He is name is Reinier; some people calling Giant, I prefer to call him Dream Repairman. But my new barber, on Real Street, is not a little dwarf working inside my head. Au contraire… God spare your ears if this huge black guy makes a mistake and the scissors slip, or even worse, the razor he uses to give you the final cuts. I know it from experience, because I went there to get a plain, traditional, haircut and I ended up with something that in Jovellanos they call the “Ballotelli”.
Well, the barber dropped the guide of his electric hair clipper when he was just starting to trim my right side and left me with three choices: shave my head, start wearing one of those fancy haircuts with the name of soccer player, or tell everybody the haircut, with that awful hole in the center of my head, is supposed to look like that. Anyway, worst sins are committed in the name of fashion…
Anyway, Reinier was ashamed beyond words and kept repeating to me that it was a first in his career, the ringlet was ancient history and something ought to be done. Truth be said, the repair was not that bad and it was then when I christened him “the dream repairman”.
And I was pleased, not only because Reinier removed the cowlick and a few years as well, but also because I experienced again that pleasure that we Cubans can only find in barbershops. It can be one of those places with large mirrors, old magazines and a revolving door; or just a humble porch with a chair, s sheet and a clipper.
While you are waiting for your turn you get to know more about life than in full university semester. A Cuban barber can trim your sideburns while discoursing on the latest socio-political situation worldwide, and suddenly he goes on to explain how you can take the taste of mud out of a claria. He can listen, but talks about everything and have an opinion on everything.
His hands work on any kind of head and now their internal twists as well as the outside ones: no one knows how but the tireless barber takes your inhibitions away. Scotland Yard would kill for interrogators like him. I mean it; a Cuban barber can make a mute talk, while never actually shutting up.
For example, in my half hour with Reinier I learnt of all human and divine there is. Of how the chic is, and of her cousin that “she looks to really give her all” About a place he was offered in Cardenas city but he didn’t take because they were charging too much for a place with no view of the street, “Though there they charge a full dollar for a haircut”.
I learnt he made a killing the days prior to the beginning of the school year, because “the yonki and the strips the kids are asking for are more expensive”. And he also spoke of the business, taxes, the establishments, competition, trends, styles, process and of dreams.
In Real street you don’t lack friends or clients: many times he stops working to answer back any greeting with a “what’s up!” There is a good breeze in his porch and he cut hair while the daylight lasts, so he consumes little electricity. He also pays in time his taxes and, despite the town’s bad name, you can trust him to shave you without him turning suddenly into a tropical Sweeney Todd.
Rainier is one of the thousands of Cuban barber and hairdressers that in December 2011 stopped being part of the Technical, Personal and Household Services state enterprise. When the law passed, in Cuba there were 1358 establishments for this trade that even has a national day, December 27th, which honors poet, journalist, patriot and barber Juan Evangelista Valdés Veitía.
The Cuban government kept the ownership of the places, but the tools for the trade, and the electricity, water, gas and phone bill are on the barbers, who charge on offer and demand. They also pay a tax for Social Security, for the time when they retire, a right Valdes Veitia fought for at the beginning of the XX century.
Even when they don’t pull out teeth anymore and the trade is resumed to comb and cut hair, being a barber is not an easy thing. Some inherit the trade; others get to it out of need, but today anyone with an electric hair clipper, scissors, brush and makeup, apply for a license and learns the trade by cutting hair.
But Reinier is not worried about competition. “There are many lousy barbers, who cut hair in a hurry to have more customers. The thing is not to get more haircuts but to have the client return. Look at you, Havana boy…what are you doing getting a haircut here with me in Jovellanos? He shoots at me so blatantly.
And I have to contain my laughter, just in case he drops another guide…
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