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Walk-In by Joseph Murray
I wasn’t always one to be daring while growing up. I was always shy, definitely nervous of a lot, felt like I didn’t belong. However, there was always the curious side of me, a side that lingered into teenagehood and then actually became reality once I went to college, but more so not until midway through. This dealt a lot with my inner being and lack of confidence in myself and my looks. Once I was able to get over all this, I was more sure of myself than ever.
When I was younger I hated getting my haircut, who didn’t as a little boy? Going with your dad was truly a tradition or ritual you’d do. I always went longer without haircuts, maybe two months or longer, so when I’d get one I’d dread school on Monday because it would be very obvious to everyone that I had gotten my haircut that weekend, no denying of it. I didn’t like, most of all, was where I got my haircut. Very family and town oriented, unisex too, always afraid I’d bump into someone I knew. I secretly hated going there on top of getting a haircut but there wasn’t much other choice for me. While still in school back home I wasn’t one of those cool kids with their Jersey Shore haircut, so I wasn’t checking in to one of those younger vibe barber shops.
Like I said, it wasn’t till college that I started to change my looks. I realized I didn’t want the same basic look anymore, and that maybe I ought to change it up. This first started winter break my sophomore year where I went to this other barbershop a town over back home. I only went because of a relative of mine won a gift certificate to this place for a free shave. I was the only one with a bear or facial hair at all so it was like an extra Christmas gift to me. So I booked the appointment, not knowing at all who to book it with, telling them "Whoever you think is best!" and then hoping for the best that I lived to see past that Friday afternoon. Well, turns out, this place was like a modern barbershop, more so a men’s spa or a dream man cave you could say. So I was taken care of by a barber in his forties and experienced my first shave. He was also a really nice guy from the small conversation we made. So when it came to a few weeks later before going back for the spring semester to college, I decided I would book my haircut here instead. Yes it was a little bit more on the dollar but I knew it would be worth it. And it so was! He knew how to really cut my hair, starting with all the clipper work and fading the sides and back of my hair (the first time ever for me), followed by walking me over to have my hair washed, and then back in the chair to work away with the scissors on top. Also, my first experience of the straight razor on the back of the neck, which was equally amazing. I then would visit this barber during the times I was home in summer or winter or occasional weekends, and also found myself a similar barber back at school who really knew how to fade. My hair was always in check and I started to become addicted to getting my haircut more frequently. And I really got into haircuts in general, looking at pictures and videos online, always staring in windows when I walked past shops. I didn’t know what this meant.
Alright, now to the point of the story: It was a Monday morning, on my way in to work from home to the city and the bus was really quick. I thought about how much time I’d have before I’d really have to be in for work. Then I thought back to that past Friday, and how I checked out. I take a particular route to work that way I can pass two barbershops. There are plenty of others in this area too but two in particular I always check out. Anyways, I always pass by this one place called Liberty Barber Shop, and every morning and afternoon I casually turn my head to look and see what three men are victims in the three barber chairs. But I always check out and see what’s going on in this little shop, admiring from "a far", wondering what it would be like to be a walk-in, something I had never done before. An unfamiliar barbershop location with an unfamiliar guy taking control of my hair. The thought has always been arousing to me. I was constantly seeing this shop since it was one of those early barbers that opens at 7AM, perfect for the on the go commuting guy who needed a quick fix, someone like me. God I can’t help but always poke my head in that direction of the window, specifically to the barber manning the third chair. He looked to be the youngest and not just cause he was the shortest. But I’d still look at all three of the barbers and their clients. Were they clipping up the name or doing some sheer damage with clipper over comb technique on top? Or were they using their scissors to finely even out any loose strands, so delicate yet so damn hot. All my fantasies accomplished, and mostly for the walk-in experience alone.
As I said, I had chickened out the Friday before. I saw the first chair and barber were occupied, but the third barber appeared to be sweeping up the floor. I could have walked in, asked if he was available, but I didn’t. I went to work early instead. But this Monday morning I told myself on the bus "If no one is in his chair and he looks free to give a haircut, you march right on through that door and let him cape you up!" The thought got me real hard, thank God no one was sitting next to me on this bus.
