Saved by the Barber

    Losing a man's stylist is enough to set off an existential crisis. Fortunately, it's a good day to be a barber.

    It is a universal truth that there comes a time in every man’s life when he settles on a haircut. This usually happens in one’s 20s. You get a look that works, and you stick with it. End of story. By the time you’re 30, you’re just happy to have hair at all. You don’t mess with it.

    Thereafter, when you sit down in your barber’s chair, he or she will say: “The usual?”

    Don’t be fooled-this is not an actual question. It only sounds like one. It doesn’t matter how you reply. No matter what you say, your haircut will be identical to the one before it, and the one before that. And that’s fine. You don’t have to talk. Your barber knows what to do.

    That used to be me. Then last month I called my barbershop to make an appointment and was told my barber had left. “He left?” I said, in a tone of voice ordinarily reserved for describing the fiery destruction of the Hindenburg.

    “He went to France,” said the voice on the phone.

    It seemed impossible. It still does. “When does he get back?”

    “Never, dude,” said the voice. “He totally moved there.” And then as if it could tell I was thinking of tracking him down, the voice said, “I can get you in with another barber.”

    I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t want a new barber, just like I didn’t want to have to decide how long or how the back should be, or what to do with my sideburns. I didn’t want to have to try and describe what sort of “look” I was going for, or leaf through copies of GQ for plausible hairstyles.

    Instead, I hung up the phone and let my hair grow. It was not a good time. Of all the things you expect will come and knock you off your proverbial horse during middle age, it’s not a hairstyle crisis.

    The folks at Lincoln Street Barbers were the ones to save me.

    It was late one afternoon when I wandered into their shop. We were having a Springs magazine “editorial” meeting at the Goat Patch Brewery next door. I turned the wrong direction and, somehow, found myself in a barber shop.

    Equipped with four chairs and tall mirrors, Lincoln Street Barbers gives off a distinctly old-school vibe enhanced by the fact that it is, in fact, in an old school. The relatively new Lincoln Center on Cascade was, in fact, Lincoln Elementary for 67 years. There still hang on the walls pictures of former principals, which gives the barbershop an almost magical quality. Located in what must have been a classroom, it’s like a fifth-grader fell asleep and dreamed up a barbershop. Except for maybe the straight razors.

    After tentatively inching my way into the store, I was greeted by owner Jason Crampton, a sturdily-built, friendly guy with the kind of full beard that looks exactly like the picture that pops into your mind at the sound of the word beardly. Before Lincoln Street opened, Crampton was cutting other people’s hair at other people’s places, telling himself he’d open his own place after he retired. But then opportunity presented itself at the Lincoln Center, and he went for it.

    The timing was right in a lot of ways, he told me. The repurposing of the old school was the sort of community-oriented venture he wanted to be a part of. It’s also the right time to be a barber. Television shows like Mad Men and Peaky Blinders have brought back an array of classic cuts and made it cool for men to care about their hair.

    “What about you?” he said. “You looking for a cut?”

    I thought about the meeting I was supposed to be at. “Why not?” I said.

    “Can I get you a beer?” he asked me. “A scotch?”

    I said yes to both. It was like Mad Men. A few minutes later I found myself in Aaron’s chair, having the sort of conversation that I had been dreading. Like his boss, Aaron had the sort of facial hair that makes you wish you could grow a beard.

    “A lot of guys come in for their beards too,” Aaron said, like he could read my mind. “They have a beard, but they don’t know what to do with it. We school them.” After brisk conversation about sideburns (they would be tapered) we moved onto the question of what would be done to “the kitchen”-the hair at the back of my head.

    “The kitchen? I said.

    “Named kitchen,” explained Aaron, “because kitchens used to be at the back of houses. People think you can leave it messy, but they’re wrong.”

    “Let’s clean the kitchen,” I announced.

    Aaron did exactly that, explaining how he would taper the hair at the back of my neck to a sharp line just above the collar. It was clean and defined, a classic look. When he was done, Aaron held up a mirror for my inspection.

    “That kitchen could pass any inspection,” I proclaimed.

    “Very funny,” said Aaron. “And original.”

    After dusting the hair off me, he let me stand up and take a look. “What do you think?”

    It was a great cut, no question. I’ll be back. Maybe I’ll even start on that beard I’ve always told myself I’d grow one day.

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