Lesson From a Black Master

In 1962, as a nine year-old, I was firmly convinced that dire consequences awaited any male of the human species sporting unshorn locks three Mondays in a row. Why else would I and every male I knew, man and boy, have to traipse down to the local barber shop every two weeks for a haircut.

Fortunately, barbershops held some strange allure for me. Here was a man’s place, completely devoid of any female influence. I loved my mother, tolerated my sisters and I even had friends who were girls. However, it was somewhat of a strain maintaining what was considered acceptable behavior in the eyes of the fairer sex. Judging from the conversations of the other patrons,they were not very successful at it either.

Home away from home
The shop I frequented was big-really big. Eight leather chairs with mirrors in front and behind, so that all images were repeated into infinity. Master of each chair’s name was either Al, Frank or Ed with an occasional Bob thrown in. I assumed you had to change your name in order to join the brotherhood of barbers. There was a profusion of magazines, mostly about hunting and fishing, to keep customers entertained while they waited for the next available barber. Somewhere in the stack was a well-thumbed girlie magazine. I would linger as long as decorum would allow over the cover of this enticing publication, never summoning the courage to look inside.

The air was full of aftershave, cigarette smoke and lies. Stories about the one that got away or the mythical buck everyone had seen and shot at, but never killed. And sometimes the talk turned to women. I followed these conversations quite closely, for even at that young age I had noticed that some of the older girls looked better in their clothes than others. However, sometimes during these confusing conversations everyone laughed for no apparent reason.

Deadly Edges
I was fascinated by the barber’s straight razor. As he stropped the edge on the wide leather hanging from the chair, I would feel a tingling at the base of my neck it felt like I could “taste” the edge on the tip of my tongue. It was an exhilarating and uncomfortable feeling. I would hold my breath each time a barber placed razor to neck, afraid/hoping to see bright blood spurt out on the patron’s apron.

One day as I started to climb down from the chair the barber put his hand on my shoulder and told me to stay. He wrapped the apron back around my neck and walked over to where the hot towels were kept. Steam rose from the hot, wet towels. Quickly he laid the towel around my neck over my ears and began to strop his razor. The towel was uncomfortably hot but I sat frozen in what I considered to be the last chair of my life. I had watched, entranced, as the barbers shaved grown men, but I had never had it done to me, a mere slip of a lad with his whole life in front of him. The towel was cooling quickly and the razor made an ominous sound as it swished back and forth on the big leather strop. Apparently satisfied that he had obtained a deadly edge, the barber removed the towel and placed hot lather were it had been.

Eminent Death
I dared not even breathe, for I had a vision of my life’s blood pumping onto the black and white tile floor and of my mother’s stricken face as the barber explained “ We tried to save him but he moved and there was nothing we could do for him”. A razor makes a peculiar sound when it is cutting hair. It is even more peculiar when it is nanometers from ones ear. Quickly the barber trimmed around my ears and then made long strokes down the back of my neck, sending goose bumps to every part of my body. Nothing existed for me except the edge of that fatally sharp blade. And then, it was over and I was still alive.

As if to reward me for my courage, the barber placed a vibrator on the back of his hand and massaged my head, neck and shoulders. When it was all over I somehow I climbed down on shaky legs, paid the man and walked out the door to meet my mother at the grocery store. Who says modern man has no rights of passage.

In this same barber shop there worked a gray haired black gentleman named James. James was the shoe shine “boy”. A term little tolerated in these modern times and rightly so. But in those times James was “boy”. Mostly, customers paid little heed to James, and when they did speak to him I could tell they were not really talking to him more like at him. They were not really interested in him or his life. They were not unkind to him nor did they express anything but goodwill towards James. However, their attitude towards him was different. This in turn influenced how I saw James, and to some extent, all black people. We learn our prejudices in subtle ways.

One day the wait was exceedingly long. I had looked through all the magazines, listened to all the stories and I was growing restless. After all it was Saturday, there was no school and there were untold amounts of baseball games to be played in the field down the street. A customer sat down in James’s chair. Having nothing better to do, I watched. Quickly James sized up the man’s shoes and picked a can of polish from his rack. I had never noticed how everything had its special place and everything went back in its special placed when not being used. I also noticed that James dressed well. Not fancy clothes but a very clean shirt and pants with a sharp crease in the legs and arms. He was extremely clean shaven. His salt and pepper hair was short, with sharp edges as if it had just been trimmed 5 minutes ago.

Dipping the tips of his incredibly long fingers of both his hands into the polish, he proceeded to cover both shoes in what appeared to be one smooth continuous motion. He then lit a cigarette with stained fingers as he waited for the polish to dry. Having already placed the polish back in the rack, James snuffed out his cigarette and chose two of the many brushes he had on hand.

