Interviews with Barbers
As part of an oral history of American Barbers, Robert F. Krueger interviewed barbers in several neighborhoods in New York City. We will be showcasing these interviews as part of an ongoing feature here at McSweeney’s
Anothony Majette, Who Works at Diamond Cuts, Located at 612 Eighth Avenue, New York, Part II.
Q: How many haircuts do you give a day?
ANTHONY: On the average, I cut anywhere from eight to ten heads, on an average day. There’s days when I might… I remind you again I’m the newest barber in here‹there’s some serious barbers in here. I’ve watched the guy who cuts hair here [adjacent barber chair], his name is Chris, probably the best barber in New York City. I’ve watched him cut… forty-five heads, and that’s no exaggeration. And if anything it might be an understatement. I’ve watched him make five hundred dollars a day. Cutting hair. On the other side of me is an eighteen-year-old kid from St. Thomas who’s been in the country for five months. Probably one of the better barbers in the city. You know, amazing skills. Kid is crazy. Big Man’s crazy. This guy Mike, I watched him cut forty, fifty heads a day. You know this is his shop; he’s the owner of this shop, one of the owners of the shop. And me, like I said I might average ten, but I’m a hustler. See I don’t have a major clientele. I just wanna get you in my chair—you find out how good I am and you gonna decide that you wanna come back again. But in the meantime, I gotta go downstairs and hustle customers, “Haircuts, haircuts, barbershop, haircuts!” Maybe we should go down so you get a picture of that. When you come by here, anytime you come by here, from Sunday to Sunday from eight o’clock, or say from nine o’clock in the morning, ‘til at least nine-thirty, ten o’clock at night, somebody is going to be soliciting you for a haircut, when you come by here. Because everybody doesn’t always know they need a haircut. Or everybody doesn’t always think about getting a haircut until you tell ‘em about it. It’s what we do. Go downstairs and pass out flyers. “Haircut, haircut, barbershop, haircut, barberia! Un corte pelo! Barbershop, haircuts! Bald-headed, dreaded, faded, or braided, we do it all.” This is how we do it. It works man; it works if you work it. What the thing is, when you get in here you’re going to get a good quality haircut. If you come to 614 Eighth Avenue, you gonna get a good, quality haircut at Diamond Cuts. I guarantee you any chair you get in, because if one person can’t do it, the other one can. And we refuse to let you leave here without a quality haircut. And that’s guaranteed. The thing about this shop is that we got stylists—more than barbers. There’s a difference between a haircutter and a barber. A stylist is a little bit of both. Anybody can cut your hair, but can’t anybody style your hair. I mean it’s different between a barber and a haircutter. You got stylists in here—you got excellent barbers in here that put they time in, that love they craft. Sure you got some guys that’s just about the money, but those guys will never last long. This is a job where you get in what you put out, because if you don’t come to work—I don’t care how good a barber you are—you don’t come to work, you’re not going to make no money.
Q: You set your own hours?
ANTHONY: Yeah, you make your own hours, but your hours make themselves, too, because you got customers—you gotta make your hours around your customers. You gotta be there the days they want you to be there, you gotta put in the time—some customers are walk-ins, people who just walk in looking for a good barber. You got referrals, like anybody else. Like if I need somebody to give a good interview, I’ll refer you, you know what I’m saying?
Q: [laughs] Right on.
ANTHONY: You know somebody who needs a good haircut, you’ll refer me.
Q: I know where to send ’em.
ANTHONY: That’s right, that’s right. Diamond Cuts! But it’s workin out lovely. I’m enjoying it, I’m glad: it’s definitely going to keep me free. Last thing I wanna do—last thing I’m going to do is go back to prison. I was in too long; I’m here now to stay.
Q: How long ago did you get out of prison?
ANTHONY: I got out February 6, 2003. So we’re talking about not even sixty days. I been here since my second day out, actually—since February 8 I been in this shop.
