Saturday, January 9, 2010

Latin Touch

Since I got back from Honduras two and a half years ago, I usually get my hair cut at Latin Touch in Pawtucket. I love going there. Typically I’m the only gringo in the place and the only guy over thirty. The barbers and their customers speak Spanish so fast that I can only follow the conversation in a vague kind of way. The last time I was there they were arguing about who was the better boxer Floyd Mayweather or Miguel Cotto. My barber, Jose, said, even though he was himself Puerto Rican, he didn’t like Cotto and Mayweather was better. The barber across the shop, Darrell, said if he thought that he wasn’t really Puerto Rican. Jose called everyone “Papi” and Darrell called everyone “nigga.” They both had on baseball caps turned backwards and sparkly diamond studs in both ears. Jose had black tattoos swirling up his arm, disappearing under the sleeve of his T-shirt. Darrell had many braids and, for a barber, a very scruffy beard. Every once in awhile, it made more sense to them to say something in English. At one point, Darrell yelled out, “Nigga, he took human growth sperm. Everybody knows it.” During lulls in the argument, Jose sang along with the radio.

He said to me, “You like salsa? That guys the best. He was Puerto Rican, Hector The Voice they call him. La Voz in Spanish. They made a movie about him with J.Lo and Marc Anthony.” He yelled out to the other barbers, “Papi, como se llama la pelicula con J.Lo y Marc Anthony? Oh yeah, The Singer. El Contante. That’s a good movie. You can rent it if you want to see it. Marc Anthony can sing salsa, too, but not like the original.” Hector Lavoe’s career was in the 70’s and 80’s. Drug addiction derailed it and he eventually died from AIDS. The movie is on my list.

The boxing argument ebbed and flowed. Periodically, Jose and Darrell stopped cutting hair and yelled at each other waving their clippers in the air. Darrell was cutting the hair of a scruffy looking young man wearing baggy jeans. When this customer first came in Darrell said to him, “Nigga, what do you want. I know what you need, Nigga. You need the works. You need everything.” The customer’s friend sat near him in a barber’s chair that was not in use. The friend wanted change so he could go buy sodas. The customer reached into his jeans and pulled out a wad of bills. It was made up of hundreds. There were at least twenty of them. He said, “No, Papi. No tengo pesitos.” Everybody laughed.

When someone new came in the shop they made their way from person to person giving elaborate handshakes. Sometimes the handshakes involved slapping first the backs of the fingers tip together and then the palm sides together. Sometimes they involved bumping fists. I couldn’t tell why one or the other was used. Nobody shook hands with me, but they did nod and one guy acknowledged me by saying, “Jefe.”

A slightly older guy came in. Maybe he was thirty. He had two young boys with him. I would guess the boys were eight and ten. He put the older of the two boys on a raised seat in one of the open barber chairs and started to buzz his head. I wondered if he was a barber or if there was an understanding that any father can come in and buzz cut his sons.

Darrell came over to Jose’s chair to barrow a fresh razor blade for his straight razor. When Jose gave him one still in the wrapper, he said, “Gracias. But I still don’t like you, Nigga.” You could tell they liked each other a lot. The scruffy customer with the wad of hundred dollar bills was looking good. The sides and back of his head were practically down to scalp with only slightly more on top. A beard about the width of a pencil line traced his jaw and chin. Every edge between hair and skin was drawn with precision.

Jose was singing again and I was done. I had to pay the $8.00 senior citizen rate and go. I wish my hair grew faster.

In keeping with the theme of me as a Latino wannabe, the self-portrait this week is a cartoon of me done up as San Simon, aka Maximón. Maximón is a cult figure in Guatemala, whose origins are probably a Mayan god, Mam, overlaid with Catholicism. I've been fascinated with him since I visited one of his shrines in Santiago Atitlán several years ago. Maximón will get his own posting here one of these days.


  1. I love this painting of you as Maximon. I also like the image of you sitting in a barber chair at Latin Touch in Pawtucket.

  2. "I wish my hair grew faster." You said everything with that one line.

    I compare all art to writing and this portrait made me think how I put something of myself into every fictional character (some more than others). Sometimes my daughter will ask me "what the heck I'm doing" and suddenly I realize I'm silently acting out a conversation or scene as I'm sitting at my laptop - trying to be the character in the moment.