Fred Morley/	 Hulton Archive/ Getty Images Fred Morley/ Hulton Archive/ Getty Images
By Chris Vespoli

I come close to having a panic attack every time I need to go to the barber. Second to my crippling vanity and OCD, which demand that I live in constant fear of someone fucking up my hair, my biggest stressor surrounding the whole barber experience is the social interaction. I like to think of myself as a friendly guy, but I equate having a forced conversation with someone I only see once, maybe twice a month, and for only 10 to 15 minutes each time, as a slow torture worthy of international terrorists. Instead of hunting down Osama Bin Laden, we should have captured him, put him in a barber chair and watched as he slowly went insane trying to come up with new things to talk about with a guy who only kinda sorta spoke his language.

No other client-professional relationship places such a high demand on interaction; it’s not like you need to force witty banter with the mechanic who’s changing your oil at Jiffy Lube. I appreciate the hard work barbers do, and, generally speaking, most are probably good guys, but masters of conversation they are not.  I’ve found myself blindly agreeing with things they’ve said, things I would have never agreed with if I wasn’t sitting in an elevated chair with sharp, pointy metal objects being held to my scalp. New York being the melting pot that it is, most of my barbers have been vaguely Middle Eastern or Eastern European, making for some interesting cultural exchanges. Conversations become high-stakes tennis games in which controversial comments about gender and race are hurled at me at blazing speeds and all I can do is try to keep up. I had a barber ask me one Saturday morning what I was going to do that day. When I told him I was planning to clean my apartment, he promptly told me “That woman’s work. That is work your woman should be doing.” I gave a nervous “Yeah…” and then trailed off. Advantage: Barber. When he asked me where I grew up, I said on Long Island. Then he served up, “Lot of Jews on Long Island.” Fearful of where he was going with this, I lightly backhanded a “Sure, I guess there are.” After roping me in, he went for the kill volley. “You know, the Jews control all the money…” Game. Set. Match.

As painful as these interactions are, they pale in comparison to what I had to endure last Spring. I would have happily been blindsided by another critique of Obamacare or a moral takedown of gay marriage if I could be spared the utter agony having to essentially break up with one barber in favor another in the same shop. I had been seeing the same barber for some time, not due to any conscious decision — he was just always free every time I walked into the shop. I soon realized why. He was a nice kid, but the quality of his work was a little lackluster. Crooked necklines, uneven fades…I could have gotten a better haircut from Brutus the Barber Beefcake. One time I’m pretty sure he cut my hair while he was still high or drunk (or both) from the night before. I never confronted him head-on about it, because I’m a pussy and he probably would have punched a hole through my skull with his large Russian arms like Ivan Drago did to Apollo Creed in Rocky IV. The only way to remedy the situation was make a clean break and switch to a different barber in the shop, but that would be no small task. A man’s relationship with a barber is a lot more intense than, say, my relationship with my fiancée. For one, there’s a higher level of trust at play with a barber. I trust my fiancée with my life, but I would never trust her with my hair. And there’s a higher level of risk too. My fiancée doesn’t have access to a wide array of scissors, straight razors and blades to assault me with when things get heated between us – but a barber most certainly does. I would have to be strong…and careful.

May 4, 2013 was the day I decided I’d do it. My emotions were running high that morning, so I can’t recall exactly how I broke the news to him. Like most times, he wasn’t working on a customer when I walked in. I greeted him with a polite wave. When he motioned for me to sit in his chair, I froze up. I must have pointed to one of the other barbers in the shop and said something vague like “I think I’m just gonna wait for him.” Everything else before and after that is black. Luckily, I documented the experience through a series of tweets that day. What remains is a firsthand account of a tense standoff that could have erupted into an apocalyptic catastrophe — like if Twitter existed during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Just like that, it was done. Nearly a year later, I’m still going to the same shop, and am still with my “new” barber. I see the old guy from time to time. We exchange pleasantries, but beyond that, I never know what to say. But then again, I never know what to say at the barber.

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