Manila Vanilla

What it's like to be a U.S. Fulbright scholar, basketball player, journalist, and the whitest man in Metro Manila.

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Location: Quezon City, Metro Manila, Philippines

New Yorker by birth, shipped across the globe to the world of malls, shanty-towns, patronage, corruption, basketball and a curious burnt-toast smell that wafts around at dusk

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

A trip to the third-world barber shop

A good haircut -- it can give a man a sense of rebirth, renewal. No longer do wild tufts of hair sprout from the back and sides of his neck. Suddenly, his sideburns are on the same level, at a sort of foul-line extended point from where the top side of the ear curves downward and connects to the head. Whether, buzzed real low, cropped into a Ceasar, juiced-up in some jheri curl madness or sporting a Gumby, he couldn't feel fresher.

But at what cost?

This was my principle concern this afternoon when I started combing Xavierville Ave. for a barber shop. Yeah, my hair is pretty thick by WASP standards and it was longer than it had been since I was 11 years old -- so long, in fact, that when beads of that good Manila sweat started forming on my scalp, I could make it stand straight up maybe 4 inches. I didn't approve of how soft I looked with the rats nest-cum-pompadour, but at least I had control. There was no telling what would happen once I turned the show over to some near dwarf named Lito.

The In and Out Barber Shop on the corner of Xavierville and Abada Avenues in Loyola Heights -- 50 pesos (less than $1) for a cut, close to home in case I needed to run home with a towel over my head, and most importantly, crowded. Three out of four seats were filled, which was very encouraging compared to the ghost-town barberos I passed on the way.

The diverse clientele impressed me as well. It wasn't just a bunch of Filipino old men sitting around like Eddie and Arsenio in Coming to America (although I think I'd have enjoyed that). There was one old guy having his world class Fu-Manchu beard trimmed, a neighborhood kid looking to toughen up, apparently by getting a baldie while keeping his lips pursed like someone posing for a prison photo, and another, plain-looking guy who was getting a pretty intense head rub and shoulder massage. If they could handle all these requests, they ought to be able to tame my puffy locks.

Mindanao, we have a problem. I'm taller in the chair than my barber is on his feet. So when it comes to buzzing the top of my head, I need to lean forward and hope for the best -- something I haven't had to do since Eric Prengle shaved my head over a garbage can when I was in seventh grade. I haven't looked closely, but I don't see any hugely abnormal clumps up top. No harm, no foul, Lito.

Cuts on Crates! Git em.

He seemed to be intent on making up for the lack of attention to the top of my head by lavishing the sides and back with attention. He whipped out a pair of garden shears -- a lot like the pair my super Edwin uses to cut the lawns in our apartment complex, a task that I hear was number two on Albert Camus' list when he wrote The Myth of Sisyphus. But Lito could work them shears, man. I tried to keep still and not giggle at the idea of a 4'11'' guy snipping away at me with something like hedge clippers that were larger than my head.

After a good five minutes of the Edward Scissorhands treatment, out comes the straight razor; time to man up! For the first time, having hair taken off the sides of my face and neck actually put hair onto my balls. I wouldn't call the shave gentle, but it was bloodless, which was my pre-decided litmus test for the whole experience.

And what tops it all off? One of those two-minute massages. I promise, I was going to stop him once he got to my waist, but luckily it never came to that. You see, despite its name, In and Out has got class. And in the end, Lito looked at me like Don Bartolomeo after I tipped him 40 cents American. That's how I roll.

Walking back, the big question was what kind of idiot am I to think that a Filipino wouldn't be capable of buzzing my hair? I felt a little like the Ugly American, but at the same time, everyone is pretty particular about their haircuts. I've been going to the same Albanian crew on Christopher St. for at least five years. My father has been going to the Italians on Spring St. since he had hair. Massages aside, there is something personal about letting someone manhandle your head, so I'm going to excuse myself in this case. Besides, the boys at In and Out have turned me into a Xavierville loyalist.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Uhhhh, Beavis, it was unclear if you got a complete shave, or just a trim around the ears & neck. And if it was the real deal, did you remember to tell him to shave in the direction you usually shave? Otherwise you'll have a crop of ingrown hairs in hot Manila that will make your face feel like the inside of festering boil, something like that. Yeah...
Haircuts are sort of unspoken territory. Men seem very mum and territorial all at once. I wonder if it's a universal male thing, or just a Western issue. Do guys "shop" around at different barbershops until they find the right one? Hmmmmm...also left a bit unclear: did your smallish Filippino barber whack away at random at the top of your mop, or did he work at until it looked pretty symmetrical w/ the rest of the cut? Also, and this is very significant--were there girly magazines available for persual while waiting? And what kind of music/TV was on, if any...all these little cultural clues can add up to the meaninglessness of the discouse herein. What you got, young buddy, was a really cheap haircut. And the largesse involved in that 40 cent gratuity, well, you certainly know how to roll in Manila. This old cur might have to head for a Filippino barber here in NYC just to tip him 40 cents & see what happens. After the shave, of course. Respectfully submitted: Old NYC Bum.

11:58 AM  
Anonymous Lito said...

Next time you come in The In & Out Barbershop for your trim, we will give you our Filippino special for Fulbright ballplayers.
Your fiend(no "r")Lito

5:10 AM  

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