Q: Did you know somebody who worked here or did you just walk in and tell ’em you wanna cut hair?
ANTHONY: I actually knew somebody. I knew more than one person, but I didn’t realize that ‘til I got up here. But I knew one guy—I knew Mark. I knew he worked here; I called him. I said, "Hey man, I’m comin through to talk to you about a job." When I got here, he wasn’t here, so I talked to Mike, who is one of the owners of the shop, and as I was walkin out I said, “Yo man, do you rent chairs?” He said, “No, I don’t rent chairs, but if you got some tools I’ll put you on sixty-forty.” And I turned around—I didn’t have tools, but I didn’t tell him that. I said, “All right, I’ll see you tomorrow.” And then I came back, and all night I thought tools. And I was living in a shelter, and all night I walked around. I stayed out that night, stayed out all night, all night. Gotta get some tools, gotta get some tools, tools. And all type of thoughts went through my mind: Should I commit a crime to get the money to get the tools? Should I ask somebody to gimme the money to get the tools? You know, everything to breakin into a beauty supply store. In the end, I think God spoke to me, ‘cause in the end He said, "Look, just take it easy. Go back in the morning. And be truthful. And it’ll take care of itself." And I came back in the morning. And I done that, said, “Look, man, I can cut hair, but I don’t have any tools.” He started me, and he said, “I’m gonna give you these, and you gonna pay me for ’em every week,” you know? And that’s when it started. For example, knowing now I got my own tools, got my own little station at the party. I’m growin, man, I’m gettin better, man. And that’s—that sounds kinda like a Cinderella story, but then again, the end hasn’t been written yet. And not even really the middle—it’s just the beginning, because it’s up to me, make it or break it, you know?
I love it, though. I love cuttin hair. I tell you, it’s sexy. It’s sexy, man. You get to beautify a person and watch ‘em transform from—some guys come in like, “Whoa!” Some guys come in with hair on they face, stuff livin in there, you gotta chase bears through the woods and all that shit. Man, some guys you gotta go in their with a knife, go in there with a sickle. But then in the end, the end project is… and you take pride in it, though when you look at it it’s like [makes a face] but when you look back at it when you sprayin and wipin them, and they appreciate it, and then… You’d be surprised, you might catch a guy that puts you to work harder than you’ve ever been worked, and he won’t even tip you. But as a barber you still gotta say, “Have a nice day,” you know?" “Hope you come back.” You can’t be angry with them, you can’t—you gotta hold that back, try to get ‘em back in your chair. And that’s the whole thing: trying to get ‘em back in your chair. Regardless of that, because they’re not obligated to tip you. Nobody’s obligated to tip. So you strive for—again, you strive to be a better barber, try to make your shop better. You know, because the more money the shop makes, the more money you make. Especially ‘cause I’m on sixty-forty. So the more customers I get, the more money we both get. So my goal is to bring as many customers in as—not just for me, everybody. Sometimes I come upstairs with three or four people, “You go over there; you go over there; you go over there; you go over there.” That’s how it is. I know everybody in here is capable of doing the job. There’s the old man. That brother there is from Africa. I don’t know what kind of tools they got in Africa, but he’s a lovely barber, man. We cut everybody’s hair, everybody. Over there, they’re Russians. One Russian and another one.
Q: He needs a haircut.
ANTHONY: Yeah, he’s gonna get one. See, there are a lot of Russian barbers on this avenue. Lot of Russian barbers, Pakistanis. See my boss? He not gonna let that customer go without getting a haircut. He not gonna let that money go. It’s only fifteen, twenty dollars, but he gonna run it down. He got money; he makes money. They make money, but that’s why they got money. They’re willing to hustle. That’s what’s up. They’ll go down in the street—he been the owner of this shop for two years, he been a barber in New York City for five, one of the better barbers in New York City for five. He makes crazy money. He’ll still go down there and solicit haircuts. Pass out flyers. And that’s the key: keep stayin hungry. You know, I’m like Pete Rose in the base path, you know? There’s no stoppin me, man‹you get in my way I’m gonna run you over. You get too high, I’m gonna go under you; you get too low, I’m gonna go over you. I’m going to do whatever I have to do to get somebody in my chair, and that’s the idea.
