Cheli Aguilar snips. Lola snoozes.
Three chairs back in the slender confines of the Lyn-Lake Barbershop in Minneapolis, Aguilar's day has just begun. She's 10 minutes into giving the first haircut and Lola, the shop's resident Chihuahua, who's wearing a pink dress with a over-sized flower along the neckline, is already well into her morning nap.
Ever since Aguilar joined the LynLake staff as a barber — she prefers "hair stylist" — six years ago, Lola has slumbered on the mini-couch across from Aguilar's chair.
Both ladies work long days.
Aguilar's are 10 to 12 hours, five days a week. She estimates each is consumed by 18 to 20 haircuts.
She's been cutting hair for 26 years.
Aguilar owns the kindest of eyes. They're encircled with black eyeliner, glitter accenting the skin beneath her brows. Her lashes appear to have wings.
Through a mouthful of orthodontist-endorsed teeth and burgundy lipstick — "it's called Dark Side" — the married without kids stylist says she wishes more people would slow down to soak it all in. Still, she knows her role.
Besides delivering a solid haircut, a good barber is a psychologist. A listener who connects when the customer wants to talk. A professional who smiles, places her hands on their shoulders, and says little when a client simply needs a fresh start with a fresh lid.
"Everyone has a story," she says. "A lot of times, they share it. It might be their first or second haircut with me and they'll open up and want to tell me a lot of personal stuff, secrets because they know I won't tell no one. I think people want you to listen to them as a person. Sometimes, they don't want to say nothing. A good barber knows when to talk and knows when to listen. But always, always pay attention."
Decades ago, Aguilar left Spain for Minneapolis as a 16-year-old exchange student. She didn't know a lick of English. She had no idea about the land where she was to settle, the city where she'd become a student at Southwest High School.
Someone told her watching All My Children would help to learn English. She watched the show almost daily. It took three months for her to get a handle on the new language, although she admits she's still learning her adopted tongue.
Post-graduation, when she could have returned to Spain, Aguilar never gave it a thought.
"People there, my family, always told me what to do," she says. "I had curfews what time I had to be home. My father wanted me to become a doctor. But that's not me.
"What do I love about America? Nobody tells me what to do here. You are free to make your life what you want."
Sometime after high school, Aguilar told a friend she had wanted to cut hair since she was four years old.
If that's your dream, follow it, the woman urged.
Today, Aguilar's client book approaches 500 people. Ninety percent are men.
She wishes Minnesotans would adopt one trait from her native Spain: Be more open — and quicker — when it comes to extending kindness.
"This is how I see it here: People are too much into themselves," she says. "They might invite you to go out to happy hour or over for a barbecue, but they don't bring you into their homes."
In Spain, by contrast, a person will stop their life to befriend a stranger. They'll prepare a feast on a sprawling dinner table then insist their visitors stay the night.
In Aguilar's experience, Minnesotans can take years to let their guard down.
"I think it's that way because they think you want something from them," she says. "I do think that's unique to Minnesota, but I think it's dumb, but it's okay."
The look in Lola's beach ball eyes says she's not okay that she just got woken up.
In a few minutes she'll be into the dog dreams of morning nap number two, about the same time Aguilar is placing her hands on the shoulders of her next client and listening.
Send tips to Cory Zurowski