Where Have All The Good Barbershops Gone?
One of my friends recently asked when I last had a haircut. A valid question, considering my hair was covering my eyes, and was past my shoulder. It wasn’t like I was styling it for a ponytail or something. If truth be told, I don’t remember when I last had a haircut. All I could reply to him was that my last haircut was when Virra Mall was still open. It’s been that long, and can be partially attributed to the fact that time is such a precious commodity as of late (it happens where you happen to work six days a week).
It wasn’t always like this though. Since I studied in a private school, there were strict haircut requirements for the students. When I was a kid, I’d have my haircut in the same parlor my mom went to for her manicure and the like. I got a basic haircut (that is, the style never changed, and all they did was trim it down) although since it was a parlor, was more expensive than if I had a haircut elsewhere. But since mom was paying, I didn’t mind.
And then later in high school, I had to look for an actual barbershop. CAT (the pre-college military training required of every high school student in the Philippines before he or she graduates, the product of a government that had only gained its independence in the past century or so) required me to have a specific style (2x3 haircut) which was not available in the place I was going to (or rather, I was unaware of it). Since I was lurking in the hidden corners of Virra Mall at the time, the place I went to was a barbershop there aptly named “Pagupitan”.
“Gupit” is the Filipino word for cut. “Pagupitan” literally means a place that cuts, but a modern translation of it is barbershop. For the place to name itself “Pagupitan” is like a barbershop calling itself Barbershop. It’s an interesting conversation piece, to say the least. I mean once, my uncle asked me where I had my haircut. I told him in Pagupitan. Understanding it not to be a proper noun, he asked me again. And again. Until I emphasized the point that the name of the place was indeed Pagupitan and not just a description of the place where I had my haircut.
Pagupitan perhaps isn’t the most luxurious of babershops. In fact, it’s the opposite. In a mall that has all the modern conveniences of air conditioning and the latest technology (well, pirated technology but the latest nonetheless), Pagupitan harkened more to the era of its own. It had wooden floors and boards, relied on electric fans for ventilation, and was run by aged barbers, all wearing barongs (a Filipino suit made from Pineapple) and were either nearly bald or had gray hair (and a number had those big, black old fashioned glasses). Despite their age, they were competent at what they did though. They’d somehow mastered the art of multitasking, talking about politics, smoking a cigarette, reading the newspaper, and the while providing their clients with a massage, haircut, and shampoo.
To be honest, one of the reasons I went there was because the place was cheap. Perhaps not the cheapest barbershop in Metro Manila, but certainly the cheapest one in the immediate vicinity. That didn’t stop me from tipping though. One of the things I was taught early on was to tip whoever did my hair. Previously, my mom would give me ten or twenty-peso bills to pay the barber along with the fee for my haircut. Nowadays, it comes from my own pocket. It’s not that I’m afraid that they’ll be tempted to cut my ear off or something, but rather it’s a habit. Having a haircut without tipping seems rude.
A haircut is a personal matter though. In my experience, only one barber does your hair (whether it was at the barbershop or at the parlor I used to go to). If you went into the barbershop and your barber was preoccupied with a client, you waited. Similarly, it was a good idea to know when they had their days off. You don’t want to come out of a barbershop empty handed. Upon entering Pagupitan, the receptionist would know who did my hair. She’d call him and lead me to his seat.
The relationship between a client and a barber is an intimate one. Some people talk with their barbers, even going as far as confiding in them. I merely sit in my seat quietly, and wait for him to do his job. There’s a lot of trust involved between the two. I mean as a client, there’s no guarantee that I’ll go ask for the same barber, much less go back to the same barbershop the next time I need a haircut. On the part of the barber, he doesn’t know when you’re coming back. Haircuts usually have long gaps in between. For me, it’s somewhere between two to six months. In between that time, there’s as huge suspense whether I’ll be coming back or not. Yet when I do go back, they know who I am, know what kind of hairstyle I want, and usher me into my regular routine.
When I have a haircut, I usually have a light sleep. That’s because I trust my barber. I don’t come out of the barbershop with a surprised look in my face. One of my handicaps is the fact that I take off my glasses whenever I have a haircut. That mean when the barber asks me if he did a good job, I can’t give an honest evaluation, because I can’t see myself in the mirror. I merely nod or grunt. It’s only later on that I realize whether he did a good job or not. But since I have a regular barber, everything is predictable. There are no surprises. If he does something unusual, I know where’s a reason for it. Which is why I can relax, take a quick nap, and sit there comfortably.
On the rare occasion that I have to come back, there’s usually quality assurance. I mean in the parlor of my mom, I once went there twice in the span of two weeks. When I had my second haircut (because the first did not meet the standards of the school), I did not have to pay for it. That’s quality assurance for you. They want to satisfy their customers. And perhaps the fact that the art of cutting hair is not about the hair, but about the relationship one forges between barber and client.
Harry Potter Madness
Yesterday, the sixth book in the Harry Potter series just got released. Nearly every bookstore had some sort of party to celebrate (and gain customers).
When book five was released, I was one of the people who lined up at Powerbooks as early as 7 am to get a copy of the book. The avid fan that I was, I was paranoid that there wouldn’t be enough copies to satiate the entire nation, and that there would be fans who would be deprived of the latest book. I wasn’t going to be one of them.
Interestingly enough, I also saw in the same branch Vin, manager of Comic Quest in Mega Mall. He didn’t know who I was back then, but I knew who he was (just as any good stalker should be able to do). He was obviously sleepy and his eyes were a bit red, while all he was wearing were shorts and sandals. I suspected that he lived nearby which is why he was daring enough to come out dressed like that in public. We shared one thing in common though: we were both Harry Potter fans.
Which is why a few months later, when we went to the Bookfair together and saw that the prices of the hardcover had been slashes, there was a part of us that had been hurt. We were waiting in line a few months back, waiting in anticipation for the latest novel. Apparently, the bookstores overstocked, and were in competition with each other. That and the fact that book six and book seven weren’t out yet.
So when I met with Vin last Friday and talked about how Harry Potter 6 was going to be released this weekend, neither of us were in a rush to get our copies. If there’s anything the Harry Potter novels have taught us, it’s patience. There’s still, after all, one more book in the series before it all ends. We can wait.