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W o r k i n g o n M e n 3 presentable: adj.: clean, well-dressed, or decent enough to be seen in public. —From a chalkboard in Freemans Sporting Club The barbers have been busy all day, and the client list has been long. All five chairs are filled and six clients are waiting their turn. Two sit reading—one a magazine and the other something on his phone—while the other four alternate between staring around the room and at the floor and following the group conversation. Throughout the day the barbers keep the atmosphere lively with a constant stream of chatter. They start swapping marijuana stories about themselves and people they know. Ruben talks about how he doesn’t smoke anymore because he gets too paranoid. He explains how one time he woke up and was holding a knife, and how twice he fell asleep while holding a knife. His stories lead Miles to pose a hypothetical question to the group. “Would you ever stab somebody?” Miles asks the shop. “I couldn’t do it, that’s personal,” says Joey. “You’re screaming at the top of your lungs—Ahh!” exclaims Miles, excitedly. “That’s fucked up,” says Ruben. “What do you mean?” says Miles. Ruben pauses slightly. “I’ve thought about this a thousand times . . .” “So you’re waiting for it to happen!” interrupts Miles. “. . . a thousand times I’ve thought about what it would really be like. It would suck balls after, but if the guy is walking into my house through my window at night, guess what, it’s pretty personal.” W o r k i n g o n M e n ‹ 77 › “You can’t plan anything out, dude,” says Miles. “What’s this guy look like?” asks Joey, to laughter from the barbers and some snickers from clients. “Let me ask you a question,” says Miles above the din, “this guy’s in your house—you’ve been in fights, right? Be honest, do you hit people as hard as you can?” “Umm, no,” says Ruben. “Yep, then you can’t stab somebody.” “Yeah, but, this is . . . dude . . . I don’t feel like, as much danger from you, as if you were . . . dude . . . first of all, I never had this happen where somebody actually walked in through my fucking window. But if you did, I think I’d be pretty fucking angry, dude. I’d be way angrier than I’ve ever been before.” “I know I could stab somebody.” “You’re Puerto Rican, that shit’s in your blood,” says Ruben, to laughter from all the barbers and most of the clients. Hypothetical questions, challenges, teases, calling people out, showing bravado . Such exchanges are typical at Freemans Sporting Club, an upscale men’s barbershop on the Lower East Side. A client walking into Freemans for the first time may have his images of what a barbershop should be like—a place where “men can be men”—confirmed. Group banter fulfills the ideal promise of the men’s barbershop as a place for fraternity. But if a new client paid attention, he would notice something missing: barbers talk, clients remain silent. The banter is an unplanned performance, based on the idea of the ideal barbershop, for the benefit of clients, who consume this masculine, typically working-class, culture. Barbers do not deliberately exclude them from their group conversations . The social dynamics of the shop, and the societal conditions under which these new upscale shops have opened, influence how the banter plays out. Manhood, or what it means to be a man, is in a state of crisis today. It always is. Men are always worried if they are acting as a man should, whether in their family, romantic, or work lives, or in relationships with other men. The reason is society’s expectations of proper male behavior constantly change and present men with challenges and mixed signals about how to act. Men are often looking to past times, of their youth or fabled ones told to them by their elders or shown in popular culture, when men were somehow better—stronger, tougher, more responsible—than they are now, for guidance . “How should I be acting right now? What are others doing? How did ‹ 78 › C h a p t e r 3 men used to act?” they ask themselves. If the enduring ideal masculine image in the United States is of the “self-made man,” or the man who...


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MARC Record
Launched on MUSE
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