Thursday, December 4, 2008

In This Economy... (Cousin Tommy's version of 'BoogieDowner Economics')

In this economy...

I am sure you’ve heard those three words lately. The “E” word seems to dominate conversations everywhere from the sales call to the pool hall, from 149th Street all the way up to 241st Street.

Even last weekend when I was down at Peter’s Barber Shop in Woodlawn, a charming spot nestled between pubs and grocery stores on Katonah Avenue, we kicked up the convo to the "E" word. Peter the Barber, a 30 year old immigrant from the West Coast of Ireland, was giving me the old “sides with a 1, let the top have some fun” cut, which is now made famous by my BoogieDowner headshot.

As he was working his magic with the clippers, Peter mentioned how a lot of the Woodlawners working construction have been very slow getting jobs lately. "Sure is slow," I thought... But not wanting to take it down the old "this economy is so bad..." road, I switched gears saying, “My hair sure is growing fast.” Alright, not the coolest thing to say, but Peter's got an answer for everything.

So he says, “What kinda’ beer do ya’ drink?”

“Heineken,” I said.

“Oh, that’s just the barley,” he quipped.

I half-smiled, not getting it at first. Oh, the barley is making my hair grow fast. Ha, I get it! Barley, hair, good one Peter. But something hit me when he said that… Hair will always grow. Hair grows steady in a recession, just as in a booming economy. When the bubble bursts, stockholders may lose money, but not hair. (Well, as long as they don't pull it out. I mean OK, maybe if you have less money in your pocket and are a bit stressed about it you grow some gray hairs and just generally aren't looking as dapper up top.)

My point is this: whether the market is Bear or Bull, hair is always on a steady growth trend. Even for those whose hair is not growing on top, it sure grows on the sides. “Peter, you got the market cornered,” I told him.

“How ya’ figure?” he asked.

Peter is sharper than the blade he trims sideburns with, so I have a feeling he knows where I'm going with this. "Hair will always grow, no matter how many jobs are out there," I said. And we all know that any self-respecting person who likes to keep their drape tidy will need a haircut just about every month. The only real economic slowdown for a barber might have been in the Sixties, but I must note here that there is no real evidence to back this theory up.

From the BoogieDown to Bangkok, whether your name is Michael or Miguel, Tim or Tom, Dad or Mom, that hair needs cutting on the regular... And Peter on Katonah is there waiting for you with a razor-sharp blade in hand to match a finely honed sense of humor.

Once I had made this wise assertion to Peter, it became clear that it was not his first conversation on the subject of good jobs to have in recessions. I mean, the guy is a barber for god sakes. A smile struck his face, and it turns out that a hair-cutter is not the only secure profession in an economic downturn. He recalled a guy once in his chair whose life’s work was that of a pall-bearer. The guy keenly noted to Peter, “Everybody dies, business is always good.”

Laughter filled the air in the shop, as the barber hit his anecdotal stride. It wasn’t long before he jumped into his next customer’s story. This time, a plumber. He said, “Everybody’s got to shit.” True indeed, and the crowd went wild. While Peter must speak more words in a day than many salesmen do in a week, he never veers from pure honesty... Honesty that is more refreshing than the alcohol that he splashes on the back of my neck after the cut.

So yeah, barbers, plumbers, and pall-bearers, they got it good alright. But then again, hair, death and shit, in any order can’t be that easy to deal with on a daily basis.

Basically, its about doing what you do and doing it well. Because no matter how funny or witty Peter the Barber is, if he chops my “do” and leaves me looking like an AWOL ex-Marine, I’ll never be back in there again.

But sure enough as I walked out of his shop and checked my reflection in the freshly shined windows of Peter’s Barber Shop, I saw a haircut as true as the words he spoke... and that is what really matters.

~Cousin Tommy

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