Habib had a knife.
It was a straight razor, a wicked thing with a white handle. He was going to cut me. I resisted, stiffening my neck against his hands. It was futile to resist, though. And anyway, I was paying him.
I was inside Pete's Barber Shop early morning on a Monday. It was bustling, mostly with old timers.
Men and women want different things from their hair salons: Women want a place that is clean, sweet smelling, pristine, as if it had opened for the first time moments before.
Men want a place that has been in existence for generations. We want things to look faded, as if a thousand suns had robbed the floors of their color, just like they have robbed the youth of the elderly barber-in-chief. We want things to look used, but not filthy. We want, in short, a working man's barbershop.
Like many swarthy Jews, I dream of close shaves. My entire life has been one large losing battle with my facial scruff. My beard has no grain - it has many grains. Some places it grows in swirls. It is chaos. And after most shaves... well, let's just say I need to have a good deal of toilet paper around for clotting purposes.
Now, for the first time, I could leave my beard to a professional. Habib wasn't the elderly proprietor of Pete's, obviously, but if he was good enough to wield a pair of scissors there he was good enough for me.
After my hair was done, he lowered the entire chair and dropped my head a bit. On went the facial creme, then the blessed hot towels, and then the lather.
My beard was ready for him. He went to work, scraping away three days of stubble. I don't know if it's normal to spend 20 minutes on a shave, but that's how long it took him. Certain spots - my neck, my chin - he went over at least five times, from all angles. I couldn't see his expression without my glasses, but I'm sure there was a heavy dose of frustration.
When he was done, he applied something to my chin and put on the fantastically painful aftershave, which I loved. Up went the chair. Habib then presented a mirror without a word.
My hair looked perfect. My neck was a bloody mess. He had applied some sort of concealer to a particularly bad cut on my chin. My neck was pockmarked with thin bloody streaks, as if I had been assailed from below by a staple gun. And, worst of all, the shave wasn't any better or closer than I could have done myself.
Sorry, Habib - you've met your match, my friend.