A Haircut by : I. S. Nakata
Page 1 (Introduction to Literature)
A Haircut by : I. S. Nakata
People have trouble deciding what I am. Indians mistake me for one of their own; in Chinatown they gave me a menu written in Chinese; and once even a Japanese kid asked me if I was Korean. My ancestors are full-blooded Japanese, but I have had to get used to people thinking I’m something else.
Like that time I went to the barber college on North Clark Street for my cut-rate haircut. It’s a place where student-barbers get on-the-job training, and that’s where I met this guy. He was last in line, and he kept staring at me as I walked in. I just stared back.
Finally he smiled and said with a southern drawl straight out of Alabama, “Say, you’re Indian, aren’t you?”
I looked in the long mirror on the opposite wall. “No,” I told the guy, “I’m not an Indian.”
“Not an Indian?” Alabama said. “I would have sworn you were.”
Alabama shook his head and said, “You can’t fool me. I’ve been all over the country. Seen all kinds of Indians. Cherokees in the Carolinas and Georgia and Alabama. Navajos in Arizona and New Mexico. Winnebagos in Wisconsin, and even some Shastas once in the mountains of California. I know you’re some kind of Indian.”
I shook my head, crossed my arms in front of my chest, and took a deep breath. “No.”
“No, not Cherokee.”
“Not Sioux, are you?”
“Never been in North or South Dakota,” I said.
Page 2 (Introduction to Literature)
I didn’t answer. I knew a lot more about the Winnebagos. After World War II at an army post just outside Paris, I had met a Winnebago Indian from Black River Falls, Wisconsin. Jameson, I think his name was. A medic. And in the week or so that we were at the army post we spent a lot of time talking and eating. Every night we would go and buy a couple of long loaves of bread fresh from the baker’s oven, and we would eat and talk for hours. He made me promise to visit him in Wisconsin when I got back to the States.
“That’s God’s country – where the Winnebagos live,” I told Alabama. “Plenty of hunting and fishing, especially for muskellunge.”
“Muskellunge, huh?” Alabama said. He looked impressed.
“Yeah, muskellunge. Most people call them muskies. Good eating, too. Salted, fried, or broiled in the ashes of hickory wood. “Wish you were there, huh, Chief?”
“Yeah, nice place,” I said.
“So, you’re a Winnebago?” he said with a happy nod.
“I never said that. I am not a Winnebago.” I turned away. “Now, now, Chief. Don’t get mad,” Alabama said. “I’m your friend. Yes, sir, I’m truly your friend. I’ve worked with Indians and helped lots of them working for Standard Oil. The reason I thought you were Winnebago is because you know so much about them.”
“I don’t know so much.”
“You do. You sure do, Chief.” He looked slyly around and then lowered his voice. “You running away from there, Chief? Maybe from the police?”
“I AM NOT RUNNING AWAY FROM THE POLICE,” I told him.
“OK, Chief,” he said quickly. “I didn’t mean no harm.”
For a long time Alabama didn’t say anything. Some of the guys ahead of us moved up in line, and we moved along, too. Soon Alabama had a choice of sitting or standing. He sat down on the bench and slid over to make room for me. Then he began again.
Page 3 (Introduction to Literature)
“So you’re not a Winnebago, huh?”
I didn’t answer him.
“No, I am not a Crow,” I said very sharply, even though I had nothing against that tribe.
He rubbed his chin with his left hand and thought hard. “Arapaho?” I shook my head.
I smiled. The Navajos were a tribe that I’d be proud to be a part of. Great weavers, great in handicrafts, and among the best when it came to farming. I’d once gone to an art school in Kansas City with Custer Begay – a Navajo and fine artist. I started thinking about Custer and his beautiful drawings of Indians on horseback. Then I remembered some...
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