Of Haircuts and Barbers

Barber cutting hair of mature man

Barber cutting hair of mature man
Source: Getty Images

© 2015 By Bob Litton. All Rights Reserved.

Do you have an ideal haircut (or hairdo) style? Have you been able to find a barber or hair-stylist who could create it to your specifications?

I have had such a dream “do” for many years now, ever since I gave up the flat-top of my high school years. Initially, it was patterned after Paul Newman and then after Cary Grant. After ensconcing myself dutifully in the barber’s chair, and after he had chokingly tied a sheet around my neck, I would gurgle, “Make me look like Cary Grant!” The barbers used to take me seriously, although they had no photo of Cary (or, earlier, Paul) to use as a model. A couple of decades ago, however, they began to chuckle. Now I don’t even mention movie stars anymore. Sad to say, my only unintentional reflections are the senators and representatives; it’s not my fault they want to copy me!

Once upon a time, while I was residing in Monahans—a town one-sixth again larger than my present “hometown”—I would drive sixty miles over to Odessa to shop, dine at a cafeteria, drink beer, and get my hair cut. (Odessa has about fourteen times the population of Monahans.) After one of those jaunts I liked my haircut so much that I had my girl-friend of the time photograph me under it; I intended to show that photo to future barbers as the model of what I wanted. I haven’t done so in a long while, but recent experience is pushing me in that direction. (That photo at the top of this page is not of me, by the way, but it is of a man apparently not very far removed from me age-wise…and he looks like a nice enough fellow. But why hasn’t he removed his glasses?)

My first barber in this town was an old-timer who came here in the 1950s, a colorful chap who could relate all the news he had heard in his shop that and the prior days. He was more reliable than the local news media. He retired about six years ago, sold his business to a couple of the women who worked for him, and moved to Central Texas to be near his children and grandchildren.

Then one of his female successors finally obtained her master’s degree in geology and left. Things went downhill: The other partner just did not have her heart in the business; one could never be sure when she would open up, go to lunch, how long she would be out to lunch, or when she would close. I believe she lost a lot of business; anyway she lost me.

My next barber was a woman whose shop was in a retrofitted house on the south side. Her primary appeal for me was that she, at that time, was charging only $10, while almost everybody else was charging at least $14, for cutting a man’s hair. Despite her comparatively low fee, however, she was living high on the hog. Of course, she had a husband who also worked somewhere; but they had a fairly nice middle-class home, and her shop was large enough and well-maintained. She also had a fairly new Cadillac sedan, which I spotted one day through one of her windows, parked beneath an attached carport.

I made the mistake of teasing her about the Cadillac. (I have a terrible habit of teasing waitresses, barmaids, and barberettes. Just terrible!) “You know what?” I said. “You’ve got it made. You cut hair off no telling how many skulls in an hour at ten dollars a whack, and so you can afford a new Cadillac. Say you cut six haircuts in one hour, each one taking up five to ten minutes, at forty hours a week that’s twenty-four hundred bucks a week…not counting the tips that others leave, not I.”

“It’s not enough. I’m going to raise it to fourteen dollars.”

“Oh, don’t do that! I’m a poor boy. The main reason I come here is because your rate fits my billfold.”

“Everybody else in town charges fourteen.”

“Maybe so, but they’re professionals. They’ve gone to barber college.”

She got huffy. “I’ve been doing this for forty years. That’s enough training. I’m a professional.”

Shortly after that conversation, she stopped answering the phone when I called to set an appointment. I started going to one of the fifteen-dollar fellows in town.

There really isn’t much competition in this little hamlet. You have to take what you can get for the price they ask. It’s the same with doctors and auto mechanics.

I try to make it a month between visits to the barber shop for two reasons: the high cost and the frustration.

I’m sure $15 is no significant drain on most of my readers’ pocketbooks, but for me it equals one and a half meals…sometimes two. Consequently, each time my haircut day comes up, I dress in my most worn-out garments to lend a little more evidentiary point to my poor man’s image.

As for the frustration, do you have the same problem that afflicts me: virtually blooming hair-growth about the ears, and strands practically going to seed on the crown? I try to describe to the barber what I want, but without much success. “Looky here,” I say, “Please cut close around the ears but leave enough for people to see there’s hair there…and I want to be able to part my hair…to comb it all over…but I don’t want to look like Bozo the Clown a week from now.”

But what does he do? He trims it close all the way to a 16th of an inch below where the part line is and then clips even more off the top. I bow my head and wish I could cry. Nonetheless, when I get home and comb my hair the next morning, initially brushing it downward toward my eyes, there are three or four center strands that dip down below my eyebrow. I look like a Marine just out of boot camp.

I have not always had a problem with barbers. Hate to say it about my little town here, where I have resided for the past thirteen years, but the problem must have something to do with the amenities. Any really adept barber—just like any other really adept professional—is going to go to, or stay in, a more civilized, cosmopolitan city, if he or she can successfully compete there. Those unable to do so will venture to the hamlets where they do not have to compete…at least not as fiercely.

Fin

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One response to this post.

  1. Posted by Jack McNamara on August 26, 2015 at 5:06 pm

    So you even pissed off your barber: a high point for any crank!

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