Tuesday, March 6, 2012

"The Barbershop"

I don’t have too many Saturday mornings to myself these days. Of the four per month, two of them are spent working, and the other two are spent dressing the boys and heading out to the barbershop. I must confess that I do love the Saturday morning barbershop trips with the boys.
It’s the one place where black men let their hair down and talk about everything from their wives to Bank of America stock dropping to $6 per share. It’s the one place where you’re treated like a visiting King from a foreign land, regardless of your portfolio. Granddads, fathers, uncles, cousins, brothers, and sons line the graffiti walls like confetti, and mirrors dance with flat panel televisions on corners supported by history and braced for the future’s expectations of what those who line the walls will become.

Kut Kreator is the name of the place. Twin brothers, Javon and Clevon are the owner/operators. The boys love them. Javon, aka “J” is my barber. He takes care of me and the boys. Coop becomes “Smiley”, and RJ becomes “Lil Drile” in this aristocracy.
We have to rise early on Saturdays to beat the crowd to our Mecca. Typically, we arrive at 7am or 8am; we’re often disappointed that 10 or so others have beaten us to claim their place on the “throne” (the barber’s chair). As we approach the door, I always ask the boys whether they have enough books from the car, enough snacks, and lastly, do they need to use the restroom.
Believe it or not, a trip to the restroom, at the wrong time, will leave you standing for hours. It’s often quiet on the street as we approach and open the door. We can always see the chairs filled with our brothers, and some sisters, of different backgrounds through the plate glass windows. Once the doors open, noise, laughter, and trash talking overtakes you. You have to choose which conversation to jump in. “Man, you talkin’ crazy,” can always be heard as there is always a conversation between guys about whose team is the best, or why their particular team lost the game. That’s just the beginning.

The bells on the door constantly jingle as the crowd dances through the place. Between Javon and Clevon is the gallery of skilled barbers they employ. “What up Drile?,” or simply a loud “Drile!” can always be heard as I walk in with the boys. “There he is,” followed by “I need to talk to you” from someone across the shop, echoes as we make our way to our seats.
And there’s music, too. I love the music that plays there. Sometimes, when the shop isn’t too crowded, Javon lets me plug my iPod into the stereo and play my own personal blend of songs, while we wait for our “cutz.” They know I love my music, so I am always pulled into a conversation about new music that’s just dropped from “new release Tuesday.” The boys love the music too. They dance and sway to whatever jam is playing. Someone always says, “Man, look at them jam!” as they look at my boys or some other kids dancing in the middle of the shop. It’s a beautiful sight to see, and even better when our good time is met by a new day rising in grace and luminous reflection.

The barbershop is our social neighborhood of sorts. It’s diverse, unlike my actual neighborhood. It bothers me sometimes that out of 135 families within my neighborhood, there are only eight African American families and that number includes my family. Of the eight families, only two of us have children around the same age. Of the two, our children go to different schools because of the perks and choices that we are afforded based on our professions. Because of that, our children rarely play together.

Going to the barbershop helps reconcile this issue. The boys are able to talk, play, interact, and socialize with other children from different cultural and economic backgrounds. They are able to learn and pick up cultural cues important to their socialization and at the core of their own culture. The barbershop provides a median for me to introduce them to Dentists, MDs, Bankers, Entrepreneurs, Officers and Detectives, and College Professors that look like them. They meet other black children of success and of solid Christian families, with different skin hues from their own. That’s important because for a time, my oldest son thought he was “white” and referred to himself as white because of his fair skin. He didn’t understand that African Americans are made in very dark and very light shades of brown. That was a tough conversation to have with a five-year-old, but he eventually got it. He loves who he is as a “black boy” and sings and dances his heart out with the best of them at the barbershop to prove that point.

I miss my Saturdays sometimes. It would be nice, just once, to be able to sleep in. But, I love my boys. The times we spend together now are priceless to me. Sometimes, I sit and reflect on my days growing up without a father, and I just can’t, for the life of me, think of anything that would cause me to leave them. Time is flying passed us daily, and I tear up when I think of a day, soon, when Coop will not let me squeeze him and kiss him any longer. Soon, it will not be cool to jump on Dad’s lap and grab hold to Dad’s leg. In those thoughts, I know that regardless of how they grow and change, I’ll always have Saturday mornings at the barbershop and the lessons it’s taught us about people, life, love, family, community, and pure innocent fun.

“Drile, you’re up!” said Javon. “Boys, it’s time to get smooth,” I replied.