Just Take a Little Off the Top

I went for a haircut today. Not exactly a momentous event for a grown man, but one that, for me at least, carries its own little saga. And no, it has nothing to do with my increasing baldness thank you very much.

As a very young boy, I remember barbershops as really cool places where I would crawl up on a board placed across the arms of the barber chair. I happily submitted to the scissors, relishing the grown up feeling I got when the barber finished the cut off with a quick zip of the straight razor around my neck and ears, a light dusting of talcum applied with a big brush and a splash of Odell's Hair Trainer in my hair. To this day, I can still feel the wheat chaff of my hair as the trainer dried into a perfect element that tamed my cow lick, if only for the afternoon.

As I grew into a teen, my father and I sometimes had disagreements about how often I should be shorn. It was a common enough argument between fathers and sons in the late 60s and early 70s. By then, my father had begun taking me to a shop run by an ex-sailor who learned the production line method of "hair styling" in the Navy. I remember him as a bitter middle-aged guy who was angry at anyone with an opinion that was in disagreement with any of the myriad ones he held. He loudly pontificated about blacks, hippies and queers. One of the original black helicopter guys, he also believed the government was on a personal crusade against him and his business. In this guy's mind, there was nothing right about the world and he felt duty-bound to tell everyone he met about it in as loud a voice as possible. In fairness, I should point out this wasn't particularly unusual behavior in the southern barbershops of the 60s and 70s. He was just your garden variety cranky young coot. Pissed off about his admitedly modest lot in life.

When I became old enough to drive myself to the shop, I fought the frequency of the haircuts a little more. Although I told my father it was just the typical hippie-hair disagreement, there was more to it than that. What I didn't mention was that when I went to the shop on my own, the cranky old shit took every opportunity to tell me what scum I was for being such a hippie. He called me a queer and suggested that my lack of sartorial splendor was the first sign of a long, sad road that would eventually see me living in the gutter as a drug addicted drag queen. My meek little way to fight back was to always stiff the guy for a tip. As you can see, I was the original rebel.

I resented the guy so much that when I finally left for college and was no longer subject to the clean cut rule, I didn't get another haircut for four years. My first post-college coiffure was a 30-second shave the Air Force gave me in basic training. I was pleasantly releived that theirs didn't contain any of the old vitriol - although one sergeant did call me a pissy little turd for not moving fast enough getting out of the chair. It was just zip...zip and a loud NEXT! After that, my only hair hassle was when my squadron mates made fun of a small, round spot of grey hair I'd had since third grade. It looked like a small spot of silver spray paint. Of course, I chose to take it as a badge of honor as the 20 year old "old man" of the outfit.

A few years ago, I was visiting my father and needed a haircut. I asked him to take me someplace where I could get a quick trim. I was shocked when we pulled into the same parking lot I remembered from the fuzzy (no pun intended) past.

When we went in, there were many fewer customers than I remembered. I suppose that he'd driven most of them off with his lunatic rants. The angry middle aged barber was now an angry senior citizen barber. Of course, not much had changed in his world in the past 35 years. All the old fear and loathing still spewed from his mouth.

As he dragged the scissors through my hair he kept pausing, assuming I suppose, that a middle-aged southern man would agree with his ravings. I never did and he never flashed any recognition of me.

At the end of the cut he zipped the razor around my ears and neck, dusted me with the talc and said, "That'll be $3.50". That was the same amount he had charged 35 years ago. As I dug through my wallet I found myself smiling. I found great satisfaction that 35 years of disquiet and anger had driven off most of his customers, kept his rates at sub-minimum wage and reduced his entire world to one small and very angry barbershop. Meanwhile, I had escaped his chair, saw the world and not ended up as a drug addicted drag queen in some gutter. Sweet revenge!

Oh, and I stiffed the guy for a tip one last time. After all, I am the original rebel.

Truth Told by Omnipotent Poobah, Tuesday, June 21, 2005

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