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

Skinny 'Dre begins to bob his head confidently; his blue Yankees cap, tilted loosely to the right, jiggles with his movement, as if doubly affirming his understanding. But Leroy isn't finished: "Where's La La?" He raises his head. "La La, tell this dude about $50." La La, jivin' with a friend, coolly pulls up a chair, spins it around, sits down, leaning on the backrest. Now he's got Skinny 'Dre in his sights: "You want me to be sympathetic with you, or you want me to be real?"

"Be real."

"You gotta take that and wipe your ass with it. Fifty dollars ain't shit. It ain't nothing. It's gonna work out, man. Look at that picture up there." La La points to one of the dozens of snapshots taped to the bathroom door: a younger La La, with hair, clubbin' with Leroy. "Leroy, he took me to the clubs. I wasn't nothin' but 19."

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.

Conference closed.


So much on my mind that I can't recline
Blastin' holes in the night 'til she bled sunshine
Breathe in, inhale the vapors from the bright stars that shine
Breathe out, weed smoke, retrace the skyline
Heard the bass ride out like an ancient mating call
I can't take it y'all, I can feel the city breathin'
Chest heavin', against the flesh of the evening
Sigh before we die like the last train leaving
-- Black Star, from Respiration

Leroy sighs; he's got so much on his mind. Usually it's smaller things, things related to the ordinary cotton of this task he has, this task of organizing chaos. So many little things, like convincing Skinny 'Dre he can run his own business, that he doesn't need to work for anybody else. Like preventing La La from hamming attention from a dreadlocked cameraman, at Leroy's to film a St. Lunatics commercial (members of the St. Lunatics used to work at Leroy's, and Nelly's still an occasional customer). Like making sure Little J puts enough money toward his heating bill. Like wondering where Dirty D has run off to.

But today this man, who has changed so much in the 10 years since he opened his barbershop, today his mind's drifting. He's been from the bottle to the Bible. He's loved the little pipe; now he loves his chewing gum. He's shape-shifted from a portly barber once consumed by his own animosity toward whites to a portly businessman now consumed by charting his own destiny. He's a more tolerant man. "I used to be a big gay-basher," he says, "and now I figure sexuality has nothing to do with intelligence." He gives people a chance. And so, today, his mind is drifting. Because it's people he's thinking about, today. Good people.

Today there's a whiff of something other than the usual lunches of chicken wings and Chinese noodles at Leroy's. Annette Green's funeral is today, and, as at Dylan's lyrical café from "Tangled Up in Blue," there's revolution in the air, here at Leroy's. He can't stop thinking about Annette. She was shot by the police less than a mile south of the barbershop. She was good people, he says, real good people; her family used to come by the shop. Quietly, Leroy has been beckoning his barbers toward his booth. One by one, he's been asking his barbers to ante up some money for Annette's family. Nothing much: $5, $10, even $2. Some contribute, some don't.

Then, money sealed in a sympathy card signed by barbers and customers in the shop and boxes of Popeye's Chicken and sodas stashed in the back of his Chevy Suburban, Leroy, with La La in tow, pulls around the barbershop and heads down Kienlen Avenue toward Annette's family reception at Wellston's community center. It's nothing but a five-minute drive. "That's where I saw my first person get kilt," he points out stoically as the Suburban cruises by a Taco Bell. Developers paid his mother about $1,500 to move out of her rundown home on that corner. "We was movin' up in the world," he says.

At the reception, Annette's friends and family -- there are a few hundred -- are milling around everywhere. Inside, lunch is being served cafeteria-style. Leroy and La La know more than half the people at the center. La La recruits some friends, deposits the food in the kitchen and begins gabbing. Leroy looks on. "Look at La La, he feelin' it," Leroy says. "He wants to stay. I want to stay, too, but I can't. Just have too much other stuff to do."

Less than 20 minutes later, the two are back outside the barbershop -- barber and barber, a vessel of God and a child of God. Leroy shakes his head. "I wished I coulda stayed," he mumbles. "I wished I coulda stayed." Then slipping back inside the barbershop, the barber with things on his mind vanishes into the tint of the windows.

So much on my mind that I can't recline ...

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