Q: You don’t want to get too big for it.
ANTHONY: You can’t, you can’t. If you do that… some guys do. Some guys do and the end result is that eventually they fade out. I see the guys… make money, buy better clothes, by buying better clothes they think they can meet better, quote unquote, females. By meeting what they think is better females, now they want better cars. In the end, the only thing they don’t want to do is come to work. It becomes, “More drugs, so I can have more sex, so I can spend more money, so I can get more drugs, so I can have more sex,” and you go round and round that same cycle. You get caught in the web. I’ve watched it already since I been here. And then they upset, and they wondering, “So how did this guy average so many cuts, and he’s the newest guy around here? How’d he get so many haircuts?” Oh, I turn it up. I’m the guy that’s behind you in the starting rotation, throwing ninety-six miles an hour, and you gettin ready to lose your job. See, I’m the guy that’s gonna make you play harder. Already they been saying about me, “He’s gettin a lotta haircuts, man.” I been gettin a lotta haircuts because I been going down and getting em. I’m gonna go down there and tell you, “Hey, you need a haircut, bro. And I’m just the man for you.” I can cut straight hair, curly hair, afros—you can have whatever you want in here—dreadlocks—and I’m going to talk to you about your hair, you know? And knowing the history of hair—knowing how to do hair is good, but knowing the history of hair is even better. Because people listen to you when you know the history of hair.
Q: What do you mean, “the history of hair”? History of haircutting, or—
ANTHONY: The fact that most people don’t realize is that hair is one thing in the body that grows before you’re born and after you die. Hair continues to grow after death. And it begins before birth. You seen babies—I seen babies come out with more hair than you, you know what I mean? Also the fact that, as soon as you cut a hair, it begins to grow back. The minute you cut it—it begins to grow back. There’s different angles to hair—hairs grow different ways. You know, you have some hairs you can go at ‘em with a straight razor, I don’t care how you tryin to go at ‘em, you can’t cut ‘em. Almost impregnable hair. You got hair you won’t never be able to cut. And I’ve seen ‘em, and it’s amazing. The history of hair is, like I told you, the history of the barbershop. Hair is a phenomenon in the sense that hair… nothing can stop hair. You know, even that electrolysis thing that people do. They don’t necessarily… They don’t stop the hair, what you do is you kill the pore. You kill the area the hair grows from. But that’s no good, because hair is going to grow regardless. So eventually, it’s going to grow through that. It’s like trying to stop water. How can you stop water? You can’t. Water is the most dominant resource on the planet. You can slow it down, if it chooses to let you slow it down, but in the end you can’t stop it. I relate hair to water, you know, the hair—that’s kind of like the history of hair. There’s a lot more, of course, but that’s the history of hair, you know. But when you start thinking of it in that sense, it becomes easier to cut, it becomes easier to deal with. Because sometimes hair is angry, sometimes hair is hard to manage. See hair do what it wants to do—you might comb it this way, and as soon as you stop combin it, it flies back the other way. It does what it wanna do. It don’t care how you feel about it. So yeah, you gotta get tough with it. You might spray it down with water—I’m sure you’ve had haircuts when guys wet your hair first, then went to cuttin it. Or, me personally, I would cut it dry first and then wet it, but that’s the way I was taught. It’s different things, man; it’s a lot of different things that goes with it. And it’s a good learning experience, a hell of a learning experience.
