Barberism

While offering no authentic cure from the pervasive bigotry pulsating throughout the nation, an artisan crafts his own way to stand up to hate and defend a faith based on peace and surrender…

by: David Gregory

The first client I harmed said, “Women in burkas are terrorists,” while I trimmed the back of his head with straight scissors. Slapped by his words, I flinched. I never meant to jab the crease where his ear met his skull and draw blood, but I did. Now, I regret not severing the entire ear.

Timothy Miller, my father and namesake, worked in the Main Street Barbershop almost his entire life, yet when I assumed his profession, it became a passport to travel. I sailed the globe working in salons on massive cruise ships, then freelanced, cutting hair everywhere from the Pitt Street Mall in Sydney, Australia, to a rustic beach in the Philippines. A power supply and a chair facing a mirror are all I need to thrive. I’ll never starve, as long as I own a pair of scissors.

I returned home in 2017 and married Ahlam, the smartest and funniest woman I ever met. She’s been a close friend of mine since elementary school, where she was the first Muslim to enroll. In second grade, our teacher made Ahlam stand before the class to explain her headscarf. Singled out, newly aware of her otherness, she wondered why the teacher never made Ricky Olson defend wearing Spider-Man t-shirts every day.

After university, Ahlam married a Turkish man and lived abroad but divorced him within five years. “He didn’t know how to laugh,” she told me after we reconnected. For her second exchange of vows, her parents were less determined that she marry within the faith.

Now thirty-four, Ahlam performs occasionally as a standup comedian. She also freelances as a journalist, editor, and graphic designer. She has complete freedom in her career and requires only a stage, or internet connection, to contribute to society.

I’d never heard the word “Islamophobia” until autumn of 2001. Since our wedding, I notice it every day. Someone is always spewing negative opinions about immigration or religious head coverings. It’s hard to blame them because television programs, newspapers and magazines — even government officials — stir anti-Islamic sentiment with impunity. Meanwhile, few public figures condemn hate groups, except Hollywood celebrities during award season and late-night talk show hosts.

Dialogue and information are nobler ways of confronting bigotry, but I’m driven to violent rage when Ahlam describes incidents of white male strangers shouting obscenities at her from across the street, or knocking her down and stealing her head scarf, or emailing her graphic rape fantasies via her business website.

Only a week after puncturing the first fellow — who was placated with an apology, first-aid, and a free haircut — a prominent businessman sat in my chair, suggesting non-white immigrants complete a mandatory national values test before being allowed in the country. “Otherwise they might hold Sharia Law above the constitution.”

Shaving his delicate throat, I held a straight razor and stood behind his vulnerable, reclining form.

I didn’t mean to cut him, but how could his comment not stagger me? I jolted in alarm, then watched bright red blood seep through white shaving foam.

Throughout my career, only one slip, hiccup, or twitch separated me from ruin, but this felt liberating — even though the slice wasn’t deep, and offered no cure for racism.

The wounded man left with everything my previous victim received, plus a bonus coupon.

My boss interrogated me. “Are you getting enough sleep? Is there trouble at home? Have you been drinking?”

I assured her everything was fine.

“I hope so, Tim. This can’t continue.”

Two days later, when another client ranted about “the Islamic threat” and “their culture of terror, rape and pedophilia,” standing up to hate, and defending a faith based on peace and surrender, became more important than any job.

In hindsight, I should’ve prayed for his misguided soul and mentioned my incredible wife, and the warm-hearted community who welcomed me — but it felt better to slice a fat, hairy mole off the back of his neck and claim it was an accident.

My boss gave him free haircuts for a year, and me a formal reprimand. Walking home, I cursed myself for becoming more barbaric than my enemy. I confessed to my wife, who steered me toward love and harmony but, the following morning, I faced another test.

“I can’t believe how many towel-headed women I see at bus stops these days,” said another client, a young police officer. “They look like criminals. What are they hiding? Don’t they get hot? I want to strip away their veils and teach them how we do things in this country.”

Scissors poised above his head, I wondered how many racist clients I could cut before getting fired.

Four. The answer was four.

But every hair grows and there are millions of barbershops in this world.

 

Dave Gregory is a Canadian writer who worked on cruise ships and sailed the world for nearly two decades. He is an associate editor with the Los Angeles-based Exposition Review. His work has most recently appeared in After the Pause, Pulp Literature, & Bandit Fiction. Please follow him on Twitter @CourtlandAvenue.

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