The Man Spa

08/03/2008 By Shawn Burns

When I was 14 I finally started spending my own money on haircuts. Of course it was no coincidence that I was in high school and I was in a new town and I didn’t think my shaggy, pouffy mullet was really “in” anymore.

No, it was never “in”. A combination of poverty and junior high depression resulted in a look that shouted “I haven’t had a haircut in 6 months and I feel bad about that and please don’t ask me about it!” Think Matthew Broderick in War Games, but add a whole lotta party in the back. No, think the kid in “Iron Eagle”. That kind of coif.

So when we moved to Kingston and I had a little allowance money in my pocket I started spending a little of it on haircuts. A very little of it.

At George the $6 Barber. He specialized in the type of cuts the kids going to the Royal Military College needed to get: Buzzed on top, shaved on the sides, “high and tight”. I never went that far; I made him work for my $6. But my haircuts were pretty basic. And George was old and practically blind. But even a blind barber can do a simple cut when he’s been doing it for 50 years.

Ever since George I’ve been a big fan of barber shops. They are exceedingly manly sanctuaries, usually with a game on the television and a Maxim or a Playboy lying around to read while you wait for your turn to get your ears lowered. I love the barber.

But, I’ve also always been a little envious of Emily’s “I’m going to get manis and pedis” afternoons. Not because I crave the girl talk or have a desire to get my toes painted; but for the relaxing nature of the experience. My cut takes 15 minutes; it’s not exactly “me time”. But there is no way in hell I’m going to go hang out at Pinkie’s for an afternoon.

But I would like to just relax somewhere. And I’m not so attached to dirty fingernails that I fear a little pampering. If someone could do something about my cuticles or my clogged pores while not also asking me what colour my panties are, that would be great.

It turns out there is a place, a magical land of golf clubs and black leather furniture; of facials and football; of haircuts and beer.

Yeah. Beer.

Apparently at some salons when you walk in they spring champagne or wine on you or something. Champagne makes a fine drink in the afternoon if you are going to wait for your toenails to dry, but it’s not my cuppa.

I went to American Male on Saturday, and the hot, bored, receptionist greeted me with my choice of beverage. I opted for a coke, because, well, it was 1 in the afternoon and there was no hockey game on; but it was nice to know that I could have had a beer if I wanted it.

There are golf clubs and skis hanging on the walls, and there is nothing like lavender stinking up the place. Just the scent of leather.

I was taken in hand by Linda, who asked “Have you ever had a paraffin dip?”

Surely that was a line. As was: “You look like that guy on Grey’s Anatomy: Dr. McSteamy.”

Whatever. They were good lines.

She wouldn’t tell me what she was going to dip in wax until I agree to remove my wedding ring. I suppose she didn’t want the reminder that she was asking a married man to go into the back room with her.

I admit it: the lines worked on me. I caved. I took off my ring and followed her into the back room.

And then Linda spent an hour doing things to me that no one ever has; touching me in ways that made me forget all about my commitment. To George, the $6 Barber and barbers everywhere.

My hands were dipped in hot paraffin wax and then wrapped in plastic bags and covered with something like an oven mitt. Then she took me over to the shampoo station and had me relax in the chair while she washed and conditioned my hair. And I found out that a facial is essentially a face massage, and it feels awesome. A hot towel on my face and a scalp massage later and I had a hard time remembering what I had even come in for. Hadn’t I always been here? Lost in a haze of wax and conditioner?

But really I had come in for a haircut. It just so happens that this cut comes with a half hour of rubbing and stroking.

Eventually Linda and I made it over to another black leather chair. I sat in front of a huge mirror while she came up behind me and asked if I knew what I wanted.

“Um. No, it’s my first time.”

“Then let me take care of you.”

Oh, Linda, baby. I’m in your hands. Forever.

She took care of me, alright. Pulling, tugging, getting out her little brushes every now and then to tickle my eyes and nose. I could see it all in the mirror.

Eventually, too soon, it was over.

“Do you want a blow?”

Wow. I didn’t think I could handle that after everything else.

“We’ll just let the air take care of you, then.”

She had to hint, gently, more than once, that our time was over. I didn’t want to hear it. I wanted to stay in that chair forever. But it wasn’t to be.

I went to the counter and paid my bill with my personal credit card; I didn’t want this one showing up on the joint account statement.

And I booked an appointment for two weeks from now. For a “cleanup”.

I may never go back to a barber again. I may pay Linda to “detail” my hands and feet next time, or get a full body massage after my next cut.

I will never have to worry about my palms being hairy. I know that Linda will always be there, with her magic massaging fingers and hot wax.

The Man Spa, and Linda, have ruined me.