Updated: Jul 11, 2021
When we crossed the threshold of one-hundred million worldwide infections and over two million deaths I bought marijuana and whiskey from government sanctioned shops in my neighbourhood but I couldn’t get a haircut because barbershops were a health risk. It’s been like that for more than a year: the government sells dope and bans haircuts.
My last haircut before everything changed was just before a trip from Vancouver to Los Angeles when the world was still to be upended.
My hair cut was in Yale Town at a too-hip men’s barber shop where a bunch of well-coiffed, heavily tattooed guys cut hair and sculpted beards according to the latest fashion or to one’s own liking.
The kid at the reception led me past a group of bored patrons lounging in the reception area looking at their phones, waiting to see their favourite barber. Past a line of about ten or twelve shiny barber chairs filled with heads being clipped, at the very back of the shop in the last chair a sulky young man with a dark mop on his head, the sides faded short like a rap star, slumped watching a soccer game on the small TV next to the mirror.
“This is Fizel”, the kid said and without further pleasantries she returned to her post.
Maybe his name was not Fizel. The music was loud.
“Who’s winning?” I said to make conversation.
“Emirates,” he said without enthusiasm, “How you want your hair cut?”
“Number two on the sides. Scissors on top. Short, so I don’t need to think about it for a while,” I said.
Fizel nodded and set onto my head with his electric razor. He spun the chair from side to side rather than walking around me as he worked. His feet barely moved, planted so he could keep an eye on the game.
After a while, I noticed he wore a bracelet of excellent Tiger Eye beads. It reminded me of a Tiger Eye bracelet I once bought in Kho Chang at a little Buddhist monastery where they sold religious statues and beads to help fund the temple.
“Nice Tiger Eye,” I said.
He grunted “Yeah” and kept at his work on my head, one eye ever on the game.
“Where’d you get it?” I expected he’d say something interesting about such a good piece. Maybe a gift from a girlfriend now far away. Or maybe something he picked up on a trip to the Emirates. Or an interesting shop in Vancouver. Something.
“Amazon,” he said, “six bucks.”
Not sure what he meant at first, I pictured Fizel in the Amazon. The actual place. In Manaus. Getting off one of those rickety river boats that travel up and down from the interior. I almost told him I was there once too. But stopped myself. The picture of Fizel in the Amazon was difficult to get into my head. I scanned the docks busy with people scurrying about. Smokey boats announced their comings and goings with horns and whistles. The nearby market was packed with stalls that sold giant bloody Amazonian fish and dusty vegetables. Others sold colourful hammocks while dogs went about their business between everyone’s feet. Fizel was nowhere to be seen. Maybe he was in Rio but he was not in the Amazon like he said.
I looked in the mirror at his sullen face as he worked the scissors. Maybe he’d never been anywhere uncomfortable or interesting. He had the hip haircut and the cool tattoos, but his face was dull and soft like a young girl with crafted facial stubble. Of course, he meant Amazon the on-line shopping site. He was a fellow of the modern world, callow and uninterested in anything. Someone who'd never thought to step out of his coddled life to see what he was made of. Or maybe he had and didn't care for it. Who knows? Judging people by their faces is a ridiculous business. I was being ridiculous.
Whatever Fizal’s story was, he had a good eye for the Tiger Eye. And six bucks was hard to argue with, assuming they were real and not Chinese plastic.
“Amazon, huh?” I said, “Nice.”
“Yeah,” he said. And that was the end of the conversation. He went back to my head and his soccer game while I pondered my place in an ever-changing world that I was perhaps out of touch with.
I paid the kid up front with a debit card, twenty-five dollars plus a five-dollar cash tip. As I left, I saw Fizel scoop his tip from the till. Cash was still a thing.