Saturday, September 8th, 2018

My hair’s quite long now, although when I say “quite long,” I mean it’s grown past the top of my collar in back, covers my ears, and hangs in my eyes if I don’t comb it back.

That’s as long as I’ve ever worn it in my life.  I used to wear it about as long while I was in junior high and high school, then cut it a bit shorter while I was in college.  The reason?  There was a barber on my college campus who would cut my hair the way I asked him to.  In my experience, this kind of barber is a rare bird indeed.

The first barber I remember going to was the kind who asked me what I wanted when I sat down, then hung a sheet around my neck and did a rough approximation of what I told him without ever stopping to ask if he was doing what I liked.  What I ended up with was his idea of what a teenage boy’s hair should look like.  Keep in mind this guy was born in the 1930s.

This has happened at virtually every barber I’ve ever tried: I sit down, they ask what I want, I give them what I think is a description that’s good enough to start with, and that’s the last time they ask before giving me the haircut they think I ought to have. I end up looking nothing like I did when I came in.  Getting my hair cut is nearly always an unsatisfying experience.

There was this one guy I went to a couple years ago who did a great job on my hair.  Weirdly, barbering wasn’t his lifelong career.  He told me he had sold electron microscopes all his life and, after he retired, he took up barbering to keep busy.  He was really good at it, too.  He was one of those  people who could effortlessly keep a conversation going and, while he did, he would continually ask me about whether he was cutting my hair the way I liked.  Eventually I saw him often enough that he knew how I liked it, and we just had interesting conversations after that.  And of course he stopped barbering and I haven’t had a decent haircut since.

But back to my college campus barber.  He was a classic.  I think his name was Jerry.  He didn’t talk much, but he knew what to ask, he got my haircut just right, and after one or two visits he didn’t have to ask how I liked it.  That was the first time in my life getting my hair cut wasn’t a huge pain in the ass.

For the middle twenty years of my life, I was in the military, where I was prohibited by federal regulation from letting my hair grow longer than an inch and a quarter.  During those years, I didn’t think of a visit to the barber as “getting my hair cut,” but rather as “getting my head mowed.”  Cutting hair is a learned skill.  Mowing hair is not.  The approaches used by military barbers to mow hair differed a bit, but most of them simply put a number three comb on an electric clipper and swept it up my head from the sides to the top.  When all my hair was more or less the same length, they would switch out the number three comb for a number two and work on the sides, then blend the back and sides with a number one comb.  I was so sure this took no skill at all that, for the last five years I was in the military, I did this to myself in the mirror once a week.  As far as I could tell, I got about the same results.

When I got out of the military, I did what most guys do: grew a beard and let my hair grow.  When my hair got a little too shaggy, I’d visit a barber to see how he did with it.  Or her; I’ve been to almost as many women and men to get my hair cut.  I must’ve visited dozens of barbers around town by now, but I can think of just three who cut my hair in a way that I was really happy with.

After a couple years with the beard, I ditched it, but kept getting my hair cut.

For the past two or three years, getting my hair cut has been a chore that I haven’t looked forward to, so two or maybe three months ago I stopped doing it.  The hair in the back is now so long that it’s got an amazing flip to it that I never knew it had.  I have to admit I like it.  If I keep growing it out, I have the feeling that I’ll eventually have to find a stylist to maintain it.  Or maybe not.  I saw an older guy at a tavern the other day with hair as white as new-fallen snow that fell past his shoulders.  He’d obviously been growing it out for years.  It didn’t appear to be styled at all, just combed and brushed, and it looked pretty good.

hairy | 8:51 am CST
Category: barber, story time | Tags:
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Wednesday, October 28th, 2015

I got my hair cut. It’s not the hair cut I wanted, or even the hair cut I asked for. It’s the hair cut the barber thought I wanted. She saw a graying 55-year-old guy and thought I wanted to look like John Wayne just before cancer made him so haggard-looking that he stopped making public appearances.

