Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Good Old Barber Shops: A Tribute

There's an old joke that goes like this:

"There are two barber shops in a small town hundreds of miles from anywhere. One barber has a terrific haircut, and the other barber has a terrible haircut.
   Which barber do you let cut your hair?
The one with the bad hair cut.
Because he's cutting the other guy's hair!"

I grew up in Kalamazoo, went to college in Eureka, IL, lived in Saginaw, MI; Midland, MI; Elgin, IL; Racine, WI; Cleveland, OH; and now a small town in the thumb of Michigan. With the exception of the Chicago suburb, I've found a terrific old-fashioned barbershop in each location.

There's nothing fancy about the barber shops I like. I'm not picky. I want a haircut to be done like they've been doing them for a long time. I want a barber (male or female) to cut my hair. I don't need or want them to wash my hair, or ask me what kind of "look" I want. Just let me wait--if I have to wait at all--in a rickety old chair that's seen better days as I thumb through a National Geographic or car parts catalog.
   I want the hair on the back of my neck to be shaved with a straight razor. I want to sit in an old barber chair that tilts back a little bit and has wrought iron for a footrest. I'll pay about ten bucks for a haircut. I don't want to walk through a mall to get to my barber. I want to be able to look out the window at the street, and see that old barber pole out there.
   When I was a kid, I went to Beck's Barber and Beauty to get my hair cut. I wouldn't go anyplace else while Beck's was still open. Didn't have much choice, and I didn't care. My Great Grandfather was Willard Beck, the barber part of Beck's Barber and beauty. Maybe that's why I want an old-fashioned barber shop. I want to remember Grandpa Beck when I walk in. It's not hard to do.
   In Midland, I went to Dave's Barber shop. Dave is retired now, or maybe he's passed on. The shop is still there, and pretty much unchanged. When we lived in Chicago, I usually got my haircut at one of those mall barber shops. I dreaded that. It just didn't seem right. In Wisconsin and Cleveland, I was able to find a barber shop like my great grandfathers. Always felt good walking in, and looked and felt better when I walked out.
   Here in this small town, we have an old-fashioned barber shop. I like the place, and I like the barber. The fact that the barber's last name is--really!--Barber, only makes it that much better. He does a great job cutting my hair, and still uses a straight razor to shave the back of my neck.
   The first few times I went to Paul's Barber shop in town here I had to wait. I don't like having to wait for the barber. I don't like waiting for anything, but he doesn't take appointments. It's first come, first served. That's okay... I try to time it so I'm the only one in the place.
   Paul makes that pretty easy for me. He's usually there at 6 AM. You won't find hours of operation posted on his door. If he's there, he's open. If he's not there, he's closed. He's usually there. I like to go in at 6:00 or 6:15. I make sure the bell on the back of the door rings. He doesn't live in the shop, but there's an apartment upstairs where he watches TV until someone comes in. Sometimes I shout, "Hey PAUL!" He comes down and greets me with a smile.
    Paul doesn't use scissors much. He has a trimmer, and several different combs. You tell him how long you want your hair to be, and he's got an attachment for the job. I gave him one of my great grandfather's old trimmers. He was delighted to have it, and I was delighted to see it put into use again after all these years. Paul was delighted to get it because it's the same make and model as the old one he has! They don't make that trimmer anymore, so he's really glad to have two of them. Still charges me ten bucks, and that's okay.
   He's always got a good joke or a story to tell while he cuts my hair. I like that. I like listening to the other men in the barber shop, if I happen to be there when others are there. I don't talk much. I just listen. There are few off color jokes (though there are some). They talk about stuff going on in town, or the crops and how they're doing, or about cars, or sometimes sports.
   I'm looking forward to that haircut tomorrow. So is my wife. She keeps threatening to pluck those long eyebrow hairs of mine that have decided to go rogue. I hate it when she does that. It would be one thing if I was awake when she grabs 'em and yanks, but noooo! She waits until I'm asleep. Then...schtoink!

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