Lalo peers past the midmorning gloss on the window of Victor’s barbershop on Jefferson Boulevard and utters a deep “fuuuuck” to himself. He walks away, pauses for a moment, rubs the back of his head, and then reverses course, pushing the door open to let the flat “ding” punctuate his resignation.
It is not Lalo’s normal day to get a fade, but here he is. Saturday, 8 in the morning, and Victor’s is already humming. The talc smell is already thick; piles of hair already blot the floor. It’s not just the people inside the barbershop but also the ones waiting in their cars rattling with bass, coming out to check their place in line and slide quarters into the parking meters as far away as El Ranchito. When Victor’s opens at 6 in the morning, there is always a line of people waiting. He knew he would be deeply fucked at this hour, and he was.
He walks up to Victor, who has already noted the oddness of his presence on a Saturday. Victor is middle-aged, still of the generation of Latino men that wear guayaberas with aplomb. (Today he wears a baby blue one.)
“Buenas tardes, Victor, cuántos tiene en línea?”
“Unos … veintitrés.”
Lalo usually waits a while longer because can’t afford to get his haircut more often. But Letty’s quinceañera is today, and all the finest girls are going to be there. He has to come correct. And to come correct, he has to look correct. No choice in the matter. It’s not just a matter of the girls who are going to be there but also his close friends and of course the haters waiting to pounce. Having a fresh fade was crucial. He can not be wolfing. He can already hear his friends howling, “Oooowwwwwwww,” when they noticed the shaggy sides of his head. If you can pinch any hair in your hands, you are starting to wolf. He has gone past that and is officially wolfing. No way.
The first hour passes. By then, Victor has managed to finish only two fades. Lalo is both impressed and horrified that Victor maintains the same unhurried demeanor even on his busiest day. He nevertheless leans optimistically against the mirrored walls, thinks about the time he let his neighbor Jesús give him his first fade with some house clippers after he had teased him for months about being a mama’s boy. In retrospect, that fade resembled more of a belt wrapped around his head. But afterward people looked at him differently. Girls looked at him differently. His parents sensed danger and prayed.
Lalo realizes that at some point Victor will probably go across the street to Taqueria Chanos for a lunch break, which is his custom. It’s noon. There are still probably at least 15 people in front of him. He is trying not to worry, and it’s not working.
The first hour passes. Victor has managed to finish only two fades.
This summer is a threshold summer. An era is about to end, but no one knows it. Kurt Cobain, Selena, Tupac, and Biggie are either ascending or starting to ascend. In the next four years one after the other will fall. Within the Mexican American community, Selena’s rise represents a generation that has found its voice. Kids who speak Spanish at home and English everywhere else grew up with Selena, have a stake in her aura. The boundaries of two worlds are being dissolved. Selena’s music is a bridge.
Maybe he is halfway there to his turn? It’s 3 p.m. He gets up to ask Victor. Eight left.
It’s no coincidence that during these same years a small yet profound innovation in the barbershop world took place on Jefferson Boulevard. Victor’s was arguably the first barbershop that cut a skin fade using an electric shaver. This created a sharper contrast between the skin and the line where the hair would need to be blended. It came with a higher degree of difficulty but also a new standard of excellence. Softening such a sharp line on the heads of so many dark-haired customers was not for amateurs. Toward this end Victor is a master. His fades leave no discernible line of demarcation. What stands out instead is the smoothness by which that line was dissolved. Getting a fade at Victor’s has become a rite of passage. It is where you go from a house fade into an upper echelon of self-confidence, style, and status.
Lalo starts thinking about things he could do to compensate for the time lost. The afternoon is gone. He could not starch-iron his pants? He could have Victor rinse his hair and skip showering? A customer gets three lines etched into his left eyebrow as a finishing touch. Another one down. Lalo feels like he’s in the homestretch but suddenly needs some fresh air.
On the horizon, the steer that stands on top of Charco Broiler has turned into a cow-shaped shadow against an orange sky. The worst-case scenarios keep coming into Lalo’s mind. He starts to seriously consider not going at all.
But it’s not very long before he is passing by the neon windows of quinceañera shops, one after the other. His stomach turns. A feeling of being trapped, of not being able to escape, makes him lose his breath. Lalo feels himself floating away but then begins to watch his body walking back toward Victor’s. He sees himself finally getting home, getting ready as usual. He is skipping no steps. He has missed the mass, but he only wanted to go to make an impression on the parents of the damas. He will miss the entrada, the brindis, the cake. And now, he might not arrive until the last hour of the dance, but that’s when the DJ will play “Amor Prohibido” anyway.