The Blind Barber by Paul Florez
The nor’easter hit Manhattan earlier than expected. I was standing outside the Blind Barber smoking my lucky cigarette watching two girls across the street get their lezzie on when the wind began to howl. If I was straight, I’d probably get a boner over their small hands cupping their equally small breasts, but since I’m not I just fling my cigarette into the air and shout, “Get a room!”
Meteorological events such as nor’easters never graced the swamp in Florida I grew up in. We had hurricanes, which equally inspired mass hysteria, but unlike snow storms you can’t be outside in them too long cause you may get smacked in the face by a branch or get electrocuted by a fallen power cable. Neither happened to me growing up but stories like that were always on the local news.
“Can I bum a cigarette?” some guy with a fedora asks me.
He’s sort of cute so I stare down at the floor that’s littered with cigarette butts past. There’s something about really attractive straight men that makes me avoid eye contact. Maybe it’s because I’m used to being on bottom, both in life and in bed.
I show the guy my empty pack of Newports and go back inside the bar.
“Fuck me,” I hear him say.
Oh I would.
The people who patron the Blind Barber are self-proclaimed bohemians or philosophers or hipsters...they are whatever they want to be called. They can’t afford rent but somehow muster up the fourteen dollars for a drink. This makes them cool.
There’s a library in the back of the bar that’s decorated with floral wallpaper and a velvet tufted sofa from Urban Outfitters, which I think is pretty righteous and Victorian but it’s typically occupied by poets discussing sonnets they studied in undergrad over fruity martinis that are called “Batman” and “Zen Master.”
I walk back to the stool I left my coat at and chug the watery tequila. I find irony in that it’s freezing cold outside yet the ice cubes in my cup melted in the ten minutes I was away. I think about tweeting it but I’ll spare my 24 followers another one of my, “Life always finds a way to dick me over” tweets.
If I sound cynical it’s because I am. My father was an abusive redneck with a shit colored pickup truck he bought in 1986, the year I was born.
“I got two babies that year,” he’d always say. “But only one of them was an accident.”
I never hated him for loving the Chevy more than me. It’s a hetero guy thing, a byproduct of masculinity from the baby boomer generation. They love cars more than their effeminate sons who want pink cotton candy instead of blue. I get it. I actually learned how to drive in that old clunker so I have a soft spot in my heart for it too.
I actually hate dad for the nights he’d hit the sauce too hard then touch my boy parts. It only happened twice, and it’s probably something I should talk about with a shrink but Dad’s allegedly done a 180. He’s a Eucharistic Minister now for his local parish, even blogs about Jesus for them and frequently uses the hashtag “Godhatesfags.” The only thing sadder than having a homophobic abusive father is having one that has 329 more followers than you on Twitter. How’s that for karma? As for my mom, the last time I had seen her was when I was sixteen and she smoked all the marijuana I kept hidden under my bed before heading to Hollywood with my little sister. We never heard from them again but according to IMDB my sister was an extra in the Pregnancy Pact.
I raise my arm to signal the bartender. He comes to me, angry, and I ask for another tequila on the rocks. It’s probably my fifth or ninth drink tonight but I still don’t feel drunk. The bartender’s eyes sweep my arm before fixating on the multiple scabs and bruises that run up my elbow.
“You cut yourself, bro,” he asks.
“No, I just got into an unfortunate argument with a razor,” I reply.
I’ve seen the bartender here before, my boyfriend and I typically stop in on Friday nights. He looks like he’s lived in Manhattan for a long time, possibly since the late 90s because his sleeve tattoos are faded and he looks too old to have ear gauges.
“I cut hair,” I tell him. “I accidentally sliced myself…a few times.”
I mimic the blade hitting my skin with my finger but he doesn’t look convinced. Fuck, neither do I.
“Guess that means you’re not very good if you’re constantly slicing yourself with your equipment.”
What the fuck does this Fred Durst acolyte know about hair? He’s balding and trying to hide it with a snapback.
“Don’t be jealous by the locks that I got,” I sing, pointing at his head. “I’m still your barber from the block.”
“You’re done after this one,” he says delivering my drink. “It’s only Tuesday and you already caused enough trouble.”
“What the fuck have I done?”
“You called a girl a cunt,” he says.
“I said hunty. That’s drag queen lingo for honey,” I reply. “RuPaul uses it on national television.”
“She was pissed, bro. You’re lucky she found some guy to talk to.”
He hands me my card and receipt. $168. I’ve run up higher tabs.
“You know, bro “ he whispers. “The only reason I didn’t kick you out was because I see you and your boy here every Friday night. You two look happy and he’s really into you. Don’t throw it away for that queen you were here with earlier.”
“Now queen is a very offensive term, bro,” I reply, drawing a dash through the tip line. “I work for a high end salon, bro, and you wouldn’t want me to spread the word that this place is homophobic, bro. You feel me, bro?”
