Memoirist David Sedaris is one of the few authors who makes me laugh out loud. I aspire to be as funny a writer as he is. I think perhaps I appreciate his appreciation for life’s small bizarre moments and how he can draw them together into a devastatingly beautiful conclusion.
Several years ago, while reading “When You Are Engulfed in Flames”, I literally started crying from laughing so hard. This is the story that makes me howl with laughter every time I read it. Sedaris is living in Japan and relates this story about getting a haircut.
On my way home from the park yesterday, I decided to stop and get my hair cut. The barber was just sitting around watching TV when I entered, and he invited me to set my bags on one of his three empty chairs. He then gestured for me to sit. I did, and as he covered me with a cloth I came to realize that the man had shit on his hands, a swipe or whatever, most likely on the palm. The smell was unmistakable, and every time he raised the scissors I recoiled. Spotting it would have set my mind to rest, but because he was busy, and most often gripping something, it was hard to get a good look. Then too I was preoccupied by our conversation, which required a great deal of concentration.
Shit on his hands or no shit on his hands, you couldn’t deny that he was a remarkably friendly barber, and a talented one to boot. Early in his career he’d won some sort of a competition. I know this because he showed me a photo: him, fifty years younger, being presented with a medal. “Number one-o champ,” he said, and as he held up his index finger, I bent forward and squinted at it. “Not number two-o?”
He knew, by my count, eight words of English, and after he had used them, we spoke exclusively in Japanese.
“Last night for dinner I ate pork,” I told him. “What did you have?”
“Yakitori,” he said, and I wondered how I might ask if some of that yakitori, the digested version, might not have come back to haunt him.
“Mimi,” I said, and I pointed to my ear.
“Very good.” And he pointed to his own ear. “Mimi!”
I then touched the tip of my nose “Hana.”
“That’s right, hana,” the barber said, and he touched his own.
Next I raised my hand, fanned out the fingers, and slowly turned it this way and that, as if it were modeling jewelry on the shopping channel. “Te.”
“Excellent,” the barber said, but rather than displaying his own hand, he simply raised it a little.
It went on like this for twenty minutes, and when he had finished cutting my hair, the barber covered my head with a damp towel. He then proceeded to punch me about the ears. I’ve gone back and forth on this, wondering if “punch” is too strong a word, but I really don’t think it is. He didn’t fracture my skull or break any of his knuckles, he never actually drew back his arm, but it really did hurt.
“Hey,” I said, but he just laughed and landed another blow above my right mimi. Luckily the towel was there, or in addition to the pain I’d have obsessed about the shit he was pounding into my new haircut. Of course I washed it anyway, twice as a matter of fact. Hugh had his hair cut a few weeks ago, and so I asked if his barber had punched him in the head as well.
“Sure did,” he said. So at least that part was normal.