Friday, March 25, 2011

The Barberians: the Medium is the Massage

by Drew Martin

In Chinatown (of Lower Manhattan) you can get an underground haircut for $5 and/or a massage for approximately $1 per minute (before tipping). Depending on the age of the advanced barber, the lapse since your last trim and your abandonment of urgency, the haircut may last a good half hour.

Both the haircut and the massage are sensational, especially if you don't speak Cantonese because there is no small talk and these activities are better experienced with closed eyes because the encounter is, first and foremost, that of being touched. The difference is that the massage is an insatiable experience. You don't want it to ever end, there is no terminal sensation...or if there is, it is soon to be desired in a short while, in a greater degree. Even worse is that the head massage or back rub is clocked and pleasure is spoiled when you are trying to anticipate when it might abruptly end. It's an odd deprivation because once committed, the absence of external contact feels like something has been physically taken away/removed.

The haircut is the perfect alternative. Your desired length of hair is the limit and even if that is surpassed, a bare scalp is the terminus. While the haircut requires a lighter touch, a finely tuned sitter might find the thousand of snips just a satisfying as overall meaty kneading. What does it for me is when an old barber jacks open the straight edge and runs it down the back of my neck. Perhaps it's a thinker's preference, to assuage a crowded cranium.