Once in a while, I welcome a little political tiff. I find one invigorating, like a plunge into the icy waters of New Hampshire’s Swift River (Kancamagus Highway). And since the election, with so much palaver in Washington, I find them particularly bracing.
Today I refused.
I go to get a haircut. After a brief wait, a barber I’d never seen before looks my way and pats the seat. I had no idea what banter he’d engage me in, since they all do it. It must make the time go by faster for them. After white-robing me, he throws me a hot potato question. “What’d you think of the president’s speech last night? I think he did all right!”
Since he so graciously warned me, I had time to put on the oven mitt of repartee. I conjure up my mythical wise father, a character I’ve relied upon before. “You know, my daddy and me, we had our differences. He could be pig-headed, you know?” He nods, as if from pig-headed stock himself. “But I agreed with him when he said, ‘Son, never talk politics or religion with strangers.’ He should have added, ‘particularly with those holding sharp objects.’”
My barber chuckles over that and shifts gears. “Okay. Catch the game last weekend?”
Uh oh. Dodge one potato and in comes another. What I know about sports wouldn’t fill Thumbelina’s thimble. I resort to honesty. “Naw, missed it. Was out taking pictures.”
That should squelch the discussion right there, but stokes it instead. “Pictures, huh? I used to be a photographer.”
“Yeah? Family snapshots? Vacations?”
“No, it’s what I did. Weddings. Parties. Business conventions. I had a Hasselblad.”
Whoa, this guy had the Rolls Royce of cameras? Even back then, they cost multiple thousands. I could only dream of having one.
“I did a few weddings myself when I was younger,” I say. “Used a big camera too. Bronica?”
He curls his lip as if I said I drove a 1986 Yugo. “Yeah I heard of those. I took pictures of skydivers whenever I could.”
Pictures of skydivers? Yes, while dropping from the sky. He tells me he’s jumped from planes as high up as 17,000 feet, from redoubtable cliffs like El Capitan in Yosemite National Park, even from those sway-in-the-wind buildings of crowded metropolises. To make a living taking shots of skydiving club members and other daredevils, I imagine he had to become one himself.
“Kind of miss it,” he adds. “Not all of it though. I couldn’t stand those damned weddings. Ten years was plenty! All these women whining about this or that hair out of place. Stopped doing ‘em. Just didn’t have the guts.”
I lose track of time and the haircut is almost over. “I stuck with the jumps long as I could. Over a thousand.” He bends over and says, “Trim your beard? Couple more bucks.”
“Sure,” I say. “Why not?” He finishes me off and hands me the small mirror you’re supposed to inspect the job with. I shake my head. No need, I think. This guy’s work’s got to be good.