When you drop down that money for a haircut, you're paying for a lot more than scissors and shampoo.
"A stock of dreams?"
I watched his practiced hands deftly strop the razor a few more times before he turned his attention to my foam-drenched stubble. "Yeah, that's right; if you really want to know what my most important piece of equipment here is, that would be it."
I had asked the question idly, just because I wasn't in the mood to listen to this guy chatter about TV or yesterday's Giants' fiasco. It was the first time I'd come into the shop; I was starting to wonder if it had been a mistake.
"All right, I guess I'd better explain that." The chill on my cheek told me the blade was starting its first run.
"You see, everybody's got something they'd like to talk about, but they don't know how to get started. Say, some old geezer comes in here, looking worried and sick. You wonder if he just went to his doc or something, got real bad news. Well, if he did, he might wanna talk about it; but I can't say, 'Well, how's about it? Do you think there's life after death?' "
I started to grin, then caught myself before the blade could catch the fold of my cheek.
"What I do is, I have a stock of dreams. I mean, I just make up something; you can say you dream about anything. Nobody thinks anything about it. And who's to say if you really did dream it? Just to break the ice. So I might say to this guy: 'Had a real strange dream last night -- thought I saw my father. And you know, he's been gone near ten years now.' Then I'd go on with this line about seeing a light, meeting old friends and so on. Then I say 'Whaddya think of that? Do you think it could really happen?'"
He flipped a bladeful of suds into the sink. I was getting interested.
"Young kid came in yesterday, maybe 13, 14 years old. Looked nervous. Told me he wanted something really special. Kept looking in the mirror. Know what I finally told him? I said I had a dream the night before about somethin' happened over 40 years ago. I was dreaming about my first date!" He chuckled. "Well, I hit the nail on the head, all right. I told him I was so scared I was going to do somethin' stupid, then it ended up the girl was the one knocked over her Coke! Gave me a chance to be grown-up and mature; I jumped up and gave her my napkin. Said, 'Don't worry; I do that all the time!' Well, that gave the kid something to think about. He finally said, 'Well, I'm taking this girl out tonight, and she's real popular. I was really worried about it. But I think it's going to be OK!' "
By this time my face was enveloped by a steaming towel. I thought I'd heard the last of the Stock of Dreams, but he had one more.
"Woman came in the other day with her little boy; said it was his first time in a real barbershop. I believe it. It's a real shame what some people do to their kids with a pair of old scissors, just to save a buck. Or maybe she thought a real male barbershop would be an unsavory influence on the kid. Anyway, I could see the kid was scared stiff. What am I, a dentist? So this time I did it different. I said, 'You know, I had a funny dream last night. There was this little boy looked kinda like you, but he was magical. He could talk to all the dogs and cats in his neighborhood, and he could fly!' Well, right away the kid's eyes bugged out, and he looked up at me with his face shining, ready for more. We were off!"
I left a good tip; he earned it. I hadn't been entertained like that in years.
I didn't go back to that neighborhood for several years, but one day I had to call on a customer nearby and thought I ought to spruce up a bit first. The shop was still there, and walking in, I saw the same guy, working on some young dude's blow-dry cut. He nodded at me without any recognition as I sat down with a Life magazine.
"With you in a minute!"
As he clipped the cloth around my neck and reached for his beaver- bristled brush, he looked at me close, then started: "Had a real strange dream last night -- thought I saw my father."
Dorothy Westphal (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a technical writer by trade.
"Dreamstock" is Dorothy Westphal's first published work of fiction.
InterText Copyright © 1991-1999 Jason Snell. This story may only be distributed as part of the collected whole of Volume 3, Number 2 of InterText. This story Copyright © 1993 Dorothy Westphal.