He and I have a longstanding, Saturday morning date. I arrive fifteen minutes to eight and park my car directly behind his copper-colored, Infiniti Q70 Hybrid. He owns the popular, mid-city barbershop – Perry’s Place. The modern, two-level building sits on the corner of Sedgewood and Middleton Parkway. It’s directly across the street from Gino’s infamous, pizza & sub shop. I’m always the first customer to arrive, as to secure my spot as Perry’s first cut of the day. He unlocks the glass door as he sees me coming, flipping the white, cardboard sign from CLOSE to OPEN. I greet him with a bass filled, ‘good morning’, and he replies, ‘wassup’. Between the heavy bites he takes from his sausage, egg and cheese, sour dough biscuit, Perry sips from a sixteen ounce bottle of water. He always offers me the half of his breakfast sandwich that is still wrapped. I routinely decline. We’ve never discussed the fact that I’m a vegetarian, but then again, there are a lot of details about my life that I don’t go out of my way to share at the barbershop.
Inhaling the aroma of wintergreen skin oils blended with musk-like pomades and lemon based Lysol, I take the empty seat in front of Perry’s barber chair. A crinkled, five by seven photograph of his daughter hangs above the row of dangling, gray and black clippers. Beside a collection of white, hand mirrors, Perry has a copy of his owner’s permit and license that are framed and on display. His center booth is always the cleanest and most organized amongst the other barbers who tend to stroll in around nine o’clock or nine thirty.
There’s a reclined manliness that shapes Perry’s Place. I never feel as if I have to go out of my way to butch up before coming to get my haircut. I wear my favorite, yellow flip-flops from Abercrombie & Fitch, paired with light denim shorts that are cuffed at the knee. Though I have friends and associates who put on their baggy, high top, colorless boy-drag before they go to the barbershop on Saturday mornings, I’m comfortable wearing the same clothing I run my errands in. Sometimes, tension mounts between the neighborhood boys and myself, as they walk in with no appointments, wearing sweats and other nonnegotiable, masculine attire. I know they see me in my foofoo accouterments of style and wonder where I get the guts to ingrain my expression of manliness into their urban dwelling. Visually digging for the pink cues and soft hues that would normally color a black man queer, these locals aren’t able to make sense of the easy back and forth that flows between Perry and I. Perry is the razor sharp alpha male; father, business owner and big brother figure to many of the patrons.
He scurries around the shop in his black, Adidas flip-flops. Carrying a broom in one hand and his partially eaten sandwich in the other, I watch Perry slide between stations. The telephone has already begun to sound off. Perry dashes into the back of the shop to take the calls. He tosses me the television remote and asks if I can power on the flat screen that hangs above the wall mirror. I always turn to CNN in an effort to create a moment where Perry and I aren’t forced to negotiate conversations that either focus on my love life or his affection for sports. He is more intriguing to me when openly expressing his views about Obama’s most recent executive orders, than he is when he discusses the pre-season, football lineup.
Perry heated the white towels by the deep, basin sink. He raised his voice over the CNN correspondent to tell me how crazy he thinks people are for even talking about impeaching President Obama. I responded, telling Perry that Obama will forever be chastised for basically being a civil rights politician. At that moment, one of the young, neighborhood guys sitting two seats down from me jumped up and shoved his iphone in Perry’s face. He’s one of many who respects Perry’s hustle. “This the bitch I smashed two weeks ago…the one I was telling you about!”, the boy shouted. Perry laughed out loud, covering his mouth with a bald up fist. He then joked in response, “if she has an older sister, you need to find out and give me her name on Instagram”.
Perry is a typical guy on the surface, but then again, he isn’t. His only tattoo is of praying hands, inked onto his upper, right arm. The tiny, black diamond studs he wears in each ear compliment his basic, tee shirt and basketball shorts style. We’re just about the same height, maybe five-eleven. He’s six feet tall at the most. His face is clean-shaven and butternut smooth. Aside from the thin, dark brown hairs that coil beneath his chin and strap across his top lip, his facial hair is barely there. Perry is an attractive man, but seemingly unaware of his physical appeal.
In the eight months that he has cut my hair, I’ve seen a side of Perry’s character that makes me believe it’s possible for gay men to form healthy relationships with our straight, male allies. He and I share similar political views, and are able to discuss our thoughts and ideas every Saturday morning. Perry and I never discuss women or sex, but more so because he doesn’t bring up those topics with me. He may sense that my sexual interest in women crossed the finish line over ten years ago. I just appreciate the fact that Perry does not make me feel like I have to be silent in order to blend in with his other customers.
Despite my attractions towards Perry, when I take a seat in his chair, and he wraps his black, barber cloth around my neck, our interaction is social and professional. (B)efore (A)ll (E)lse, we are two men who have established a mutually respectful relationship. Sexuality does not hinder our ability to openly engage with one another in an environment known to strictly tolerate traditional forms of masculinity. When Perry is done cutting and lining my hair, I pay him twenty-two dollars and I tip him five. I leave his barbershop as a customer who has been provided the type of safe space service that makes me want to uphold my longstanding, Saturday morning date.