“What a crappy day,” the man said as he ran into the safety of the underground parking lot. He had just crossed the street, umbrella in hand to stay as dry as he could, and walked through the mechanical arm at the entrance to the underground parking lot. He turned around to admire the big, chunky drops of water that fell from the sky and the loud thudding sounds they made as they hit the zinc roof meant to shield drivers as they opened their windows to press their badges against the terminal at the entrance for the mechanical arm to open. “This doesn’t make any sense,” he said as he went past many cars and towards the back end of the parking lot.
Several small stores were dotting the far wall of the parking lot, including a barbershop, a deli, a shoe repair store, a jeweler, and a gym that took up much of the space. Three sets of double-shuttered elevator doors stood between the stores and the gym. He went towards the barbershop, adorned with the usual barber’s pole and a hand-written sign with the name Zito’s Cuts hanging above, took a deep breath, and pulled on the door to go inside. He was immediately assaulted by the smell of burnt oil, spices, and barbecue sauce.
“Hey Oscar, come on in!” shouted the gentle barber as he noticed a new customer walk into his store.
“Hi Manolo,” he replied with a smile. He sat on a beaten-up pleather sofa that only had about a quarter of an inch of clearance from the door as it opened. There were burn marks and a few tears in the synthetic leather cover through which white, fluffy fabric peaked through. “What’s cooking in there?” he asked as he glanced next to Manolo, to the woman with a portable stove that was mixing things within a well-loved iron frying pan.
“Just some fried plantains,” she said as she removed some plantain pieces that had been cut into rounds into from the oil and placed them on top of an unoccupied desk with a large mirror haphazardly set atop it. She pressed those plantain rounds between the bottoms of various porcelain plates one by one and squashed them into elongated ovals.
“Whiirrrrr” went the electric hair clippers as the barber trimmed his customer’s hair, assessed the length, and then ran the tool along the back and sides of his hair. Oscar chuckled to himself as he imagined tiny little hairs flying in all directions, possibly enhancing the flavor of the food being lovingly fried not too far from the cook. He had once suggested that maybe it wasn’t a good idea to prepare their lunch while customers were getting their hair cut and beards trimmed, but it didn’t go over well. He knew how to choose his battles and thus never brought it up again, but he couldn’t help it if he thought the whole situation was humorous.
“Where’s García?” Oscar asked as he perused an old yellowed-out magazine full of men in gaudy, bright clothes while showing off a myriad of big hairstyles from multiple angles.
“He didn’t show up to work today,” Manolo answered. “He’s probably wooing some girl young enough to be his daughter again. I have no idea how he does it,” he said. “So what do you guys think about the drought?” Manolo asked while he continued working on his customer’s hair. He had put the clippers down and grabbed the scissors. He didn’t expose the front of the man’s hair to the clipper’s teeth.
“Drought?” Oscar asked incredulously. “I almost drowned in that rain! You’d think they’d know how to store all of that water by now, wouldn’t you? I mean, it’s not like this is new!” he exclaimed, as he continued to rant. It seems that Manolo had hit a nerve. “So yes, it’s not raining where the big water reserves are, but the rest of the island seems to be doing just fine in that department! I’m also tired of having to store water away on the days they turn the valves on. And doesn’t collecting all this water work against the goal to not waste it?” Oscar asked as he put the magazine down. The customer chuckled.
“Maybe,” Manolo said. “Just do what I do! Place some pots and pans outside to collect rainwater. So what do you think about all that, Mr. Griffen?” he asked his current customer. Mr. Griffen shook his head.
“I think we were all doomed the day the government took control of all of these utilities,” Mr. Griffen said. Oscar nodded at him. Manolo shrugged.
“Well, it’s too late to put that paste back in the tube,” Manolo said as he put the scissors down and grabbed a sharp razor. He lubricated the razor in some shaving oil and approached the man’s neck. “Don’t move an inch,” he said to him as he skillfully removed the facial hair from Mr. Griffen with a series of slow and precise glides. “Like a frog’s butt,” he said when he was done.
“Good job.” Mr. Griffen said as he admired his new clean-shaven mug in the mirror. The man ran his hand along his chin and neck, then around his cheeks. He then moved closer to the mirror to admire the precise line separating the start of his long sideburns from his clean cheeks. He looked at Manolo and offered a thumbs-up sign with a smile.
“Glad to know I still got it!” Manolo laughed as he put the razor down. “Well, you know the drill, Mr. Griffen. I’ll be sending your office a bill at the end of the month.”
“Sounds good,” Mr. Griffen nodded at Manolo. He then turned to Oscar. “We seem to run into each other a lot,” he told him. “My name is Arthur Griffen, what’s yours?” he asked as he looked in Oscar’s direction.
Oscar, surprised to be addressed by Arthur, immediately got up from the sofa and extended his hand. Arthur promptly shook it. “Oscar. Oscar Brau,” Oscar said nervously as he shook Arthur’s hand.
“No need to be so tense,” Manolo said as he noticed Oscar’s reaction. “Arthur here has an office on the third floor of the building. He’s been a constant customer since he rented a spot in the building.”
“Oh yea, I’ve seen you around,” Oscar nodded. “Usually in here or in the deli around lunchtime.”
“Enjoy Martha’s food,” Arthur said as he looked at Manolo. A microwave’s bell dinged out loud soon after. “And I hope to see you around Oscar! Maybe we’ll have a chat sometime,” Arthur added as he left the barbershop. Manolo smiled as his wife handed him a big plate of food with fried pork chops in barbecue sauce and fried plantains on the side.
“He rented an office on the third floor?” Oscar asked while looking at Manolo. “His office? Not that he works for an office there?”
“Exactly. His own office,” Manolo said again with a smile on his face. “He even has a few folks working for him. Anyway, can you wait a few minutes?” Manolo asked as he bit into one of the plantains. He spat a few times towards the floor before swallowing. Oscar smiled at him.
“Sure, enjoy your meal. I took the day off anyway so not in a hurry,” Oscar said.
Manolo nodded as he walked towards the empty desk. He put his plate down there and hugged his wife, then sat on the empty barber chair as he began to eat his lunch.
“Third floor, huh,” Oscar whispered out loud. His own office. He had his very own office! It must feel nice to be so successful. Maybe I’ll ask him what he does there; he may need a Business Analyst sometime, who knows? I have more pressing matters at hand anyway, he thought as he picked up a more modern hairstyle magazine than the yellowed-out one he was perusing earlier. Maybe today would be the day for a radical change.