The haircutting business is very competitive here in Los Angeles. There are high end stylists, chain salons, and an abundance of neighborhood barbershops. So there is a feeling of security when you finally find yourself a good barber—someone who will cut your hair the way you like it, is available when you need him, and who you actually connect with. After many, many haircuts, I had finally found the one. Dennis was different from the rest. I don’t exactly remember how it came to be, but Dennis was my barber for several years, until he unexpectedly passed away at the much-too-young age of 38.
Almost without fail, every other Saturday morning, I’d be right there sitting in Dennis’s chair. He had a very busy schedule so I’d text him on Friday just to make sure he was available the next day, usually around 8 a.m. Dennis would sometimes set up appointments as early as 6 a.m. to accommodate some of his customers. He was an old fashioned barber who took great pride in his craft.
Through the years, we really got to know each other. Dennis cut my hair for job interviews, vacations, special nights out on the town, and for my wedding day. We had some great conversations on those Saturday mornings—we’d talk about politics, culture and sports. Dennis could talk about almost anything. He was a pretty smart guy. I also learned that he loved many things—his family, camping, and fútbol. He would tell me about his son’ new job, his daughter’s latest soccer game, and his upcoming camping trips. During the World Cup, we’d cover the games in detail and express our hopes for the final. After a while, I actually started to look forward to those Saturday mornings. A couple of summers ago, my brother, who lives in Chicago, came out to visit. I had told him, on many occasions, about my great barber. One day, I took him and my little nephew to get a haircut by Dennis. My sister-in-law and niece also came along. They all really enjoyed the experience and saw for themselves how special Dennis was.
When the proprietor of the barbershop raised the rates one year, Dennis didn’t increase the price for me. He told the owner that I was a good longtime customer and that he wanted to keep my fee as is. Even though I would have paid the new cost, I, nonetheless, deeply appreciated this kind gesture. That was Dennis: he treated all of his clients special, was always kind, and never gave a bad haircut.
One ordinary Saturday morning, I went in for my regular appointment, but when I arrived at the shop Dennis was not there. One of his fellow barbers walked over to me and gave me the bad news, Dennis was in the hospital and it didn’t look good. A few days later I got a phone call telling me that he had passed away. When I heard the news, I wept. Dennis was a young man who should have lived many, many more years. To this day, I still can’t believe that he is really gone.
I never went back to the barbershop where Dennis worked. It was too tough for me and I knew it wouldn’t be the same without him. I have also come to accept that I will never find another barber like Dennis.
Once in a while you connect with someone in a small way but that connection leaves a long lasting impression. Dennis was much more than just a barber. He was a fellow human being who deeply connected with every single person who sat in his chair day in and day out. Today, when I find myself getting a haircut, I can sometimes see Dennis’s image in the mirror, cutting my hair as I remember him doing so those many times before. I miss him and I just hope that he enjoyed our time together as much as I did.
Alejandro Diaz was born and raised in Chicago and now lives in Los Angeles with his wife. He holds a MFA in Screenwriting from the University of Miami and a BA from the University of Illinois at Chicago. He has written extensively on culture, politics, and the workplace. Alejandro is currently working on his memoir, which recounts his own family’s Chicago immigrant journey. He has also just written “An Enlightened Manager: Managing with Humanity. Creating a Respectful, Dignified, Just, and Successful Workplace,” where he uses his personal experiences to show the value of true respect in a company’s daily work environment.