I can see my barber’s shop from the window next to my desk and computer.  She’s closed today, Monday; her open sign is dark.  Looking at her shop from the window has made me begin to think of haircuts; you must remember that I’m old and my mind wanders.

When I was young, a fellow got a haircut every two weeks at a minimum.  Today, men seem to have their own rules about how often they cut their hair.  When I was growing up, there was one length for men’s hair, short.  Anyone who had hair longer than an inch or two was suspected of being a communist or anarchist.  I guess the Beatles changed men’s opinion about the length of their hair.  Well, that’s not exactly true.  Actually, I suspect that women changed men’s thoughts about the length of their hair.  If women liked the long-haired Beatles, men saw a need for long hair also. 

I don’t recall my first haircut.  My mother probably gave me the first trim.  My first solid memories of haircuts was after I was in high school.  I recall going to a barber shop in downtown Alexandria every two weeks.  It was in a narrow building tucked between others which included a drugstore where I sometimes stopped for a chocolate malt.  Four chairs with four barbers as I recall.  Of course there was a shoe stand with two chairs, one shoeshine boy.  Well, I say boy, but actually he was an old man, but everyone referred to shoeshine men as boys.  In those days, when you got your top end trimmed, you got the other end shined.  You may have looked like Hell in between, but your head and shoes were in good shape when you departed the shop.  Barber shops were a place for men; in fact, women barbers were unheard of, and I don’t recall ever seeing a woman enter the shop.  Boys like myself were tolerated but just barely.  At best we may have been the subject of the occasional joke, but we were paying customers and thus tolerated.  Actually, I enjoyed my visits to the barber shop.  I found the conversations of the social club assembled to be interesting or at least amusing.

Speaking of shoeshines, although the shoeshine boy really did a wonderful job of bringing the worst old shoes or boots back to a shine they would have been proud of right out of the box, and he had a wonderful dexterity with the shoeshine rag which he would occasionally pop as part to the show he performed, I usually really didn’t want to pay the money to have my leather shoes restored.  Standing before the shoeshine boy in shoes which obviously needed some restorative work, it was more than a little difficult to say no to his request.  It was an admission that either I had no pride in my appearance or I didn’t have the money, probably a quarter.  So, inevitably, I’d give up the quarter.  Hushpuppies solved the problem.  The last thing Hushpuppies require is shining.  After I acquired a pair, I made sure that I wore them when I visited the barber shop.  However, I felt a little sad for the shoeshine boy as he stared down at my Hushpuppies as though I had done great wrong to him.

The most outrageous haircuts I recall from my high school days was the Mohawk.  The Mohawk is modeled after the hair of the Indians of that tribe who cut all hair from their heads except a single strip down the middle.  The only ones I knew who had such a cut were some members of Pineville High School’s football team.  Pineville was my high school, and, as I recall, the football players were big and bad and could have any kind of haircuts they wanted.  I do recall that my barber once commented on these haircuts by saying that he would refuse to perform such a heinous act on anyone without parental permission.

The worst haircut I ever received was from a barber on the LSU campus.  I usually waited until I was back home to visit my regular barber, but my dad was going to visit me on campus that day.  A haircut was in order, so I put my head in the hands of a stranger.  “Stranger” is the right word for it.  After some brief instructions, I allowed the stranger to perform his profession.  When he finished, I looked in the mirror and could hardly recognize the stranger I saw.  Holy crap!  Now, I’ve never been a stickler about my haircuts, but this was ridiculous.  The main sin was that the hair had been shaved an inch to an inch and a half above my ears.  Having rather large ears, shaving the hair away from them only accentuates their grotesque size.  Being philosophical about unhappy experiences even then, I simply mentioned that it seemed to be cut a little high above the ears, paid him, and departed a little depressed.  A couple of months later I needed another emergency haircut.  The same barber was handy, and surely he had learned his lesson and wouldn’t repeat his past error.  After brief instructions, once again I placed my head in this fellow’s hands.  When I looked in the mirror at the conclusion of buzzing and snipping, I realized that he had done it again.  Wordless, I began to depart with my horrible haircut which I would have to endure for a couple of months.  The “strange” barber’s parting words for me were, “You like them Yankee haircuts, don’t ya.”  I still don’t know what a Yankee haircut is or why anyone would intentionally get one.

