My hair was a hot mess, and everyone knew it. I took too much time in the morning attempting to mat down this uncontrollable nest. And by 10am, it looked like your aunt who always greets you with a head scratch had a field day. I decided something had to be done. But the fear of a new barber misinterpreting my request and sculpting a mullet, or worse, a buzz cut, on my head deterred me from getting it cut earlier. I was going to face my fear at one point or another, so why wait?
After compiling recommendations from a few locals, my friends and I peered into this packed barbershop, adorned with a narrow door and black awnings. Turning to leave because there was no way I was waiting an hour for a haircut, a voice from the back signaled out an empty chair.** It turns out people weren’t waiting to get their haircut, but hanging around playing fifa and talking to the barbers. Slouching down into the relatively comfy black chair, I starred at a homeless version of myself in the mirror while waiting for the barber to get his supplies. The longer I stared, my choice to take the leap of faith couldn’t have been clearer. Receiving the, “So what do you want today?” look, I blurted out cuatro en cada lado. It was very easy to spot his facial expression I knew so well through my countless conversations in Ecuador: a fake smile pretending to understand what was said, but eyes revealing a lack of comprehension. Consequently, he proceeded to open a book with tons of photos of Ecuadorian haircuts, all with fades, and asked me to point which one I wanted. The more experienced barber, who was actually wearing a polo shirt with the store name, Latin Looks, clarified that I asked for a “four” on both sides, referring to the razor length. I don’t think many people use numbers here; from most guys walking down the street, it appears a fade is more or less implied when you take that seat in a barbershop. But my friends assured me I would look like trash with a fade, so he cut right to the chase.
Shaving off one side of my head, I looked like an emo lesbian attempting the half shaved pixie look. Making eye contact through the mirror with Toluwani, Malaak, and Jeannine sitting directly behind me, my eyes lit up. I wouldn’t say it was the “lit up” excitement when you see your best friend for the first time in a year. And it wasn’t exactly “the light” a horrified crap-your-pants fear can cause. It was a mix of both, with a sprinkle of “new country, new me” adventure energy ricocheting off the mirror into my friends laughing faces. I took a deep breath, narcissistically admired the pleasing facial features a bad haircut couldn’t ruin, and plastered on a smile. He proceeded to continue hastily shave my lion’s mane around the top of my head. Within two minutes, I embodied that put-together hipster human serving me organic ice cream at Temescal Alley. Not a bad look, but not quite what I envisioned. Luckily, he wasn’t even close to done. Whipping out a pair of (probably unsanitary) barber scissors, he trimmed the top of my cabeza perfectly.
He then asked something about my beard I didn’t quite catch, so I gave the most middle of the road answer I could envision: Si, solo un poco, “yes, only a little”. Apparently my answer required him to put gel in his hands, and start lathering it on either side of my barba. Before I knew it, he was morphing my vaguely public, unkempt, scraggly beard into a sharp, subtle, snazzy facet of my face. I was filled with aw, and a tad of resentment towards my father for not teaching me this beautiful art. But, who says it’s too late?
Behind my head, the barber’s hand patted the back of my seat, snapping me out of my daydream. I thought he wanted me to get out of the seat and lean against the chair for some reason, so I went though the motion of removing my feet from of the medal footrest, placing them onto the floor, and leaning forward to stand up. To my surprise,*** he laughed and motioned for me to drape my head against the back. What a gringo fail, but I can’t say I have much experience with professional beard trimmings. He proceeded to successfully trim my whole neck beard, a feat I have yet to accomplish in my two plus years of shaving.
This was going to be different than my fifteen-dollar Great Clips cut I was so accustomed to. “Great” is such a subjective word. I’m guessing that my interpretation of “great”, in the eyes of the Latin barber, was nothing more than a boring trim. And I can tell you that the evolving art on my head, in the eyes of an American fond of habits, was not “great”. I didn’t come to Ecuador to get a haircut I was comfortable with. I came to immerse myself in the culture of douche-bag (from my American perspective) fades and shapely Mestizo haircuts.**** It was this moment I decided to let go. Strolling out the door with my newfound swagger, I turned to ask my barber’s name. His response? Danny.
My hair is now a square. But, in all honestly, I did ask for una sorpresa pequeña, “a small surprise”, so what did I expect? After the beard, I received a shampooing of the minimal hair left, and gel– completing my Ecuadorian style metamorphous. To say the least, My Jew-fro was tamed into a geometric shape. But as a teacher, I can always spice up a geometry lesson with some real life examples; now that’s learning in action!
*No, this blog post is not about circumcision.
**It was so obvious that I was the one who needed a cut that the barbers didn’t even bother asking my friends if they wanted a cut.
***I don’t know why this is surprising. What was I thinking? Who stands up in the middle of a haircut? Like, really, Danny?
**** The indigenous hair culture is a different story in itself. I’ll cover that in a different blog post.
Photo Credit: Toluwani Roberts