Cities are big places. Simple enough right? That’s why we come, go, live, rent, buy, drink and eat in them. There’s a certain kind of solace taken in the vast anonymity afforded when you’re just one of the faceless, grey suited worker bees that constantly course through the city’s arteries.
Then of course, there’s the other side of the coin. Sometimes you want to get recognized, sometimes you want to walk into a place and just hear the crowd, wait staff, proctologist shout, “NORM!” or whatever you’re calling yourself these days.
As with any issue, we’re picky about this. We don’t want to get recognized everywhere, no, most of the time we’re content just to slink about like an urban ninja on his way to the software development dojo. Instead what we want is to be recognized at only a few places.
I don’t know, maybe it’s just me, but I’ve got a handful of establishments where I’m a “regular.” God, what a great term. Besides the obviously scatalogical references being a “regular” means you’re known by face, certainly not by name, that would imply that you’re on the way to becoming friends, and I’ve got enough of those, Mr. Bagel Cart, let’s just stick you calling me “Chief.” You’re also generally entitled to special treatment, discounts, buy backs, extra back rubs (which is a little creepy at a Deli).
By developing this type of relationship with a vendor you’re doing two things. A) You’re giving your pathetic existence a teeny bit of meaning, I mean, if you slip in the shower, surely that guy with the mole on his face that makes you pizza will come to your rescue, right? B) You’re making a statement of loyalty to that establishment, they can count on your business, even if a newer, shinier bodega opens up down the corner, you know, one without a football sized rat they insist is the house cat.
Well, this past Tuesday I got to enjoy both sides of the coin, like it was a copper filled oreo. I had awoken about an hour late for work, and as I hustled through my apartment, electric razor in hand, I wondered to myself, “Why are dogs so obsessed with genital sanitation?”
See, it’s errant thoughts like this that generally get me in trouble. Fifteen minutes later, I was on the train and still wondering why ball licking is the number one past time in the canine world when I realized I’d only shaved half of my face. That’s right. Just the right side of my face.
Now, I’m not talking about some five o’clock shadow that I forgot to scrape off, nah. This was some serious face pube growth we had going on here. I looked like a walking ad for Victor Victoria (thanks in part to the blush).
You know what? I didn’t care. I chuckled to myself a little, yes it was an actual chuckle, like the kind of chuckle you make when a little kid runs into something at full speed and falls down, a little melancholy. I didn’t care because I was on the train, out in the open, among the great unwashed. I didn’t know them and they didn’t know me and I was pretty sure I wasn’t the weirdest thing they’d seen that day.
Eventually, I got off the train and was out on the street, hoofing the rest of the way to my office. I decided to stop in at my morning deli to pick up a tube of shaving cream and a razor.
My morning deli is exactly the type of place that I described earlier. Whenever I walk in, the guys behind the counter get to work on making me my bacon, egg and cheese on a roll and large black coffee. They don’t need to ask, I don’t need to shout, it just happens. It’s like The Sting only none of us are wearing pimped out suits.
Only this morning I didn’t want my usual breakfast sandwich, all I wanted was a razor, shaving cream and a small coffee. Don’t ask me why, I think all that extra hair on one side of my face had effectively made me more left brained.
Ordering the same exact thing at one place for over a year and then one day just up and changing it, in addition to asking for something from the top shelf behind the counter is as good a metaphor for the biblical tale of the Tower of Babel as one can find in the modern day. I had to talk down the griddle guy who was already whipping my eggs, the coffee guy had to toss a large, half filled cup of coffee, the cashier had never given me change before, it was a complete fucking mess.
Also, please remember I looked like a mid transition werewolf, so I can only assume what the hell they thought was going on. There were other people waiting, shouts were exchanged, I got things and shot out of there like a half bearded pirate clutching some booty.
Work goes by smoothly, I get my shaving done, I start to feel normal, I head home on the train, now this is where the story gets a little weird. As I was sitting on the F train I looked up at someone carrying the Metro section of the times. Pictured there was what appeared to be the window of my Barber’s shop in East Harlem, with people peering inside of it, like something horrible had happened.
Let me explain. I go to Claudio’s barber shop on 116th and 1st Avenue. I’ve been going there once a month for just over two years. If you factor that in, that’s a slightly more than I see my mother and father. Your relationship with your barber is kind of like your favorite pair of shoes, comfortable, and posessing of a distinct smell. You know what to expect, the level of quality, the atmosphere.
Since I’ve been going there I’ve developed that all coveted status of being a regular, like I explained before. At least twice I’ve walked into a crowded line and gotten a cut before five or six people. I get the straight razor shave, I get the special treatment, the hot towell, the small talk, everything.
So was I concerned for Claudio’s health when I saw what appeared to be a crime scene on the front page of the Metro section? Not entirely. Actually, it was this pit of the stomache weight of guilt. You see, I had cheated on my barber. Oh yeah.
I work in the Meatpacking district, my barber is in East Harlem. That’s an hour and a half just for a hair cut, I mean, I’m going literally from one corner of Manhattan to the other just for a buzz cut. So about two weeks ago I just said, “Fuck It,” and went to some random super cuts by my office. Man it was worse than cheating, everytime I looked in the mirror and saw that slightly less perfect cut, the messed up neck line, the random inch longer stray hair sticking out of the side of my head I was reminded of what a despicable human being I am.
It was the worst.
When I got home I ran to my nighttime deli and grabbed a New York Times, flipped through frantically trying to find the Metro section. There it was, Claudio’s giant plate glass, never barricaded window.
And then I read the caption:
“A Dutch tour group looks into a barber shop window on a cultural tour of East Harlem.”
A fucking CULTURAL TOUR… of EAST HARLEM. My barber shop is a landmark and I’d thrown it away because of so many blocks. I’d thrown away one of my tiny bastions of familiarity in this giant city just because I didn’t want to sit on the train.
Needless to say, I’m going back next week to beg on my knees for forgiveness. Barbers are like martial arts experts, they can tell you’ve been to another school of hair styling just by seeing the freaking angle you hold your head at. I’m going plead with Claudio to take me back. I’m going to bring barbecide or something, I don’t know.
New York is a giant place, faceless, cruel and sometimes a little muggy. It’s up to you to find places and make them your own, you’re in charge of making a neighborhood of your choosing in this giant concrete and steel turd. Don’t make the mistake I did, don’t take your barber for granted, tell him you love him, or at least the way he makes your eyes light up with a simple layering technique.