Four men. One way to a better life.
The razor buzzes, a towel strapped around the customer’s neck. Tunes blast in the background. There are chats about last night’s game as a sharp blade cuts in close. This is the magic formula for fresh fades and clean cuts from your favourite neighbourhood barber.
Originally, I was out to document the culture of Polynesian and Māori hairstyles and as I got further into the project I found out that the barbers shared more in common than knowing the art of a trimming short fade. Some were cutting their boys’ hair out of their garage and others were getting busy with white collar businessmen, but they all shared the same deep passion and love for barber culture.
Barbering is more than a few lines and a trim around the edges for these men. The feeling of change and growth ran deep in each person,and their tools were not only cutting hair but were cutting the pathway to a better future.
AN ART AND A CRAFT - QUINTEN "Q" MOTUERE
The first person I met was Quinten, better known as Q, a young fella from the same neighbourhood as me in Hutt Valley. I'd heard he started barbering a few years back and know he cuts hair out of his home in Taita.
When I walked up his driveway one afternoon, he was chilling outside his garage sitting on a stool, jamming to beats with a table full of the essentials, clippers, scissors, blades and gum.
A mate rolled up for his haircut and they got straight to business. I saw Q move around in circles trimming, swapping from razor to scissors as his bro laughed away. Fourty-five minutes later the cut was done. A happy smile reflected off the mirror after a quick eyebrow raise.
I asked Q why he went to barbering school. He said he’d been working low-end jobs like labouring -“dirt digging away in the rain” - and also had jobs at high-end fashion stores. But he wanted a change.
“I was at a point in my life where I wanted to do more than that so I got into barbering,” he said.
I saw the passion he had. His hands moved in sync with each word coming out his mouth. Barbering was both an art and a craft to him, as well as an avenue to a better life.
FOR THE LOVE - DANIEL COTTON
The next day I met up with Daniel, a guy I have kicked it with a few times. He was in his last week of barber school and had his mate in to try a few new fading tricks.
His school was in a nice clean studio a few stories up on a busy street in Wellington and just around the corner from Chaffers Park. The room was spacious, with old hairstyle posters, mannequin heads and large shiny mirrors. There were big and bright fluorescent lights which lit up the whole room and so was Daniel’s smile. He had an amazing positive presence about him and showed a lot of gratitude to everyone who walked into the studio.
Daniel pulled out his phone and pushed play to his playlist of RnB and reggae sounds, then he proceeded to get into it. He zoned into his work as he spun around from side-to-side, trying to get the perfect lines while talking to me about how he has finally found his passion.
Just before the clippers stopped, Daniel mentioned that later in the year he was going to be a father and how he is excited about meeting his child. His smile grew even bigger, the man really was on the right path and I could feel that he knew it too. He also landed a job with a local barber.
I asked him what he was looking forward with working full-time, he replied: “To wake up and do what I love.”
A CUT ABOVE - TUA PENIAMINA
I scheduled to meet barber Tua, a young man with a great aura about him and a hard work ethic. He was only young but had last year won the award for Wellington’s top barber, which sat proudly on his desk. I met up with Tua a few times over a week and every time I was there he was so busy, he was the kinda guy you needed to book for in advance.
We chatted for a bit and Tua talked about his humble beginnings, coming to NZ from Samoa and how barbering was something that lived in his family. His client base first started from self-promotion, cutting all the neighbourhood kids' hair and using his brother as a walking advertisement for style. He never thought he would be a barber, let alone one of the best known barbers in Wellington.
He told me this as he sat on a nice leather chair in a hair studio full of hairdressers, old ladies and Louis Vuitton bags. He was complete contrast to the other barbers, but he never saw that; he was focused on his craft and making sure everyone he meets leaves happy.
One customer said Tua gives the best fades; he just laughed it off and kept cutting away.
Tua was extremely grateful to be where he was, having jumped heaps of hurdles to get there. Even though barbering was never in his vision, it ended up being a tool that shaped his life. That’s fate.
AT THE HEART OF THE COMMUNITY
Paul Fa'apo had recently just opened his own shop in Waitangirua, a neighbourhood in Porirua. When I looked out the window on the drive there, a lot of state houses blurred passed. It resembled my home.
The barber shop was filled with people hanging out. I walked inside to be met by a big man called Paul. He was cool and genuine - he was real.
Paul gave me the wassup and the whole shop were cracking jokes at one another and I immediately felt back at home.
He said to me: "How you wanna do this?"
"However, up to you man," I replied.
