The barber was standing beside his barber's chair, as if at attention, waiting for a customer in his empty shop. He stared at me, a big, white-haired man with a full white beard, more like Lee's than Grant's, who was wearing a trucker's cap and a Miami Canes football jacket, orange and green with a white ibis on it. I stared at him, a short, round man in his midsixties, about my age, with a salt-and-pepper goatee. His white barber's uniform contrasted with his dark skin. Neither of us spoke for a few seconds. Finally, I broke the ice.
"I came in for a haircut," I said. What else could I have come in for? A loaf of bread? A bottle of Jim Beam Black?
He nodded, said nothing, and gestured toward his chair. I took off my cap and Canes jacket, laid them on a chair, and sat down. He put a barber's apron around me and finally spoke.
"How do you want me to cut it, sir?"
I said, "Just clean it up a bit." He nodded.
He used an electric clipper, not a scissors. I don't think he'd had much experience cutting white men's hair. He worked in silence for a while. I looked around his shop. He had photographs of famous people on his walls. President Obama. Oprah Winfrey. Muhammad Ali. And a few who were not so famous, black actors like Taye Diggs, smiling, with trim, short, kinky hair that had been cut with an electric clipper.
I asked, "You an Ali fan?"
"Yes, sir, I am."
"I interviewed him once. In 1968, after he'd been stripped of his heavyweight crown because he wouldn't fight in Vietnam."
"Is that so?"
"I'm a writer."
"Is that so?"
[Photo Via: Past Tense]