Thursday, December 30, 2010

Haircuts and Thick Descriptions

Good morning and welcome back to my blog.  It is Sunday and you should be in church.  But I guess by the time you read this, you'll be back from church.  Let me just get you up to speed.   Me, i'm just sitting here drinking coffee.  My house is a wreck.  I have no milk.  On my Toastie O's I have substituted water in its absence.  Outside it is snowing.  Again.  The weather report says today will be a balmy high of 29.  I am out of good dry wood.  I put up a nice pile of oak the other day.  Too bad it is all too green--so it does me little good.  This means my house is a chilly one.  The follies of our own device... I layer up, I keep moving.   Due to today's precipitation, the deer will be moving.   Because of too many cold and fruitless hours spent pursuing these nocturnal creatures as of late, I have grown a little bitter towards bowhunting, and I would love to just not go.  I fear, however, that my bowhunting has taken a turn for the vindictive.  I am Ahab;  they are my little white whales--the walls against which I fling my torment. This whole noble savage hippy love-your-quarry thing, I'm over it.  Deer, if you are reading this, wipe that smirk off your deer face.  I will find you, and when I do, I am going to put an arrow through your beautiful little deer heart.

Just wanted to put that out there.

Anyway.  Back to the blog at hand.   Today, our blog is about:

Haircuts and Thick Descriptions

But first..

I must preface this article by saying that where I live, I am surrounded by crackers.  Cracker-ass-crackers.  Fat crackers, skinny crackers.  Old crackers, baby crackers.  There may be one black person in Fayette County, WV, but I've not even seen him in a while.  Probably because it's been so cold.

It makes sense, though.  There are a lot of things for white people to do here.  Hunting and four-wheeling and snorting pills are among them.  The coal mines are great places to work.  A lot of us are here for the world-class rock climbing.  Basketball?  No, fool, I said rock climbing.  There's also a real nice ice-skating rink in nearby Charleston. Every year, Fayetteville hosts "Bridge Day", where something like 200,000 white people crowd onto the western hemisphere's largest arch bridge and watch a bunch of other white people jump off of this bridge like lemmings with parachutes.  Imagine that. Fayetteville also has the distinction of being the "Whitewater Capital of the United States", each year drawing over 50,000 white people from all over the U.S. to pile into rafts and go down the New and the Gauley Rivers.  Does the idea of paying an inflated amount of money to get into a raft guided by some hung-over stoner white kid to risk life and limb on a dangerous river sound alluring to you?  Do you like the idea of getting cold and wet?  Would you tip your guide at the end of the trip because you liked that he flipped you in the turbulence of some cold rapid?  Would you turn a blind eye to his none-to-subtle advances on your underage daughter or even your wife?  If you answered "yes" to these questions, then chances are, you are white.  Does this vacation scenario sound stupid to you?  Then you are probably black.   Whitewater rafting is a classic example of  the retarded things that white people do.  Not only do they do it, but they pay to do it.  They eat it up.   It's not called whitewater for no reason.
Fayetteville, WV--all cream and no coffee.  A man can't swing a cat without hitting a white person in this town.

Anyways, I miss having black people around.  If you are black and you are reading this, PLEASE get all of your friends up in your ride and come to Fayetteville.  PLEASE!!!  Our town is too white--it needs some funk, some soul.  Some melanin.  I want to see sassy and voluptuous women hollering at each other from Waterstone to The Vandalian.  I want to see some real ball being played.  I want to see b-boys break it down in front of the courthouse.  I want to see some game, like real game.  I want to see switches hit all the way down Court Street.  I want to hear bass.   I want to see dubs.  I want to see these dubs up on three!!!  That last paragraph--the one about all that stupid stuff that goes on here--it was all a lie, I swear it.  You'll love it here.  Promise.

Court Street, the way it could be.  Believe...

So recently I took a trip to Norfolk.  While there, I decided to get a haircut...

The Haircut

Okay, so it went down like this:  Carrie and I take a trip to Norfolk for my 32nd birthday to see our buddies, the Fussell family.  Rachael is a mega-talented superphotographer and Jon, or 'Fuss' as he is called, is a Navy SEAL, just like Demi Moore in G.I. Jane.  Their two little girls, Reagan and Scout, were, coincidently, having their 3rd and 1st birthday parties, respectively.  Being the party animals that we are, we decided to make it into the mega-birthday-blowout.  The theme of the party, Reagan's idea, was Toy Story.  Who would win in a fist-fight--Buzz Lightyear or Woody?
Fuss and his brother, Chris, are Navy SEALs, just like Charlie Sheen and this other guy.  Kick-Ass!!!

Okay, so anyway, the party is beginning at 4:00 and Carrie and I are cruising through Norfolk on the way back from some vegetarian restaurant (again, you might be white if...) when we see a sign posted in front of a barber shop.  It read:

Grand Opening!  Haircuts--$5!!!

