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At LeRoy's, where they ain't just savin' hair

Put the cigarettes out, 'cause the sign on this barbershop's door says so -- just throw 'em in the bucket out front -- but come in, come in. Can't be rowdy while waiting for a haircut, either, 'cause another sign inside says so, and phone calls are a quarter says another, but that sign straight lyin', 'cause damn near anyone off the street can wangle a free phone call in here.

In here, in this pueblo of a building on a low-rent stretch of Natural Bridge Road in North County. Don't see too many white people outside from in here. Nope. Not on this corner. Might see a couple, though. There's a bus stop right out there. So the bus driver, maybe the bus driver white. Never know. Goin' west? The bus'll stop right in front of that soul-food spot -- what's it called? That one, with the boarded-up window and the Plexiglas around the counter. If you got the time, ol' girl in there'll dish up half-a-pound of cheeseburger and a can of Pepsi for less than $2. Can't even finish it, it's so big, but she'll wrap the other half up before the bus gets there, without you even askin'. Bus Stop Café, that's what they call it. And this barbershop, it's slapped up right next to it.

This barbershop, where haircuts are the means of salvation, and barbers clip their way out of purgatory. Where ghosts of black power, their countenances etched on the wall above -- Malcolm, Martin, Elijah, Nelson, they're all here -- can look down and even smile as they watch a self-proclaimed vessel of God named Leroy go about conducting what he describes as "organized chaos." Where yo'-mama ribs are flung with gusto from booth to booth by a street-hardened gallery of barbers, and where there's a Bible in the bathroom. Windows tinted dark, straight ghetto-style with glossy black vinyl tacked up on the inside and unedited hip-hop piping interminably through bookshelf speakers, Leroy's Barbershop quietly, fluidly -- so quietly, now, that some of the barbers themselves don't know it -- doubles as a waystation for young men, for the shop's young barbers, says this vessel of God, this 43-year-old vessel who proselytizes his God-given message clad not in a flowing tunic but a rumpled sweatshirt. But La La knows it. So do Monte, Marlon and even Little J-Cool.

Windows tinted dark, straight ghetto-style with glossy black vinyl tacked up on the inside and unedited hip-hop piping interminably through bookshelf speakers, Leroy's Barbershop quietly, fluidly doubles as a waystation for the shop's young barbers.
Windows tinted dark, straight ghetto-style with glossy black vinyl tacked up on the inside and unedited hip-hop piping interminably through bookshelf speakers, Leroy's Barbershop quietly, fluidly doubles as a waystation for the shop's young barbers.
Windows tinted dark, straight ghetto-style with glossy black vinyl tacked up on the inside and unedited hip-hop piping interminably through bookshelf speakers, Leroy's Barbershop quietly, fluidly doubles as a waystation for the shop's young barbers.
Mark Gilliland
Windows tinted dark, straight ghetto-style with glossy black vinyl tacked up on the inside and unedited hip-hop piping interminably through bookshelf speakers, Leroy's Barbershop quietly, fluidly doubles as a waystation for the shop's young barbers.

Because it's in here where Dirty D stays undefeated in chess; where 'Dre's stopped slangin' and started rakin' the big cheese legally ("I didn't make this money the wrong way," he says, "and I don't gotta worry 'bout the po-lice pullin' me over, and if the po-lice say, 'Where you get it?'"); where Marlon's got a broker's license to go along with his love of hip-hop; where Brent's taking a full load of classes at Forest Park; where Montes determined to stay out of prison; where La La sagely opines on everything, animate or inanimate, in the barbershop.

"Well, Marlon ..." La La ponders for a moment the barber to his right. Patiently preparing for an epiphany, he draws his whirring clippers away from the half-trimmed crown below him. He's got it: "Marlon, he the type of person who'll go to the library and spray some fart spray at the front desk. He'll spray some fart spray real strong, and he ain't gonna say nothing. He'll think that's really cool. Marlon'll love something like that." It's in here where the barbers be flossin' with gold caps on their teeth and tats on their arms, but it's in here where Leroy'll make sure they also be flossin' with some good credit.


"Wash my dishes, yeah, that's right, wash my dishes," crows La La, leaning back, satisfied, as he allows Glenny Baby to swirl the overturned dominoes once again around a card table that's jammed between Leroy's booth and the wall. There are 10 booths, occupied by 11 barbers who wander in and out sporadically during the day, at Leroy's. Seems as if the quieter barbers are lined up to the left -- Dirty D, Brent, Little J, Chico. Livenin' up the right are 'Dre, Glenny, Leroy and La La, though Big B, who holds down the rear, and Marlon and Monte, buffers between Leroy and La La, are the patches of sane ground on the right side.

La La's systematically picking apart Glenny in some bones, and he's intent on letting Glenny, and anybody else within earshot, know about it: "You didn't know I was rollin' like that, did you?" La La's just won $2, the reg'lar dominoes payoff here at Leroy's. La La's got a pistol tattooed across his brawny forearm, with "Li'l La La" (his pops is the real La La) the banner on a supersized trigger. "It doesn't mean I'm violent," he's quick to clarify. "It just means don't pull that trigger."

Leroy plucked La La from the street 'bout six years ago. He only owned two clippers -- a master and liner -- but La La figured he could throw down a barber chair or two in his basement and start his own shop. He ran into Leroy at the Bus Stop Café next door and politicked 'bout prices for the chairs. By that weekend, Leroy'd set him up with a booth at his shop -- sanitizers, texturizers, combs, picks, the works. That's how it flow at Leroy's. The man don't advertise -- for barbers or patrons. It's ear to the street, word of the mouth, here at Leroy's. 'Dre got a booth by talking to Chico. Little J got a booth by talking to Leroy. Chico, well, Chico's Leroy's cousin. Glenny got a booth after peepin' the clientele slidin' in at Leroy's.

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