Lessons from the Barber Shop: “Life is Too Short”
Brunswick Barber Shop owner John Ballos spends some of his home or down time cleaning gutters and moving firewood. He would do the same, pre-cancer, adding in hours of binge-watching entire seasons of whatever catches his interest.
Attending barber school in 1990, he has spent 30 years cutting hair. “I tried it and it turns out I’m pretty good at it,” laughs Ballos. “I kind of fell into barbering. It keeps me occupied. I went to school for a year in Wheaton, Maryland. There were forty people in our class, waiting to cut hair for anyone who would let us test our skills Tuesdays through Saturday. They taught you skills to pass the board tests then learn your style after that.”
He recalls his first time “cutting a fade,” on a guy while working in Potomac, Maryland. “He kept coming back, thinking I would get better. I still have a picture of that original haircut. It was bad. I can cut hair, no curls, no styling,” says Ballos.
He became known as the “Flat Top King” of Potomac. He cut two every year, which was the joke in his title. Once he opened his shop in Brunswick, he did fifteen of the military-type haircuts the first week. “I’m just a burned-out old hippie rock guitarist who cuts hair. I haven’t cut off an ear lately either,” says Ballos, with his usual giggle. He doesn’t shampoo hair but sprays it down with water to make sure his cuts are good and layered when requested.
His most recent, and odd, request was the age old “mullet” a client asked for in August. The groomsmen had agreed to grow that style for a wedding. Ballos found that cut a blast to do. His customers are primarily older people and law enforcement. “I run an old-fashioned barber shop. Parents take their kids to their salon. In my shop, pre-Covid, you’d find five people yapping and kibitzing while one is getting a haircut.”
Ballos has also put cancer behind him. About a year ago, he noticed a swelling on his upper thigh that looked like a hernia. His doctor made a guess and was met with John’s quick wit with “then why is my ankle and foot swollen?” They sent him to a local hospital where he was diagnosed with a urinary tract infection. Ballos knew he was not being diagnosed correctly, however, he was taking the prescribed antibiotics and Ibuprofen for the pain it was now causing.
His next “new” doctor requested a biopsy. They knew it was cancer and diagnosed it as Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
He took a bottle of wine, opened it, and drank directly from it. His wife asked if he needed a glass and he replied, “it comes in glass.” He was “really freaked out” by the diagnosis and sent to an oncologist. “Because of the delay in diagnosis, it had gone from stage II to stage III, but they can cure it.” He will continue to have a port in his upper body until his chemotherapy is complete.
“Chemo was miserable. You have this thing in your arm for 24 hours that blinks in case there is an infection. I looked like death for three days, then I would go back to work. Then Covid shut everything down for five months.” During that time, he was allowed to just be miserable. “I looked at a picture of myself after chemo. I had zero hair, no eyebrows, hair on my head, or hair on my face. I was on five different meds.”
The pain has started going away, the swelling has gone down, and he is regaining his strength. He is still weak, but between reading books and watching movies or documentaries, he wipes down his barber chair, sanitizes everything multiple times, and wears his masks. He continues to have monthly bloodwork and Covid tests, and his port will probably leave his body in a year. He allows one person in the barber chair, one person waiting, and the next has to wait outside.
John Ballos is 70. “I don’t act like a 70-year-old. I didn’t get the manual on how to act like a 70-year-old so I’m just going to be me.”
He enjoys the stories people tell him while in his chair and once had to cut the white hairs out of a man’s hair every visit.
“You’re the star of your own movie. You just don’t know what kind; comedy, drama, horror…”
He also asks people to keep politics out of the shop. “Life is too short,” says Ballos.
Brunswick Barber Shop
Brunswick Shopping Center
56 Souder Road, Brunswick, Maryland 21716
Tuesday to Friday, 9:00-5:00
Saturday, 9:00-2:00 or until he runs out of gas!