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THE PRICE OF A HAIRCUT

August 25, 2008

THE PRICE OF A HAIRCUT

 When Clare and I lived in Winston-Salem, I won a drawing at a Boy Scout fundraiser. The door prize was a styling at a local hair salon, Delilah’s Den. Though I had always gone to a regular barbershop, I decided to try it out since it was free.  The resulting haircut was just fine, but Clare quickly informed me that Delilah’s Den was forevermore on the black list of places to get a haircut. Delilah the stylists struck her as matching too closely the description of the Biblical Delilah, the one responsible for the downfall of Samson.

Samson had the most expensive haircut on record!

Contrary to the familiar refrain, “Shave and a haircut, two bits,” I have never paid less than fifty cents for a haircut.

When I was a freshman at Furman, a senior worked as a barber out of his dormitory room. He charged half a dollar per customer for a cut that conformed to Army standards.

 My dad used to give similar haircuts to my three brothers and me.  In our garage, using neither comb nor scissors, his only tool was an electric trimmer with a buzz attachment. The resulting hairstyle was just short of bald, allowing our mother to spot a tick at twenty paces.

My first flattop came from Bob Martin when I was in junior high. I used a product called Butch Hair Wax to make the unnatural arrangement stand up. Its effect didn’t last long. A flattop and a baseball cap are incompatible.

Nowadays, Barbershops are diminishing in number.  Salons are replacing many. The folks who actually cut hair are no longer named Bubba or Sarge.  They refer to themselves as stylists rather than barbers. They more likely are men with a foreign accent or women named Delilah. 

            I remember the barbershop as a house of mirrors. Opposing mirrors in front of and behind the row of chairs created an endless series of reflections extending to infinity. The barbershop was a place filled with clouds of cigar smoke mingling with the fragrance of talcum powder and shaving lotion. A barber from my teenage years chewed Redman Tobacco. His brass spittoon would now be considered an antique. 

The local barbershop is among the last of the all-male institutions to fade from the American scene. A barber pole and the cigar store Indian were, for years, symbols of welcome refuge for the American male. No more.

The first time I remember a woman entering a barbershop, the intrusion brought a pall of silence settling over the establishment. It was as if we had experienced a close encounter of the third kind.

She was a mama who wanted to be sure the barber treated her none-to-happy son gently and, at the same time, cut the child’s hair to suit her.

While she was in the shop, there were no jokes and no fishing stories. There was no banter and no barbershop quarterbacking. The lady did most of the talking.

After the mother and her child departed, a whole lot was said!

Now, if I enter a barbershop where I am known, I am often greeted with, “Hey, Preacher!” followed by the same awkward silence.

After forty-two years as a pastor, I recognize the alarm when it is sounded. Barbers and patrons alike are immediately on guard. Language is sanitized. The best barbershop jokes are censored. It is too high a price to pay for a haircut!

Once I decided to dash into an unfamiliar barbershop for a quick trim while Clare did some shopping.

When I next saw her, she was horrified. “What happened to your hair?”

That was the day I finally lost the privilege of choosing my own barber.

I used to get a haircut at least once every three months whether I needed it or not.

Since Clare started making the decisions about where I am allowed to get my trim, I have a monthly appointment with the same stylist who does her hair. Jeff is a great friend. He gives an excellent haircut. His price is more than fair. Best of all, Jeff is a Green Bay Packers fan who enjoys talking football.

He comes from a line of Georgia barbers. His fine heritage is evidenced by a pair of his uncle’s straight razors framed in a shadowbox on the wall of his shop. When I visit his place of business, the magazines are Vogue and Cosmopolitan. There is not a Field and Stream or Sports Illustrated in sight. That is a high price to pay while waiting for a haircut.

Several years ago, while Clare was shopping in historic downtown Inman, I strolled into a barbershop around the corner. The customer in the only barber chair had an Elvis-sized head of hair. The barber worked on the shiny black ducktail while exchanging turkey-hunting stories with the next fellow in line, a man who was almost completely bald.

As the first man paid the usual amount for his haircut, the bald man took his seat in the chair. “Surely, you’re not going to charge me the same thing you charged him?  I should get a discount!”

The barber responded with a line he must have already used many times. “Yes, you’ll get a discount for the haircut, but I’ll have to charge you a finder’s fee.”

Sometimes the price of a haircut is just too high!

 

           ©  Kirk H. Neely

              July 2008

 

 

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