Baseball Toaster Bronx Banter
Do Your Thing, Kid
2008-04-23 09:53
by Alex Belth

It goes without saying that respect is something that you have to earn in life, but it is especially true in a barber shop. It comes slowly, with time. It can't be forced, can't be bought. I have been getting my haircut in Ray's shop on Smith street in Brooklyn for close to ten years now. That's where my barber, Efrain, found a chair to cut heads after he lost his store, futher down Smith closer to Atlantic Avenue, when the neighbhorhood started to gentrify in the late '90s. I'm not really close with Ray or his son Macho, a rolly guy in his early thirties, who cuts heads next to his father. They don't like baseball. They like boxing.

It was a warm spring afternoon at the barber shop when I walked in a few days ago. Both Ray and Macho greetly me with affection. I went to the back, where Efrain was standing over a man, a straight razor in his right hand and his left palm cupped full of shaving cream.

I put down my napsack and went back to the front of the shop to sit and wait my turn. Three other guys, all regulars, all friends with Macho, were there. I started talking to Ray about a book I had just read, Mark Kram's Ghosts of Manilla. Soon, he was holding court, telling stories about Ali. A thick, muscular kid who was sitting across from me, told me that he had tons of old boxing matches on videotape, including the Thrilla in Manilla. When I described Kramm's impressions of the fight, he goes, "Yo, dude, I'm getting goosebumps just thinking about it." The light poured through the front window of the shop, onto his forearms where I could see the goosebumps.

Fifteen minutes later, I was sitting in the barber chair with my eyes closed, Efrain cutting my hair in his deliberate, careful manner. The guys talked and joked and then fell silent as guys will do. A few of the regulars, neighbhorhood guys who come in to pay their respects, not to get their haircut, came and went. When I opened my eyes a tall kid stood in front of me. His skin was the color of light coffee, a high school kid. Looked like the winner of an Al B. Sure look-a-like contest. I almost did a double take when I saw him. He was wearing throwback high top sneakers, un-tied with the lip sticking out, maroon pants, tapered at the ankle, a black felt blazer, a scarf, Ray Ban shades and a black baseball cap. The dude looked straight out of Electric Boogaloo.

The other guys were stifling their laughter as the kid said something quietly to Efrain. Then, aware that he was being made fun of he shrugged and slowly left the shop. The moment he was gone, the guys lost it, really cracked up. Macho and the guy sitting in his chair laughed the hardest.

"What is his problem?"

"Yo, the shoes were okay but the pants?...Oh, snap."

"I wasn't going to say anything...but...damn."

"Get Money" started playing on the radio and Ray turned the music up.

"What is he thinking?"

"I didn't want to have to laugh in his face, B."

"Dude, those pants!"

"That scarf, yo. The scarf! How you gunna wear a scarf today?"

A guy sitting near the front of the shop goes, "You guys are so mean."

"Nah, we were easy on him."

From the radio: "You wanna be my main squeeze baby/Don't ya wanna gimme what I need baby..."

"Remember when he came through last time? With the bowtie?"

"And the purple pants."

From the radio: "You wanna be my main squeeze baby/Don't ya wanna gimme what I need baby..."

"Yo, Ray I seen him on Smith street walking like that. He must like the attention."

I felt bad for the kid. I immediately wished I had my wits about me when I saw him. Wish I told him I liked his style, something like that. But the moment was gone. Finally, Macho says, "Yo, how you gunna walk in a barber shop dressed like that?"

And I started laughing too. He was right. A barber shop is no place for an individual. And they had been easy on him.

In the recent issue of Cook's Illustrated, Chris Kimbell wrote that the golden rule of country living is: Don't Stand Out. I think that holds true in New York too, at least in the boroughs, in neighborhoods (not so much Manhattan). I remembered being in high school, dressing like Duckie. My sympathies went out to the kid.

More Biggie: "Kick in the door, wavin the four-four/All you heard was, "Poppa don't hit me no more..."

