Just Rambling - The Barber

By Gipp Forster

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When I was a teenager, anything longer than a military cut on a boy was considered long hair, at least according to my father. Tony Curtis was just coming on the scene then and his black curly hair was the envy of nearly every guy with straight hair (in our neighbourhood, anyway).

Men, before the '50s arrived, got their hair cut on a regular basis, but times were changing even in the '50s, making way for the '60s and '70s when long hair on men became the flag to be waved.

I often wondered in the decades following, how, or if, the corner barber survived. That's when, suddenly, the old cigar-chomping barber who talked about sports all day, was exchanged for hair "dressers" and hair "stylists," some who called themselves "Mr. Ray" or "Mr. Frederick."

Where once you could walk in at all times to any barbershop and wait your turn, was now deemed a salon and demanded an appointment.

A barber, and not a stylist, could make a living then, and perhaps some still do. Once, a man could get his hair cut for 50 cents. Now, $10 to $15 for a simple cut is considered a bargain.

My wife says it's all relative, and I guess she's right. But still, $20 for an average cut, plus an expected tip, seems a little out of line to me, especially for older people who might be on a fixed income.

I remember as a kid, my mother giving me a quarter and telling me to go get a haircut, and away I'd go with my grandmother. I was nearly traumatized. The only thing that fascinated that little boy was the red, white and blue swirling barber pole. The rest was sheer terror. Barbers seemed like doctors then. They wore white frock coats and usually had a peppermint or penny lollipop for their young and tiny victims; bribes really. But not enough to appease a kid who was certain he was about to have his head cut off.

I dreaded it when the barber took out the long board to put across the arms of the big silver and black moving chair that could shoot up and down and all around. What seemed like a cape would be waved and snapped, then tied around your neck in what this child thought was preparation for death.

I didn't know what "vulnerable" meant then, but I sure felt it when the tears of pain would start to well in my terror-filled eyes. It was then that my grandmother and the barber would tell me how brave I was and how having your hair cut didn't hurt.

I'd eventually start to whimper anyway, gasping out sobs as this stranger in a white coat with scissors in hand, did his dastardly deed.

He faced me to a gigantic mirror, and I was certain at any moment he was going to snip my ears off, as I watched him in the glass, hearing the rapid "click, click, click," as the scissors tested the air before going in for the kill.

Finally, when he removed that big apron, picked me up and put me down on the floor, I wanted to hug his legs for sparing my life.

While my grandmother paid him, I would stare at my dismembered hair, wondering why it didn't bleed. I took the lollipop offered without hesitation. I had earned it. I had survived incredible danger and was still alive. I was a hero.

That was many, many years ago when men could hang out in barbershops just for the conversation and little boys could get their first taste of prayer.

I guess with the odd exception, the days of the crew cut are gone. Long locks have returned, the military cut is in and so is the bald look, which again makes it hard on the poor old barber.

I miss Tony Curtis though. I always wanted to have hair like his, but at least then I had hair, even though it was mousey brown and had no curl.

I've been going to the same barber for over 15 years now. He just retired. It's an awful thing to outlive your barber. I hate change. I no longer like to look in mirrors, so I guess it really doesn't matter how short or how long the few strands of hair I have left on top of my head are. I'm just going to let my hair grow. Most won't be able to tell the difference anyway.

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