I’m the Clarence Thomas of Barbershops and Hair Salons


Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas made the headlines this past week when he asked a lawyer a couple of questions during oral arguments about a gun ownership case.

The reason it was such a big deal is because for the past 10 years he has maintained a strange and often-criticized code of silence. In 2013, he briefly interrupted Justice Antonin Scalia with four words that were intended to be a joke. But the last time he asked a question was Feb. 22, 2006.

Well I can sympathize with Justice Thomas, since I know what it’s like to be in an environment where everyone else seems to be talking except you. It happens every time I get my hair cut.

It just happened again today. The woman (more on that later) who cut my hair was quite friendly, and asked me a couple of questions which I answered, but as usual, I had nothing to add to the conversation. So the rest of the hair cut was done in silence, also, as usual.

I’ve tried before to be the one that initiates a conversation, usually asking the person cutting my hair, “How long have you worked here?”. But then after about a half dozen times of doing this, I became concerned with two thoughts. First, what if one of the other stylists who cut my hair recently heard me asking the current stylist the same question I had asked her the last time I got my hair cut? Would she think that’s all I can talk about (she would be right by the way). My second concern was that I started to think that the stylists might wonder if I was implicitly questioning their level of expertise (which I wasn’t, it was just my awkward way of trying to start a conversation).

So with my go to question out of the way, I became even more Thomas-like (maybe it has something to do with the black robe they put over me when I get my hair cut).

I think a main reason for my silence when I go to a salon is that I’ve never felt quite at ease trying to have small talk with a woman. It probably started during my awkward teenage years, and not much has changed in the 45 years since.

That may also explain why I was a committed barbershop guy for the first 50 years of my life. I just couldn’t imagine having a woman cut my hair. It had only happened once prior to turning 50, and that’s when I went to a local beauty school in college because the prices were so low. I still remember the complete panic that set in from the moment I sat in the chair, until the moment I got out of the now sweat-stained chair. I vowed never again.

But I must admit I was also pretty quiet at the barbershop when a guy was cutting my hair, but at least I wasn’t breaking out in a cold sweat.

However, once I saw my own sons were quite comfortable going to a “salon” I decided to try it. I discovered that it wasn’t that bad, and the prices were just about the same, if not better (which was another big reason I always went to a barber, I just assumed they were cheaper).

Over the years, while I’ve sat waiting for my turn, I’ve always wondered how the other customers always seemed to be engaged in a conversation with either their barber or stylist. How come I couldn’t, and still can’t, do that.

I guess I need my Dad to accompany me when I get a hair cut, so that he can tell the stylist when I sit down in the chair, just like he told the girl I took to my sophomore dance, “If you run out of things to talk about, he likes to talk about bowling.”

The only problem is, if we were to talk about bowling, I know it would be the last time I ever saw that stylist, just like the girl I took to the sophomore dance.