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The Eclectic Pen - Barbershop Blues

By: Tom C. (Tommy)   + 8 more  
Date Submitted: 1/16/2007
Genre: Humor & Entertainment » Humor
Words: 2,230


When I was young and single I used to have my hair cut at an establishment called John's Barbershop. It was near where I worked and boasted three chairs, no waiting. John's was typical of many shops like it in that it was in a small, cement block, freestanding building, with parking on one side. Above the parking lot was a painted sign in large, red, block letters that proclaimed: JOHN’S BARBERSHOP. There was a picture of scissors and a comb crossed like swords on a coat of arms. The shop sat on the west side of a four lane, highway, had big windows in the front, and even a red and white striped barber pole. Inside was pure Americana. It could have been a Rockwell painting. There was a collection of worn, maroon, vinyl chairs lining one long wall. They were the kind with the curved, chrome, steel frame that one could find in any barbershop or doctor's waiting room in the fifties or sixties. They sat upon a brown and beige checked, tiled floor and behind them was knotty pine paneling that went up about four feet and was topped by mirrors that ran the length of the wall. There were a couple of end tables and a coffee table all filled with an assortment of magazines. Car & Driver, Field & Stream, and my personal favorite, Argosy. One might also find an occasional National Geographic or Reader's Digest. The short wall at the back of the shop was all knotty pine with a door leading to the back room. Behind the barber chairs was a wall of cabinets with a narrow ledge for each barber's paraphernalia, and vertical wall cabinets separating the mirrors behind each chair and forming individual work stations. The whole place smelled of stale cigarette smoke, Old Spice, and Brylcreem.

Each at his station, one would find John at the first chair up by the front windows, Paul in the middle (Paul cut my hair), and the other guy at the end. They were usually sitting in their own chairs reading the paper. One or another might have a customer, but there was rarely anyone waiting (three chairs, no waiting, remember?). Each would be wearing a white smock with a skinny, black comb peeking from his breast pocket.

One knew these guys were barbers and there was no doubt this was a barbershop. It was a comfortable place. There was no nonsense here. I could get my hair cut while I read the paper. A little hot lather above my ears and on the nape of my neck, a couple of swipes with a straight razor and I was outta’ there! Even after changing jobs and moving across town, I would still go back for my haircuts. The importance of a good barber should not be underestimated.

Driving by the shop one day I was shocked to see the whole southwest corner of the building was caved in and the windows were boarded up. Apparently one of the patrons at the bar down the street was overserved the night before and failed to remain on the pavement despite the availability of four lanes. They remained closed for a couple of months while I contemplated the merits of a pony tail. After all, I couldn’t go just anywhere. What would Paul say?

John’s Barbershop never re-opened. In its place was Giovanni’s Salon for Men. The big sign on the side now promised something called continental hair styling. With great trepidation I pulled open the shiny, new glass door and entered, sure wasn’t John’s! Gone was the knotty pine and vinyl furniture, replaced with red flocked wallpaper and velour. A great swath of blood red carpet covered the old tile floor and right in the middle was a huge fish tank. John was apparently well insured!

The familiar white smocks were gone too. Each stylist wore a shiny jacket in a different color. One black, one red, and one royal blue. Their names were embroidered on the pocket in fancy gold script. There was Giovanni, Paulo, and Pietro. Ha! the other guy was Pete! Who knew? They had grown beards and their sideburns were shaved into long sweeping curves that ended in a sharp point. I have always suspected these sinister changes had something to do with the dark and evil period in recent history known as disco, but I can’t prove it.

I went back a few more times, but this was just too weird for me. Shortly afterward, I was married, and in the interest of frugality, my new wife began to cut my hair. She must have had a natural talent for it because after only six or seven years, people would no longer point and stare. This went on for twenty-one years! I had not been to a professional until just this past week.

We had a wedding to attend on Saturday, and my wife had to work that morning. As she left the house she gave me my instructions.

“There’s a load of clothes in the washer. When they’re done, put them in the dryer and then hang up your shirts while they’re still damp.” No sweat. I could do this. “Clean up this kitchen, vacuum, and straighten out the family room. Someone might come over.” No problem. I could get the kids to do most of that. “I’ll be home at about four.” she said. “Be sure your clothes are ready ‘cause we have to leave by five. Oh, and go get your hair cut. You’re overdue and I want you to look nice for my cousin’s wedding.”

I was panic stricken! “What!? Get a haircut? Where!?”

“I don’t care where.” she said “Just get one.”

“But you always cut my hair. Why can’t you cut it?” I pleaded.

“I don’t have time.” She said, exasperated. “I won’t be home till four and I have just enough time to get ready myself so we can leave by five. Now get up and get busy! You have a lot to do today. Quit being such a baby!”

She was right. I did have a lot to do, so I got up, got dressed and drove straight to the Big Boy where I could have breakfast and read the paper in peace. When I got home my lazy kids were just getting out of bed, so I tossed ‘em a couple of frozen bagels and told ‘em they better get goin’ ‘cause their mom left us a lot of stuff to do. I turned on my portable radio and tuned it in to NPR’s Weekend Edition because the kids really hate that, and I figure the hardship will build their character. While my oldest daughter got into the shower, I remembered the laundry so I grabbed my radio, ran downstairs, threw in the load my wife had sorted, and started the washer. It’s a good thing I had my radio with me in the basement or the screams from the bathroom would have drowned it out. When I got back upstairs, my younger daughter, Carla, was still in her pajamas. I turned down the radio.

