Car 6

Car 6

Saturday, April 11, 2015

The Young Zen Barber

Our city is one with a historic Union Station. Built in limestone, covered with murals, designed for beauty and functionality. A reminder of the old fashioned in the modern world.

We pick up a lot of people at the train station. They come from all walks of life and vocations. 

If you pick up a young person, they are usually coming off the train from Chicago for the following reasons.
  • Coming home from school.
  • Coming home from work.
  • Coming home from a night out with friends.
  • Local college student having fun in Chi town.
I do not discriminate based on race, religion, gender orientation or any other such thing.  I am, however, very wary of young people in their twenties. They tend to have little fear of consequences. They are the most likely to try to run without paying or otherwise rip you off. 

When you get in my cab a few things will happen almost immediately. I will turn around to make eye contact with you and tell you my name, ask you your name and confirm where it is you want to go. Shortly after we are underway, you will know I have a 14 year old I love very much. If you are a normal rider, we have just built rapport. If you are someone who may be less than honest, I have given us both identities as human beings and that will often deter a potential robbery. Finally, in case everything goes horribly wrong, I have taken mental note of your appearance, clothing and build. If I need to give police a description, I have an accurate one. 

One warm night I am sitting by the train with no runs hoping to catch a flag. Shortly after ten at night the Metra train arrives and people start exiting the station. A young black man approaches my cab and asks if I'm free. I say yes. He asks if I can take him to the Burton Place Apartments on the West Side. I say sure. He then gets a worried look on his face and asks how much it will cost. I tell him it'll be about $12 or $13. He looks at me nervously and asks,"Can I get in?"

"Sure," I reply.

He gets in. I turn to look at him. He is a clean shaven young black man, about 5'11", thin, carrying a courier bag slung over one shoulder and a copy of the sports section and comics of that day's Tribune in his hand. 

"By the way, man,"I start as I look at him,"my names Patrick, what's yours?"

"Terrance,"he said with a grin. "I never been in a cab, usually I take the bus but class ran late and I wanted to talk to my teacher. I gotta be at work at 6." 

A college student with a job was my assumption. Spending extra time with the teacher. More work than I ever put in while in college, but when I was an adjunct prof I enjoyed those students. I got on the radio to dispatch, told them about my flag and destination and entered the conversation.

"Terrance, I have a 13 year old thinking about going to college. Maybe downtown. Where do you go? What's your major?"

"I'm in barber college! I only have three more months and then I graduate." He has such enthusiasm and pride about it. The only time I have seen that kind of enthusiasm about a major was from a young man from Malaysia who is an aviation major. He loves airplanes. Now, I am engaged.

"Barber college?" I asked,"Really?"

"Yeah, it's all I have ever wanted to do since I was in high school. I had to save up for it, though. College ain't cheap ya know."

"I know. How old are you?" I asked.


"Why barber college?"

"You really wanna know?" He asked.

"Yeah,"I said.

"All right, man. When I was a sophomore I started growing facial hair. I never had a dad growing up so I went to the dollar store and got some disposable blades and shaving cream. I just tried to figure it out. I hated it. Every day it was more razor bumps and ingrown hairs and as I grew older, it got worse. I almost never did it except when nana would make me go to church with her."

"Well, summer came and I'm riding my bike and I ride by a barber shop. The door was open and I stopped and looked inside. Do you know what I saw in there?"

"What?" I asked.

"A temple for men. Not a temple where anything is worshipped, but where intimacy is shared. In a barber shop it ain't like a locker room, it's where men are honest. All I knew about men before was the locker room and the streets. I stared for a long time in the doorway and one of the barbers shaving a man looked at me and asked if I needed something. I asked him what he was doing. He said giving that man a shave. I said oh and started to walk away. He told me to stop and sit down. I asked why. He told me I was next. I was scared but I sat down. I didn't know what was going on. A lot of the men tried to talk to me and I grunted back at them."

"That sounds surreal."

"Yeah. I sat in the chair in the first thing he asked me was if I ever got beat as a child. I said no and wanted to know why. He said he wanted to make sure this didn't scare me. He slapped some lather on my face and places a hot towel over me. I never felt anything like it. After that he rubbed my face with his hands and said. Hmmm. MMMM. I asked him what was up. He told me he was checking out the bumps and ingrown hairs and mapping the grain. He told me to just close my eyes and enjoy. For the next twenty minutes I experienced the most intimate experience of my life. I felt good all over while he straight razor shaved me and trusted him completely. I heard men talking about kids and sports and work and laughing and giving each other advice. I was lost in the smells and the sensations. Finally I felt a cold towel on my face and then aftershave lotion spread on me. He looked at me when I was done and said,'you come by next week and I'll teach you how to shave'."

"Wow," I said. "What did you do?"

"I rubbed my face all that day and the next day. It never felt so good and I felt like there was a place where being a man didn't mean being the baddest or defending a corner or being the best on the court. There was something else. So I came back. He had a safety razor for me with a brush and a mug and shave soap and blades. He had pre shave oil and after shave lotion. He took me to a back room and taught me how to shave. He made a chore enjoyable. I told him my mama and I are poor and I can't replace stuff. He told me that he could use someone to clean up the shop every evening. It would be minimum wage and only 2 hours a day, 5 days a week. He also said free blades, lotions and haircuts."

"No kidding," I replied.

"I would come over after school a lot and the men there helped me with my homework, taught me to fix things. When prom came I learned how to dance right and tie a tie. I had a community. I fell in love with the temple for men and I learned how to be a man. I knew I found what I wanted. I turned down a basketball scholarship to go to barber college."

"Full ride?" I asked.

"Full ride. DePaul. Didn't matter. Not what I want. I want this." He  had such certainty. 

"Any regrets?" I asked as we pulled up to the complex.

"None. When you are cutting a man's hair or shaving someone, it's intimate. Men forget how to be intimate and me, I get to be that way every day for the rest of my life. I get to be real. Maybe some kid will stare outside my shop and it'll stop him from being a gansta."

We pulled up to the apartment complex and he told me which building to stop at. The fare was 13. He gave me $15 and said to keep it and he was sorry it wasn't more. 

I had to ask him one question. 

"The safety razor. Good shave huh?" I asked.

"Man. It's good for your face, it's good for the planet, and it's good for your wallet." He replied.

"My wallet?"

"Yeah. Go to the Walgreen's on Ingalls. They got a safety razor in the as seen on tv section. By the shaving stuff, they got a kit with a mug and brush and soap. It's not cheap to start, but after that, quarter a blade and soap pucks are dirt cheap."

"Ive never done that kind of shaving. Is it hard?"

"Takes awhile to get used to it. There are videos on you tube. Get a styptic pencil. You gonna cut yourself a few times starting out. But I promise you this. You will know what the zen masters are saying when they talk about mushin. I gotta go. I gotta be up at 4:30 for work. Peace."

"Wait,"I said, "you know zen."

"Every morning I lather up I do. Empty mind." With that, he went into his building.

I went to Walgreens.

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