Blanketing opinions that I'll probably regret soon.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Chennai Haircut: Oil-Slicked, Head-Slappity Goodness

I've cut my own hair for sixteen years so I only pay others to cut it when I'm abroad and the hair is getting so long that it itches my scalp or my mustache is spending more time in my nostrils than on my lip. That's why I paid two dollars to an Indian street barber for a shave, but my dome also received a mild beating and an application of something that burned the skin and smelled like urinal cake.

The hair salon was labeled "gents only" and was on a dusty hot strip with stores selling all kinds of stuff -- car tires, plumbing parts, fried food. Classic Indian street scene with mangy dogs and people dodging traffic; rickshaws nearly getting crushed by huge buses blowing black smoke; stray cows looking bored and nearly causing accidents; a few women in bright colorful saris; and most of all, noise -- lots of noise and commotion.

Most Indians speak English but these barbers did not. Luckily it's not hard to figure out what a man who looks like a balding Grizzly Adams requires when he's standing in a barbershop. I sat down and grabbed the clippers, indicating which attachments were required, and they went to work.

After my head and beard were nearly shaved, they asked if I wanted a massage. Now, I must tell you, I am one of the few people that hates nearly all types of massage; I just don't want some stranger digging and pushing around in my skin. But in this case, I thought the outcome could provide some good story fodder. I was not let down in that regard.

He reached for a worn-out box with mystical artwork and a picture of some bearded guru, pulled out a tube of reddish oil and began smearing it on my freshly-shaved head. As soon as the grease hit my scalp, it started to burn like fire -- I mean REALLY burn, and it was dripping toward my eyes and neck and into my ear holes.

So here I am, sitting in this barber's chair -- already an odd situation that's happened to me maybe thrice in the past 1.5 decades -- and this man's rough hands are fingering this unknown reddish oil onto my head and it burns like a mix between gasoline and bee stings. It's at this point that I realize that he has not washed off the thousands of small stray hairs that were all over my scalp and are now part of this goopy burny crap that's now dripped as far as my collar and smells like urinal cake or burning car freshener.

But I let it continue because it was so god damn surreal. I didn't even know how to resist at that point. I squinted my eyes shut tighter to prevent blindness.

Four minutes of this went on when he stopped rubbing on my scalp and just starts slapping my head with both hands. I mean REALLY slapping it -- like nailing my cranium with loud slaps, open-palmed. It actually hurt. But again, it was so strange that I just let it continue, my eyes and scalp burning -- in fact, everything above the neck was in some degree of pain.

This slapping continued for about two full minutes. Then he grabbed a dry towel and started to wipe off the mess. I indicated that I needed some soap to wash but he had to run down the street to buy a packet of soap from another store! Typical. I had to wait with this gunk all over my noggin for him to return.

Luckily, he let me bend over a filthy sink that looked like it had been dragged out of a dumpster. I washed off and walked back to the hotel. I think the endorphins caused me to get high so I felt decent by that time.

I'm back in the USA and everything is so orderly and clean. Orderliness and cleanliness are luxuries we take for granted. It's good to be home.
by far the funniest frickin thing I've read in at least a month or two.
You can't read stuff like this in travel books. You should scribble down some more of these antics so you can write a book later.
Slappity is an underused word. Wait, is it even a word? It is now.
I always wondered where the unused Napalm from the Vietnam era disappeared to, and now we know.
you sure this guy didn't have a grudge against Americans?
Head-slapping is an age old tradition with roots in Ayurveda ... and comic timing. Some barbers won't even use oil. North Indians call it "champi," pronounced as "chum-pee".
Now what I wonder is if he had a bet with the other barbers as to how far do you think I can go before the American cries uncle.

You sir may declare victory.
Great thoughts you got there, believe I may possibly try just some of it throughout my daily life.

Sink Chennai

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