September 11 Digital Archive: XML Document


Article Order:4

Title:A look inside the last male bastion: The barbershop

Author:Macollvie Jean-Fran├žois

Publication:Haitian Times

Original Language:English



Blurb:The barbershop is the place where men can bond without interference, where the discussion revolves around women and politics. Haitian barbershops are no different from the African-American one portrayed in Barbershop, a new film depicting the business as an African-American institution.


Body:On a Monday afternoon in Flatbush, Nicolas Jean-Jacques walked into Titis Barbershop on Nostrand Avenue and declared that he would never come back to the shop if Ernst Titi Daphnis, 53, who had been on the phone for some time, did not start cutting his hair soon.

Ive been walking after you this whole week, Jean-Jacques said, feigning irritation. If youre not going to do it for me, tell me. I have places much closer to me.

Daphnis merely pointed to his shoe and flicked his finger at his client of more than a decade, indicating that he would not hesitate to kick him out of the small space. The barber-client relationship is one of many reasons that the business of barbering is so rampant in the community. One cannot go one block without passing a barbershop, be it Haitian, Trinidadian or another nationality. Guys looking for a great cut or for camaraderie will go to extreme lengths to get it from their regular groomer. In turn, the barber tries to keep patrons coming back with music, talk of politics and women, and of course, a great cut.

Still frustrated, Jean-Jacques, a 45-year-old security guard, went to wait outside with a few other guys talking shop. Having traveled from Coney Island Avenue to Nostrand Avenue early in the morning, he stood out there just to have Daphnis do his hair. When a mobile vendor passed by with a carriage full of goods, including a $10 do-it-yourself haircutting kit, Jean-Jacques bought one, vowing to not return after that day.

But Daphnis, a well-mannered man who has been cutting hair since it cost five dollars, doesnt sweat it. He said of Jean-Jacques, hes not just a client. Hes a client-friend. We could go outside right now to fight, then wed come back in here and Id do his hair.

Haitians are attached to their tailors, churches and barbers, he said while taking off the first layer of growth from Jean-Jacques head. The important aspect is the way that you treat the people.

The barbershop is the place where men can bond without interference. It is the mens locker room, where the discussion revolves around women and politics. Where else can man go to catch up on the latest gossip, find a good used car, or fulfill most other needs? In the new film Barbershop, Eddie, the veteran barber, is played by Cedric the Entertainer. The movie shows that the barbershop is a cornerstone of Black American society.

Haitian barbershops are no different from the African-American one portrayed in this film directed by Tim Story, a renowned rap video director. Any corner where a black man can find a chair, a pair of scissors and another communicative soul is just heaven, some say. That place is more than a substitute for the expensive therapist or bar.
The barbershop is a hangout, Eric Louis, 29, said. In the sense that if youre sitting at home and youre bored, you can just come here to pass the time.

The film has sparked criticism from community leaders, who accuse the filmmaker of disrespecting the role of Rosa Parks in the civil rights movement. On the silver screen, opposing opinions ricochet in barbershops. Patrons who have seen Barbershop say they like the movie, and that it says all about Haitian barbershops. Well, except for the part about giving up $10,000.

On a Friday night in the Original Barbershop on Clarendon Road, off of Flatbush Avenue, men in their 20s and 30s are home. The rum is flowing as they prepare for the upcoming Carimi-Zenglen fete that night and Djakout Mizik bash the following night. While a few stand in front of the shop, inside the gestures and challenging voices of about 20 make the evening seem hot, even though the constant rainfall made the night chilly.

The number of conversations going on is hard to make out. Witty repartees are the norm; no one gets too offended from the jokes, judgments and insults, they say, because teach knows they are just playing around.

Ralph Durandis said, Each makes jokes about the others.

We are typical of everything Haitian, added Louis, an original patron for six years.

Every hour inside the shop has its own feel and a different crowd. When the shops first open in the morning, retired men in their golden years make up the crowd.

In front of Benoits Barbershop on Park Place near Seventh Avenue in Park Slope, they put the chairs outside on nice mornings.

On Sunday afternoon, a couple blocks down Flatbush near Vanderveer Place, the DHaiti Barbershop crew is cooling down with a soccer game broadcast in Spanish. This crowd is of mixed generations; here you can find intellectuals in their 30s, aspiring rappers in their mid-20s, and shoe repairman over 40.

Junior Roger said one reason they congregate there is because, We all live in the area.
Since the shop is easy to get to, he said its a great place to come spend a couple hours in a place he is used to instead of somewhere new. Javlot Destin said men come to the barbershop to communicate and share ideas, but for Alexandre Luckner, 24, the benefits of the barbershop go beyond merely seeing his friends and catching up.

I sit here to draw, said Luckner, an aspiring fashion designer. By talking to them, I get ideas.

Those who lived in Haiti said the tradition of a cut, talk and drink is one they were used to before they immigrated to the United States. They are simply continuing the tradition in their new locale.

Louis, for example, remembers his father bringing him to the shop in Haiti as a little boy, though it was not very interesting for him then.

Daphnis said starting a barbershop is one of the ways that Haitians who come here have to survive without relying on an employer.

If he can build a clientele, he can live, Daphnis said, snipping away skillfully at Jean-Jacques with a very thin stainless steel scissors.

Keeping an active client base is a complicated affair, however, because there is nothing set in stone about loyalty and customer satisfaction. The business structure is very informal, as demonstrated by the nomadic patterns of some clients. While many hang out in the shops, most of the time they do not come for a haircut.

Philippe Fran├žois, 27, said, Sometimes on my way from work, I stop by here [Original] before I go home just to get the news.

Its a rainy, chilly Wednesday afternoon on Franklin Avenue and Carroll Street in Crown Heights. Inside Charles Barbershop, a shop that fits two dozen comfortably, with chairs for five barbers, a certain warmth seeps from the three men who alternate between silently watching a Spanish novella, (soap opera), and making brief comments.

The one eating hurriedly is owner Charles Sauveur, an energetic 70-year-old who looks a lot younger; perhaps its his hair, dyed black and styled in a short fro.

I alone was the first barber in New York in 61, he said. I was the only one here as a Haitian.

Forty-four years after leaving the country, Saveur and a few others who came over during the early days pass the time in his barbershop, which he says is in decline financially. He said some of his clients have moved away, died or otherwise decided not to patronize him.

I can count on one hand, how many heads I cut [daily], he said, counting off his fingers.

Economics is one of the hardest subjects for a barber to talk about. They may give the number of heads they cut per day, but to discuss revenue on a monthly basis is taboo. Theyll say there is always a client, or tell you which season is the best for them, but they refuse to put a definitive number. A haircut starts at ten dollars, but goes up according to the style that the client wants.

When Daphnis finished Jean-Jacquess basic cut, with the sides lined up crisp, he joked that Jean-Jacques was giving him so many bills to impress the folks in the shop. With another man hurriedly sliding into the chair as Jean-Jacques got out, the two friends hardly had time to say good bye. But it wasnt necessarytheyd see each other again.

Barbers are not something people change often, Daphnis said.

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