[Anthony indicates one of the other barbers.] He’s gonna get a customer, watch. He’s a grinder. He’s the perfect example. He’s a immigrant, came to this country as a immigrant. I’m not sure exactly, I don’t know the story about how he got into barbering, but I know he ran into a lot of other Russian barbers. And they were cuttin hair, and he wasn’t—he didn’t know how to cut hair. But they must have told him, “Look, this is what you can get a job at. You can get a job at a barbershop.” And he walked into a barbershop not knowing how to cut hair, and today, he’s one of the better barbers around the city. And not only that, he’s a grinder. I learned my history from him. Tomorrow! Russia! See you tomorrow man.
“RUSSIA”: Tomorrow, tomorrow!
ANTHONY: I learned my hustle from him. Because where he’s at, I’m at. When there’s no customer in my chair, then I don’t need to be sittin up here playing the games, or sittin in the back talkin to people. I need to be downstairs, getting somebody into my chair. And that’s the ultimate goal, and he constantly does that, and I follow him, I go down there and hustle. My feet are messed up right now. Oh, my feet are tore up, yo. But it’s worth it. I hope I’m giving you a good interview.
Q: Yeah, this is terrific, man, thank you.
ANTHONY: Aright aright aright! That’s what’s up!
ANTHONY MAJETTE, WHO WORKS AT DIAMOND CUTS, LOCATED AT 612 EIGHTH AVENUE, NEW YORK.
By Robert F. Krueger
ANTHONY: So you ready to start asking questions?
Q: Yeah, ready to go.
ANTHONY: Let’s take this thing from the top. I remember you wanted to ask about…
Q: Your neighborhood. Where did you grow up?
ANTHONY: The neighborhood. All right, I’m from Fort Greene, Brooklyn, which is um, a pretty rough neighborhood. I mean it’s one of the biggest projects in America, actually. It’s weird—it’s an education though, you know, growing up that way on the streets. It’s diverse. You know I grew up with whites, blacks, latins. Learned how to listen and understand different languages. Different foods, different cultures. So it was a beautiful experience, you know what I’m sayin, later on in life to be able to deal with different people. And it helped me be tough enough to deal with the New York streets. So that’s basically, you know, my neighborhood. I mean, I love my neighborhood; you know, love for the ’hood.
Q: You still live out there?
ANTHONY: No. I ain’t lived there in a long time. I still live in Brooklyn, but I haven’t lived out there in a long time.
Q: So how did you come to be a barber?
ANTHONY: Well, actually, um…prison helped me become a barber. All right, I did some time in prison, almost twelve years in prison. And I went through hard times sometimes, when I didn’t have people sendin me anything, I had to hustle for my own, so I learned how to cut hair. I went from a comb and a razor, to cutting hair, um, actually with shavers. Entire haircuts, hair as long as yours, with shavers. And it’s hard, but, you gotta know to hustle. A lot of guys in jail, when they need their hair cut, can’t always get to the barbershop. Different little rules and regulations that sometimes block you from getting near it. You gotta go through a lot of different channels. So if you, if we in the same area, you say, “Hey, I need a haircut, man,” “Come on, yeah, I cut you real quick.” Give you a pack of cigarettes, couple packs of cookies or whatever you could afford, you know, from a visit. So prison helped me, guided me, guided me into my craft, and then the love of cutting hair—once I realized—hair is sexy, you know what I’m saying? Hair has an appeal to it that, um, ‘cause you know everybody has hair, little bit or a lot, whether it’s long, short, you know what I’m saying, all seven continents people get their hair cut. The aborigines get their hair cut; people in the Congo get their hair cut; the Netherlands. Hair has universal appeal, too, um—I’ve cut people’s hair who couldn’t speak English, just told me what they wanted, pointing at their hair, told me what they wanted. It’s good communication. You become a therapist, as a barber. It’s like the history of the red, white, and blue…the barbershop, the history that a lot of people don’t know—the barber at one time was considered the doctor, like the, almost the midwife. The doctor was everything in the community, I mean, if you broke your leg, you’d go to the barber and he’d set it. If your wife was having a baby, you took her to the barber. If you needed to borrow money you went to the barber. You know, the barbershop was where everything arrived from. That’s the red and white pole representing…the blood and things of that nature—the barber was holding down all things. Now, we’re kind of therapists. Because when you have a problem, when you come to your barber and you got something on your mind…for the most part you’re relaxed. The barber is, you know, the machine, the humming in the ear and it’s rockin you to sleep and your barber’s doing everything possible to keep you comfortable. Because he’s workin for that tip. Not only the tip—more than the tip he’s workin for you to come back, see you again. That’s what he’s workin for, he’s workin for you to call him and say, “Look, I need a haircut, I’ll be here such and such a time,” you know what I mean? And you get more satisfaction out of that because this is a job, but you can’t do this job for the money. If you in this business for the money, you in the wrong business. You gotta be in it to learn the trade and love the trade. And that’s basically what I’m in it for.
