“Mid-fade to half, keep my sideburns, taper to zero at the neck, a bit off the top with some texture,” I tell my barber in the lingo it took me ten years to learn.
My eyes close as he pumps my chair, leans me back, and begins. I feel the electric purr of the clippers moving against my scalp and neck, cutting hair away down to the skin, clean. The controlled vibrations soothe like mini-massages all around my head. The barber adjusts the blades, switches the plastic guards that guide the length of the cut and protect the flesh from bloodletting bites. Clippers buzz around the bumps and contours of my skull like a lawnmower on a lumpy hill. He whips out the comb and shears to blend the sides perfectly until the fade looks finely airbrushed, and we’re both pleased with the results.
The barber sprinkles Clubman Pinaud, the musky smell-good powder “for men,” on a soft brush that he whisks lightly around my face and neckline, flicking away bits of shorn hair. I hear the automatic shave cream dispenser and a few seconds later, I get goosebumps when I feel my barber finger-paint shave cream on the skin around my ears and neckline. It feels good — the most pleasure I’d ever want from a man’s hands. The cool shock of the straight-edge razor cuts through the warm foam as he scrapes away, gently, at the edges of my hairline. I see the blade’s handle flash in my barber’s palm and my literature scholar brain goes right to the grim barber scene in Melville’s 1855 novella, Benito Cereno. In medieval times, my barber would have also been my surgeon. Blade to flesh.
It feels good, the most pleasure I’d ever want from a man’s hands. The cool shock of the straight-edge razor cuts through the warm foam as he scrapes away, gently, at the edges of my hairline.
“Your favorite part,” he says knowingly, snapping me from my bookish trance. My barber sprays lemongrass aftershave tonic on a hot white towel and hangs it in front of my face from behind, allowing the steam to waft around me. I inhale a deep breath and exhale slowly, enjoying the scented steam of the towel as he wraps it around my head…