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The Barber's New Seville


James K. Pirtle

When I was a young boy, my father would take me with him to the barbershop. Going to a barbershop was something of a male rite. While  waiting we'd read magazines like Guns and Ammo, Field and Stream, or Popular Mechanics. We sit around and talk sports. It was a place where men could be men. In other words, it was quite different from home. 

Things have certainly changed since those days. Most of us don't even go to barbers anymore. We go to stylists where it's more likely we'll be forced to choose between Good Housekeeping, McCalls or Glamour. But, we love the recipes. 

Whatever happened to a man's world anyway? To find the answer, I resolved to investigate my roots. My hair roots. I wanted to find a barbershop like that of my youth. To my amazement, it wasn't all that difficult. 

I found it in one of those strip malls alongside a major highway. When I walked in the door I was back there again. It was stepping back in time.

A game of baseball was on the t.v. set. There were guys sitting around talking  about the game. There were advertisements for hair ointments, faded posters showing various hair styles and mounted hunting trophies on the walls. The place smelled of musk and testosterone. Boy was it ever great!

The man at chair number one immediately welcomed me. His cheery, "Hello," was quickly followed by that of the barber at chair two.

I took my seat in one of the old wooden chairs available. These were the really comfortable ones with the rounded backs and armrests. I noticed the local newspapers on the coffee table. I was about to pick one up when I spotted the magazine rack. Guns and Ammo, Field and Stream and Sports Fisherman. This place had everything but the manicurist and the shoeshine! In fact, at that very moment, sitting in the chair on a padded board was a red headed boy getting his first haircut. 

He looked a lot like I must have when I had mine cut for the first time. Except he was crying. I had known better than to do that. I wasn't about to embarrass myself and my father. Of course, since then I have not only embarrassed my father, but he's embarrassed me on a few occasions too. 

The boy's father, a big man with both red hair and beard, didn't appear at all embarrassed. He was too busy trying to coach him and keep him calm. None of this bothered the barber, who continued on with his work.

According to the nameplate on the mirror behind him, the barber at the second chair was named Harry. While I was looking at this, someone stole home plate. There were a few cheers and then everyone returned to what they had been doing beforehand. 

"So Joe," said Harry - Joe was the barber at chair one - "How do you like that Cadillac you just bought?" 

"It's just great" replied Joe. "I really like it." 

"Is that your car parked outside?" asked an old man who had been quietly listening and chewing on his frown. 

"Sure is," replied Joe proudly. 

"I knew you were charging too much for haircuts," grumbled the old man. When I was younger getting scalped meant that you had all your hair cut off. Now, it means you paid too damn much!" 

Joe scowled back and then began laughing. Soon the old man joined in. In a moment everyone was laughing over the old man's joke. 

Most of the other gentlemen were in their middle ages. There were a few like the old men who were in their golden years. But, according to a sign posted near the door, those men would have received senior discounts on Tuesday. It didn't make any sense to me. This was only Monday. Then I figured out that many of them weren't even waiting for haircuts. They had just stopped in to socialize. Now that's a barbershop!

I took a second look at the rates. They weren't unreasonable. $6.50 for a regular cut, $8.00 for a razor cut. What a difference from the $20.00 I had been paying out to get a style.

Some of the men were trying to watch the game on television. Unfortunately, the t.v. was mostly directed at the barbers, who glanced up from time to time to check the action, while all the while snipping away. What pros! 

I didn't have much time to catch up on all my reading or watch much of the game. My turn came up quickly. The boy was much quieter now and his father was beaming. Harry whisked off the apron with a flourish. He led the boy's father to the register where they exchanged some cash and friendly words. 

I was settled in the chair before Henry returned. 

"How about those Braves?" he asked as he draped the apron over me and fastened it at the neck. 

"They sure are something, " I answered noncommittally. I was afraid he wouldn't want to talk about anything but the game. 

After a few more minutes of baseball, I decided it might be safe to ask a few questions on another subject. My hair. 

"What do you think about those new hair growth products? My hairline is really starting to recede." 

"Well, I'll tell you," he replied thoughtfully, "my brother-in-law invested in a firm that makes one of those products. He made a lot of money on it, but his success sure didn't go to his head."

"Hey, if anything works I could sure use it." 

"If I were you I wouldn't worry about it. Think of all the stars who have receding hairlines. There's Jack Nicholson, Sean Connery and Bruce Willis, for example, and it hasn't hurt them any." 

"Yeah, I guess you're right." 

"Besides, I don't believe any of the claims they make about that stuff anyway. I haven't seen anything to convince me. Look at me. I have the same problem, even more so." 

"Of course you could always get hair implants or a wig woven into your own hair. A lot of guys wear toupees too. Burt Reynolds does. Say, that reminds me. I heard about this one policeman who wears a toupee. In fact, I heard someone say he keeps a miniature derringer under it for back-up. He calls it his hair piece." 

Even I had to groan at that one.

"Breaking in a new routine, Harry?" one of the patrons said. 

"Breaking in a new customer too," responded Harry. 

"Consider yourself lucky," said another, "Harry doesn't usually honor us with new jokes." 

Everyone was beginning to forget about the game in order to join in the banter. It was the ninth and the Braves were winning handily. 

We were all having a good time. Just a bunch of good old guys trading quips and kidding around. 

When Harry finished, I wasn't in a hurry to leave. He handed me a mirror to inspect his work. It was good and I told him so. He escorted me to the register and we exchanged some cash and friendly words. "Take care, and come back to see us," Harry said. 

Altogether, it had been a satisfying experience. I was disappointed that I couldn't get a shave, but the entertainment value was good. I think I may venture back soon. Maybe have some coffee and read some magazines while I wait. And if it's not too soon, I think I may get another haircut too.

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