I’m at a barbershop—it’s the kind where a cool dude cuts your hair and then finishes with a straight razor neck shave and there’s booze in a cabinet and you can help yourself if you’re the kind of guy who drinks hard liquor during the middle of the day. Guys walk in, sit down, and “bullshit.” “Bullshitting,” or “throwing the bull around,” is a phrase that you find on Yelp reviews of barbershops, and it’s very important to people, I’ve found. One guy wrote that this establishment was a good place to “bullshit—you know, tell a couple lies and a few dirty jokes.” I’m glad that he defined it, because I thought he meant that this was a good place to make a bull-sized bowel movement. I’m still not necessarily sure I’m using it correctly in a sentence.
What he meant, and what is important to men, is that HR won’t contact you after you tell that joke. Mary from accounting won’t get offended at your story because she’s not there to hear it. Your wife won’t tell you to stop it already. You’re with the guys. Time to bull some shits. Even if guys disagree with you, this is a safe place to make mistakes—you’re not going to get called out on being not up-to-date on your modern language.
(Part of my role in the construction industry is to tell (mostly older white guys) what they can’t say anymore.
“Yeah metrosexual isn’t really a thing people say.”
“You can’t say ‘Colored People.’ You can say ‘People of Color.’”
“Now we say transgendered, not transvestite.”
I’m very well-liked.)
I was waiting for the barber to finish up with a guy in his early twenties. The three of us bullshat for a while, hearing stories about the barber’s wife getting mad at him, about vacations, lunch spots, and then he finished. The kid got up, paid, walked out to the door, held it open, and said, “Hey Joe—ah, by the way… I got a second date with that girl.”
“Hey alright man! Good for you!” And the kid smiled, nodded triumphantly, and walked away.
This is a theme with guys: if you’re going to be vulnerable, you do it right as you are walking away. When you’re sure that you won’t be asked any more questions, or have more conversation, you throw a little vulnerability bomb in the room and let it gently explode as you are literally walking away.
Guys do this all the time when they are apologizing. Someone will say something offensive or pick a little fight within the first ten minutes of hanging out, and after four hours, again literally as they are walking away, they’ll reconcile.
[Starts walking backwards] “Hey I’ll see you guys later, lotsa fun hangin’”
[at the door, still moving backwards] “and Danny I’m sorry buddy about that thing from before pal”
[door opens up] “no hard feelin’s at all bud, just shittin some bulls”
[slides out the door] “I’ll see ya soon I love ya buddy. So much.”
Because you don’t want to deal with the follow-ups. You don’t want to go too deep. If you don’t walk away, then you’re just sitting in the haze of vulnerability, waiting for the other person to say something. Too risky.
Barbershops are strange because you don’t get emotionally close, but you’ve never been more physically vulnerable. There is a man with a razor blade pressed to your throat—a lot of times he’s a stranger. In any other context this is a nightmare. He spends about forty-five minutes touching your ears and head and cutting your hair, and you fall asleep in his grip and he could kill you at any second. Then, instead of killing you, he pushes a button on a magical machine and warm foam comes out, and he lathers cream on your neck, in the most manly way possible: short, patting motions, nothing lingering. It’s like when you put sunscreen on your buddy’s back.
“Hey ah………..will you get my back?” I sing while slapping on the lotion, like I’m plastering a mud-hut: “Ba-da-da….lad-da-dii …la-da–dyyyeee.” Because that’s the manly way to do it. When you put sunscreen on a woman’s back, it’s an experience, probably. You don’t slap, you slowly move your hands around like you’re a creep rubbing lotion on a woman’s back.
“I did the SPF 15,” you say, seductively. “Stay right there, I will also do SPF 10 and 8.” And when she turns around, as if to say, what the hell are you talking about, that’s when you say, “It’s called layering and people do this and can you please apply the SPF 85 on my back? I’ll need you to reapply after eight minutes.”
After the barber is done with the warm shave, he offers a shoulder rub. In the old-time barbershops, they had this vibrating metal contraption that the barber would slip his hand into, and rub your shoulders with. So I said, “Of course.” The guy next to me said, like a tough guy, “What? No, I’m good.” What an idiot!
After the haircut, I got up, paid the man, tipped him twenty-five percent after googling, how much do I tip a barber at an old-timey-classic-barber-shop?, and said goodbye.
Maybe the return of the classic barbershop is a result of guys needing physical contact with other guys—maybe it came back because of the memory of sports teams and military units and masculine camaraderie. Maybe. Whatever the case, it’s nice to bull a little shit with the boys, and get vulnerable on your way out the door.
Bart Tocci (’11) lives in Boston where he writes essays, performs at open mics, and threatens to start taco restaurants. He’s been told that he looks like the kind of guy who stands up for what’s right. And who goes to the store before the party. Read more here: barttocci.wordpress.com