Carrie notes the unkempt scraggle of my mop and suggests that may not be a bad idea, what with the party and all, to take advantage of this opportunity and make myself look sharp.  I agree.  It's not every day that a man can get a five-dollar haircut.  We pull over.

As I approach the front of the shop, it becomes apparent to me that this establishment is different from other places I've gotten my hair cut in the past.  A man, who I presumed to be a barber, was smoking a Newport out front by the sign.  I begin the interaction.

So.  You guys cut hair?
Yup. you cut hair like mine?
Yeah, dawg.  We don't discriminate.  Come on in and have a seat.  You're next in line.

Word.  Let's do this.

In his The Interpretation of Cultures (1973), the famed anthropologist Clifford Geertz uses the term thick description to illustrate his then cutting-edge methodology of an ethnographic study.  The thick description of a human behavior is one explains not only the behavior, but also the context within which the behavior is observed.  Thus, the behavior becomes meaningful to the outside observer.  Put simply, the observer becomes a participant, deepening his or her understanding of the observed.  This methodology has become one of the standard modes of operation for contemporary social anthropologists and ethnographers.

With this in mind, I had been thrown serendipitously into what i perceived to be one of the epicenters of black male culture--the barbershop on a Saturday. Sure, I've seen The Cosby Show lots of times, but here I was in the thick of it.  As I sat in this barbershop waiting on my haircut, I could not stop thinking about Geertz, and how the thick description was first revealed to him.

Setting the scene for The Interpretation of Cultures, is an essay entitled Deep Play:  Notes on the Balinese Cockfight.  This essay describes Geertz's first experience observing a cockfight in a Balinese village in the 1950's.  Despite cockfighting's extreme popularity among Balinese men, the Indonesian government had outlawed it.  When the police broke up the cockfight to which Geertz was attending, he split the scene and hid along with the other participants, thus legitimizing himself in the eyes of his Balinese subjects as an active participant, as opposed to just an observer.  The tension between himself and the participants of the cockfight had been effectively dissolved by his participation.

In this essay he describes the importance of the cockfight and gambling as ritual within Balinese male society, as well as how it is an embodiment of social structure and kinship.  At the cockfight, the men can be men.  They can gamble, drink, gossip, brag, and fight.  Social taboos can be cast aside.  The "cocks", strutting about, laden with double-entendre, are used as metaphors for the Balinese men of this particular village.

So here I was, a white guy in a black barbershop on a Saturday.  From here, the weekly news and gossip disseminates.  The men put down their guard and talk about guy things.  They leave not only well-informed, but looking sharp to boot.  My own little Balinese cockfight.  Don't mind me, guys, I'm just getting my hair cut.  I'm a participant.  One of you...

The barbershop is a cultural icon of African-American male society, as exemplified by Ice Cube in The Barbershop.

It is all eyez on me as i sit down in the barber chair and fiddle in awkward silence as my barber makes his pre-haircut preparations.  He asks me how I want it cut, and assures me with confidence that my hair would be a piece of cake.  His hair looked great, why would I have any reason to worry?  Apparently, he had to learn how to cut white people hair in barber school.  He fires up the clippers and goes to town.
On the wall were pictures of famous African Americans.  Tupac Shakur, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Wil Smith from that movie Men in Black were among them.  There was also a very shiny mirror with a very ethereal picture of a white tiger sitting in front of a waterfall painted on it.  The relevance of this one continues to elude me.

For those of you who have never cut white people hair with clippers, there are a few key things I should point out:

1.  The direction in which the hair grows.  Very important!!!  White people hair grows in certain directions.  These directions are nonuniform.  It is imperative for the clipper operator to be aware of this strange racial phenomenon and wield the clippers accordingly, that is, against the direction of growth, not with it.  It's like wiping.  You want to go front to back.  Otherwise, you'll run into problems.  When my barber friend started running the clippers back to front on the top of my head, I realized he had probably never cut the hair of a white fellow.  I refrained from comment and let him do his thing.

2.  Style of the bangs.  Although there are lots of ways in which white men wear their bangs, straight across  in a laser-level line is not typically one of them.  Unless you are:
a. under ten years of age
b. a burgeoning rapper
c.  in a boy band
this hairstyle is just not really accepted.  This mode of a man wearing his bangs in this fashion was immortalized and sanctified  by Jim Carrey in Dumb and Dumber (1994), one of white cinema's most seminal films.  In white culture, few men are more respected than Mr. Carrey.  Since the revelation of this iconic film, few white men have had the gall to wear their hair this way.  It's kind of like an unspoken respect thing.  To be so brazen as to wear one's hair in this fashion is similar to blasphemy.  I would not expect a black barber to be aware of this bizarre cultural nuance.   Regardless, this hallowed movie completely reshaped white culture, from the ways in which we wear our hair to the ways we hear music.  Take a minute and reflect:
and make sure you watch this...and remember how your life was changed...

