Sal cut my hair every six weeks for 20 years, until I moved. But for all I know, he thinks I don’t come around anymore because I was unhappy with his handiwork. He has no idea how much I regret not saying goodbye.
He was a staple throughout my life. When I was little, my mom sat next to me so I wasn’t scared while he cut my hair. As I got older, she dropped me off at the barbershop and ran errands while Sal took care of business. In my teenage years, I sat captive in the chair as Sal told me how to make love to a woman.
I don’t even have a specific barber anymore. I walk into my new barbershop and go with whoever is available. In my last three visits, three different barbers cut my hair. No names are exchanged, no pleasantries. Will they get mad if I ask them to pause while I rear back for a sneeze? Will they laugh at me if I flinch when the scissors come near my eyes? What about my dandruff? Sal never got mad when flakes of my skin landed on his clothes. He was always so helpful and understanding, giving me tips on how to stay moisturized in the winter.
The real tragedy is that the more I think about leaving Sal behind, the more I realize how little I knew about him. He could have died and I would have no idea. I don’t even know his last name, or if he ever squashed his beef with the restaurant down the street about the parking lot.
I have recurring nightmares about seeing Sal again. In one, I run into him on the street while I’m sporting a fresh cut. I try explaining that I of course prefer his work, but I’m only in town on holidays, when the shop is closed. Yet he ignores my blathering and thinks I’ve betrayed him. Maybe he’s right.
Or I waltz into the shop, expecting a warm welcome after my time away—but Sal does not acknowledge my absence. At first, I think it’s nice that we’re picking up right where we left off. But I slowly realize it’s because he doesn’t know I ever left. My presence, and sudden disappearance, was utterly forgettable to a man who watched me grow up.
In the most haunting dreams, he doesn’t even remember who I am. I walk in and ask for “the usual” only to see a confused face. I blush and stammer, “sorry, yeah, I was thinking a three on the sides and a handful off the top,” like he’s one of the barbers in the rotation at my new shop. And they never get the top right. But Sal always did.
If I stop by for a trim again someday, I hope Sal would be proud of the man I’ve become. I have a full-time job, I still have a full head of hair, and I’ve made love to a live woman. I’d pay him myself—and not like when I was little and my mom let me hand him the money so I could feel like a big boy. I’d pay him with my own $25. Maybe I’d give him a $50 and tell him to keep the change. But probably not. I barely know the guy.
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Sam Spero wants a samurai sword. Follow him on Twitter @SRSpero.