Magic Master
There are not words to describe what next ensued. Taking a brush in each hand, James became something else. Brushes appeared to be on every part of the shoe at once, yet when I tried to look at each individual brush, there was nothing to be seen. As I watched him “work”, a peculiar warmth traveled up my spine and into my head making my nose feel odd. Soon my whole body was vibrating and it was as if I could “feel” the friction between the brush and shoe. Orgasmic was not a word in a 9 year old good, Catholic boy’s lexicon in those days, but there is no better word for what was happening- in a non-sexual way.

I felt the floor shift beneath my chair, the words everyone spoke lost their meaning and I became confused as to what I was doing in this place. I wanted to jump up and shout, “ Look what is happening here, somebody, anybody please explain to me what is happening here”. But I didn’t and nobody has-EVER.

As he was putting the final buff on the shoes with a stretched cloth, James looked up and saw me watching. Without missing a beat or breaking his rhythm  he stared at me for a long moment. His eyes narrowed slightly and I saw a small grin barely touch his lips. Then with a rueful shake of his head he gave me a slow wink and a nod, then bent back to his task. Many times I have wondered what James did to those shoes. Did he do it for his own amusement or was there some reason he picked those shoes at that time.  I never saw him do it again and I might as well have been invisible when ever I came back in the shop. I also cannot help wondering if James knew he was a master, or what he had given me? I certainly didn’t at the time. Even now I am not at all certain as to what he did to those shoes, or to me, for that matter.

One thing I do know is, it’s not what you do, but how you do it. There is a line from song that says, “You gotta dance like nobody’s watchin’”. James danced his dance and nobody paid any attention. Once, a young boy saw him open a road for a brief moment. The jury is still out on whether it has been a path well taken.

Dan O’Connor 2010

Shoeshine polish photo by David Dennis


  1. I just love the imagery in this story. Your writing is great at getting across the feelings that you experienced, as well as the smells of that old barbershop. Thanks so much for this powerful story.

    • Soulbuilders says:

      Hi Wendy,

      Thank you for the great compliments. This is an old story I wrote many years ago. It is the first time it has seen the light of day. Sometimes it is difficult to tell when your life changes but even as a boy I knew that I walked out of that shop into a different world.

  2. Hi there, You have done an excellent job. I’ll certainly digg it and personally suggest to my friends. I am sure they will be benefited from this website.

  3. Get Timeline says:

    Hello just wanted to give you a quick heads up. The words in your post seem to be running off the screen in Firefox. I’m not sure if this is a formatting issue or something to do with web browser compatibility but I thought I’d post to let you know. The style and design look great though! Hope you get the issue solved soon. Kudos

  4. amelia says:

    It’s really a great and useful piece of info. I’m glad that you just shared this helpful information with us. Please keep us up to date like this. Thanks for sharing.

  5. Punjab News says:

    When I just originally commented I visited the -Notify me personally when completely new comments are actually added- checkbox and now when a comment is definitely added I get five emails using the same thought. Is there by any means you will be able to remove everybody from that will service? Thanks!

  6. Have to say that biggest part of mentioned thougts is totally so good. Just some of them create more question, nevertheless thinking are not problem. Should admit that is pitty that every investment needs much of funds, still it is the reality of the world, when we need something, we have to sacrify something much more. big thanks to the witter.

  7. Great – I should certainly pronounce, impressed with your website. I had no trouble navigating through all tabs as well as related info ended up being truly easy to do to access. I recently found what I hoped for before you know it in the least. Quite unusual. Is likely to appreciate it for those who add forums or anything, website theme . a tones way for your client to communicate. Nice task..

  8. Right here is the right web site for anyone who really wants to find out about this topic. You understand a whole lot its almost hard to argue with you (not that I actually would want to…HaHa). You definitely put a new spin on a topic which has been discussed for years. Excellent stuff, just excellent!

  9. Amazon says:

    Who does this man think he is? He is not the creator of this.

  10. I recently cannot leave your site prior to recommending that I extremely loved the conventional info a person supply in your guests? Can be destined to be again steadily to inspect fresh articles

  11. Please tell me that youre going to bear this upwards! Their so good so crucial. We can’t wait to read a lot more by you. I merely seem like you realize therefore drastically along with understand how to get people to tune in to everything you must say. This website is equally as effectively awesome to be have missed. Wonderful things, in fact. Make sure you, Make sure you keep writing!

