Local Legend: The Brooklyn Barber Who Defies His Tourette's Syndrome

jessicapaige in Stories

Brooklyn Barber David Arce has managed to turn himself into a local legend by defying his Tourettes Syndrome, all in the name of hair...

I want to preface this article by saying that my husband has forever hated his haircuts. It was kind of a saga for a while, the dreaded day when it was time for another cut. He kept trying out all these new barbers and could never really find anyone that was able to get the fade or undercut just right (think Brad Pitt in Fury) ... until he found David Arce at Tomcats Barbershop in Greenpoint.

David was diagnosed with Tourette's Syndrome at 23 years of age, and with very few setbacks has been able to handle scissors and straight blades with style and grace - while living out his dream as one of the best barbers this side of Brooklyn.

I was happy to sit down with David on his lunch break yesterday, to discuss his new video and his story...


Find your next tattoo

    What motivates you to overcome some of these challenges that you face?

    Recent from Stories

    Basically just keeping going with myself, focusing on my career, and doing what I love. If I pay attention to what I'm doing in front of me, I'm more relaxed. I'm very passionate at what I do - I've been doing this for 13 years now. I don't have the tics as much when I'm cutting hair as I do outside of the shop, I come in every day and make people look good - that's what motivates me.

    You love what you do. 

    Oh yeah. I more than love what I do, and it's something that I want to keep on going with.

    Do you remember a specific moment that helped you see Tourette's Syndrome in a new light? You mentioned earlier that it's not something that you "struggle" with at this point in your life...

    Coping is the word I like to use. (Tourettes Syndrome) is not a natural thing to have. It's not common to see, you know, someone jumping from the floor, uttering obscenities, and all that. It's something I'm used to but still not used to at the same time.

    You learn to live with it.

    Exactly... and bumping into other people I've learned about the Tourette's Association, which I guess answers your question. They have all these get togethers and brunches, and social gatherings where I'm in the same room with all the people that have this... my whole life I didn't really understand why I was having these tics, I thought I was the only one! I thought, I'm never going to meet somebody with the same thing as me. I'm always going to be different.

    Little did you know...

    Little did I know, I walked in (to a gathering) one day and all these people! Women, children, men, everybody - we're just like... moving around, tic-ing out and stuff. It was weird because I grew up with people staring at me. I still have people staring at me. So it was just cool to be in a place with all these people that have the same thing as me. It kind of opened me up - like, wow. Ok. I'm not alone, I'm not by myself. I could be myself and let it go, and not have to worry about it like I do out in public.

    What do you think is the most common misconception our society has pertaining to those with Tourette's?

    Drug use. I'm sure everybody is aware that when you use heavy drugs for a long amount of time you become...

    A tweaker.

    Exactly. Tweakers and junkies. They have little ticks and tremors, this and that - which one can easily confuse with someone having a neurological disability... Sometimes I try to suppress the twitching because I know that's what people are thinking, and I don't want them to think that of me - but then I again I can't help it. I hate when people stare. But now as my life is progressing, I kind of have to take a step back and realize that they may not be looking at me thinking "oh shit, is he a freak or something" ...

    They just dont know.

    They just don't know. Sometimes you just have to educate people. If you want to know, just ask.

    I actually am curious, because I watched the video and noticed that you have a couple of tattoos... What was that process like for you, being that it's imperative to sit still for longer periods of time? Did your artist know?

    I let him know. I actually first cut his hair.

    He was a client of yours?

    For two years before he tattooed me. So when I went to his tattoo parlor I let him know again, and said if I end up having the sensation to move, you need to pick the needle up because it might be a little bit... much. He was cool with it.

    When it came down to the tattoo, he's starting to tattoo me and funny thing - I wasn't moving. Main reason being, my body causes itself more pain than what anybody else can do to me on the outside. Physically, mentally, and emotionally - but more physically than anything. So as he's running the needle on the skin, it's five, ten, fifteen minutes I haven't moved. And he keeps asking, you know, "Are you okay? You're not moving!". 

    He was surprised!

    He was. To be honest when an outside source is...

    Dependent on you to not move?

    Exactly, dependent on me not to move, and hurting me at the same time... I don't want to sound like a pain junkie, but getting tattooed helps me relax. It's weird. The pain of a tattoo is one of the most relaxing things I can go through. Instead of trying to calm myself down drinking Chamomile tea, the pain of the tattoo helps. It's a break for me when I'm concentrated on something else, it's almost like it (Tourette's) disappears...

    Well I guess you're just going to have to get more tattoos. 

    I can't wait to finish! Little by little, session by session. It's one of the most comfortable feelings for me.

    David can be found at Tomcats Barbershop 135 India Street, Brooklyn, NY, 11222.


    @Jessica Paige

    New York Native. Dreamer, traveler, collector, headbanger. NY Ink Season 3 Social Media & Writer for Tattoodo


    More from Author

    More Stories

    We Recommend

    Recent Staff Picks