Wednesday, February 11, 2009


The barber knew me as the spitting image of my father but not by name. He estimated it had been five years since he'd seen me last, but I counted at least ten since he'd cut my hair. When I was in my teens a friend of mine took over as chief groomer. And so I missed out on a biweekly ritual of sitting in an honest-to-God barber's chair for a sure-enough real, all-American shearing. In Boston I'd walk across the street from my office to a salon where I twiddled my thumbs, strained through ten minutes of small talk for an uneven $20 haircut. Sitting in his chair today, talking hunting and fishing, I regretted giving up what is surely one of the best professional relationships a man can have. You have your doctor, your dentist, your preacher, your lawyer (if you're especially miserable), and your barber. Some might throw in butcher, various merchants (tailor comes to mind). But of these the barber is best of friends, by my estimation, especially if your hobbies and politics agree. Because this is where you go to learn what's wrong with the world and what will set it right, if only Washington would take a listen. It's also where you learn the local lore hidden deep in the pine woods and at the river's lowest bed. I envy anyone whose job consists of conversation. The barber's got it better than Letterman. He gets to talk his fool head off all day minus the make up and hot lights of the cold studio, and without kissing up (too much, anyway) to soulless celebrities. 

I'm losing track of the days, and told the barber as much. It's not that time moves slower throughout the day here, it's just that when you look back over the past two weeks, it feels as if months have oozed by. This may be a symptom of unemployment, but I remember keeping a regimented schedule here in Louisiana and the time still dragged on. For me, it could slow even further. It's a nightmare feeling when you blink and a week is gone. And that's the way it felt in the city. Like we were hurtling into oblivion without a hope to stop.

I am due for a rude awakening when I land in Brazil -- I haven't studied Portuguese with any regularity. So this will be an experiment in immersion learning, although my background in French and linguistics will, I know, prove helpful. The job search is going on as we speak, and I'm confident I'll find something worthwhile pretty quickly. I might get another haircut before I leave. To look my best for the interviews. 

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