I was screaming at the old man. I didn’t want to raise my voice, but that was the only way he could hear me. “How…much…for…a…HAIRCUT??” He looked at me curiously, then, as if he finally realized what I had been asking, replied, “Seventy!” The old man was deaf and dumb if he thought I was going to pay C$70 for a cut that would cost me less than half that in Bluefields. We agreed on fifty and he motioned me to the barber’s chair.
I had been wandering around San Juan del Sur for half a day enjoying the sunshine and the little bit of gringo indulgences I felt I had earned…a cheeseburger, good Italian food and homemade cinnamon rolls to name a few. The haircut was an impulse decision. I thought to myself, who better to trust cutting my hair than this guy who looks like he could have invented the technique?
I sat down in the barber’s chair and looked around. His station was one of one in the living room of his old plank house. Behind me was a coffee table, sofa and television that looked like it hadn’t been watched since M*A*S*H. In front of me was a veneer table filled with hand-me-down hair products from several different countries. Surely he didn’t know what they were all for. Near the back of the living room was an entryway into the kitchen. There was no light and it was dark a few meters in. I strained my eyes but couldn’t tell what was lumbering around in the back. This place gave me the creeps.
After he wrapped me under a safety-pinned sheet, I realized this old man had the shakes so bad he could have been a professional maraca player standing still. As he picked up the comb and scissors and began waving them around my ears like he was shooing flies, I wondered how rude it would be to jump up and run. Pretty rude. And difficult considering he jumped off the mark like an Olympic contender in the freestyle haircutting dash. Watching the hair fly in the mirror, I kept telling myself he was using his palsy to make sure it was even. I also kept telling myself that this old fellah was so good he didn’t even need to ask me how I wanted it cut! Real barbers just know these things. …right?
At one point he turned my chair to face the entryway into the kitchen. It was still dark and the only light was coming from the front doorway of the living room I was sitting in. I saw a woman standing there, mid-fifties, droopy with short hair and a blank face, the old man’s daughter I assumed. She was wearing a long sleep shirt that she had pulled up above her butt and was tugging her underwear down. She glanced over at me and I held her gaze, watching as she pulled her shirt back down and held her panties up to the light to examine the crotch. I won’t go into detail about what THAT looked like, suffice to say it was a different color. “Do you like baseball?” the old man asked me. I hesitated as I was trying to gather my thoughts. “Baseball. Baseball. Do you like baseball?”
“Um, yeah, I like baseball,” I need to get the fuck out of here.
“YES, I LIKE BASEBALL!” I need to get the fuck out of here.
I fiddled in my pocket trying to feel for a fifty cordoba note, but they feel just like the C$200. The old man threw the scissors on the table and grabbed a straight razor. I need to get the fuck out of here.
“Hey, you know, that is not necessary! I really don’t mind…” I pleaded to the old man but a little too softly. He didn’t see my lips moving so he didn’t know I said anything as he pushed my chin to my chest and began dragging the razor down my neck. It was sharp and I didn’t feel much, just a rough scraping sensation as he worked his way around to my sideburns. I kept trying to strain my peripherals to see what the daughter was doing but I didn’t dare move my head. I think she moved back into the darkness when she found a clean pair of underwear. The old man nicked me only a few times, and offered to shave my face for another twenty cords. I thought, why would I pay a man to slice my throat? I declined and, as if to punish me, he grabbed a bottle with something written in Russian, doused his hands with it and began slapping my neck. The intense sting told me it was definitely alcohol based, though the musty odor suggested it could have been soviet-era sweat collected from drunken soldiers after the revolution.
The old barber unpinned the sheet from around my neck. I knew it was over and I glanced toward the kitchen entryway. The mentally disabled daughter was gone. I looked in the mirror to get a close up of the damage…with my hat on it wouldn’t look too bad, I thought.
“I do men’s hair, women’s hair, long hair, short hair, black people’s hair, indian’s hair, all kinds of hair!” he announced. “Tell your foreigner friends to come!”
I pulled out a fifty.
“European hair, curly hair, straight hair!”
I paid him and made my way to the door.
“Any kind of hair! You tell them to come to the best barber in San Juan!”
Yup, will do that.
I thanked him and headed back to the hotel room with my neck still stinging. Once arrived, I washed my hair, dried it thoroughly and took a look in the mirror…