Monday, June 10, 2013

Mark Will Leave The Pole Spinning Final

Link to Audio Visual:

Final Piece:

Mark Will Leave The Pole Spinning
Woody Tauke
1132 Words
Intended Publication:  Kalamazoo Gazette

Two women pass by the large front window of Mark’s Hair Shop’s on Vine Street in Kalamazoo, Michigan.  One is walking a dog and doesn’t notice Mark’s place situated in the small row of businesses in the commercial section of the largely residential Vine Neighborhood.  The other glances in briefly and stops, pondering the simple wood paneling and traditional two-chair barbershop aesthetic on the interior of Mark’s, she sticks her head in the door.

“Can you shave this up for me?” She asks with no greeting, pointing to the left side of her head.

 Without hesitation Mark responds that he can.

“Great, I’ve got to go get some beer, then go get my wallet, and I’ll be right back,” she says.

She leaves and Mark goes back to busily flitting around a costumer who sits attentively, cashing in on the free “clean up” that Mark offers one week after a haircut.  Mark is surprisingly agile for a man that is well over six feet tall, and his giant hands are nimble with scissors, comb, and clippers. 

Today he dons all blue: straight-legged blue jeans, a huge blue t-shirt, and an even larger open blue short-sleeved button down.  His clothes drape off of his thin frame and float around him as he moves rapidly around his costumers.  Though Mark is a barber, he has long mahogany hair that, when not hidden beneath his signature blue baseball cap, hangs around his shoulders.  He has a wide smile and bright eyes that rarely dim down. Mark is a deep listener, but when he speaks, his lips fly around the words pausing only, to let out one of his trademark machine gun chuckles.

 His shop is clean and although sparsely decorated, is somehow comforting.  Sunlight floods the shop’s front window nearly all day and it smells of incense.  Next to each other on the windowsill are piles of books, speakers, and potted spider plants.  A stack of “Save Historic East Campus” signs lean in a corner facing the elaborate sound system that is almost never quiet.  The small space is aesthetically open but Mark fills it in both in size and presence.

The environment he’s created as well as Mark’s infectious smile make Mark’s Hair Shop a destination said Kalamazoo College Junior Jack Massion, who has been getting his hair cut at Mark’s since March.

“I’ve never seen him frown.  He’s kind of crazy but a real happy guy and he gives great haircuts.  At this point I’d consider him more of a friend than a barber.  Sometimes I just hangout at the shop.”
This is Mark’s business plan: to provide a place where people from a close-knit community can come and feel at home.  This plan has lead to the business’s fledgling success and leaves him in a perpetually good mood.  He has good music; today it’s Atoms For Peace and Black Moth Super Rainbow (both soft electric indie rock), and a good business in a place he truly loves.

 But Mark, like most small business owners, hasn’t always had a happy story.  Prior to Mark’s Hair Shop, Mark co-owned and ran a barbershop with his sister near Western Michigan University’s main campus.  Several years ago, Mark’s sister went through a messy divorce and both she and Mark took a massive financial hit and were forced to foreclose on their business.  Mark is a third generation barber though, and he refused to let that be the end of his career.  Eight months ago he discovered his current Vine Street location and said, “I’ve landed.” 

            Since finding a home on Vine St, Mark and his apprentice Andrew Shagene have worked together building back and restoring integrity to the Vine Neighborhood community.

 Centrally located in Kalamazoo the Vine Neighborhood, also known as the Student Ghetto, is comprised largely of low-income families and students from both Western Michigan University and Kalamazoo College.  Its business sector is made up entirely of local businesses, including Mark’s, that are supported by the neighborhood itself.  With the two colleges setting the tone for the neighborhood, it’s not uncommon to see a group of men and women with multicolored Mohawks or dreadlocks (known in Mark’s as “Indies”) walking down the street, laughing.  This community’s residents are linked in their Vine Neighborhood and local Kalamazoo pride.  Mark’s Hair Shop is no exception.

“We live in the community, and that’s what we’re all about,” Andrew said.

 Before he could finish speaking, another young woman entered the shop dragging a sullen little boy in an army vest behind her.  She gave Andrew a nod, and greeted Mark.

“This guy needs a trim.  I tried to do it myself but I just can’t get the lines matched up!” she said.

“Of course my dear,” Mark said, and motioned for the unhappy looking little boy to take his seat.  He then looked at Andrew and said,  “I need music.”

            Andrew pressed play, the boy in the army vest folded his arms over his chest, and jutted out his lower lip a little farther from his mouth.  Mark, clippers in hand, face contorting in concentration, spun around the boy, feverishly, like a conductor in front of a symphony, minutes later he shook out the barbers bib and the boy got up.  The woman hugged Mark goodbye. 

She left in much better spirits than when she came in and no money was ever exchanged; Mark merely explained that he had known the woman for a month and that they were close friends. 

Andrew then continued with what he was saying before the woman and the boy had entered the shop, “We want our costumers to have some identity at a local place, not ostracized like at those corporate barbershops.”

            This local identity is what keeps the walk-ins coming and keeps Mark busy day in and day out: people stop in to ask if Mark can cut a fade or women’s hair almost constantly.  Community is truly the lifeblood of Mark’s Hair Shop, the tiny two-room barbershop on Vine Street. 

It was five o’clock that Friday evening and business had finally slowed, Mark and Andrew began shutting down for the day (Mark’s closes at six).  They spoke quietly together; talking about that evening as they swept up hair and count the small bills, Mark paused for a moment and stared passed the barber pole out into the busy street.
“A beacon in the night,” he said “That’ll be it.  We’ll leave the pole spinning.”

            As he said this, the woman who needed beer and her head shaved crossed Mark’s front window once again and entered the shop.  Mark clicked on the clippers, their electric hum mixed with the light bass of the music and filled the shop around us, he paused for a moment, and then moved in on another client.

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