Two months had passed since my last haircut when I went to see Sammy, my barber. The little shop is just off the corner of Davie and Burrard street here in Vancouver. As I walked through the door, there he was, one barber chair in a line of eight. All Greek guys who cut hair – a couple of old guys, a couple of young ones, wet behind the ears, and a couple of middle aged ones. Sammy is one of the middle aged ones. Behind the chairs, is a continuous mirror the whole length of the wall. Written, in large black ink, behind each chair is the name of the barber. Sammy’s name on the mirror says simply, “Sam” in fancy scrolled lettering. It used to say “Sammy”, but somewhere along the line, it got changed to “Sam”. The name on the mirror conveys a sense of permanence – as if it had always been there, forever.
I was sitting there waiting for him to finish with his customer thinking that I would be next. You know, I thought, I’ve been going to Sammy for years and every time I come here, there he is at the same chair, seeming to enjoy every minute of his work. He always seems to take such pride in what he does.
He charges $16 for what is usually a 15 or 20 minute haircut. (I don’t have a lot of hair left to cut on top).
Here’s how it goes: I sit down. He says: “the usual, make it look nice?” I say: “yep” and away he goes, knowing exactly what to do. I trust him. He never screws it up. When he’s finished, he shows me the back of my head in his big mirror and, like always, he says: “okay?” and like always, I say: “looks great Sam – thank you”.
Then, as always, after he slathers the heated shaving cream on the back of my neck around to the ears, he scrapes it away with the long straight razor. Every time he does this, I think of the gangster movie, long ago, where the italian barber is menacingly flourishing the straight razor around the exposed neck of the gangster. I don’t know why, but every time I see that razor, the flash of that movie comes into my head. Just a quick slice and it would be curtains for me.
We joke about how thin my hair is getting on top and he asks: Did I give you some of my stuff? “What stuff” I ask? Without explaining, he says: “just a minute. I’ll get it”. Off he goes into the back and comes out with a beautiful small black box with something inside. “This is for you” he says.
Everything is now done. Some alcohol to clean the shaving cream off, a quick wipe with a towel, a 15 second head massage, a blow dry, a pat hear and their to make it neat and he wisks away the apron protecting me from the ton of hair he just cut off my head.
It’s always the same routine for payment. I know he charges $16.00. I always give him $20.00. (A t Christmas time it’s $25). He reaches into his change box under the counter, as always, and as he does this, I always say: “No No, Sam, that’s all right”. Everytime, for years now, he looks me in the eye with a look of sheer gratitude and puts his hand out, at shoulder level, to shake mine. No words – just a quick and sincere thank you handshake.
This time, as I get out of the chair, he hands me the little black box and says put this on you hair everyday – it’ll make it thicker. “Does it work? “Yea it does” and he explains how to use it.
“How much is it?” I ask, thinking I don’t really want to spend more money right now. “My gift” he says. “No charge” Well of course I was all over him with thanks, etc. etc.
He smiles, I smile and say: “thanks Sam – see you next time”. As I’m about to go out the door, I turn to wave at him. By this time his next customer is in the chair. He looks up just as I look at him. We both give a quick little wave and out the door I go.
As I walked into the sunlight and down the sidewalk on Burrard St., I thought; “Isn’t life grande. There are some truly wonderful people out there!”
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