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TinotopiaLog → Jesus Nagar ( 5 Jun 2001)
Tuesday 05 June 2001

Jesus Nagar

Near where I live, there’s this surreal hair-cutting establishment.

Actually, perhaps I should take a step back. Very near where I live, there’s this plaza that wraps around an arm of a little man-made lake. This is Washington Plaza, the architectural centerpiece of Reston when it was built back in 1962.

There are some restaurants, a bookstore, a pharmacy, and about five hair-cutting establishments in or near the plaza. Some residences open onto the plaza, and some of these — the ones nearer to the center of things — have been partially or totally converted into commercial space.

In one of these is a surreal hair-cutting establishment. It caters only to men, which may explain some of the surreality of it; this kind of place died out in the USA, for the most part, a number of years ago.

The whole place is decorated — if that’s not too strong a word — in mid-1970s faux-saloon style. I couldn’t quite say at the moment whether there are any sham WANTED posters on the wall printed with liberal use of Old West typefaces, but it certainly feels like there are.

Definitely on the walls are all sorts of panoramic photographs of various barbers’ conventions from the 1960s and 1970s, all held in large Manhattan hotels. The photographs are enormous group shots, usually taken from a balcony, of an entire ballroom full of people seated for dinner. Most of the men in the photos have unfortunate moustaches or side-whiskers, or both.

There are two rooms: a waiting room, and a cutting room. Both rooms have old commercial linoleum-tile floors and ceilings stained dark from tobacco smoke. The waiting room contains, in addition to the possibly non-existent WANTED posters: two ancient sofas, a huge coffee table covered with well-thumbed magazines and huge ashtrays, a fairly nice antique washstand that supports a TV and that serves as the establishment’s cash drawer, and one of those giant oval rugs that’s more like a spiral of soft(ish) rope than anything else. The overall effect is of being in someone’s ne’er-do-well uncle’s living room circa 1978. This impression is not lessened by the fact that you enter from the sidewalk through a sliding glass door.

The cutting room contains four hair-cutting stations, each with a chair, basin, mirror, etc. Only two of them appear to have been in use in the last twenty years. All of the basins are very, very ugly — they’re proper hair-washing basins, with the cutout for your neck and all, but other than that they are seashell-shaped, and made out of some kind of cookies-and-cream porcelain that must have been ugly even when they were new. Now, they’re awful. The basins at the two stations that are not in use are cracked. The other two basins are also cracked, but not as badly. The walls of the cutting room are covered with the panoramic group shots (see above), as well as a portrait of Robert E. Lee, which has a Confederate battle flag draped over it.

Two people work in this gem of a place. One, presumably the owner of the photos, the attendee of those conventions, the fan of General Lee, and the seeming owner of the shop, has an unfortunate moustache and a huge paunch, and looks to be about 50 years old. The other seems to be about 80 years old, allegedly speaks no English, and only does "razor cuts". He appears to have some sort of age-related mental debility. If you walk into the shop and do not assert yourself, your hair will be cut by the man with the paunch and the facial hair. He will bully "Frenchie" (as he calls the other guy) away from you and back to the television (which shows nothing but soap operas).

(In case you don’t believe any of this, please examine this photo I found on someone else’s website.)

The last time I was there, Frenchie was pushed out of the way and I sat down to wait for the other guy. He was already with a customer.

Frenchie looked out the window for a while, then came in to watch some TV, and then went back to the window. Sideburn-man and his customer, a skinny little Indian guy wearing an out-of-style golf shirt, came out of the cutting room. Sideburns went through the process of wrenching open the drawer under the TV (it’s an antique washstand, remember: the drawer doesn’t slide very easily), gave the guy change, and told me he’d be ready in a couple of minutes.

He swept up the Indian guy’s hair with a broom, put his combs back in the Barbicide, and did all those other post-customer things that barbers do. He then took out an enormous Meerschaum pipe, sat down in one of the spare barber’s chairs, and started getting ready to smoke.

When I say this was an enormous pipe, I’m not kidding. This is the kind of pipe that Svejk is pictured smoking in Josef Lada’s illustrations.

I’d never in my life seen anyone smoke one of these before, not even in Bavaria. He packed it full of the most foul-smelling tobacco I’ve ever come across, and lit it with a single match.

After he was lit, he said he was ready for me. He proceeded to cut my hair while smoking that pipe. Since both his hands were occupied with the hair-cutting, he would talk while holding it between his teeth. This resulted in the pipe bouncing up and down, spewing smoke and embers all over the place. It was also impossible to understand what he was saying, but that wasn’t a problem because I wasn’t listening anyway; I was too busy trying to keep hot coals from burning through the cape.

In good time he finished, and it was time to jiggle out the till drawer again in the other room. When we went out there, we found the skinny Indian guy coming back through the sliding-glass door with a handful of flyers. All the while looking at his feet, he handed one each to me, Mr. Pipe, and Frenchie. He mumbled something at us, but it was unintelligible. I smiled broadly at him, tipped Pipe man, and left.


All of that was just to establish the right mood, to let you know the background, to allow you to better understand the situation I was in when I was handed this flyer.

I was handed this flyer in early 2001. It’s dated April 1998, says it’s "Issue 2", and was established in 1992. It is obviously not published with any great frequency.

The basic premise of it seems to be that the skinny Indian guy (whose name might be Jacob Coipuram) wants donations to build this Jesus Nagar, or Jesus City, on 1/2 acre in India.

(Nagar does not precisely mean city. I don’t think there is an exact equivalent in English. It means something closer to community.)

Jacob isn’t pushy, though. The flyer explains that the funding will be according to "God’s provisions" and that it will be completed in "God’s planning time". I suppose you should just read the flyer:

And people say that nothing interesting happens in the suburbs. It’s hard to have this bizarre a morning in New York.

Posted by tino at 10:16 5.06.01
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