Amblin' Alameda: Haircuts

Amblin' Alameda: Haircuts

Morton Chalfy

My ambivalence about hair cutters began long ago and far away, in the wilds of the East Bronx at the end of the 1940s. I was about 10 when my mother sent me to get my haircut at the regular place (the local barbershop - they were barbers before they became hair cutters) trusting that I would come home looking as I always did after one of these visits.

I tried to change the outcome; I clearly told him what I wanted and what I didn't want. He smiled, nodded and then he gave me "the regular," which left my ears sticking out, the edges of my hair buzzed to a straight line, a part down the left side that Moses would have envied and a feeling of frustration that wouldn't leave until my hair grew shaggy again.

It's hard to blame the barber; he knew where the money came from. It's impossible to blame my mother, who just wanted me to look good. Nevertheless, the frustration was very real.

As a teenager, I would save my bits of money until I could go to a barber in midtown Manhattan near the Brill Building. The Brill was the home of Tin Pan Alley and the barbers in the area catered to artistic types, and for a short while I was able to get my hair trimmed in an attempt to keep my look of Romantic Poet Meets Tarzan. I never quite achieved it, alas.

Here in Alameda I was nudged into seeking a hair cutter who would best serve my needs and my sweetie's desire that I look presentable. While my mother went for handsome, six decades later the standard has fallen to "not look homeless." I can accept that. So I've tried many hair cutters who shall all remain nameless here. They all tried valiantly to give me what I wanted.

For a while I waited several months in between cuts for a friend of ours to visit from SoCal who had long experience, his own tools and an understanding of the minimalist attention I wanted. But his visits are infrequent, and the "not homeless" standard must be met.

Hair cutters come with their own artistic vision of one's head and hair. It grows and falls this way or that, and their vision and experience guides their approach. Many have tried and nearly got there but didn't quite. The trick, I have found, is to come upon a stylist whose vision of my head coincides with my own, one whose attention to detail is not necessarily greater than another's but one that corresponds with my own list of details I want covered.

I am, after all, a person whose hair was halfway down his back in the mid-'70s and whose vision of himself is still Mr. Natural. So the cycle continues, shortish and neat on the day of the cut, overlong and shaggy for the three weeks before I am forced back into the chair. The more things change, the more they stay the same.