Barber Shop Observation
When someone observes an event or gathering that is new to them, they usually are either skeptical, confused, or very intrigued by what is going on.
When I am observing a new environment, whether a festival, celebration, or gathering, I try to be as understanding as possible with little, to no judgement involved. The best rules to follow are “don’t judge a book by its cover” and “don’t knock it ‘till you try it” when observing unfamiliar things. If something seems uninteresting or out of the “norms” of someones life it doesn’t mean they should give up on the experience until they have fully experienced it with the right understanding and background.
Basically I would say that given the proper information, background, and understanding, any experience outside of a person’s regular life could be enjoyed to a higher extent and possibly have a positive effect on them.
On an early Saturday morning I accompanied my grandfather while he went to get a haircut. My grandfather always gets his haircut at Vaughn’s Barbershop in Downtown Newark, located just off the square and across from the Newark Police station. As we arrived I noticed the long row of cars filling every available parking space in front of the shop.
This gave the assumption that this was a very busy time for the business because I noticed every other shop in the strip had not yet opened so I could rightfully assume most of the vehicles owners were inside Vaughn’s. The outside of the shop gave a very manly, genuine feel to the shop. On the front of the building was the standard white and red striped sign, spinning in and endless motion with the word open brightly illuminated to inform customers they were open.
The sign advertising the shops name was faded and the paint was cracking and chipping, giving the impression the barber shop had been around for quite some time and didn’t plan on going anywhere. When I entered the shop I was immediately greeted with the smell of fresh shaving cream and a mixture of many colognes, along with the welcoming head tip of every customer waiting on the old cushioned chairs for their turn to be cut.
When my grandfather and I sat down we were placed into different worlds. He had been in this type of environment many times, it was natural for him to sit down, relax, grab the daily newspaper and engage in many conversations with surrounding men. I on the other hand felt a little uncomfortable and honestly a bit judged.
I had noticed all of the customers in the small, brightly lit room were of a different generation than I was from. Most had short, thick beards and thin, balding hair, all of which were gray or at least beginning to show signs of it. In the far upper corner of the room was a small 14 inch television which was displaying a football game which most of the men seemed to be slightly interested in. They all seemed to be having their own conversations about “this” player, “this” coach, “this” team, and why they all should be doing “this” instead of “this”.
I could not make out the teams or the score due to the poor quality of the television, which was expected, compared to the shape of the rest of the items in the store. I asked my grandfather who the teams were that were playing and he informed me it was a re-run of Super Bowl XLVI which was played between the New York Giants and the New England Patriots.
I was very confused. Why would anyone want to watch football reruns? The man sitting next to me noticed the confused, judging expression I had when my grandfather informed me on the viewing of the rerun and he began to talk to me.
First he introduced himself. He told me his name was Tim and stuck his hand out for a traditional handshake, I introduced myself and accepted the invitation and firmly grasped his hand, hoping to prove something with a strong handshake. I noticed he had chuckled a bit after we shook hands which I had hoped was a proud chuckle rather than a negative one. He began to inform me that it was a Saturday tradition to watch Super Bowl reruns at Vaughn’s.
He said it brought everyone together for common conversation and allowed some of the customers to re-live past experiences (Tim). This made a little since but whether it was because of my age or personality I couldn’t imagine watching football reruns all the time.
As the time passed the amount of people waiting slowly decreased. I watched as the men were called up for their turn to have their barbering need met.
It seemed most of the people in there were regular customers because the employees called them up casually by name and when asked what they wanted done a good amount just asked for their regular. I watched as the elderly, plump barber placed the traditional protector around the mans neck, grabbed his clippers, and began to work. He started from the back and quickly but lightly started to cut his hair.
The familiar sound of hair clippers buzzed throughout the room as I sat there and observed the habitual ways of the barber. He almost seemed to go through his hair cutting steps without even thinking. I could tell he had been doing this for a long time. He was having small talk conversation with the man as he was cutting his hair, asking him about work, family, and commenting on past scores of big sports games.
After he had finished with the clippers he got out an odd looking canister which I soon learned contained shaving cream. The barber began covering the mans face with a hefty amount and when he was satisfied he put it away and pulled out an odd looking device that looked like a knife.
I asked my grandfather what that was and he began to explain to me before regular 3 or 4 bladed razors came out that people used a thing called straight razors, which was basically one very thin, sharp razor that had to be used carefully to cut hair (Odom).
Just the thought of someone using a straight razor on me gave me goosebumps. It was so strange to see people so calm and used to this being done to them. The barber began to shave the mans face with such ease and precision. He would slowly take off sections of shaving cream, getting close enough to the skin to get a clean shave but also being careful enough not to cut him. It took a lot of skill to do what he did and I always have great respect for someone like that.
It was finally my grandfathers turn to get his haircut and his face shaved. He walked up to a younger looking, but still hefty man. He told him what he wanted done and the barber went to work. I noticed he seemed to have the same working style as the elder man.
I later found out that the older man was the father of the man who cut my grandfathers hair when introductions were given. I also had overheard conversations throughout my time being there where names were thrown through the room and I put two and two together that the men were related.
When my grandfather was finished he paid the man with a twenty and told him to keep the change. I always enjoy when I am able to tell people that because it gives me a feeling of generosity which I knew my grandfather had also felt. All the men left in there all gave us the expected goodbye head nod with the quick raising of one hand.
This experience had left me with a deeper understanding of the generic man. I felt more knowledgeable in the fact that I knew how men interacted with each other in a relaxed social setting. I realized that generations have changed and sticking with what you do and know is an important part of our society. These men have gathered and socialized in this setting for decades and in that room it seemed like time had no effect.
Tim, Mr. Personal interview. 28 Sept. 2013.
Odom, Johnny. Personal interview. 28 Sept. 2013.