- Associated Press - Sunday, December 14, 2014

DUBLIN, Texas (AP) - There are two libraries in this town, but in only one of them are the stories written on paper.

“When I came to Dublin, it was like going to a town and checking out a new library,” Armando Rodriguez told the Abilene Reporter-News (https://bit.ly/1qsL6CD). “Here’s all these books that I’ve not read.”

Rodriguez, known as “A.J.” and the owner of A.J.’s Barber Shop, has been a barber for 37 years. Until about six and a half years ago he worked primarily at a shop in Garland he shared with his brothers until he and his wife moved their family to Dublin.

Having worked in Garland for so long, it was not unusual for him to see the children of his customers go through school, graduate, marry and subsequently bring their own children in. Each had their story and he knew them all.

Now in Dublin, he’s learning new stories.



“Here is this book, and this is you,” he said, pantomiming the opening of some large volume. “Tomorrow it’ll be their book, and then another and another.

“Every time I cut their hair, it’s like I can’t wait until next time so I can find out what happens to the rest of the story.”

His barber shop on North Patrick Street doesn’t have a confessional and Rodriguez certainly isn’t a priest. Yet even so, it’s got that sanctuary vibe.

It comes out when Rodriguez and his customer are alone, the only voices being theirs or the low chatter of a TV mounted high in the corner. That’s when the pages of a life’s book begin to open.

“There’s a guy who walks by here all the time, he’s kind of slumped-over, like an older man,” Rodriguez said, shrugging. “The first few times that I did him, he didn’t talk much. So I thought maybe he’s just, I don’t know, not very friendly.”

Everyone puts up walls; some are higher than others. But after a time, the fellow began to open up. At first it was just a trickle.

“Then for a minute, he just let’s go,” Rodriguez said.

Stories of Vietnam, people he knew, moments he lived; it all gushed out in a bright, swirling pool of memory.

“For that moment, he is young all over, he goes into another time in life,” recalled Rodriguez. “And after he’s done and he walked away? Well, he’s just the older guy again.”

Rodriguez’s shop sits behind his home, a white PVC pipe painted with a red stripe - his homemade barber pole - sits at the edge of the lawn. Customers park in the backyard or along the driveway.

Like any library some books are comedic, others offer do-it-yourself tips, and a few combine the two. Take the guy who had a persistent rash on his foot, Rodriguez had a simple solution for him.

“I know how you can get rid of that. You may not want to do it, but I know that it works,” he told the man. “Pee on it.”

“Yeah, whatever,” came the eye-rolling reply.

“No, seriously. This was something that was told to me, when I had a rash that would not go away,” Rodriguez said. “If nobody’s looking, what do you got to lose?”

He paused in his story, sweeping up hair and the strips of paper used for men’s necks.

“It went away instantly,” he said. “It worked.”

Other stories are more sobering.

Once long ago, a man was in the flower of his youth. He was fit, had a girlfriend, a steady job - life was good. But then the following day, a bad slip and a hard fall brought it all down.

“I could have died,” he told his barber, years after. “I didn’t, but I ended up being a quadriplegic.”

“That’s pretty rough,” Rodriguez said to him.

“Honestly, I can deal with everything,” came the reply. “If I could have just one thing back .”

The man trailed off for a moment, and in Rodriguez’s mind he expected to hear the customer wish for his lost mobility. But that wasn’t it.

“If I could have one thing,” he said, picking the conversation back up. “It would be that I could get a job. It’s so boring to not do anything, and nobody gives opportunities because they see what I am.

“I can talk, I can hear, but I don’t get a break.”

Rodriguez shook his head, recalling the conversation.

“We’re all so vain,” he said. “I wish I had more hair. But this guy, all he wants to do is work.”

It’s a story he repeats whenever anyone gripes too much about work when sitting in his chair. Most end up counting their blessings when they hear it.

But in this library, parenting would also be another well-used volume.

“Somebody’s got a daughter and she’s 15 or 16, they’ve been through a divorce. He says, ‘I buy her stuff and she just throws it back at me,’” Rodriguez recalled, unfolding and easing down into one of the re-purposed theater seats along the shop’s window.

“She’s saying, ‘I don’t know why you bother doing that, because my mom hates you and I hate you,’” the customer told the barber.

“It feels real bad because I’m just trying to please her, trying to make up,” he continued. “What would you do?”

Rodriguez thought it over, then said if it were him, he’d keep buying the gifts. Let her throw them away, he said. It’ll pay off in the long run.

“One day she will grow up; she will understand that you never stopped being you, you know?” he answered. “Then she’ll appreciate it.”

Libraries share stories, and Rodriguez freely shares his. Names are left out, allowing the listener to focus on the point of the story.

“You have an opportunity to go into people’s lives, whether it be that or a person thinking of getting a divorce. You may be being able to talk him out of it based on what this other guy just told you.”

He regards his position as something of a paradox. Rodriguez isn’t a native of Dublin and isn’t privy to the kind of deep institutional knowledge that would entail.

“Yet in the time that I have been here, I’ve been fortunate enough to have a one-on-one interview with everyone that has come in,” he said. “I love being a barber.”

___

Information from: Abilene Reporter-News, https://www.reporternews.com

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