A student at the college where I teach recently interviewed me for an assignment for a different class. One of her questions was if I had anything I would prefer to write about.
I told her about lead in the soil in Englewood and the decades the Fisk and Crawford coal plants spent reeking the air in Pilsen and Little Village. I told her about science, about politics and poverty and how the three meet in ways the majority of the world walks by without giving a second glance.
What was I supposed to tell her? That I want to write about haircuts?
I do want to write about science and poverty, and I’m damn good at it, but I want to write about haircuts too. That’s part of the mix.
I want to write about the little place on the next block from me where you walk in and two old Polish men talk to each other in the language of that country. One’s barber smock is always festive, like a Hawaiian shirt. The other is more staid.
I want to write about the old customer who slowly got up from his chair to make room for me, slowly meandering to the coat tree, turning back for a moment to reach into his pocket to procure two promotional pens from his business, one for each barber. They talked in Polish. I couldn’t understand.
The old man who gave the pens slowly wrapped a scarf around his neck, put on his leather jacket, put on a sailor’s cap of the style Zorba would wear and sat in the corner, waiting for his 20-something grandson to be done with his own haircut.
There are many poets of the large, idea men, people who want to take on the big issue, talk about blinking, tipping points, long tails. I want to write about haircuts.
There are those who think journalism’s life blood is blood. Murder. Crime. Rape. Horror. Dead suburban white women. Excusing their gutless schadenfreude by rhymes. If it bleeds, it leads. I want to write about haircuts.
I want to write about the old man who ended up cutting my hair. It was the staid one. Last time I went there, I got the Hawaiian shirt guy.
I want to write about our conversation, limited to heavy-accented versions of “Medium haircut, yes?” and “You like sideburns long?” I want to write about his thick body odor still clinging to me as I type these lines.
I want to write about the little moments of life, not the big. I want to talk about the rules of life, not the exceptions. And I don’t give a crap about celebrities.
A daub of shaving cream behind my ears, the scrape noise of a straight edge and a wince from the spray bottle of that grandfather-scented Pinaud Clubman aftershave connects me more than writing about ideas or murders would. Those moments, those little sparks are bigger to me than any big idea, any big thought, any crime coverage or celeb ‘splosion I’ve ever come across in this business of documenting the world.
I want to write about pollution and I want to write about TIFs and tax incentives and all the other little proxy funds where the big and bad get away with their larceny.
But who’s to say in this giant world of journalism, with shrieking murder headlines, blogs about how bloggers should blog, crowdsourced lolcats and reams and reams of eco-data that there’s no quiet little corner for me?
One where I can write about haircuts.