Yesterday was one of those days. There were a couple things i needed to do before flying the next morning to Canada to teach at the JazzWorks Camp. First on the list was a haircut. Although the camp was only four days, it couldn’t wait. My hair had grown out to a point of complete rebelliousness. It had the personality of a three-your old child. Mourad, my regular hair cutter was on vacation. August is the time in New York when all the psychotherapists and hair cutters are out of town, and the city is filled with neurotic people running around pulling their overgrown hair out.
After bringing the Hippie Mobile to the parking garage on 116th street and the East River, I rode my bike in light rain back to my apartment, navigating my way through East Harlem, Morningside Heights and Washington Heights. When I got to my hood I passed the local haircut joint on 181st street. This place has been here for years and caters mainly to Hispanic locals. It’s always busy. I figured it was worth a try - an experiment. I popped my head in and asked the guy how much for a cut, and he said 20 bucks. I was wet and sweaty form the ride and told him I would be back in 15 minutes after a quick shower.
When I returned, my man was busy with someone else. “Danny,” he called. Danny was a middle aged man with glasses and dark hair. “Just a trim. Not too short,” I told him as I sat down. “Okay.” He pulled out the electric shears and started mowing away. “Not too short,” I reminded him as the hair from the side of my head was spitting out in all directions. “It’s too short!” I said with a stronger voice. He nodded, “Okay, too short,” and he went back at it. “No, it’s ALREADY too short.” “Mas?” “No, NO mas.” The other guy noticed the commotion and explained in Spanish that I didn’t want it very short. But it was too late. He switched to scissors and finished job. But the damage had been done. He put a bunch of goo on my hair, brushed off my neck and shoulders and asked for $15 dollars. The other guy heard this and told Danny he had told me 20. I handed them a twenty dollar bill and walked out.
After all, it was an experiment...
Next on the list was insect repellent. I remembered last year: the camp was on a remote lake in Quebec, and the mosquitos were aggressive and hungry. And spoke French.
The first place I checked was a 24-hour convenience store owned by a Chinese family. When I asked the proprietor he looked a little confused and casually pointed to a shelf with Combat and Raid. I didn’t see it up there and moved on. Next place was a Spanish bodega. “Do you have insect repellent.” He didn’t know what I was talking about. “Ya know - bug spray.” A blank look. “Stuff to keep the bugs off your arms. Mosquitos.” No, we don’t have.
The next place I got to walking east on 181st street was a 99¢ store. (Actually, it’s called “99¢ and up.” Kinda misleading...) There was a 12 year old kid at the counter. Feet up, arms behind his head - he looked like he owned the place. “Hi, do you sell insect repellent?” “What is that?” “Stuff to keep the bugs off you. You know, off your arms and neck.” “I know we have the little candles. I don’t know, let me ask my father. Papa?” They did have the candles, which I was tempted to buy and just scrape all over my body. But I was getting closer.
The next place was a small corner market with flowers, vegetables and a few conveniences. The Chinese man behind the counter, when confronted with the three versions of my question thought for a moment then nodded and reached behind him and handed me a can of Arrid Extra Dry.
Back out on the street. It was getting dark. I could see a Duane Reade a couple blocks down. I looked at my watch - 8:55. I sprinted down and found all the gates down except one, but the door was still open. The woman at checkout smiled and asked if she could help me with something. “Yeah, do you have insect repellant?” “Yes, downstairs, third aisle on the left.”