I was waiting patiently for my turn in the barber chair. The shop was always busy on Saturday, the air inside filled with the scent of clipper oil, laughter, and hair particles blown about by oscillating fans. For some it was a summer evening hang-out, a place to enjoy conversations with friends and associates.
Everyone there on this particular night was engaged in the same heated discussion. The focus of the debate was who is skilled enough to properly defend professional basketball player Shaquille O’Neal. This lead directly to talks of what NBA teams stood even the slightest chance of preventing Los Angeles Lakers from winning yet another championship once the season started in the fall.
The usually piercing buzz of the hair clippers was mostly drowned out by the boisterous chatter; however the television mounted on the shop wall, which was tuned to MTV, supplied background noise at a competitive volume. Several of the guys aggressively chimed in to express their opinions, doing so with enough pitch to talk over their fellow patrons and the television.
As the barber I’d waited for attempted to make a point regarding San Antonio Spurs’ Tim Duncan, his chair became free and I was next in line. He continued to talk as he signaled me to the seat. He wrapped protective paper around my neck first. Next he covered me with the barber cape before using his foot to raise my chair to the appropriate height by pumping a jack at the base of the chair; he’d fully prepped me for cutting while still fully engaged in the now raucous discussion.
A few seconds later the familiar “Breaking News” signature flashed across the TV screen. My barber, as relentless as ever spouting his views about Duncan, simultaneously reached for the remote to increase the volume. As his witty retort triggered another room-filling guffaw, the words, “singer and actress Aaliyah dead at the age of 22,” spouted coherently from the television speakers. It cut a swath through the humorous cloud like a zigzag of lightening. Silence immediately reigned.
As the MTV news analyst explained a fatal plan crash had taken the life of Aaliyah and eight others while attempting to leave the location of her next video “Rock The Boat”, the only other sound heard in the barbershop was the whooshing of the oscillating fans. It became more like a sad wind.
As the segment ended my barber muted the TV. Every guy present reacted sadly; heads shook in disbelief, faces dropped into hands, bodies sunk low in their seats. It felt as if we’d all lost a close relative at the same time. I began to recall the day I saw the video for Aaliyah’s debut single “Back & Forth”, how I instantly connected with her style, her voice. I was immediately a fan. I was saddened just as quickly.
Not a single person in the shop had spoken yet. No more talk of NBA teams, or Shaq or Duncan. There was nothing. My barber looked away as he turned my chair toward him. Once he faced me again I could see the sadness on his face. He, too, recognized mine, next breaking the silence in the room by simply saying, “Damn.”
And so began another barbershop discussion.
–Mr. Joe Walker
Mr. Joe Walker, a senior contributor for SoulTrain.com, is an acclaimed entertainment and news journalist published thousands of times regionally, nationally, internationally, and online. Former Editor In Chief of both XPOZ Magazine and The Underwire Interactive Magazine, his work has graced the pages and covers of Hear/Say Now Magazine, Notion Magazine, Kalamazoo Gazette Newspaper, MLive.com, and AllHipHop.com. He loves to create, loves that you read. Follow him on Twitter @mrjoewalker. Also visit TheGrooveSpt.com and ByMrJoeWalker.blogspot.com.