Coconut hair spray dissolved into a fine mist.Â Clumps of wooly hair fell to the floor. Buzz, Buzz.Â Hands slapped, snapped, popped. Whatâ€™s good? Chillin.Â Laughter boomed, caromed off the walls, struck me in the chest.Â I flipped through the latest Ebony, a magazine Iâ€™d never read anywhere, except here in theÂ shop where I couldnâ€™t bring a book for fear of being unmasked, dragged into the back, water boarded, sleep deprived, or maybe even worse.Â Forced to listen to a lecture by Michael Eric Dyson, on â€œThe Failures of the Black Middle Class.â€
I crossed my legs, squirmed, bit my nails. I leaned forward, backward, and forward again. I looked up.Â A wall draped in pictures of red-gloved brutes wrapped in golden belts, their muscles glistening under frozen sweat.Â Further to the left, glaring, pointing his big ugly Black Nationalist finger right at me, it was none other than El-Haj Malik El-Shabaz, the pimp turned pedagogue turn prophet, Malcolm X.Â Just keep on reading, I told myself.Â And stop staring at the guy with the shiny brown nose, white dreads, and gold-rimmed glasses, or at the fat-fingered, cream-colored dude whoâ€™s bare handing a piece of Halal chicken.
You up, man.Â The barber stood over me.Â Baseball cap blacking his eyes, the initials C.V. tattooed on the side of his neck. He told me to get in the chair.
Bring it down close, no lines. Just leave it natural, I said.
Natural? Never heard that before. Sounds weird.
Yeah, Iâ€™m not from around here, I wanted to tell him.Â And I wanted to tell him that I wished there were a black barbershop on the other side, Larchmont, my side of the border, so I wouldnâ€™t have to wade through this wasteland just to get my hair cut.
Yes, even we, the aristocrats, the talented one-tenth, had to leave our suburban enclaves full of banks, bistros, synagogues, predominantly white public, private and parochial schools.Â We had to leave, that is, in order, to get our unruly, African hair cut. Just this afternoon, I hopped on I-95, drove ten minutes south, got off at Exit 17, New Rochelle.Â Stomach tingling, sweat bursting on my forehead, I entered the kraal, sped past a Baptist Church, an African Methodist Episcopal Church and almost ran a red light.Â At the light: Hands tight on the wheel, eyes checking all the mirrors, making sure windows rolled up, doors locked, as a bucket and squeegee wielding black bum staggered towards me. I waved him off, mouthed No, No, but he kept coming.Â Green light: I darted past an abandoned gas station, one, two, three, foreclosed homes and a procession of brown skin men who hung their heads, dragged their feet, and shoved their soiled fingers into telephone slots.Â I wondered why I hadnâ€™t brought a camera, safari shorts, a spare pair of socks, malaria pills, bug repellent, and Fodorâ€™s Guide to Predominantly Black Neighborhoods 2010. Â In a municipal lot, next to a police station, and far far from the barbershopâ€™s covetous eyes, I parked.Â I took two deep breaths, licked my dry lips, and got out of the car.
You can find Clark online here.