He started getting his groove on. While shaving away he told me that a few years ago he was at a point where he was not doing much with himself. He hadn't had a job for a few years and he needed a change. He threw away the bandana and picked up the clippers.
He saw a barber wanted advertisement in a window and thought he would give it a try. As he reflected on his past you could feel this larger than life energy. Everyone who came in was saying: "this is the guy".
He convinced the people who advertised the job that he was the guy they needed, even though he had no experience at the time. He ended up getting it and the rest was history. Now he's opened his own shop, Fa’apo Style Cutz.
Barbering had given the man a second chance and he knew it too. The dude said some things and I could tell he has seen a lot. He was a man who'd turned a situation from a negative to a positive; created an opportunity out of thin air and ran with it.
Now I see Paul posting up on Facebook. Everything is running smoothly in his humble neighbourhood.
Here’s another one of Dan’s essays. As I got to know Dan better from our almost daily e-mail exchanges, I soon discovered that he had a very sharp sense of humor, in addition to great sensitivity. I encouraged him to take a seemingly mundane event from his life and expose it to his analytical humor. As you’ll see here, he followed my suggestion magnificently:
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Haircuts and Other Aviation Disasters
I felt the wheels of a cold 747 touch down on my head. I jumped and ran frantically to the bathroom. As I saw the familiar face peering back at me, I felt my stomach sink. There, peering from behind the mirror was Dan, with a brand-new airplane landing strip right down the middle of his head. Another crash landing.
The thing I dislike most in the world is long hair. I don’t mean I dislike the style of long hair or people with long hair. I just dislike long hair on myself. I have very thick, curly hair that lends itself to certain discomforts. Sleeping causes my hair to lodge between the pillow and my skull, which incessantly tugs on my scalp all night long, leaving me with a sore head the next day. Combing proves futile since the comb hooks onto my curls like Velcro and the force required to break through the snarled mass is beyond my pain threshold. Styling products give me headaches. So, I prefer just to crop it all off, as if I’m in Navy boot camp.
This manner of hairstyle seems like a pretty good solution to end all my troubles, doesn’t it? Nope, it’s just a tradeoff. The shorter my hair is, the faster it grows. My hair grows so fast that every two weeks I need another trim just to maintain a bearable length. All I need is someone willing to take five minutes to turn on the clippers and do a few passes over my head. Solution: I let my mom cut my hair.
Having my mom cut my hair is like flying on an airplane. Sure, it’s risky with potential deadly results, but it gets me where I want to go in a short time. But as my mom and the airline industry have proven, out of the many flights from Chicago to New York, there always are a few memorable crashes.
One Sunday morning four years ago, I sat on the barber-chair bucket in the garage for my usual biweekly buzz. The clippers humming above my head sounded like a benign turboprop cruising at 30,000 feet. The gentle buzzing assured me that I wouldn’t have to endure long hair any longer. Everything seemed routine until I felt the sting of what felt like a whirling propeller. My hand instinctively reached toward the trauma site and found a small bare spot. I sprinted to the bathroom mirror and took a small hand mirror from the drawer, angling it so I could see the back of my head.
“And I have school tomorrow!” I shrieked. My mind raced, searching for some covert plan to feign my own death or hitchhike to Canada. After my fanciful plans died in committee, I sequenced some objective logic: “How can I repair this? My hair is black. A ballpoint pen would take off more skin than it would blacken. I need something like . . . a felt marker!” Thus, I proceeded to apply several artful layers of permanent magic marker to my bare spot, and-voila-no more annoying spot.
No one noticed the canyon on the side of my head during the two weeks that it took my hair to grow back. Somehow, I imagined that this experience would serve as an experiential warning and avert future haircut disasters. I was wrong.
This past winter, I once again stood in front of that mirror gazing at yet another calamity. This clear-cut strip would have pleased even the most maniacal lumberjack. It was way too large to repair with markers. So, to compensate, I was forced to shave the rest of my head, since I didn’t really care for the inverted-Mohawk look. Besides that, the Sahara was too far for my coin jar to take me.
That winter I walked around in my big, warm wool sweater complemented by my glistening shaved head. This time, though, EVERYONE noticed. Such is life at Dan’s Barber Shop Airlines.
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Tip: Titles can lend heft to an essay if they are carefully thought out. After you have finished your final revision and you’re satisfied that your essay can’t get much better, reread it one more time. Look for one or two key aspects that you may be able to work into a title. You can see the results of my title prompting in some of the samples included here.
By the way, Dan was admitted to Yale in April. Bulldogs!