A couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to see “Thoughts of a Colored Man” on Broadway. It was my first time being back in New York City since the COVID-19 pandemic put the world on hold. The groundbreaking play centers around a single day in Brooklyn where the lives of seven Black men intersect and unfold. One of the scenes that resonated with me the most took place in the barbershop, where one of the characters in the play said, “the barbershop is the closest thing to you next to God and your mother.”
I felt that. A lot.
It also explained my behavior two weeks prior, as I spent a Saturday morning staking out various barbershops in Trenton and the surrounding areas from my driver’s side window. Since moving from Essex County almost a year ago, I’ve been trying my best to make Trenton home, not just a town where I live. Finding a local barber comes with the territory of integrating into the community. It felt extremely weird moving into a new town during a pandemic, as I was greeted with “hellos” from masked-up neighbors and closed-for-business signs on the front doors of local establishments.
A barbershop is a place where men talk freely about any and everything without being judged. It’s a safe space. It’s part of self-care and one of the reasons why I still spend money and take the time to groom whatever hair I have left. And believe me, when I tell you, It’s not easy finding a good barber. It’s more than just cutting your hair involved. It’s about finding someone who deals with your idiosyncrasies and you with theirs. Over the years, I had barbers who stepped outside to smoke a Newport midway through cutting my hair (I never went back). I had a barber who twisted off a cap from a Heineken bottle and took sips of beer while cutting my hair as a teenager (I never went back). I had a barber who extended the duration of my haircut because he was too enthralled watching ESPN (I never went back). But for every new barber I tried out, whose names I can’t remember, there is someone like Moe.
I remember Moe because I found him when I attended Lincoln High School in Jersey City. He worked at the barbershop called Scotty’s. The conversation with Moe was cool. I could tell he cared about the community. I went to him for years after I graduated high school. When I was 19, I was in a horrific car accident where I sustained a head injury and had to have reconstructive surgery. I spent weeks in the hospital. After my car accident, I went into a deep depression. The last thing on my mind was getting a haircut until I bumped into Moe one day who noticed me from across the street. I didn’t want to be seen, but he called me over and asked why he hadn’t seen me in a while. I had a hat on my head covering up my scar and my bruised ego. I told the story about the car accident and pulled my hat off my head and showed him my scar. He looked at me and my unkempt hair and told me that he would cut my hair for me. He understood that I was reluctant to have someone touch my head after the accident, but he handled me with care while I was in his chair.
When I looked at my reflection in the mirror after my haircut I felt like Moe had given me some of my dignity back. I reached in my pocket to pay him and he told me that the haircut was on him. That touched me even more and showed my 19-year-old self what a man of character looked like. You see, a barber is more than just someone that cuts hair, they play a part in you presenting the best version of yourself to the world.
I’ve started to find my way in the Trenton by joining boards and participating in activities that are close to my heart, like the upcoming “living museum” at the Trenton Free Public Library. The interactive event will share the perspectives of African Americans on the Revolutionary War and its meaning for enslaved people during Patriots Week from 3 p.m.- 5 p.m. on Monday, Dec. 27, 2021. It was important for me, as a Black man, to make sure that there was African American representation when it came to planning a community outreach. I also felt a connection to the Trenton community when I drove down to Waterfront Park to attend the vigil for 15-year-old Shemiah Davis, who was killed in a senseless act of gun violence. I wanted to be a part of the community that showed up in solidarity for the grieving family.
Despite the convenience the virtual world has provided, it will never replace the human touch or a good haircut from a good barber. By the way, Trenton Journal, I’m still in search of that perfect spot in the Trenton or the surrounding areas. If you have any recommendations, please tag us @trentonjournal. Until next time!