Back when I was really broke, I would get $4 haircuts at Atlas Barber School. Now I can afford the raise in price--it's a whopping $5--but I also have less hair, so I do my own barbering. Still, when I saw the sign in the window announcing the school's 60th anniversary, I had to go in for a trim.
The Atlas Barber School has been on Third Avenue in the East Village since 1948. In the 80s, they moved south a few blocks and, in recent years, with rising rents, they've slowly been trimmed down. The Third Avenue spot's been cut in half and the 10th Street end closed completely. The remaining storefront has maybe a dozen red vinyl chairs manned by mostly men in white smocks.
The students are predominantly African American or Eastern European and the talk is mainly of politics. Can Obama do it? Yes he can!
As I was hanging up my coat, a black woman with short gray hair (she's been an instructor there for two decades) directed me to take a seat in front of a young, probably Russian kid with bling in his ear and three parallel lines shaved into the hair at his temple. He didn't say much and neither did I. He made quick, efficient work of my hair, asked if I wanted the back "square or round," and finished off by wiping my neck with a paper towel dabbed with green alcohol.
I tipped the kid and paid the instructor. She and I chatted for a bit about the school and the neighborhood. I wondered if Atlas would stay much longer. She shook her head to say "who knows," passed on a rumor about a Marriott hotel taking their old spot on 10th Street, and wondered about "that big new building down there," the Cooper Square Hotel, "it's so out of place--did they mean to make it look like it's falling over?"