“What’s Superman’s lair called?” the older businessman-type in the barber’s chair said.
“The Fortress of Solitude,” a man waiting with a magazine and I said in unison.
“Is that the thing made of crystals? Yeah, instead of that, Chicago Man has a parking space,” he said, and we all laughed.
“And whenever he leaves, he puts a gigantic, 80-foot lawn chair there,” I added, to more laughter.
We were trying to describe the powers of Chicago Man.
The businessman-type started it. He was either a mid-40s or a well-kept 50s, with salt-and-pepper hair that, entering the shop, was as short as mine would have been leaving.
The shop itself is deliberately old-school, with nerd culture mixed in. Faux recruitment posters for the Green Lantern Corps and autographed Cramps paraphernalia mingle with portraits of Johnny Cash. Among the lad mags and racecar books that, by law, must be in every American barbershop, there were trade paperbacks of DC graphic novels and a whole pile of “Adventure Time” comic books.
The barbers are all young, mostly tattooed and stylish. My hair was being trimmed by a man with a cabbie cap and ornate sleeves of colorful ‘50s-style tattooing.
Across the way, two little boys were getting their hair trimmed as their mother directed from the waiting area.
Into this walked the businessman-type, happy and gladhandy and chatty with the whole shop. The topic was soon sports, which led to the Wrigley Field renovation, which led to the construction delays, which led to the weather.
“There should be a Chicago Man, whose power is being resistant to cold,” the businessman-type said.
In the atmosphere of male bonding and due to the fact there’s not much else to do when you’re tucked in a chair under a barber’s cape (that’s not a superhero joke; that’s what they’re called), soon the man, two barbers, the guy waiting with a magazine and I came up with a profile and power suite for Chicago Man, beer-bellied saver of cities.
In addition to super cold resistance and a Dibs-Protected Parking Space of Solitude, Chicago Man has both clout and a mustache.
In the summer, his cold-related powers change to traffic ones. He has the power to control potholes, but there was disagreement over whether that meant creating potholes to swallow his enemies or fixing potholes and billing the city for his services.
His kryptonite is local politics.
It was a brief conversation — I didn’t even have time to suggest his archenemy be named Alder Man—but it got me thinking too much, as all things ever tend to do. Was this a story about men?
I’m not suggesting the ladies can’t have opinions on lightly satirical superheroes, but something about a conversation making the logical leap from “It’s cold outside” to “I’m picturing a super-powered fat guy with a mustache” seems particularly ridiculous and male.
Wonderfully, wonderfully male.
I’ve been told the barbershop is a sacred place for men, but I rarely if ever went to those. I’d check out little local spots where the men chattered in Polish or Spanish, or wait in line at corporate places for assembly line trims by whomever happened to have the next opening, but something about five grown men collaborating on making up a sixth — and giving him superpowers — seemed special to me.
So I’ve found my barbershop. And they have a whole pile of “Adventure Time.”