The barbershop is one place where you can count on being stock-still for at least 20 minutes — 30, if you’re like me and your hair grows so unruly that it begins to resemble the nest of a large bird.
In the barber’s chair, you are free to do absolutely nothing; your arms and legs trapped as they are beneath an oversized cape, your head at the will of a pair of shears. As long as you ignore the fact that a stranger is holding a razor alarmingly close to your jugular, a haircut really can become rather tranquil. The moments of uninterrupted idleness you experience provide a rare and welcome recourse from our fast-paced, hyperconnected world.
Barbershops are, in a way, a sort of time machine. Apart from the advent of the electric clipper, shops probably don’t look or feel all that different today than they did 500 years ago — the red-and-white striped poles, which date back to the Middle Ages and often designate storefronts, are material proof of their timelessness.
You can imagine my horror, then, when before my most recent haircut, the barber flung her cape across my shoulders and in place of the usual plain black sheet, this cape sported a plastic viewing window, about 1 square foot in area, suspended over my lap.
At first, I was confused and, admittedly, a little uncomfortable. The see-through plastic made me feel as though my crotch was on display, like an exhibit in a museum that must be stored behind special bulletproof glass.
Sitting in the barber’s chair, I considered what purpose this apparatus could possibly serve. Playing rock-paper-scissors against myself? Counting the number of hairs sprouting from my right pinky finger? Making sure my belt was securely fastened prior to haircutting?
It was only once I pulled my cellphone out of my jeans pocket, purely out of habit, that I understood the purpose of the plastic. Moments later, the barber confirmed my suspicion: Her clients don’t want to waste time while they get their hair cut, she said. She provides capes with see-through plastic so her clients can send emails or check Facebook while she works.
Upon hearing this, I immediately jammed my phone back into my pocket, appalled. Our urge to touch and see our cellular devices has become so great that we can’t bear to be forced apart, even momentarily — as if we believe the black sheet at the barbershop will, like a magician’s cape, somehow make our phones disappear. The plastic portal suspended over my lap seemed to serve as a transparent security blanket, a source of psychological comfort during my 20-minute, otherwise-technology-free stay.
“How absurd,” I decided. Soon, however, my disgust turned to amusement. I began to laugh. Another client sitting beside me joined in. Even the barber cracked a smile. I’m not exactly sure what was so funny about plastic-clad barber capes, but the three of us had a good chuckle.
As a matter of principle, I didn’t use my phone during my entire haircut. But before I left, I made sure to pull it out — just to snap(chat) a picture of the cape, of course.