The bartender slams his palm onto the receipt and pulls it away from me. He’s right. I should just say I’m sorry instead of being a total tool but I don’t even know his name, and what good is an apology if you don’t know the person’s name?
“I’m part of the family, bro,” he says. “And I had marks like yours when I was your age.”
Getting to the exit in this bar is always quite the odyssey. For starters, the bar has become significantly more hip in the last ten minutes and there are so many people. I walk towards the large metal doors I entered through, which are now guarded by a bouncer who looks like he’s seven feet tall and out of something from the Lord of the Rings. I have to remember the entrance is not the same as the exit.
The Blind Barber is a modern speakeasy located behind a barber’s shop. Even at midnight I can see a pair of old geezers still cutting hair. Of course the cuts aren’t that good. It’s just a novelty, but no one cares about value. Everything in Manhattan is at best a novelty at best.
The bartender had a point. I’m stupid for bringing that queen here. Who pays $168 dollars for drinks and doesn’t even get laid? Whatever, it wasn’t even an affair. We had drinks and I kissed him once. I kiss all my friends on the lips.
The seven-foot bouncer starts screaming at me. I can’t understand what he’s saying because it’s in a different language. I try reasoning.
“I’m not from Africa you racist white boy,” he yells. “The exit is over there!”
I stand my ground, hoping if I stare at him long enough he’ll eventually let me exit, but he doesn’t. Instead he wipes his face and starts screaming at me some more.
“You spit in my face,” he shouts.
“I wasn’t spitting. I was talking, darling.”
“Who calls someone taller than them “’darling?’” the bouncer asks. “You’re not at Chili’s, son. We don’t need your type here for tips.”
He grabs me by the collar like we’re in a cartoon and guides me to the exit. As he escorts me I notice everyone staring at me. They’re judging me, but really they’ve probably acted worse. We all come to Manhattan because we’re lost and want something better. I’m not one of those losers who came here wanting to be an artist or fashion blogger and ended up working as an HR coordinator making 45k a year, thinking I’ve made it big because I can get in on a share in the Hamptons. I came to New York City years ago for one thing and that was to be a hairstylist. Unlike these other imports judging me I have a vocation, not a job. I was never so lucky to be taken to Supercuts when I was younger. Every day I had to look in the mirror and see the same untamed locks in the reflection until I did something about it. So all these posers can judge away. Even Jesus had his moment of doubt before he showed the world who’s boss. Hashtag that, pops.
The bouncer opens the exit door with one hand. The last thing I want to do is walk back to my apartment in that blizzard, wake up the next day with a hangover and repeat the cycle.
“Please,” I say grabbing onto his arm. “I’ll buy you a shot. I don’t want to go out in the cold.”
“Then next time behave,” he says, tossing me.
I land hard on the ground. My gloves are miraculously on and I’m pretty sure I didn’t wet myself. Fuck, I think I dropped my wallet inside. The guy in the fedora is outside smoking with the girl I called a hunty. They call me “pathetic” as I pull myself up.
I try to cross the street, but lose balance when my legs get caught between two parked cars. I slip through the cars and hit my head on the curb. Surprisingly, a blow to the head doesn’t really hurt. Actors can be so melodramatic.
The bartender was right. John is really into me and I’m fucking everything up. I don’t want to be a cheating drunk. It was only a kiss. We can bounce back from a kiss. I kissed my cousin that one time when we were in college and that didn’t make us incestuous.
I look up at the sky and thousands of snowflakes are falling onto me. I’m getting so sleepy. When I was little Batman was a superhero, not an overpriced martini. I dreamed he’d come and rescue me from the swamp and I’d be his Boy Wonder. But Batman never came. Now, I’m just a late twentysomething drunk waiting in the snow for a Good Samaritan to save me. That hardly makes for a good origin story.
Maybe they’ll write about me in Page Six. I can see the headline now: “Unknown Man Freezes to Death During Manhattan Blizzard.” I’ll get a street side vigil and maybe a clever hashtag that’ll trend worldwide. What more could anyone ask for? No one would know who I was, true, but hell, not even John knew. He tried. He had roses delivered to me at the salon even though I hate roses. I should get to him.
I make a Janet Reno attempt to make everything right and grab onto the bumper of the car to pull myself up, but fall back down. The lamppost that’s hovering over me flickers. Fine. I give up. There’s blood on my shirt anyways. I pat around my pockets and feel my wallet. I haven’t lost it. I guess there’s hope that I won’t be nameless.
© Paul Florez, 2015
Paul Florez is currently receiving his MFA at The New School. He is a contributor for the Huffington Post and his work has also appeared in Slice Magazine, HelloGiggles, and The Advocate. In 2013, he cofounded an online literary journal called The Ink and Code, where he publishes awesome writers. You can follow his misadventures over on Twitter @mrpaulflorez.
The Blind Barber was read by Michael Petrocelli on 1st April 2015 for Kiss & Breakup