Friday, February 22, 2008

Cuttin' Up by Craig Marberry

If you know me at all, you know better than to get me started talking about my hair. I will bore you to death but will wax eloquent endlessly (at least I think so). For the past 20+ years, my hair has been cut by a variety of black barbers starting with Kevin Foston, my next door neighbor in the dorms and who, G-d bless him, would often give me my $3 haircut on credit because I needed time to come up with $3. The thing is, he got it right, and since white barbers were hit and miss, at best, I kept seeking black barbers to "bust my wig", as we said back then.

As Marberry says in Cuttin' Up, the barber shop is "the black man's country club", a place where black men can relax and talk and counsel and crack on each other and I know I didn't realize this when I would stroll in, looking for a cut.
I was a whiteboy going into a black shop and I wasn't always welcomed by the barbers or their regular customers. However, those times when I was made to feel at ease, when they'd say, "have a seat, bro, I'll get you in", I would stay with those barbers for years. I was grateful that I was allowed to be a small part of the community that is the black barber shop and those guys became my friends.

Marberry tries to bring this to life in short interviews with barbers and customers from all over the country along with photos of shops and memorabilia. Some are funny and others try to be kind of touching but it's uneven and there seems to be a lot of repetition of the same types of stories. You might read this and ask, "It's just a barber shop. What did he expect?" Well, I think there is a book out there about the charm and allure of the black shop, about the history and sense of place that exists there and if that was Marberry's goal, the book tries but falls short. However, I do hope someone will write that book.

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