  12. There are actually a variety of details like that to take into consideration. That could be a nice level to bring up. I offer the thoughts above as normal inspiration but clearly there are questions just like the one you carry up where crucial factor shall be working in sincere good faith. I don?t know if greatest practices have emerged around things like that, but I’m certain that your job is clearly recognized as a good game. Both boys and girls feel the impression of just a second’s pleasure, for the rest of their lives.

  13. Absolutely, Apple’s iphone app store benefits by a distance. It’s actually a huge selection of all kinds associated with programs compared to a very sad selection of a few with regard to Microsoft zune. Microsof company provides plans, especially in your arena of game titles, but I don’t know I’d personally want to wager for the future if this element is very important to you. Ipod and iphone is often a greater alternative therefore.

  14. Salome says:

    Spot on. Good stuff – I’m pretty aligned with a lot of what you explained. Going to discuss it with my buddies who are also into this.

  15. Enda Little says:

    There are some attention-grabbing deadlines in this article however I don’t know if I see all of them heart to heart. There’s some validity however I’ll take maintain opinion until I look into it further. Good article , thanks and we wish more! Added to FeedBurner as properly

  16. Do not buy every single single clothe yourself in diverse keep. If you are one of the few bridesmaids, inform the others head over to store your own outfits from the very same retail store. They are going to undoubtedly give you a discount, when the virtually all people the wedding occasion agree with possess a retail store looking, such as bride, the honour plus the floral girls. The fee are going to be a lot less if perhaps all of you purchase outfits a single special shop. You could must also bring your spending budget in mind, and try out your easiest to get the cheap bridesmaid outfit.

  17. This site won’t render correctly on my iphone 4 – you might wanna try and repair that

  18. Sina Misemer says:

    I think this website has some really wonderful information for everyone : D.

  19. Janeen says:

    That’s the thing about Boston: its place red sox in the world,
    will in fact have to play well before their
    series in Boston, Massachusetts.

    Here is my website: vigrx plus – Janeen -

  20. It is designed for those who have experienced a short ink supply when
    you use this printer to scan documents, receipts,
    business cards and notes and save them into PDF
    files. Let me know if you can fit somewhere on the ads that in order to
    further tailor gopro coupon code the shopping experience.
    Now let’s talk about cabinets, because cabinets can often be a deterrent when it comes to multimedia capabilities.

  21. As we go to looking at how we price I’m sorry, I lost the

    second officemax coupons half? Kate McShane – Citigroup Inc, Research Division Wanted to first officemax coupons talk about

    the feelings of his current exhibition. The surprise, however, it’s hard to sort of catch

    up exactly step by step. Creating an office space in your home is

    important if you work from home after they officemax coupons

    have punched the clock at the office.

    Also visit my webpage :: http://Ichitect.com/coupons/officemax/

  22. My brother suggested I may like this web site. He was
    once totally right. This submit truly made my day. You cann’t imagine simply how much time
    I had spent for this info! Thank you!

    my webpage – Virool Review

  23. Kombes.com says:

    It is truly a great and helpful piece of information.
    I am happy that you simply shared this helpful information with us.
    Please stay us up to date like this. Thanks for sharing.

    Feel free to surf to my homepage melatonin use in children (Kombes.com)

  24. I’m very happy to discover this site. I wanted too thank

    you for ones time for this fantastic read!! I definitely enjoyed every

    bit of iit and I have you book marked to look at

    new stuff on your website.

    Here is my web page – seo Stevenage

  25. Rena says:

    I read a lot of interesting articles here. Probably you spend a lot of time writing, i
    know how to save you a lot of time, there is an online tool that creates
    readable, SEO friendly articles in seconds,
    just type in google – laranitas free content source

  26. Excellent post. I was checking constantly this website and Im impressed! Very useful info specifically the past part :) I look after similarly info much. I became looking for that information for a long time. Thank you so much and best of luck.

  27. everett7292 says:

    Hey there. Are you aware of steps to make a site mobile hospitable?
    I’m trying to find a motif or wordpress plugin that could possibly take care of this problem. If you have any suggestions, please share.
    Speedy inquiry that’s totally out issue.
    My site seems unusual when browsing.

  28. Selene says:

    Filing Chapter 7 may not require such extensive information, the cases easily.
    It is usually best that you deal with the state. bad faith attorney [Selene] attorney will make a case of personal injury attorney is very important notices that will help
    a lot of individuals as well as broken bones. You will have to
    show some proof. Even if you are in trouble.

  29. white wall says:

    Woman of Alien…

    Best function you might have completed, this web site is de facto amazing with great information and facts. Time is God’s means of retaining every little thing from taking place at once….

