Do The Knight Thing

Short on the sides and leave a little on top today, please, Professor. And give me a little of that Sicilian Defense while you're at it.

"Women can't get me and pull moves on me like before," Lampkin asserts as he pulls up the blinds, the morning sunlight brightening the shop. "Before you react, you have to research. Most things that happen don't happen all of a sudden. They happen with some kind of warning, like in chess when you're put in check. You got to read the signs and plan ahead."

"I never looked at it like that." The angry man sounds his first note of optimism. Lampkin finishes the cut and whisks loose hair from the customer's neck with a small brush. The man glances briefly at his new flattop in the mirror A save the vanity for some other time A and begins pacing.

"It's about caring for yourself. How much do men do for themselves?" Lampkin observes. "I'm not saying that all men get the shaft. But there's a lot of evidence to support the fact that men's rights are being eroded to the benefit of women."

"Yeah," chimes in another client who has just come in. "What's it cost to keep a woman up? What's it take for her nails, maybe 50 dollars or 100 dollars, and another 50 to keep it up?"

"Not to mention a pedicure," interjects someone else.
The shop falls silent under the reflection of four brooding men.
"Just pursue the avenues that you can to secure the rights to your child," Lampkin concludes. "You need to pursue the legal channels. Keep everything documented. Go to Office Depot, get yourself a pad and write everything down."

"The judge don't know, he don't live in your house," snarls the man.
"You could be right in your heart, but you got to be right on paper, too. Think about the child and think about you. You don't have to do anything bad to the woman."

"It makes you feel like that."
"Your life is too valuable. Let that feeling pass."
An elderly woman clutching a newspaper shepherds in two small boys and takes a seat. Stillness again settles on the shop, interrupted only by the steady drone of Lampkin's clippers. In this pause, the place seems to regain its equilibrium. A waiting customer tips his head back against the wall and closes his eyes, and the angry man, noticeably less agitated than before, thanks the barber and departs.

The two young boys drift over to the dormant chessboards and set about reinventing the game. Bishops turn corners in one swoop. Pawns float several spaces backwards. Queens, it appears, are immortal.

As the conversation resumes A before the morning is gone, it will cover a spectrum of topics: the Rodney King case, racial stereotyping, the dislocation of the black family, weaknesses of the city commission, the relative merits of salted and unsalted grits A Lampkin disappears into the back room and emerges to the opening guitar licks of Lightnin' Hopkins's "Mojo Hand." "Ah, yes, the blues," Lampkin chuckles, half to himself.

For nearly three years Professor Lampkin's Barber Shop has occupied a small, one-story building among a hodgepodge of other small businesses on Opa-locka Boulevard in downtown Opa-locka. That is, the sleepy four-block stretch that begins just north of the railroad tracks and dead-ends at the city hall, a cartoonish, Islamic-style edifice complete with domes and phony minarets. But downtown is a relative term, and Opa-locka's version is much closer to Tombstone, Arizona, than to Broadway. Vehicular traffic is light, pedestrian traffic virtually nonexistent. Tumbleweed cartwheeling down the street under the noonday sun would be an unremarkable sight, if only amaranth grew in Northwest Dade.

With the notable exception of Opa-locka Pizza, which opened when Gerald Ford occupied the White House, and the Igloo Bar down the block, now in its eleventh year, most of the existing businesses are no more than a few years old. Many shops have come and gone so rapidly that their names, stenciled in paint on the storefronts, haven't kept pace. The shop at 400 Opa-locka Boulevard sells used furniture, not Latin-American food or "Brooklyn Candy" as two signs on the wall suggest. B&P Thrift Store expanded into the space vacated by Gemini Records, but the music store's logo still remains. And still other storefronts have closed and stayed that way. Sweet & Soft Ice Cream, across from Lampkin's, scooped its last cone a couple of years back and has remained boarded up ever since. And the last patient paid a visit to Dr. Oper's office down the street about the same time.

"When I came here twenty years ago, it was a nice little town A now I'm not prejudice, but it was white A a pretty little town where everybody knew everybody else," recalls Connie Stout, the owner of Opa-locka Pizza and one of only a few white business owners that have stayed in the neighborhood. The frenetic Stout, whose wispy-thin frame belies her name, has watched the area fall into disrepair as crime and poverty eroded the community's moral and financial foundations. "I think it's drugs and A oh, it's just my opinion A but a big problem is the damn politicians. Everybody, 'stead of working together, is working apart." Stout scoffs at the recent sprucing-up city officials have given her block. "It's too late. That's only my opinion, you know. They waited too long."

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