3.  Our Beards.  I know, our beards look scruffy.  We look like lumberjacks.  Why?  I don't know.  I guess we like them this way.  Does this unkempt fashion validate our manhood?  Maybe.  At any rate, although we do trim the length of our beards, we typically do not strive to achieve chiseled, laser-precision lines with our facial hair.  With a trim and symmetrical beard, it is more difficult to prolong the hoppy taste of the dark and expensive microbrews we drink.  This type of beard also looks strange with pretentious outdoor outer-wear. Again, some do wear their beards in this way, but they have transcended racial limitation.
Recognize any of these?  White men love these kinds of beers so much that we wear our  facial hair in a way that accomodates our love for them.  A scruffy beard better preserves the hoppy flavor of these beers in a way that facilitates a sneaky taste later on in the evening.  One simply has to lick his lip.   I know this because I'm from Asheville, one of the bastions of this cultural phenomenon.


I digress.  And you're brain is swamped with information.  You'll be smarter because of it.  Okay, back to the haircut.  Those three rules about white boy hair--my barber didn't follow any of them.  I'm not blaming him, though--it's not like it's his fault.  I just think it was a new experience for him.  Just like I had never gone to a black barbershop.  How ridiculously ethnocentric was I to expect him to know how to cut white people hair? How smug of me to entertain this notion.  How arrogant.

As he chiseled away at my sideburns, bangs, and beard, my arrogance became clear to me.  I realized I was getting exactly the haircut I deserved.  He finished and spun me around to the mirror for me to revel in my own reflection.  I gave him a whitey-guilt tip, put on my hat, and left for the birthday party.
One of the hundred pictures of me from the insert that comes with my boyband/rap-guy album.  Photo by Ben Gilkison

Three days later, I went platinum.  I am my own backup dancer.  I don't even remember any of y'all.  Peace, snitches.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Enter the Winter (Part I)

  This morning, I woke up and looked outside.  BRRRRRR!!!

My frontyard.

What time is it?  It's winter-time!!!

Yeah.  Duh.  No shit!  And it's been this way for the past week or so.  Autumn's exit was so sudden.  She was lingering around for longer than usual, and i was starting to get used to the idea that maybe she was here to stay.  But no.  She dipped unexpectedly.  The weatherman told me she would, but I didn't believe him.  I was beginning to feel like she really cared.  Looking back on it, I had a feeling something was up the day before she split.  Things just felt a little...different.  Was she growing cold?  I couldn't really put my finger on it, so dismissively went to bed, reassured by her loving 60-degree temps.  Sure enough, the next morning, I woke up cold.  She was gone.  Shriveled and quivering I ran to the window and looked outside.  Maybe she was still there--maybe I could stop her.  

She was gone.  While I slept, she had packed up her things quietly and hit the road.  No goodbyes, no explanations, no "I love you baby but I gotta leave you...", no nuthin'!  Peacer McPeacertons--she was out.  In her place was a sloppy inch of rain-infused snow, and giant dollops of it fell from the bleak gray morning sky.  It was all so sudden.  Welcome to Splitsville, population YOU!  Alone and sullen and still in disbelief, I slogged out to the woodpile to face the facts.  So lugubrious was I.

But that was a week ago, and with the help of my friends, I'm beginning to move on.  Her departure was inevitable, really.  I mean, it was just too perfect.  How foolish was I to begin to expect that I was going to be able to climb every day at Endless Wall with her 60-plus degree warmth all up on my back?  Come to find out, she was doing my homies the same way!  In fact, some of them are even more torn up about it than me.  What a trick!

Back to my homies.  Like me, they were all beginning to feel like they were special.  Yeah, yeah, we've touched on that.  Now, like me, they're dealing.  Each of them has his or her own way of dealing.  These modus operandis range considerably.

Kirky, for instance, can't deal.  He took it for like a day and decided that he was gone.  He tells us he's off to Vegas.

Says he's got some prospective job ideas.  

Kirky is good at lots of things.  I'm sure he'll be fine.

In fact, we have actually have a New River denizen outpost in Vegas.  This contingent is located in Blue Diamond and grows quite a bit when the temps drop in the New.  Our boys can climb all winter there at Red Rocks and apparently make okay money picking up work however they can.

New River boys making that cheddar, Vegas-style.  From left to right:  Dave "The Chest" Gibbons, Will "Phenom" Dameron, and new kid Kirk "Baby B" Bjorling.

