searching for a hairdresser, women have been known to go to extraordinary
lengths. In the past, men usually didn’t care who cut their hair,
as long as it didn’t require an appointment.
popularity of shaven heads must frustrate barbers in the same way
the “hippies” frustrated the barber’s fathers. Although these styles
are drastically different, both deprive barbers of their livelihood.
In today’s political climate, it’s hard to believe that at one time,
the barbershop was once a cornerstone of democracy. People would
openly discuss politics in front of a shop full of barbers and patrons,
although they usually took their haircut or shave from the barber
whose political views agreed with their own.
For a while in the 1950s, a barber in Navasota,
Texas got national attention. Somehow he was tapped by a northern
newspaper to become a sort of tonsorial barometer of the Texas political
climate. But that was in the fifties when a person’s “fifteen minutes
of fame” could last for months.
I go to a barbershop wedged in-between a Fukienese one-sauce-fits-all
Chinese take-out and a Pizza “restaurant” that makes no attempt
of convincing you it’s “Italian cuisine” other than being named
for a diminutive emperor (or an Edward G. Robinson role). The best
thing about this barber shop is that there is no television. Not
The days of silver-haired or bald barbers in white smocks is long
gone and I’m adjusting to having younger men cut my hair. I usually
let them do the talking since they offer a rare conduit to a world
I increasingly don’t understand. If I talk I’m likely to mention
something that happened before 1980 – the barber’s birth year.
My previous two visits at this shop, I had my hair cut by two different
barbers. This time it was to be from the shop owner himself. The
shop was empty as I entered and I had to wait. I got a “be right
with you” call from the back where two men were seated at a table.
The older of the two was eating from a plastic plate.
The younger man came out and invited me to the chair where the procedure
was to be performed. As he threw the sheet (or whatever you call
the cloth) around me, he apologized for the delay as the older man
ambled to the front door. He turned to ask: “When should I come
back?” They agreed on Wednesday and the old man thanked the barber.
He closed the door behind him, slowly mounted a bicycle and pedaled
off. The bike was not new but sparkling clean, as were the old man’s
clothes. He was bordering on being what they used to call “spiffy.”
He had on tan shorts with matching socks reaching to mid-calf and
a clean, collared shirt. He also had a very fresh haircut.
I didn’t ask, but the barber volunteered that “Gabe” was a friend.
The barber had met him several months earlier around opening time.
Gabe was pulling a loaf of bread out of the garbage can out front
– a moldy loaf that the barber had thrown out just the day before.
“For the birds?” the barber asked him as he was opening the shop
door. “No, for me,” the old man said, matter-of-factly. The barber
stopped with his key still in the door and said: “Listen, I’ll buy
you a loaf of bread, but I can’t let you eat that.”
interrupted his story to opine that there was something seriously
wrong when a person who was trying so hard to maintain his dignity
was reduced to retrieving moldy bread from the trash. He then continued
with his story, saying that “Gabe” now sweeps up the shop several
times a week and enjoys some micro-waved leftovers from the barber’s
home. (It was a plate of lasagna that he was eating when I came
The barber paused, realizing perhaps he was saying too much. Keeping
on the subject of food, and perhaps for contrast to Gabe's story,
he allowed that at his house he had to assure his son that the bananas
on the kitchen counter were not bad when they developed brown sugar
spots. His son wouldn’t touch them, telling his father that bananas
were “supposed” to be yellow. The barber chuckled when he told me
his son would rather eat an unripe banana than one with a single
brown spot. He ended the story with: “I guess that’s what I get
for taking him to Disneyworld so often.”
August 3, 2014 Column
© John Troesser
More Columns by John Troesser
Relate Topics: Columns