Shave and a haircut, two bits |

Shave and a haircut, two bits

It’s 9:45 a.m. I’m about to get a haircut at Lily’s Hair Salon. Lily’s shop is on Waverly Street deep in Chinatown. The shop is squeezed in between The Happy Dim Sun Café and the Double Dragon Massage Parlor. This is always the first thing I do, when I come to San Francisco.

When I arrive at her salon, I can tell by the way she doesn’t smile and say hello that she remembers me.

Lily is warm and friendly on the inside but the outside is sandpaper rough. I sit down on a straight black bench and wait my turn. Over to my left is a religious shrine sitting next to an unlit candle, and all the newspapers are in Chinese so reading is out, so I sit and wait. I notice how intently Lily is concentrating on the dowager, of uncertain age, in her chair. Lily snips, combs, curls, cuts and all the while she and the lady barber next to her harangue each other. It’s their way of chatting. They shout at each other, only in a friendly manner.

The dowager watches skeptically in the mirror in front of her. This woman’s hair was in terrible disarray when she came in, and to Lily’s credit an attractive hair style is emerging. This pleases Lily; however, Lily does not cut hair for praise. She does it for money.

The job is done, the woman glows with pride and adroitly lifts herself out of the chair. Lily removes the wrap, gives it a shake, and sweeps the detached hair on the floor into a pile. I’m next.

Orllyene was with me on my first visit to Lily’s shop, and since then the first thing she says is, “How is your wife?” I think she does this because she thinks I’m fresh. I kid her with my off the cuff sense of humor and she wants to make sure I know my place.

The man in the chair next to me came in with a huge mop of unruly grey hair. By the time Lily has thrown the apron around me and wrapped my neck with paper, half of the man’s skull is showing. A minute later, he’s bald as a billiard ball. It was his first hair cut in four years, Lily says shaking her head in dismay.

I see a sign in the window that reads “Sunday through Monday.” A little confused, I ask, “You mean you work 7 days a week?” Lily replies, “Have Wednesday off.” Meanings often change in translation.

“When you leave?” she asks, as I’m getting out of the chair. She knows we live in Nevada. I tell her we leave on Monday. This is the first time Lily has been overtly personal. I sense a deepening friendship is in the making. I have been getting haircuts here since Sarah Palin was a television celebrity.

Time to go. I glance in the mirror. Lily’s done it again. A million-dollar haircut for 6 bucks and a two-dollar tip.

Ron Walker can be contacted at