To my left was a barbershop called Pablo’s. Liking the name and needing a haircut, I walked in with no clue that getting a cut would never be the same again. I sat down and surveyed the layout. There was an older dark-skinned man with long, curly, slick hair doing something to a woman’s head involving pink paste and a lot of pressure. It looked like a project. Was he Pablo?
Standing closer to me was a younger, lighter-skinned man with a lot of tattoos. He was bobbing up and down at his station, working his razor on a young child’s head. His face scrunched up and eyes squinting from focus, he bobbed and weaved like a featherweight. He leaned back like Fat Joe, he was the only one who could hear the beat. Inspecting the scalp, he stood on his tip toes like a boy trying to peak over a fence and survey the world. The father of the kid in the chair sat on the couch next to me with two more sons. They all had the same cut. I wondered whether I could pull that off, the Cristiano Ronaldo coif on a manlier, less athletic face.
The barber circled the kid. The dad started talking about boxing. The barber nodded as he slowly spun his son in his chair. He opened the back door so that the kid was now bathed in sunlight from the front door and back. It was as if he was saying fluorescent lights were not good enough for him. He was an artist and he would not let his latest work off the chair until he inspected it from every angle and under every ray of sun. He circled the chair from the right while spinning it slowly to the left. Chasing it. Stalking it across the ring. That was Blanco.
He powdered the kid off, turned to the dad and said You think HE’s bad!? Tyson, now that dude… NOBODY badder than Tyson, B. The dad ambled up to the chair with his arms open and reasoned “Well, shit. I KNOW Tyson’s bad. But Holyfield beat him, didn’t he?” The barber jumped into a reenactment of Tyson-Holyfield II with the only two details he remembered being that Holyfield deserved to have his ear bitten off and one does not mess with Tyson, B. The dad opined “You know who really messed it up? Mills Lane. He was the ref that night.”
I did not know that. The barber replied with I stopped watching boxing after Tito, man. When Tito fell off, I said I’m out. Now I wanted to get involved so I said that I bet he was happy when Trinidad robbed De La Hoya. He said he was. The dad got him talking about all kinds of sports and it was incredible because both the dad and I knew more about sports, but he was the barber and we were in his pulpit so his word was God. Talk turned to the Knicks and he said Please. You know who the baddest was, right? JORDAN. Maaan, that dude was unstoppable! We both agreed that yes, Michael Jordan could play.
Meanwhile, Blanco was averaging about 65 minutes per haircut. The dad noticed the time and remarked that he was surprised that it was so late. The barber replied that people who want some quick-cut, they don’t come to him. Come to him only if you know and recognize that he takes his time. YO, I CHILL. To me, I gotta get it perfect and I’m gonna CHILL. He followed up with an anecdote about how some fool tried to rush him and he told him “YO.” Like the works of Terrance Mallick and Axl Rose, Blanco’s was a pursuit unbound by time, no matter how their fans clamored or how long I waited on that couch.
Still, I couldn’t be happier. After getting my hair cut in one sterile salon after another, I had finally found my spot. I didn’t even care how my hair cut was going to be (when I got it). Then the man called me up. I took the throne and he put the cape over me and said “So what’s up? How you like it?” I said short would be fine and he got to work. I wanted to get him to rant like the dad did. At that point my feelings would have been hurt if he got me out of there in less than 30 minutes. I sat and tried to think of a topic to peak his interest. He was doing his bobbing and weaving routine behind me when we heard the TV set and a girl said to her man “Don’t worry, baby. I’ll be back at the end of the summer and I’ll call you every day.” And Blanco immediately said Yo he is f*cked! Homeboy bout to get CHEATED on. DAMN. Believe ME. I KNOW, ya know what I’m saying? I KNOW. I had no idea who they were or what show it was (neither did he) but of course I said “Oh hell yeah! You can tell.” UM HMMM. I can see it in her eyes, dawg. (He had barely looked at the TV) Women yo. You married? ( No.) NEVER TRUST A WOMAN. TRUST ME, NEVER TRUST WOMEN.
What could I say? I couldn’t argue. I was on his turf. The man had a razor to my head. So I said “Oh Hell no!” and he then told me that his ex had cheated on him with his friend and at that moment this heavily tattooed diminutive Puerto Rican John Leguiziamo-looking barber started spinning around the barbershop with his arms open wide to the sky with his scissors in one hand and a razor in the other shouting WHAT DID SHE THINK? SHE THOUGHT I WOULDN’T FIND OUT? IN THIS TOWN ? WHERE EVERYBODY JUST LOOOVES TALKING BOUT OTHER PEOPLE’S BUSINESS?
I thought to myself this is the best hair cut of my life. I averaged 3 or 4 hair cuts a year before Blanco. After meeting him, I was at his place every 6 weeks or so. Blanco was not one to slave for the man though. I’d swing by at 5:30 in the evening on a Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday and the place would be closed. Their posted hours were the opposite of their real hours, all day, everyday versus never, never. I would drive by Pablo’s during especially good weather, on the day before a holiday, anytime that I could rationalize to myself a barbershop would and should be open. My logic could never match theirs but sometimes I would drive past by chance and run in when I would see the man in white gliding around the shop.
