Jokes are made. Advice is dispensed. A community is knit closer together.
Welcome to the barbershop.
A quick look inside reveals a group of laid-back guys dispensing and receiving advice about life while waiting their turn to be lined up, faded up or just plain fixed up by the Michelangelos of the black men's hair world.
It's a scene that's played out many times on the big screen. When Spike Lee was only 25, he made a short film called Joe's Bed-Stuy Barbershop: We Cut Heads. When Eddie Murphy as Prince Akeem in Coming to America needed advice on women, he went to the barbershop. The original Barbershop movie, starring Ice Cube and Cedric the Entertainer, was a breakout hit.
Those scenes happen in real life, everyday, right here at home.
Mark Montgomery, manager of Jackson Unisex shop in Anniston, said the barbershop is the great equalizer, servicing people of all races from all walks of life. Sometimes the gender barrier is even crossed.
"You have people from all natures of life, people from all different fields go to the barbershop," said Montgomery, 44, who has been cutting hair for 27 years.
From 53-year-old Anniston resident Leander Lynch's point of view, the barbershop is "just like a family."
During a time when statistics show that 69 percent of all black children are born to single mothers, Montgomery said that barbershops try to step in as surrogate fathers, exemplifying the old adage that it takes a whole village to raise a child.
"You were pretty much educated in the shop. Older guys used to cut your hair and teach you about life in general," Montgomery said.
Thomas "Pooh" Zimmerman, owner of Pooh's Barbershop in Anniston, expressed similar sentiments. "We try to tell the kids, don't get stuck in Anniston. Move on. Do something with your life. Go to school or the military. That's our job in this community," he said.
"We come in contact with just about the whole community, so you gotta be positive and stay positive. Then (the community) can see how positive you are and hopefully, they'll try and do the same."
Zimmerman, 38, has been cutting hair for 25 years. He said the shop's fatherhood role goes beyond just advice. Sometimes, it's even financial.
"A lot of times (children) come to us and say, 'Hey, I don't have any lunch money' so we always try to pitch in," he said.
Like a lighthouse on a foggy night, the white, red and blue-striped barber poles seem to beckon jovial conversation among patrons. Pooh's Barbershop employee Lee Robinson, 28, said the conversation tends toward man-friendly topics.
"Females, sports, you know stuff like that," said Robinson, who has been a barber for five years. "We get nasty and vulgar sometimes, but its just good healthy conversation, just barbershop talk."
Although he runs a self-proclaimed "Christian shop," Montgomery said he tries to keep religion out of his shop's conversations.
"Everybody has a different type of religion," he said. "If you want to cause problems, and then speak about religion."
Politicians drop in the barbershop from time to time, but not necessarily to get a haircut.
"All the local politicians, they come through. They might come here and talk to a lot of the customers," said Robinson. "A lot of political folks want to win over the black folks. … They try and get them to vote, and pass out all their little flyers and things like that, because they know if you come to the barbershop, then you can get the word out."
Besides politicians, barbershops also seem to attract donation-seekers and vendors selling everything from knives and forks to hot fish and rib plates. "I done seen it all in here," said Robinson.
Likewise, Montgomery said, "You're gonna always have that clown come in here wanting to sell a CD or DVD."
It's still about the hair
Despite all the built-in social extras, the barbershop remains a place where strands of hair constantly lose battles against monstrous clippers.
Lynch sides with the clippers. "All my life, I like to have my hair right," he said.
Zimmerman said a good haircut is especially important to black men. "If you look the part, you are the part," he said. "It makes them feel like they are somebody."
With the advent of more creative styles such as the Lil' Boosie fade, the Yung L.A. and the Dougie, clients like 28-year-old Weaver resident Terry Colenburg say they appreciate the artistic abilities of today's barbers.
"The way (my barber) does the designs is like art. A lot of people like it," said Colenburg, who currently wears a Mohawk with his nickname, "T Burg," carved into the left side and a shield carved into the right. "Some people open up doors for me just to look at my hair, or hold conversations even though they wouldn't usually speak to me, just because of my hair."
Like many barbers, Renarido Grant, 33, owner of Tight Cutz barbershop in Anniston, prides himself on his psychic ability to know what styles his customers want.
"I probably already know how you want your haircut before you tell me, because I've been in (barbering) for so long," said Grant, who has been cutting hair for 12 years.
Even though all of Calhoun County's barbershops operate independently, many barbers work as informal network.
"I do all kinds of stuff like designs," said Zimmerman. "A lot of barbers can't do that, so they send them to me. Then you have some barbers who specialize in beard trims, and you may say, hey, another guy may do that better, and I'll send them over to him."
Despite the recession, many barbers said they have not been greatly affected.
"Where a lot of people normally would come in and get a haircut once a week, now they may be coming in every two weeks. A lot of people are out of work, so I've seen a drop in clientele because of that, but I can still live with it," said Montgomery.
Robinson has seen an increase in do-it-yourself haircuts. "They try it, but you know the next week they're coming right back," he said.
Clients like Lynch said they will not be giving up their weekly trip to the barbershop, even if it means tightening up their wallets elsewhere. "Some people like to smoke, so they're gonna keep a pack of cigarettes," he said. "I like to keep my hair cut, so I'm gonna keep that."
Popular barbershop styles of 2009Fade: A short, tapered cut. The hair at the back and sides is tapered from zero up to around half an inch. On top, the hair can be longer, up to 2 to 3 inches.
Boosie Fade: Coined by Baton Rouge rapper Lil Boosie, this style fades from bald at the bottom of the head to a semi-long hair at the very front and topmost part of the head.
360 Waves: Named for the natural pattern of tight waves and ridges that form a 360-degree pattern through the use of special pomades, brushing and sleeping in do-rags. Style was very popular during the early '90s and has made a comeback.
Dougie: A close-cut fade with a fresh-looking wave pattern. Derived from the name of early hip hopper Doug-E-Fresh.
Mohawk: The sides are shaved, leaving a 2- to 3-inch strip of hair along the center of the head, which is then spiked up or fanned out. Variations are the bihawk and trihawk. It originated among Native American tribes in North America and Canada and was often not made of human hair but rather from a piece of deer tail with skin and fur attached and worn atop the head.
Yung L.A.: Made famous by Atlanta-based rapper Yung L.A., a mohawk with accompanying cameo designs.
Box Cut: A remix of the buzz cut, characterized by a definitive shape rather than conforming to the shape of the head.
Lined up: Getting your edges cleaned up.
Hi-top: The hair on the sides is cut off or kept very low, while the hair on the top of the head is very long. Very popular during the Golden Era of hip hop and urban contemporary music, in the late 1980s and early '90s.
SOURCES: urbandictionary.com, musicremedy.com, hairboutique.com, lovetoknowhair.com, about.com, encyclopedia.com