More than a haircut.
Business is buzzing for the Harbor barber. Men and boys sit in wait while Drew, a lithe, slightly balding Liverpool City fan with an accent to match, hovers around the head of a customer, ducking and weaving as if dodging bullets, his hands ablur with clippers and scissors as he sends unruly locks floating like snowflakes to the linoleum floor. Swiftly yet without haste, he turns heads into monuments of his craft. Then comes a quick clip of the eyebrows, a powder puff, a brush around the collar. A flourish of his hand-held mirror is accompanied by an after-match commentary of the styling and how it blends in with double-crowns, hides thinning patches, or, for the occasional teenager, how it resembles a currently trending insta-influencer.
After ensuring his customers’ delight with their cut, he brushes them down and relieves them of $25, although most of them claim their old age concession. Drew shakes their hand, tells them to take care until next time, then the next customer in line rises from his seat and takes the barber’s chair.
For a one-man show, there’s a lot of action. Beyond the energetic flurry of Drew’s creativity, it’s rare to see fewer than three people waiting. They usually reflect the local demographic; between them, there’s not much hair to cut. Most would appreciate the poster that hangs prominently next to the wall mirror: Bald is beautiful. God made all heads bald. The ugly ones he covered with hair.
A woman comes in with a hairdo that would have cost six times more than Drew’s standard cut (without concession). She has a bright smile and a young son who makes straight for the kiddies’ table football game and the assortment of toys scattered around it. Drew tells her to help herself to coffee or soft drink while she waits, as he does for all his customers. He points to the back of the shop where a pod machine nestles between boxes of eggs from a local who sells them for five bucks a dozen.
A café-owner from up the road comes in carrying a takeaway coffee and a pastry, gives them to Drew, then breezes out leaving everyone in the barber shop basking in a warm fuzzy feeling of neighbourly goodwill.
The customer in the chair starts weeping. Drew grabs a box of tissues, asks him if he can help. Others are waiting but Drew doesn’t rush the brand-new widower. He asks about his situation, whether he’s got help, people around him, food in the fridge. He asks what he’s doing on Sunday. We’re having a big roast, he says, you’re welcome to join us. Come and watch the soccer on the telly. The old man smiles and nods and says he’ll be okay. Drew asks him again, just to make sure, and it’s clear to the man and everyone in the barbershop that it’s no empty offer.
Next up is a youngster. He’s a tough-looking dude. Tattooed and pierced, he faces the frontier of adulthood with a fistful of attitude. He says what look he wants, then responds to Drew’s chummy probing with monosyllables and grunts. Drew tells him he’ll walk out of here looking as cool as Steven Gerard. When he’s done, after the puff of powder and the proudly wielded mirror and the painstaking brush-down, the young man leaves with a smile and gentler step. In Drew, he’s found a friend.
An elderly woman comes in, wants Drew to come to her husband’s funeral. He insisted on it, she says, because he used to love coming in for a chat and a cut (in that order). Drew tells her that he’d be honoured to attend and to leave him the details. She places a folded piece of paper on the counter next to the photo of two of Drew’s three children.
The Harbor Barber is a family man. And he’s a community man. He cuts hair because he loves cutting hair, meeting people, caring for the inside of their heads as well as the outside. Drew is one of those people you happen upon once in a while, who make you think about the mark you leave on the world, about what’s important, and about what else you can do to make the world a better place, even if ever so slightly.