Once, as my man was performing the pre-game ritual of spraying that water bottle thing into my hair, I casually remarked “Dropped by a couple of times. You guys been out-of-town?” He pirouetted away from me, turned around and his eyes ablaze, he said YO I love my customers but for real you motherf***ers is crazy! I’m here all the time! Nobody comes, then I got to go take care of some stuff and THE WHOLE WORLD STOP BY!? Come on man! You guys is a TRIP. I was immediately embarrassed by my stupid comment and apologized.
Aside from the enormous entertainment factor, this dude’s haircuts were the best I ever got. And he knew it too. He was not lacking confidence. He used to cut all his friends as teenagers and they all told their friends and he became a barber by default because of the demands of everyone he knew. This followed the Good Will Hunting script where his friends realized he had a gift and although he wanted to do other things, damnit he didn’t owe it to himself to be a barber, he owed it to them to give them all free haircuts for life. Or so they said when they showed up on his porch every Friday after work.
We talked about everything at Pablo’s and the best days were in the summer with a bunch of scruffy heads talking about anything not worth talking about, which of course are the best things to talk about. There was the time I said Denzel Washington is overrated. I argued that Matt Damon was better and that Jason Bourne would kill Alonzo from Training Day in less than a minute. Questioned what the hell happened to Michael Jackson. Suggested that the Fellowship of the Ring didn’t really need Gimli. Okay, I did not bust that one out.
A few months ago I told him the Knicks had added Jason Kidd. No reaction. Someone said Kurt Thomas was back. Barely a shrug. I mentioned Marcus Camby’s name to some other customer and before I could finish my sentence, Blanco left his station and was popping off imaginary jumpshots, fadeaways even and yelling Marcus Camby used to drill those threes! Swish! Swish! Knicks got him!? Damn. He eventually calmed down, resumed his cut and remarked that this was the first time in a very long time that he had heard the name Marcus Camby. He was so wrong on so many counts so often.
People were vague and confused a lot. Someone would say “Yo, who’s that guy? The guy with the sick jujitsu?” and everyone would guess random names until someone got it. I would wait for someone to bring up Floyd Mayweather just so Blanco could instantly contort his body into a weird hunchback stance with his shoulder to his cheek and say repeatedly BOY’S DEFENSE IS TOO GOOD! You can’t touch him! Nobody can! Hit me! Hit me! It’s impossible!! MONEY! Look at this stance! And he can knock a guy out from this stance!
Nice sunny day today. Went down for a cut. Walked in and sat on the couch. There was nobody there. Ghost town. Tumbleweed. Things felt off. Pablo walked in and said to take the seat. Nah dude, where’s Blanco? No Longer Here. I took the seat and Pablo asked me how I wanted it. I wanted to say “Like Blanco does it! I hate you Pablo! Where is he? I wanna go there!” but I just said short. He asked me if I want a 1 or a 2. I wanted to say “What are you, a robot? Blanco didn’t throw numbers at me!” but I just pointed at a photo of some guy and said ‘like that’.
Pablo gave me a really good cut. Probably just as good as Blanco. It’s his name on the shop after all. Still, it wasn’t fun. He didn’t say a thing, although I didn’t want him to. He didn’t use a toothbrush to even out my fade like Blanco used to. He didn’t give awful sports takes or do impressions. All he did was give me a damn good haircut in a short amount of time and for a reasonable price. Lame, Pablo.
I walked out of there thinking that’s it. Never going to see Blanco again and all I have to remember him by are those eight business cards sitting on my desk that he asked me to hand out for him. No goodbye, no see you later. Good barbers are hard to find nowadays but good characters even more so. And both in one? Irreplaceable. I have to remind myself that some birds aren’t meant to be caged. Their feathers are just too bright.
As Pablo cut my hair and the curls accumulated on my cape, I was going through a Blanco’s Greatest Hits montage in my mind and I remembered something else he had said. One day his cell phone rang a few times and he looked at it angrily and he said STRAIGHT UP, I been through so much f*cked up shit, I can’t even tell you dawg. Prison. Women. CRAZY SHIT. Like, you wouldn’t believe it type things, but what all those people who tried to bring me down don’t know is that out of the darkness comes the light yo, I BELIEVE THAT
A minute later, he told me it was his father trying to reach him on the phone because he wanted a ride. Blanco said he had forbidden his dad from driving because Yo some people drive bad, my pops is TRYING TO HIT MOTHERF*CKERS ON PURPOSE. He got anger issues dude, but for real if he calls me one more time I’m gonna knock old man the f*ck out soon as I pick him up! Scissors and comb in hand, he threw a jab-jab-uppercut combo into the barbershop air. BAM! BAM! BOOM!!