Q: Taking care of people.
ANTHONY: Taking care of people. That’s why I’m at Diamond Cuts, the best barbershop in New York City. Diamond Cuts—the best barbershop in New York City. That’s what’s up. I mean this place, you could just look at the history of this place. The guys who run this place, they came from where I came from. You know, they did prison time, or they hustle on the streets and they learned and got stronger, and got better and that motivates me, the guys around me—this guy Mark, this is the guy that was in the newspaper, I dunno if you’ve seen that article about the license…issue. You know, these guys—I know these guys, I been around these guys. You know we got Russian barbers, we got barbers—this is the most diverse group of people anywhere around. We got Dominicans, Puerto Ricans, Haitians, St. Thomians. You know we got all we got Guyanians, Africans. And it’s beautiful in here; this is universal. If you can’t do it in a barbershop, you can’t do it nowhere. Right, you know?
Q: Do guys come here to hang out and not even get their hair cut?
ANTHONY: We don’t allow that. Because this is a place of business. You come in here, you gonna get your hair cut. Or you gonna get your hair braided, you gonna get a facial. There’s no hanging out in here. My boss won’t tolerate us hangin out. My boss won’t let us sit around, so you know you’re not gonna have no stragglers comin in sittin around. You know, but um, you don’t do that in a barbershop. That’s why it’s not good to have a lot of games [indicates arcade game.] You have a few, because you get kids and all that, but you don’t want a lot of things that’s going to attract people who aren’t getting a haircut. And the thing about the barbershop is you want to constantly keep people moving. Musical chairs. In the chair, out the chair, in the chair, out the chair. There’s people that’s waiting, you want them in the chair so somebody else can be waiting.
Q: So their hair can start growing again.
ANTHONY: Yeah, that’s right, the sooner you get out, the sooner your hair starts growing, sooner you’ll come back. [Laughter] That’s a good one! Yeah that’s what’s up.
Q: So when did you start working here?
ANTHONY: Well, actually, I started working here a month ago.
Q: Just a month?
ANTHONY: Just a month. I’m the newest barber here. And already I’m doing the interview. That’s because I’m an above-average barber. There are some things I’m still practicing, better at some things, worse at others. Um, I’m kinda the diplomat.
Q: The diplomat?
ANTHONY: Yeah I got a lotta diplomacy with me, keep a lot of squabbles down. I deal with a lot of people— ‘cause I’m the newest I don’t know about all the underneath stuff that goes on so I don’t judge nobody. So you might come to me and say, “Oh, my cameraman is actin funny,” but your cameraman come to me and say, “Aw, he’s actin funny.” I’ll be the middle man, “Take it easy, y’all.” You know I’m kind of the diplomat around here but you know it’s a beautiful place to be right here. We’re here from eight thirty in the morning, till sometime eleven o’clock at night, with each other. Sometimes we eat together, get together constantly, it’s almost like we’re a family. You know we go through our squabbles: cry, fight, bitch about it, but in the end we come together, ‘cause we’ve got competitors across the street, down the block, around the corner. And then we be competitive against each other. There’s fourteen barbers in here. If you don’t get up and grind, you don’t eat.
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