“Why don’t you wait till after you clean house to take your shower?” I asked. “Mom left an awful lot of stuff for you to do, and you don’t want to get all sweaty. She wants you to clean up this kitchen, vacuum, and straighten out the family room. She says someone might come over. Besides,” I said, “I don’t think there’s enough hot water left right now.”

“That’s not fair!” she whined. “How come Sabrina doesn’t have to help?”

“For your information, little girl, I’ve been up for a couple of hours already and I just did a whole, big load of laundry. Mom left other stuff for me to do, too and I need your sister’s help. Besides, nobody vacuums like you do. You’re the best!”

She was mumbling something I couldn’t hear as she began chucking dishes from the sink into the dishwasher. I started down the hall toward Sabrina’s room.

“I need your help, Babe. Mom wants me to get a haircut and I don’t know where to go.”

She was wearing a pair of jeans and a tee shirt with a pair of pink high heels. I must have looked at her oddly because she said,

“I’m trying to break them in before the prom next week.” Then, as though I was just a little bit loony, she added, “Why do you need my help? Go wherever you want to.”

“C’mon” I said. “Gimme a break. You know Mom has always cut my hair. I’ve seen those places in the mall, but I’ve never been in one. I wouldn’t know how to behave. They’re all full of WOMEN! I can’t remember the last time I saw a real barbershop. Which one of those places should I go to?”

“It doesn’t matter.” she said. “They’re all the same. Go look in the kitchen drawer and see who we’ve got a coupon for.”

Coupon!? Where was she taking me? Are we buying groceries or getting my hair cut? I started fumbling through the drawer as Carla demonstrated how throw pillows got their name. She was still mumbling about something, so I turned up the radio. Sabrina came into the kitchen and asked me to move out of the way. A moment later she produced a coupon with a picture of smiling, beautiful, people that said “Family Haircut Special.” The place was just down the road in a strip mall by the KMart.

“Will you come with me?” I asked.

“Yeah, sure, but let’s go now, ‘cause I don’t want to be all day” she said.

All the way there I pumped her for information about tipping and presenting the coupon and anything else I could think of. When we finally walked in, the first thing I noticed was that it was noisy! The place was indeed full of women. This certainly wasn’t John’s Barbershop, but it wasn’t Giovanni’s Salon either. Things had changed in the last twenty years, and I had missed it. There was a another guy in the back getting a haircut, though, so I wasn’t the only one. Sabrina told me I was on my own. She was going next door to Old Navy. I walked up to the counter and a woman with big hair whose smock said she was Linda said “Name?”

“Me?” I said. “Um, Tom” “We’re not too busy right now, Hon, should be just a few minutes.”

I sat down on a bench near the door and started to shuffle through the magazines. There were Elle, Redbook, People, Cosmo, and a couple of Newsweeks. Where the hell were the Argosy’s?, I wondered. Just as I was about to read the latest on Brad and Angelina, Linda called me. I climbed into her chair and she pinned a piece of tissue around my neck and covered my clothes with a black, nylon drape. Well, at least this was familiar in a surreal sort of way. Then, as she began to comb out my hair and find the part, she asked, “Clippers or scissors?”

Clippers or scissors?! Didn’t she know what to use? I had to pick her tools?

“Clippers” I said. How wrong could I be? She asked “Do you know what card number?”
“Um, no” “Well, then, how do you want it?” “Shorter?” I said, “Yeah, quite a bit shorter.” “So, I’ll cut it close to the nape, shorten it on top, and layer the sides?” she asked. “Yeah, that’s it.” I said.

What the hell was this card number stuff? I still don’t know what’s up with that. As she worked, she kept telling me how nice it was turning out. Like I was responsible for it by giving the right answers. The rest felt curiously like I was back at John’s I was actually getting comfortable with this. I paid my bill and tipped Linda a couple of bucks. As I walked toward the door, I saw Sabrina had come back. She gave me thumbs up.

“Cool haircut, Dad” she said. “Looks good”

I had this stuff down, now. I could do this. I just hope no one runs into their building.

-- End --

The Eclectic Pen » All Stories by Tom C. (Tommy)

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Comments 1 to 4 of 4
LAURA C. (Laura9691) - 1/16/2007 4:26 PM ET
That was too good. Reminds me of the barber shop my brother went to, did military haircuts and then opened their own shop. They had cockateils that picked up the colorful sailor language. It was great to sit around and listen to all the stories.
Dena (Suzie) C. (DsuzieC) - 1/16/2007 5:17 PM ET
Tom, Excellent, enjoyed reading this very much! It's pretty much how my husband feels about unisex hair "salons". Suzie
IONE L. (zaneygraylady) - 1/16/2007 5:44 PM ET
A good story and well told.
Ann C. (inchargemom) - 1/22/2007 2:07 PM ET
Just what I needed...a happy smile on my face. Good work!
Comments 1 to 4 of 4