Just feet apart physically, but on opposite ends of the political spectrum, two barbers in Bremerton have no qualms about voicing their opinions on the presidential candidates and the state of the economy in their community.
BREMERTON — In the Manette neighborhood of this military town, only a few feet separate the shops of barber Andre Jones, a black 46-year old whose wife Tracey founded their shop 10 years ago, and hairstylist Sariann Irvin — a white 29-year-old who met her husband when he roamed in one day from the Navy base.
They are next door to each other, but political worlds apart.
Jones is a 10-year Navy veteran who said Martin Luther King Jr. — “like Ronald Reagan,” he said — was a mere figurehead who got by with little more than great speaking skills. In contrast, he said, “Malcolm X was a greater man. I know I’ve lost customers for speaking my mind as I do, but how great would this world be if everyone said what they really thought?”
Jones is a libertarian and is convinced President Barack Obama is “deep in his heart” a Muslim, too politically afraid to claim anything but Christianity as his faith.
In Jones’s barber chair this day was 19-year-old Sam Collins III, an Olympic College filmmaking student, who was as much at ease ripping Republicans as he was getting his hair cut. “The Republican platform has always been about fear,” he said. “Hype everything up. Play to everybody’s fears.”
Next door at Special FX Salon, Irvin, a Republican, said it’s been “pretty scary” watching store after store up and down East 11th Street either throw up a “For Sale” sign or lock up their doors for good. Nikki’s Coffee Spot closed. The Patio is boarded up. Manette TV shut down two weeks ago. Manette Saloon & Sidebar? Dry.
“Just Kate’s Jersey Subs next door and me are left,” Irvin said. “It’s very heartbreaking to see such a cute neighborhood want all these shops to stay open, but they can’t seem to keep their doors open.” She never mentioned Tracey’s Barber Shop right next door. They are competitors, remember.
At Tracey’s, the conversation turned from the economy to education. “Schools around here just keep failing our kids,” Jones told me as he started his next $17 haircut. “My wife is doing her thesis on how Washington State estimates demand for more prisons based on fourth grade reading scores. Jay Inslee. Rob McKenna. Who cares? Ninety percent of these politicians are corrupt. They just stand up there and lie.”
Kirk, who doesn’t look like he needs a haircut but probably drops in for the intense political discussions, said he doesn’t trust anybody running for office.
Trust was also an issue back at Irvin’s. A 48-year-old bookkeeper strolled in with her 10-year-old niece who said she trusts Obama “a small little bit,” while her Aunt Krista made clear she votes straight-ticket Republican. “I know something needs to be changed,” she said, “and the only politicians I trust are Republicans.”
Jones had a different take on Republicans: “Republicans never talk about the poor. I am the working poor. The people you see in here are the working poor.”
Tracey reflected on how they started their business, and their efforts to keep it afloat. “We started small and tried to grow,” she said. “The problem is too many businesses open up big and fail. We began with two thousand square feet and one barber chair — just like today. Yeah, it’s a struggle.”
Who do you blame? I asked.
“I blame President Bush,” Jones said without pause. “Obama’s just trying to clean up the mess he got left with. [Gov. Mitt] Romney is too artificial. He seems way too rehearsed. He is all the Republicans had left on the barnyard. The guy’s got convenient amnesia.”
Conversely, Irvin blames Obama for the billions of dollars in bank bailouts that came after Bush’s presidency, as well as Obamacare’s devastating impact on the deficit. “Yeah I’m worried. I’ve hired one girl full-time, but she’s an independent contractor who just rents space on my property so I don’t pay for her health care.”
“People fear the unknown,” Jones said. “You just can’t slam Obamacare if you never had it. My wife and I have lost about a third of our business since the recession started four years ago. We would love to grow our business more, but we can’t. This country is made up of nothing but ‘haves’ and ‘have nots.’”
So you think the 99% are owed by the 1%? I asked.
“Absolutely!” Jones said, raising up his arms. “We’re just looking for a break. When you are rich, that is your break.”
As Jones’ third and final haircut Saturday morning, I couldn’t resist asking him if Obama would do better to embrace instead of distance himself from the socialist label that has shadowed — even haunted — him since the first few weeks of his first term.
“Darn right,” Jones answered. “It’s just like the Christianity thing. He knows he will be torn apart if he acknowledges who he really is and what he really believes.”
But how do you know?
“I’m a barber.”