Speaking of bad haircuts, I recall the first year I taught in Somerville that the superintendent commented to me one day that perhaps I needed a haircut.  I liked the sup.  He was a good fellow, and, after all, he had given me a job.  He suggested that I might use the local barber which he used.  Staring at his hair, memories of my Yankee haircut came back, and I was not reassured.   And, besides, I had seen many examples of the local barber’s work and had not been reassured by them either.  I thanked him for his suggestion but found another barber with less of a negative track record.  In all my years here in Somerville, I never did use the local barber even though I’ll admit he was a fine fellow with many satisfied customers.   I just couldn’t put my haircare in his hands--the vision of Yankee haircuts was too strong.

Men consider themselves to be fortunate if they find a mechanic for their car and a barber for their hair in which they have faith.  I’ve found both; I’m a lucky man. 

I had the same barber for about twenty years.  He was an older fellow in the town of Brenham about fifteen miles south of Somerville.  He followed instructions well, remembered instructions well, didn’t take all day to perform a haircut, didn’t charge very much, and didn’t speak unless spoken to.  Bless his heart.  Surely you can understand why I became a faithful client of this fellow.  However, he became ill.  Heart I suspect.  I learned about his illness from a sign on his closed shop door that due to illness he wouldn’t be open for a while.  Every couple of weeks, I’d return to read the same sign.  Finally, I knew I had to find another barber, at least temporarily.  The barber whose shop I’m now looking at from my window is the one I chose.  She’s a she.  Not being familiar with barbers who are female, I felt a little uncomfortable about the first experience with her.  Oh, well, it was only temporary.  The first haircut was satisfactory, but each time I needed a haircut, I’d again visit my barber’s shop and read the latest updated sign, each of which assured his customers that he would soon return.  I continued to get haircuts from the local lady and continued stopping by my barber’s closed shop for about four months.  Finally the bonds of my loyalty to my old barber broke.  I surrendered my head to my new lady barber.  I still have pangs of guilt about abandoning my old barber when he was ill.  He’s now reopened his shop and servicing customers, and I’m sure he doesn’t miss me.  Surely he doesn’t.

I like my new barber.  She’s a pleasant young lady with a husband and children.  She’s not overly talkative, but we have things in common which we discuss as she buzzes and snips at what little hair I have left.  We live only a couple of blocks from each other.  She and her husband are remodeling their house which I did to our house years ago.  In addition, we discuss changes in the community and neither of us is a gossip, a real plus for both her and me.  She apparently checks my website each month when I send her an update.  This alone would make her a favorite of mine.  I trusted her enough to have her be the first to trim my newly acquired mustache and beard.  She managed to remove the ZZ Top look from it.  It’s now more Ulysses S. Grant.  Once again I have a barber I can trust; I just hope nothing happens to my mechanic.

Instead of choosing my local lady barber, I could have gone to the local beauty shop where many of the local men get their haircuts.  I don’t know about that.  It was hard enough for me to go to a lady barber.  The “beauty” shop was beyond my capabilities.

Writing this essay, made me think of a short story I recall reading years ago: Ring Lardner’s “Haircut.”  I took a moment to find it on the internet and reread it before finishing this essay.  I was just as impressed as the first time I read it.  It’s told in the first person from the barber’s point-of-view.  It’s not a pretty story, but it’s easy to recognize small town folks and small town ways in the story.  It’s worth a read by almost anyone who doesn’t mind looking at the sadder side of life.  Most of you have probably never heard of Ring Lardner.  That’s a shame.   


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