Thursday, March 17, 2011

Ask Your Barber

One of the benefits of living near a small Michigan town is that I can visit an honest-to-god barber shop--the kind that has real, heavyweight swivel chairs, a real barber pole outside the door, and real, experienced male barbers ready to apply the clippers and scissors just the way you want.

Sports posters adorn the walls in Otsego’s barber shop, where I’ve become a regular. The talk is of the fortunes of the Lions, Packers, Tigers, Red Wings, and other manly interests, including political gossip. The only change from the snip shops of my youth is that a woman occasionally enters with her husband, children, or grandchildren.

The presence of a lady or youngster doesn’t affect the conversation in the shop at all. One of the curious things I’ve observed in barber shops over many years is the absence of profanity or dirty jokes. I started my working career shining shoes in barber shops in 1946. I’ve yet to hear a serious cuss word or suggestive story. Could it be that only gentlemen get haircuts in real barber shops?

Well into the 1980s, barber shops were male sanctuaries. Rarely was a woman seen in one, a far cry from the situation now where the barbers are females in most establishments. I mentioned the lady “hair stylists” to one of the older Otsego barbers. His reaction was, “Well, the kids have to learn somewhere.”

During the first half of the 30 years we lived in Ogden, Utah, "Dick's Barber Shop" in the lower level of the old Ben Lomond Hotel was the place to go to get inside information about what was going on in the city. Dick was a good listener and had a great memory. He could provide accurate situation reports on just about any topic.

Almost all the Forest Service men who worked in Ogden got their haircuts at Dick's. He knew a lot about what was going on in the Service, and could recite an impressive list of former customers who had transferred to other duty stations. Occasionally, the barbershop grapevine was more efficient than official channels.

One legend featured a regional office employee who arrived in Dick's chair during a lunch hour. When the haircut was finished, Dick asked, "What's your reporting date in Atlanta?"

"What?" the forester asked. "I'm not going anywhere. You must have something mixed up."

The man dashed back to the office and confronted his supervisor about the transfer rumor. "Oh yes," the boss said, "I just didn't have time to tell you this morning. You've been reassigned to Atlanta."

3 comments: said...

Well, I know I was a weird kid. I visited barber shops, hardware stores and other manly places with my dad. No one told me I couldn't come in. Dianne

Steve said...

I know what you mean about the changes - almost all barbershops in northern VA have become the province of Vietnamese families (just as Koreans run dry cleaning establishments and Bangladeshis have gas stations).

They are wonderful hardworking people but their language skills and their cultural backgrounds are less than perfect for the typical barbershop conversations you enjoy, Dick. And the last male barber in my shop left about a year ago.

I do recollect still the barber I frequented in my college years in Lawrence Kansas. Ivan had been a farmer but suffered an injury that kept him from continuing in that line of work, so he turned to barbering. He wasn't a great barber but I liked the fact that he opened at 5:00 AM so I could get a haircut and get on with my day. My current shop opens at a leisurely mid-morning 8:30!

joared said...

I recall relocating to a small Ohio town for a few years when I was in my twenties. I couldn't find any beautician who knew how to cut my naturally wavy hair to encourage the waves. Someone told me about a local barber, Joe, who was a great hair cutter. I had reservations about invading what I thought of as a male bastion, the local barber shop, and was a bit apprehensive I might not be welcomed. I was welcomed and Joe gave me some of the best haircuts I ever had, but I had to occasionally caution him not to shingle my hair up the back. I thoroughly enjoyed my time there and the conversation.