Friday, October 24, 2008

Barbershop Poll

Yesterday, I ambled my way over to a barbershop near work that I've frequented for some time now. I didn't recognize the particular barber assigned to me. He said that he thought he had trimmed my mane in the past.

By his looks, he was an aging boomer who had seen some rough times and was probably familiar with the inside of a jail cell. Tattoos were visible coming up both sides of his neck, although I couldn't determine what they were meant to signify. Neck tats do demonstrate a certain level of commitment. Not exactly sure to what...

After a bit of banter about the weather and the World Series, we reached a conversational deadlock. Not that I minded. It's nice to just sit back and relax while getting your hair cut. I've actually come close to falling asleep when being looked after by tight-lipped yet deft-handed barbers.

Unfortunately, he felt like the stalemate had to be broken. And so he jumped right to the third rail of polite society by asking,

"So, do you know who you're going to vote for yet?"

Now normally I am not shy about sharing my rather partisan political views. I don't like to discuss politics in certain settings--the workplace or with inlaws for example--but when asked directly I usually respond in the same manner. But something about the position I was in and something about the fact that person asking the question had ready access to razors, scissors, and all other sort of sharp, pointy-edged instruments gave me pause.

"Yeah....I think I have," I offered without further elaboration. I then tried to steer the topic to safer waters by explaining that I would be glad when the whole thing was over with and we didn't have to see any more ads on television. Campaign ad fatigue is truely a bipartisan feeling.

That worked for a while as we discussed the recent vandalism of several politician's homes and who might be behind it in a non-partisan manner. I was relieved to note that the haircut was almost over and thought I would escape without incident when he exclaimed,

"Boy that Michele Bachmann is a real crazy woman."

Now I was torn. Part of me wanted to come back with a full-throated defense of Congresswoman Bachmann and the disgusting way the local media has distorted her appearance on "Hardball" last week. Part of me recalled in vivid detail the barbershop scene opening of Eastern Promises. Discretion being the better part of valor, I responded in as neutral a way as I could:

"I don't think she's going to be appearing on any national TV shows anytime soon."

We then talked about the surge in campaign contributions for Tinklenberg after her comments made national news. Again, I stuck to a "just the facts" approach and avoided even the appearance of having an opinion one way or another. There are no partisans in the barber chair.

A short while later, the barber and I parted ways on cordial terms. I had received a decent haircut, but the uncomfortable intrusion of politics soured the experience. I know that traditionally barbershops have been a place for lively conversations of all sorts, including political. But one of the reasons that I have patronized this particular shop was that they bill themselves as "sports barbers." The walls are covered with pictures of athletes and jerseys. The multiple televisions are always tuned to ESPN and the talk almost always centers around sports. That was part of the appeal of the place. It was an oasis from the worries of the real world. It's getting harder and harder to find such a refuge these days.