Intersections – The Barber Shop

Posted by August 12, 2015


Nicki Salcedo

Nicki Salcedo

By Nicki Salcedo 

A blonde boy sat in the barber chair getting his hair cut. He was young, maybe 6 years old, and he wasn’t crying. His dad sat nearby. The man was also blonde and wearing cargo shorts. He wasn’t hovering, but he watched his son in the chair. He didn’t speak to the barber, but I got the sense that the silence was comfortable. The father and son had been to the barber shop before.

When I walk into the barber shop, I’m an outsider. I didn’t have brothers growing up, and now I have a son. In recent years, I’ve realized that chain haircut places are hit-or-miss. You spend $15 to get a 10-minute haircut worth about $5. It’ll do in a pinch, when you need a buzz cut.

My son’s hair requires a professional barber. I’ve had to learn about the culture of the barber shop.

A barber shop is not like a beauty salon. Lady customers do a lot of talking in a beauty salon. I once sat next to a woman who shared so many private details of her life that I had to stop her.

“You do realize that this is public. This is a public place and people can hear your words.”

She laughed because she thought I was kidding. I wasn’t. I know things about her that can’t be unheard. That’s the magic of the shampoo bowl.

At the barber shop, the barber talks. The customers speak just enough to explain the kind of haircut they need. (Number 2, no guard, with a fade, against the grain.) Then it’s the barber’s turn to talk and my son’s turn to listen and adjust his head when requested.

The haircut in a barber shop takes anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour, and the cost is usually $10, including tip. I never noticed that my son had sideburns until a real barber got ahold of him. We call the good haircut “The Ginuwine” because the edges are so manicured and smooth I think my son should break into song. The barber is never amused by this. Now we only call it “The Ginuwine” at home.

The barber does not like to be hurried. I never ask for or suggest a quick haircut. He does not like me to stand near the chair. He’s named after the 26th or 32nd President of the United States. It makes me trust him. That and the shears. In the barber shop, everything can be made right. Everything can be fixed.

I thought about this blonde kid at the barber shop when I recently met a neighbor for coffee. She’d read my column about the confederate flag.

After we exchanged the usual pleasantries, she asked me, “How do we fix this?”

Her coffee invitation didn’t mention trying to solve America’s racial problems over lattes. If she had, I might have skipped coffee with excuses like the broken cupboard in my kitchen or my out-of-date anti-virus software. I can’t fix the racial divide in the country when my own life, and many things in it, are broken.

She tells me that her kids attend private school, and she attends a white church. I’m not sure how to fix that. Or if it even needs fixing. The more we talked, the more I thought about that kid in the barber chair. In the days since, I’ve decided that I might have the solution.

Here’s how we fix it.

Go to the barber shop. The real one. But do not go on the Saturday before Easter. The black barber shop the Saturday before Easter is a lot like the DMV.

The dad in the barber shop has fixed the racial problems in America. He found a good barber for his son. He made an objective decision, based on price and quality. Nothing in the scene I witnessed had to do with race. There was no political agenda. There was no cultural appropriation.

Here is how you fix it.

If you can’t be blind, be mindful.

Go to the barber shop. Don’t walk past the barber shop because you think you don’t belong. They are hair ninjas. They don’t discriminate. They can cut any kind of hair.

We have separated ourselves by church and neighborhoods and schools. Those things take time to change. Those are places where comfort and convenience and choice are harder to break. Walking into the barber shop or the beauty salon should be easy.

I looked at my neighbor. She really is a lovely person. How do we fix it?

What would she say if I told her my idea to end racial differences? What would she think if I told her the fix was as simple as a white guy who takes his son to the barber shop?

“Intersections,” the book, is a collection of columns from and beyond. It is now available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Nicki Salcedo is a Decatur resident and Atlanta native. She is a novelist, blogger, and a working mom. Her column, Intersections, runs every Wednesday morning.


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  • Pride of Northeast Decatur

    Your observations are touching and humorous. The issues are too complicated to fix over coffee but an easy first step is to slip into the barber’s chair or the hairdresser’s shampoo bowl. After I pick up a medium, no-room, Americano at Dancing Goats, I’m heading out to get my hair-do cleaned up.

    • Nicki Salcedo

      Go to the one next to the movie theater at the mall. Or the one on Columbia Dr. Life changing. Also come see us tonight at the Decatur Library. 7:15p. Dan Whisenhunt, Dena Mellick, and I talk about local stories in a global world. I will talk about Star Trek.

      • LMJ

        Nicki, I wish I could be there but have to travel out of town for work today. You, Dan and Dena start and end my day. I know it will be a great event, tonight. Thanks for your honesty and sharing. –Lauri

  • Chris Billingsley

    Thanks Mrs Salcedo. Interesting.
    I don’t recall back in the day a haircut at a Decatur barber shop lasting over thirty minutes. I grew up on Ponce Place and my first professional haircut took place in a barber shop in the basement of the old First National Bank building (old Wachovia building). Both as a child and an adult, I remember the visits were more like fifteen minutes tops. “Do you want a number one or something else?”, I was asked. The point being that if you wanted something else, unless it was a flat-top, you should go to a “stylist”. By my late twenties, when I was beyond a Sixties vibe, my usual request was “How about trim the sides, thin out the top and box the back.” It was always quick. A true barber understood simplicity in the past and still does today.
    My favorite Decatur barber was Mr. Brit(?) on Clairemont in the Masonic building. Not only did he cut my hair when I was a boy but he cut my son’s hair in the mid Ninties. He greeted every customer as a long lost friend. The last time I was there, Dr. Carl Renfroe was leaving the shop and I recall we had a brief chat. I also recall that Mr. Brit was chatty but knew how to keep the conversation professional. When I asked him about knowing a famous Decatur lawyer (and supposedly Grad Dragon of the Klu Klux Klan), he simply replied, “Oh he was a fine man” and nothing else.
    Like a good secretary, he knew how to keep secrets.

    • Nicki Salcedo

      Mr. Billingsley, barber shops are still foreign territory for me. But I love what you shared above. There is a good history of where we get our haircut and what secrets you tell and the ones you keep. Thank you for sharing this.

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