Miami-Dade County


Keith Gaulden -- barber, therapist, financial advisor, brother, friend, cancer survivor -- has been matching hairdos to personalities for 15 years, many from the worn leather chair at his booth inside Miami's USA Flea Market, a bustling place for South Florida's working class.

He has shaved bolts of lighting, the cartoon character Bugs Bunny and a spiderweb onto the scalps of countless customers.

Those characters have since given way to more elaborate designs, abstractions pulled from the nightmares that often plague his mind, he says.

"They ask. I deliver, " said Gaulden, a 44-year-old man with a boyish grin and the mischievous eyes of a teenager.

The barber's chair has always been a place for sermons and lessons, for lewd jokes and catcalls at women. A place for tough talk about love and life and money and family and obligations.

It is also a place where trends are made, fade away and inevitably return. So it is with the rebirth of Gaulden's artistic hairdos -- where abstract designs are shaved onto the heads of giddy men and women who want to show off.

"My self-esteem is so high that I need a hairdo to match, " said Donald Bush, 17. "I want to stand out as much as possible. It has to match my personality."

The sassier the client, the wilder and more defiant the lines and circles and squares that emanate from Gaulden's razor.

Nothing is planned. A client sits. He runs his hands through the hair. Gets a sense of the client's mood, and then it happens.

His barber shear meets the hair, circles may meet squares; lines may dance with other lines. But the result is almost always an eye-opener.

"Let me explain to you what Keith does, " says poet Rebecca "Butterfly" Vaughns, whose head has been adorned with many butterfly abstractions created by Gaulden at the flea market at 3015 NW 79th St.

"It once took me 30 minutes to get out of the airport after Keith did his thing to my hair. People stopped me at every turn, " said Vaughns.

"At one point I felt someone breathing down my neck and it was an elderly woman, her face in awe, saying, 'I love your hairdo. Who did that? Tell him he's awesome."

Things could have been different.

In November 1999 Gaulden had gone to pay his cellphone bill. He noticed an offer for a 99-cent pair of eyeglasses at a nearby eyewear store, and he stopped in.

"They started giving me an eye exam and right away I knew something was wrong, " said Gaulden. "The lady's face changed in the middle of the exam. She told me there was something strange showing on the machine, and I had to get to the hospital right away."

He did.

He was admitted immediately. Hours later doctors confirmed the worst. He had a brain tumor the size of a tennis ball.

"They told me I was going blind and I may not survive. Can you imagine that? I'd never been in the hospital before, and that was my first experience ... that I might die."

He walked out of the hospital four days after the surgery.

"I haven't taken anything for granted since, " he said.

But he was worried. Did he still have any motor skills? Should he dare put a razor to someone's head?

"It was a tough time for him, for all of his clients, " says friend and longtime client, Daniel Capers.

"We didn't know if he still had it, and there were a lot of us who were afraid to be the first for him to figure it out, " laughed Capers, a customer of 14 years.

Still, Capers agreed to be the test client.

"I figured, man, this is Keith, I'm gonna trust him. I won't lie, I was scared as hell, but thank God he still had it. My hair was hooked up that day, " Capers recalled.

And so, Gaulden -- a man who decided to somehow make art his life since the day his second-grade teacher at Shadowlawn Elementary praised his drawing of the Incredible Hulk -- has continued to shave the heads of his followers.

"Gimme a brush, my blades and I'm ready to go, " said Gaulden.