. I have a long face, almost rectangular. I need something to break it up at the top or bottom, and over the years, I had a certain cut that worked for me--one with just enough of an outward taper at the top to break the rectangular shape up. I even carry pictures of it in my phone, to show to stylists. Sadly, my most recent visit to Arrow has left me with a Kid-and-Play style "eraserhead" hairdo that only Arsenio Hall might envy.
Arrow still has the sign out front, reading "walk-ins welcome!" Mind you, when one of my partners went out there last Saturday, he was turned away because they were booked up...for the whole weekend. When I went in, the man at the tablet looked at me, then his tablet, then back to me, before giving his tablet a final scrutinous gaze and telling me that he might be able to take me in half an hour, if I was willing to wait.
Fifteen minutes later, Steve introduced himself. I can only say that I got a bad vibe from the start. I guess that happens when his introduction was appended with "well, my 3:00 was a no-show, so I guess I can take you."
I'm now wishing that he hadn't done me the favor.
Now I'm sure you're thinking "but the stylist had to look at the pictures before he started." Arrow has high ratings here. Everyone on Yelp raves about them. I can tell you that he begrudgingly took my phone...after even asking in shock "you've got something you want *me* to look at?" I can tell you that he swiped through a few. I can tell you that as he was starting to buzz the top of my head--the taper point--when I asked if he was leaving enough hair for the outward taper, he assured me that he was on point with the pictures.
He put clippers to my head and started shearing. I asked which guard he was using. When I asked for a shorter guard, he almost took offense to it, like the act of taking the #2 off and replacing it with a #1/2 for the back and sides was like asking Jose Eber to wash a client's hair and get towels.
Granted, as he was cutting, he talked to his "bro" who came in to rebook an appointment (I can only assume the one I'd taken after his no-show). He talked to Aaron, the gentleman who checks people in. He pretty much talked to everyone BUT me. Once my glasses were off, and I couldn't even see what he was doing, I could just as well have been a practice head at a barbering school. Of course once I had my glasses back, when he was completely done (I guess barbers don't stop in the middle of a job to see if the client approves anymore. Even Lauren stopped threatening me with feline voreaphilie long enough to ask questions about the style and length as he worked), and he saw that I was unhappy that I looked like an extra from the last House Party sequel, then he started talking.
"What do you want me to do?" And as you read that, emphasize the word "me," as if he thought he wasn't the guy who'd just been wielding the clippers and scissors for twenty minutes. I guess that Steve is the lost 70's era Hanna Barbera cartoon character--the guy who becomes possessed by the spirit of an incompetent barber when he holds the cursed clippers or something. Mudsy Muddlemore, the Funky Phantom, had a cursed clock. This guy must have channeled himself into barbering gear. Sure, we'll run with that, Steve. It wasn't you...
Dude-bro-Steve, you can't glue the hair back on. Honestly, what was my response supposed to be? What should it have been? "Hey, no, it's okay! You spent so much time interacting with everyone else in that shop BUT me you didn't even to see what I thought about the job you were doing? Now, I'm looking at 4-6 weeks of regrowing before we could possibly salvage this. Thanks, bro! Can I have that brewski now?"
I told him that it looked nothing like the pictures. So he defensively demanded to see my phone. After I showed him the third image, he shrugged it off in a condescending tone. "Hey, man, at least you're getting a freeeeeeeeeee haircut."
I'd rather have had a good haircut. I'd rather have had a stylist who paid some attention to me, instead of thinking that giving me "generic-dude-bro-white-guy-cut-#3" would garner him a fast and easy tip. I normally tip 25-30% on a haircut JUST because I want to look awesome leaving the chair. It takes me about two hours to make the money that would have gone into that cut and tip. Now I'm waiting a month to a month and a half before I can look at salvaging this.
I'd really rather have paid the money to look awesome instead of getting a bad cut. Really, Steve. I wanted to pay you. I wanted to tip you. Now, the only tip I can offer is: hope he doesn't draw your straw as a walk-in.
So I walked out with a bad haircut....and a certificate to come back for another one--marked "re-do" on the certificate. I wondered if that's how Rhianna felt when her phone rang and it was Chris Brown. "Hey come on now, I know that last one was bad, but this one will be better!"
Sadly, Arrow is becoming a victim of their success. "Walk-ins welcome" is now code for "make an appointment." The free water is gone, only beer now. The stylists seem to have less interest in working with the customer and more in just cranking out generic-white-guy haircuts.
I'd rather have a gruff old man who threatens to feed my body parts to his cat.