When their laughter died down, Macho said. "You've got to have big balls to rock an outfit like that. But you also have to have the balls to take the abuse that comes with it..."

"Yo, remember when we looked like that?"

The truth is, they admired the kid, even if they couldn't resist tooling on him. I asked Efrain about him. The kid's name is Leon and he's 16. Efrain has been cutting his hair since the kid was two. His mother and father left him early and he was raised by his grandmother and his great aunt. Every week, he stops into the shop to say hello to Efrain. Every week he wears a new outfit.

When my haircut was finished I went to wash-up in the bathroom. When I came out, Leon was back in the shop, back on his way out actually. Nobody said anything to him. I packed up my things and followed Leon down the block and called after him. He turned to me and looked at me warily. I told him that I had just been in the barber shop, that I'd been coming to see Efrain for years. "I just had to tell you, bro, I know that's a tough crowd, but I like your style."

The hardness melted for a moment and he smiled. Then he turned tough again. "Dag, I thought you were running up on me."

I told him how much I dug his style again and then left. A block later, I was trying to think back on the scene when I was distracted by a conversation a man in his mid thirties was having on his cell phone. He was talking loudly about redecorating his kitchen and I wished I had asked Leon what music he liked.

2008-04-23 10:04:54
1.   Schteeve
yeah but redecorating your kitchen is critical.
2008-04-23 10:06:29
2.   Alex Belth
Here's a sure sign of "There Goes the Neighborhood." Used to be an OTB on Cour Street. Now, the OTB is closed and a Yoga Center is open above it.
2008-04-23 10:52:30
3.   rbj
Wow, that's sucks having both your parents abandon you --- no one deserves that.
2008-04-23 11:14:39
4.   Alex Belth
I just felt lucky that the kid came back in and I got to say that to him. I know it made him feel good for a second, but I wasn't doing it for him, I was doing it for me, and it made me feel good.
2008-04-23 11:28:54
5.   rsmith51
2008-04-23 11:39:40
6.   Alex Belth
Yeah, Duckie from Pretty in Pink. Sad, but true.
2008-04-23 11:45:25
7.   Chyll Will
6 No!! >;)
2008-04-23 11:57:56
8.   rbj
6 Hey, it was the 80s, we were all young and naive then. Just remember the adage: High School yearbook photos don't count.
2008-04-23 12:09:31
9.   Raf
8 Well, it seems the 80's are making a comeback. I don't know if it's the emo influence, or what, but I see a lot of Ed Hardy designs and whatnot. Been seeing a lot of 'frohawks too.

Me, I'm good for some baggy pants (jeans or track pants, or whatever) and a pair of sneakers. A hoodie and a jacket when it gets too cold. Always rocking my baseball cap. As for my cuts, can't remember the last time I got anything other than a ceasar.

Guess I haven't changed much during the 80's :)

2008-04-23 12:57:48
10.   Dimelo
0 I thought this line was funny, I'll let you figure out why: The guys talked and joked and then fell silent as guys will do.


2008-04-23 13:00:37
11.   Schteeve
I thought the 80s came back like 3 years ago?
2008-04-23 13:15:16
12.   Alex Belth
It did...and it hasn't left. Yikes.

I go for the ol' conservative fade myself--1 1/2 on the sides, 2 on the top...

2008-04-23 13:59:55
13.   Raf
I wished I had asked Leon what music he liked.

Given kids nowadays, probably a little bit of everything. But if I were to go with stereotypes, his Grandmama probably hipped him to some R&B/soul/gospel.

2008-04-23 14:05:48
14.   Alex Belth
Yeah or he likes that Lupe kid, the Hip Hop skateboard dude.
2008-04-23 19:52:21
15.   Fritsthestud
this is some seriously sick writing, belth. off the hook.
2008-04-23 19:53:01
16.   Fritsthestud
seriously. beautiful short story. its been stuck in my head since i read it this afternoon.

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