So the bus arrives fairly early and quickly I get off and head out of the station and on my usual route to work. Its really not a bad walk, its actually quite nice. Gives me a lot of time to think and process the coming day, what needs to get done, or what I had left off with from the last time I was there. On my path to the office, I wonder for a hot second "What if they’re randomly closed today?" Well, then I guess the fantasy won’t happen, it would allow me to chicken out again. But then, as I get nearer to the target, I see the barber turn style, lit and spinning, and I start to feel a little lump in both my chest and throat. I pass by the other store fronts along this block, staying calm and cool. Then I reach the shop and do my turn to the right with my sunglasses on. I see the first barber is taking care of someone, the second barber is not to be found, and the third barber, well, there he is. Sitting off to the side in a separate chair next to his real chair, smiling down at his phone, holding his chin and face with the other hand. Before I can talk myself into buying a nice coffee instead, I’m pulling the door open.
The first barber looks up from his work at the site of the door opening right near him, and the sound of the bells t the door’s top. He looks up and smiles to greet me, I smile back. The third barber looks up from his phone to me. I move towards his station, saying, "Can you take me?" as I tear off my sunglasses. He says "Sure" and motions me to his chair. He spins around and pulls out a sleeveless blue smock as his uniform to go over the black t-shirt he is sporting. I put my bag down next to the chair’s side and have a seat, no turning back now. He takes the tissue paper around my neck, and then whips out a blue cape to match his uniform and covers me in it. I’m looking at myself in the mirror and already feel small.
"What are we doing?" he asks.
I also really wanted to come in because I figured my beard needed some cleaning up, but was I about to get a haircut too? "I really need this beard trimmed down," I stated and instantly continued, "and you can take the sides down to a one and a half, and fade it up so its even with the top. And then you can take a little off the top, not too much, just to even it out with the sides."
"Okay, he said, grabbing a pair of clippers but turning back around to say, "A number two or one and a half on the beard?" I tell him two and he says, "Two? Okay my friend."
I thought he was starting with the beard then, not so fast though. He attached a size to the clipper and with comb in hand starts to cut around the crown of my head. Probably was a number two or something, He doesn’t stick with this for long, he turns it off and back at his station picks up another clipper attachment and adjusts the side for the sides and back. Then the cut really begins. Nothing too dramatic but here goes nothing. He’s carefully clipping up the sides to my request. At this point I said, "I’m Joe by the way" and he doesn’t say anything back. He continues with his work, carefully and precisely. We say nothing, this seems to be that kind of a shop, Just music in the background. The only other thing he mentions to me towards the end of my sheering is "Square or round?" for the back and I say squared even though typically I’m faded completely to skin like a high and tight.
After the clipping of my hair, he moves on to trimming my beard. He takes off the bulk and I get the feeling it looks alright. He doesn’t shape it up or edge it out. Then all the clipper work seems to be done. He takes a spray bottle and comb and starts to wet down and comb back my hair. That morning I styled my hair a little different than I usually ever do. It was pushed back pretty much (so like slicked back but minus all the shine and pristine) with my natural waves showing a bit. Putting down the bottle, he takes one of his scissors and starts to cut. Really cut I mean. At first I see him take some of the end and it looked fine But then I could feel it in my roots and see it fall down on the cape how much he was taking off. More than a trim, not a massacre for sure, but still. Now I really feel small in his chair. I let him get on with it and then he seemed pleased. But then he picked out another pair of scissors and I feared these were the thinning shears. Luckily, they weren’t but, instead, a part of my fantasy where he trimmed off any odd ends hanging out. This put me at ease and even a little hard down below. Once that was done he slipped the tissue off around my neck, went to his station, thinking he’d be back to lather me up. Instead it was like a gel for shaving that he put around the back of my neck. He edged up my nape and back with his straight razor.
Then, he asked me the golden question, "Do you want a hot towel?" to which I obviously said yes. However, he took a towel, and threw it on my head and face, blinding me. I found this a bit odd. Then all of a sudden, I heard a motor noise and soon enough then there is this vibrating machine all around my head and then my neck and shoulders. God it felt amazing, easily the best part. Once this surprise fantasy was done, he removed the towel and set it away. Then he finished off the cut by picking out a spray, combing my hair back, and then releasing some of the spray onto it, holding it in place for the day and giving it one of those distinct barber shop spells. Finally he removed the blue cape, revealing my work clothes. I felt and looked like a bearded version of JFK Jr….. but maybe he still even had much more hair than I did at this point. I paid what only was twenty bucks for the whole thing, handsomely tipped him five bucks, to which he was very grateful for, and I was on my way out the door.
I couldn’t believe I had actually gone through with this, it still was all a shock to me. It secretly made me upset that I didn’t go for my usual haircut, a high skin fade with the part on top, or maybe something even more radical while I was at it. But that’s for another time, another one of my walk-in stories on a summer day.