Yep.  My boy Mikey, who is taking it really hard, has decided to take himself a little vacation to a little place called...Arkansas.  This is the home of Horseshoe Canyon, as well as several other under-the-radar climbing destinations.  It is also the home of the illustrious Bill Clinton.  You know, the guy from TV back in the '90s. Perhaps you've heard of him.

My buddies Jeremy and Abby, who live in Chapel Hill but spend most weekends up here, well, they're just staying in Chapel Hill where it's warm.  They have access to a sweet climbing gym.  Bastards!
Talk to the hand.  The New is too cold.  We're staying in Chapel Hill.  Jeremy as an action figure expresses his opinion of the situation.

Last of all, my sweet GF, Carrie, has departed with Autumn.  She decided that she was not really into winter here and has decided that it is a good time of year to pursue her dream of travel nursing, accepting a job in California.  I don't understand it--Carrie is Canadian--she is supposed to LOVE winter!

California has lots of allure, including things like "...gunplay, models on the runway,...", good organic veggies, and a pretty progressive vibe.

Can't really blame her, though.

I could go on, and probably will in a future ariticle.  Those of us who have stayed around are dealing, and seem to be adapting to, if not yet embracing, our new mistress--winter.  I mean, it's not like she's going anywhere.  Probably won't see the sun around here until next spring.  

Autumn's gone, and those of us who have stuck around have had to change up our game for this new girl in town.  She requires a different dress code.  A different approach.  With some motivation, we can still rally at the cirque.  We just have to bundle up.

Eddie and I go out for a day of cragging at the Cirque.
Living at the New is all about tactics. My friend Mike can elaborate on the importance of tactics at
 One has to be dynamic with one's tactics here.  That's what winter here is all about--changing up your tactics.  

Let's say you have to go get your Kroger on, for example.  With the onset of any winter storm, the Kroger (Fayetteville's supermarket) becomes complete shitshow.  Every West Virginian in Fayette County is there for milk, bread and Mtn. Dew.  The battle is on!  Even parking can be a full winter-combat experience with vehicles sliding around like Disney on ice.  So what do you do to avoid getting trampled by some large provincial type at the Kroger?  Easy.  Just stay away from the milk and bread zone.  Better yet, go to the organic section and you'll not only have it to yourself, but lots of it will probably be on markdown and will be cheap as free-range dirt.  Why?  First of all, West Virginians are afraid of that they don't understand, including organic food.  That's that stuff that commies and liberals in California eat, right?  Of course it is.  Second of all, it's not milk and bread--and everybody with half a brain knows that the two provisional imperatives for a winter storm are:  
1.  Milk
2.  Bread


The race for milk and bread is on.  Don't get trampled at the Kroger.

Well, that about wraps up this first blogpiece on winter.  Not because the article is finished so much as it is me being bored of writing.  Time for me to saddle up the tauntaun and go out on the Ice Planet Hoth and make something of myself.  Until next time.

Off to take care of business.  We have trust issues, he and I.

John Averette, The Blog. First Post, Part I--"Welcome to My Blog."

Good day to you, and welcome to my blog. How fortuitous for you that you have stumbled upon it.   My question to you:

Why are you here?

Ask yourself this question.  Perhaps you will say you were guided here by providence.  Or improvidence.  Maybe you seek safe harbor from the tempestuous seas of internet vice.  Or you are lying in wait for something awesome to happen on Facebook.  A watched pot never boils, and you know this, so you come here.  You have better things to do--productive things--things which you are putting off.  They will find you, these things...

Me, I am here for these reasons.  I am putting things off.  Lolly-gagging, as they say.  I was supposed to go bouldering an hour and a half ago.  I am supposed to look at a bathroom job.  I need to fill out school applications.  Pay bills.  Check up on the Facebook. Get out of these sweatpants. You know, get stuff done.  Important stuff.

Yet I blog.

And you, you find yourself here, reading my blog.  Snap out of it.  You have things to do.  What a waste of your time. You could be so productive--yet you squander your time here.  You could be Facebooking.  What if you miss that deal on Steep and Cheap because you were here instead?  It totally could happen.

But Distraction, being one of the Helmsmen of Fate, has condemned your time and focus to be completely up in this stupid blogpiece at this moment. You'll never get this moment back.  Me, well, I'm here too.  Right with you, reader.

But never you mind, for this blog is going to be about complete and total awesomeness.  By complete and total awesomeness, I mean it will probably be about yoga, meditation, conscious living, and wellness.   Seriously, everything else is just plain weak.  Weak and dumb.

For real.  Like I said, everything else is just plain weak.

So, welcome again to my blog.  With it, I hope to bring hope to the hopeless, art to the artless, distraction to the focused.  May it be a beacon of stupidity, and may its blinding light guide you away from your tasks at hand.

                                                                                                     -- John Averette