  30. Your style is really unique compared to other people I’ve read
    stuff from. Many thanks for posting when you have the opportunity, Guess I will just bookmark this

  31. Thankyou. People together with people for a clear and wholesome Sound works For Sound.
    Through knowledge and activity we have been guarding and restoring habitat since 1991.

  32. Children are far more protected on a dedicated video console system.
    Some of the designer stores have sales at discounted rates that support regular men and
    women purchase a BCBG Maxazria dress or any other
    designer label at a significantly lesser price tag.
    If it is steady, either the player is in vacation mode, or he is building army for a battle and he has
    ceased production of valuables.

  33. excess yeast says:

    You are so awesome! I do not believe I’ve truly read anything like
    that before. So good to discover somebody with a few genuine thoughts on this topic.
    Seriously.. thanks for starting this up. This web site is one thing that is required on the internet,
    someone with some originality!

  34. youtube.com says:

    Video is in the end a media kind, the nuances of which I believe SEOs (on the

    entire) completely fail to comprehend.

  35. With its significance in search, it’s important to know learn how to use it to your advantage.

  36. It can be overwhelming to change too much too quickly.

    Dietician Tara Gidus (from the Orlando Magic NBA Team) wouldn’t

    object to Phelps large food intake either.

    A handful of issues are, increased risk of heart disease, type

    2 diabetes, hypertension, high blood pressure, fatigue, sleeping disorders, childhood depression, and adult

    obesity. This extensive research will help the clients to identify the opportunities existing

    in various segments of fast food industry in the US. Franchises can only be purchased in the United States and

    Canada. Chances are you are spending too much effort on the couch.

    In others words, limit the fruit juices,

    donuts, white breads, take outs, fast foods and soft drinks as much as possible.

    Add to that the fact that they have some great condiments that

    are fat free like their onion sauce and their honey mustard, and you’ve got a

    delicious low fat meal that will make you feel energized instead of lethargic,

    and keep you fuller longer than a burger and fries will.

  37. Thanks for ones marvelous posting! I quite enjoyed reading it, you could be a great

    author. I will ensure that I bookmark your blog and will often come back later in life.

    I want to encourage you to ultimately continue your great job, have a nice weekend!

  38. Movies like The Last Airbender, Cats and Dogs:
    The Revenge oof Kitty Galore, Step Up 3D and A Christmas Carol will be available to
    view this New Year. Dish out revenge on the greedy green pigs whoo stole the thewir eggs.

    As a effect to that the accessible marketable services like Anvry Birds tee shirts are well-known ampng
    young children of all age groups.

    Feel free tto surf to my blog: vengefulalcove400.Webgarden.com

  39. If some one needs expert view about running a blog afterward i propose him/her to
    go to see this web site, Keep up the fastidious job.

    my blog … make 10 a day

  40. The pheromone signals that wee can give off can be categorized
    into a couple categories: fear, aggtession and sexual receptiveness.
    Many scientists believe that the mechanisms that exist in other animals for the
    production and detection of pheromones ddo nnot exist or are non-functional in humans.
    Ensure that such goods offers money back guarantee, much like how Nexus Pheromones is offering.

    my webpage thor the dark world android game cheats

  41. Now you can save lots of money with these online drug stores.
    Metacam is a synthetic drug that is used to treat canine arthritis,
    and this drug has been known to provoke serious diarrhea
    in dogs. Another thing that should be shown is how these drugs’ negative effects largely offset the short-term pleasure
    derived from their use.

  42. Remarkable! Its in fact amazing piece of writing, I have got much clear idea regarding from this article.

  43. I am in fact grateful to the holder of this web page who has
    shared this wonderful piece of writing at here.

  44. You could certainly see your enthusiasm within the article you write.
    The arena hopes for more passionate writers like you who aren’t afraid to say how they believe.
    All the time go after your heart.

  45. Hi there, You have done an incredible job. I’ll certainly digg it and personally suggest
    to my friends. I am sure they’ll be benefited from this web site.

  46. Hi there, after reading this amazing piece of writing i am as well glad to share
    my familiarity here with colleagues.

  47. Idrotherapy says:

    Hi there to every one, the contents existing at this site are
    actually amazing for people experience, well, keep up the good
    work fellows.

  48. It’s an amazing paragraph in support of all
    the online users; they will get advantage from it I am

  49. Console Games Download says:

    The original generate regarding “Majora’s Mask” offered concerning 3. thirty six thousand illegal copies globally. Critics known as the sport “the ideal adventure the Developers 64 provides, inch in addition to “one of the very imaginative office space in all of the regarding gambling. “

  50. m88 says:

    Hi to every body, it’s my first visit of this website; this blog includes

    awesome and truly excellent data for readers.

Leave a Reply