I said I wanted a trim, just an inch or so off the sides and back. I even asked her to use a scissors, so she wouldn’t go all crazy clippers on me, forcing me to walk out of their with hair styled like a shoe brush. I didn’t realize how much she was taking off me until she was almost done, because she wetted my hair down with a spray bottle before she started cutting so that it was all laying flat on my head. It didn’t look like much then, and it looked about the same when she finished up until she started blow-drying it and it didn’t fluff. Too late by then. I had to pretend I liked it and made a mental note to ask her to trim a lot less than an inch off next time.

scruffy | 9:53 am CST
Category: barber
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Friday, August 9th, 2013

I went to the barber shop to get my hair cut. I’d been going to a local shop on the main street, which I’d rather do than go to the chain store down on the corner, but I’d like it a lot more if I knew all the ins and outs of barber shop etiquette.

Here’s what I mean: There are four chairs at the local shop. Usually, there are also four barbers working on Saturday morning, one of the two days off when I can get to the barber. The first time I went there, every barber was busy so I took a seat and waited for the next available chair. The chair on the end came open in just a few minutes and the barber, I think I’ll call him Rob, nodded to me, so I went over, sat down and he cut my hair. Cut it pretty well, too.

The next time I went in, everybody was busy again, so I took a seat and waited. As it happened, Rob finished up with the guy who was in his chair and, after they’d settled the tab, Rob waved me over. I looked over at the guy waiting beside me. “This fellah was here first,” I said, but Rob smiled and waved me over and the guy said it was okay, so climbed into Rob’s chair and got a good hair cut.

The third time I went in, it was once again very busy. As it happened, I was also very busy, meaning I wanted to get my hair cut as soon as possible so I could get home again and back to work at whatever project was waiting for me, so when a chair came open, I looked over at Rob, saw he was occupied and plunked myself down in the available seat. Rob didn’t say anything to me then. He didn’t say anything to me afterwards, either. He didn’t offer to cut my hair ever again after that, either.

I had transgressed the unwritten law. Thou shalt not offer thy head to any but thy usual barber, or something like that. It’s always been like that wherever I go. You get a barber, you have to stay with that barber forever. Switching to another barber is just asking for The Old Stink Eye.

I don’t go there any more. I go to a different salon that’s closer to the office building where I work so it’s easier for me to schedule a cut after quitting time, but the last time I scheduled a hair cut I had to make an appointment with somebody besides the person who had cut my hair before that because I would have had to wait two weeks to get an appointment with her and I couldn’t wait that long, so I tried somebody new. I still don’t understand barbershop etiquette but I understand it well enough to know that I’ll never be able to get her to cut my hair again. I think.

haircut | 7:37 pm CST
Category: barber, story time | Tags:
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Friday, February 26th, 2010

My barber congratulated me on keeping myself looking so fit in spite of being just shy of fifty years old. He guessed my age to within a few months, but he was way off about the keeping fit.

“You go visit the gym every day, don’t you?” he asked.

I frowned at him. “What?” I asked. I sincerely thought I’d heard him wrong. Nobody has ever asked me that and my logic detectors couldn’t figure out why he would say such a thing.

“You work out a lot? You look pretty fit.”

Again, it seemed to be a question so far out in left field I was at a loss. “Really?”

“Sure! You’re, what, six months shy of fifty? You look pretty good for fifty. You must work out.”

“I don’t work out at all,” I advised him. “I’ve always looked like this.”

It was his turn to be nonplussed. “No kiddin? Lucky dog!”

He got a pretty good tip.

schmoozing | 10:09 am CST
Category: barber, daily drivel
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Wednesday, February 24th, 2010

Your barber is like your doctor. He can say things to you that ordinary people can’t say to each other, not if he expects to get away with it. Your doctor can tell you you’re fat and flabby, and do it with a straight face. “You’re twenty pounds overweight. You should go to the gym at least three times a week.” And you have to take it. You can’t fire back, “Yeah? Well, you look funny and you have bad breath!” Not if you want to see him again.

And your barber, it turns out, has the same kind of safety net. “Mind if I trim your nose hairs?” my barber, George, asked me as he was finishing up with my haircut, dusting the hairs off my nose and cheeks.

“Um, sure,” I answered him. Well, he offered, and that’s hair, too, so why not? A few deft sweeps with an electric clipper and he was done. Or almost.

“It was looking like a couple dead flies were dangling their legs out your nose,” he said, clapping my shoulder.

See? If it has to do with hair, it’s acceptable.

dead flies | 10:03 am CST
Category: barber, daily drivel
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