March 17, 2017

The Uniting

Tony's Barber Shop. What neighbourhood does not have a Tony's Barber Shop. The price caught my attention first. A board in front, $21 for a men's cut. Skeptical I turned to see a shop full of people. We're either all cheapskates or the place is good. Hopefully the latter.

Sit there waves the man who appears in charge. Tony, thinks I. No his name is Rudy and he does own the shop. Has since coming here in the late eighties. A Ukrainian conscript performing his central service in the Volga suddenly unemployed by glasnost. He and fellow soldiers made a run for a western country and Australia was the beneficiary. Rudy bought the shop from Tony.

Rudy has three chairs. His is by the window where he can greet customers, direct who goes where, and can keep an eye on the register. Cash only. There's a fourth barber's chair at the register. A cross dresser is seated there waiting for a shave. He's dressed to the nines in a fine short dress with fish net stockings and gold stilettos. A bright pink wig is in his lap, waiting to be popped on once his head is shaved bare. He has to wait his turn as he only trusts Rudy’s blade. Rudy informs him I am next and then him, even though I was there after him. No worries he says in a thick Russian accent.

The chair to Rudy’s left, the centre chair, is controlled by an Indian woman. Her bright clothes and cheery banter adding to the brightness started by cross dresser guy. She gets the boys (no girls come here) and short men. Even then she has to stand on a stool to reach the top of the handsome Laotian teen she is trimming. His mother is trying to keep a younger brother out of trouble, her broken English struggling to say the words, older brother filling in the blanks for her.

The last chair is run by a Moroccan. He's a quiet man, quick with scissors and razor. He has completed two heads to one each from his colleagues. He has a big toothy grin. Each tooth with dark empty gaps between. His dark eyes taking in all. A happy hum.

Beside him his next customer, an old Greek man. Another Russian, though staidly dressed, me, and between me and Laotian mom, a Jew.  He owns the jewellery shop up the road. This week he hung going out of business signs and a for sale notice.

“I hope you aren't selling to the Chinese” says the Greek. They're coming in. Two weeks ago they took over the Church. Took down all the English signs and put up their language. A debate was entered. I, now in Rudy’s chair sat fearfully still while Rudy opined about the merits of the Chinese coming to the neighbourhood while scraping bits of errant hair from my back, necks, and jowls. His opinions were met with concurrence and disagreement.

The debate fell into awkward silence. India woman broke it: “They took the derelict Uniting Church and fixed the bell tower, painted the trim and doors, fixed the landscape, replaced the fence, and paved the lot. They have advertising in all our languages inviting us to their Church. They are offering free English lessons. They might be Chinese but they are uniting. They will be good neighbours. They are just like us.

And we all agree. A shop full of immigrants uniting in our acceptance, feeling welcome with each other in this land. 

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