12 2013

My hair is cut. Short and with the back and sides shaved. I go to a barber in Oceanside, a tiny place right near the library.

And I can’t help but remember pain.

I used to work for the publishing house Ziff-Davis. It was a long time ago, and I think Ziff killed and ate Davis. Ziff had offices in San Francisco’s financial district, and if I looked out my window, I could see a construction site and the promise of not being at work.

When my hair got too long, then, it was time for pain. I’d walk out of the office and go among the people to be punished for my many and varied sins. It was time for a haircut, I was a bad man, and Dr. Pain knew I had to pay.

Although time has softened the memory, I can say for certainty Dr. Pain was not one man, but rather a collection of barbers, one of whom I distinctly remember as being female. All of them operated out of a tiny shop right across the street from the Ziff offices. The place was oftentimes packed with businessmen; always a disorganized mess of chairs, chattering pain merchants, and piles of magazines and newspapers, roughly 40 percent of which were non-pornographic.

Dr. Pain worked in agony, the way a lesser man might work in clay or oils. Each of the Pains was a master, ensuring a haircut was an act of penance. Pain’s clippers were dull and clogged, and Pain would scrape skin and violently yank hair. He’d nonchalantly run the clippers into, and over, ears. His scissorwork consisted mostly of jabs and pokes and not so much actual scissoring. I think, one time, Pain combed my hair back with such force it actually dug furrows into my scalp and pulled my face back in some Joker-like rictus. When I thought Pain had exhausted all means of dispensing his craft, he would always surprise me, sometimes jerking my head forcefully and at a seemingly impossible angle to better expose my jugular or utilizing some type of acidic tonic to ensure a little extra zetz was applied to one of the newly inflicted stab wounds.

Hours, sometimes weeks, after a haircut, the pain (real or imagined) would linger. Or I’d touch my head, and it would seem to be aflame. It would feel odd, somehow wrong, to go to another barber and not come out of it in mortal agony, to not even have winced in true pain.

Whether Pain was disinterested or merely sadistic, I cannot say. All of my coworkers who visited Pain’s studio suggested the place may not have been, in fact, a real barber shop and certainly not staffed with either trained or licensed haircutters. We joked the place had to be a front for drug deals or some other shady enterprise. And I don’t think we were at all joking. We may have been deadly serious, only with laughing.

In Pain’s defense, I never paid less for a haircut. Except for the time my friend Jeff Pearlman took his clippers and gave me a Moe Howard haircut. Pain-free, of course, but he can’t cut hair for shit.

The offices of Drs. Pain.

The offices of Drs. Pain.

Categories: Burying the past...

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