By Danny Wicentowski
By Lindsay Toler
By RFT Staff
By Lindsay Toler
By Allison Babka
By Lindsay Toler
By Lindsay Toler
By Ray Downs
And that's how Leroy likes it. He likes his customers steady, but he steady likes to know 'em by name. He likes to have youngsters scampering about his shop; they're his hair collectors, busily pushing brooms a good foot-and-a-half taller than them; the payback's free linings and impunity to be at Leroy's. He likes to be businesslike, but he likes to know who won the last video game. He'll shush his babbling barbers. "Y'all freestylin'," he'll say. "Y'all freestyle too much." And then he'll freestyle himself, pulling a one-liner -- "We used to have a fight, but then a barbershop broke out." And the chattering picks up again.
"Hey, hey," calls La La to no one in particular. Little J and Chico look up from their booths directly across La La's. 'Dre pokes his head from around his booth at the front of the salon. All three are smirking, waiting for the punchline. Always slick (back in the day, a 12-year-old La La, with a little false advertising, a little cajoling and some raggedy clippers, bartered haircuts for candy with his 'hood's candy lady), La La throws a sly tilt of his chin up toward Glenny, who's strolling by. "What do a chicken look like with its beak cut off?" Muffled snickers. Snorts. Glenny only catches the tail end of the jibe. "What, y'all talkin' about me?" asks Glenny, indignant. "I look better than all y'all. Shoot, I don't know about you niggas, but I'm comfortable with my appearance." Primly straightening his shoulders, he walks off. Snickers and snorts no more; now it's uninhibited mirth at Glenny's expense -- until, from the back, Leroy's low monotone helpfully, if not correctly, notes that La La might in fact resemble Desmond Tutu.
Glenny, though, just has it rough sometimes. He's 34, significantly older than the other barbers at Leroy's; his hip-hop sag is a virtual no-show; he rarely wears jeans; the cuffs of the slacks he does pimp don't even scuff the floor; he deals with being called "Pops" periodically; he's thinking marriage; and he was gobbled up by Little J just the other night on a PlayStation football game.
Unlike Glenny, most of Leroy's barbers began at the barbershop in their late teens. But, like Glenny's own "Glenny Baby," nicknames are the standard here at Leroy's. And, if a barber don't already have one, or two, or three, either Leroy or La La is more than happy to oblige. 'Dre, Marly Marlo', Dirty D, Monte, Chico -- these are some of the more accepted monikers. Butt-Nekkid Barney and the Beard are a couple of the many still floating that have long since been rejected by ungrateful recipients.
Glenny knows he's the exception. He's only been at Leroy's one year. "Leroy, he get mad at me a lot," says Glenny, rolling his eyes. "Talkin' about, 'Man, I shouldn't have hired an older dude.' He don't think I wanna listen to him. I listen to him; I learn a lot from him. Matter of fact, whenever I get in the situation where I can open my own shop, I'll follow a lot of his standards. So I can never say I never learned from him."
Leroy, he has a way of making people listen to him. Perched on his booth amid the steady drone of buzzing clippers and barbershop pleasantries, his rounded chin heavily balanced on a supporting hand, Leroy deftly plays the South Asian mullah who nods off as his pupil recites Arabic verse and then, seamlessly, snaps to attention as soon as he detects a glitch. And if you're the cause of the glitch -- a customer harassing a barber, a barber covertly establishing a personal clientele, a street peddler (accepted visitors at Leroy's) too free with the customers -- you're next in line for a one-on-one conference at Leroy's booth. More often than not, he'll call you over by your name; if he doesn't, then you're a "Sister" or a "Soul Brother."
Skinny 'Dre -- Leroy calls him Skinny to distinguish him from the other shorter, stouter 'Dre up front -- is nervous. It's his first week at Leroy's, he's never managed his own business and he's stressin' the $50 weekly booth rent he owes Leroy on Friday. Leroy recruited Skinny 'Dre to help out Big B as an extra twister in the shop, and, even though the slender barber's already voicing his desire to find another gig, Leroy ain't about to let him go.
It's conference time.
Leroy's at the booth, Skinny 'Dre in his sights. But this ain't no man-to-man. It's coach to rookie, KRS-ONE to MC No Skillz, King Henry II to his son. Skinny 'Dre's jittery, an untamed colt. Glancing up, down, he scrutinizes the kinky hair clustered on the floor, mumbling his complaint from the side of his mouth. Don't work.
"Man, this Leroy's." Leroy's already exasperated. "People know me. You know what's wrong? You ain't got the work ethic. Look, here's a measuring stick: Glenny don't even like me; that nigga hates my guts." Glenny, who pays $125 for booth rent, looks up from his fade job and grins. "But he knows the money here. Why don't you try two weeks, and if you don't think you gonna make it, then quit." Skinny 'Dre still looks tentative, so Leroy shifts into second gear. "Your daddy lie to you when you was young?" he asks. Now Leroy's a therapist, gauging Skinny 'Dre's inner child. Skinny 'Dre nods yes. "You don't trust other black men? I'm not your father, man. I ain't got no reason to lie you. You gotta let that go to move forward in life. See my new Suburban outside? Fifty dollars ain't shit. How you think I worry about $50?"