One of the blessings in my life is the lady in the beauty shop who cuts my hair. She has done it for years, she knows how I like it, and she always manages to make me look good. No small task considering the odd shape of my head, the baby-fineness of my hair and my advanced years.
As satisfied as I am today, looking back over the thousands of haircuts I have had in my life, I recognize that something has changed. That something is the barbershop.
From the time I was a tad guys got their haircuts at the barbershop. Beauty shops were strictly for the ladies.
Barbershops were institutions unto themselves with special traditions and a culture that bespoke maleness, manhood. As boys we walked in, waited our turn and hoped that the palpable essence of adulthood we breathed in that place would make us smarter, stronger, cooler.
You never made an appointment to get a haircut. You just arrived, nodded to your favorite barber (the one that didn’t tease you about your zits), and plopped nonchalantly into one of the chrome and vinyl chairs that lined the wall.
The magazines were special and they, as much as anything else in the place, defined who you were or – at the very least – who you wanted to become. They were magazines about car racing, hunting and fishing. In the history of barbershops not a single issue of Ladies Home Journal ever found its way through the door.
The smells were special too. Bay Rum – that stinging splash on the back of your neck after the barber shaved close to the skin. Cigar smoke was another fragrance that made the barbershop a barbershop. Even men who normally didn’t smoke found pleasure in a cigar within the confines of the barbershop.
A barbershop was readily identifiable from the street. Every one had the same red, white and blue diagonally-striped barber pole on the wall just outside the door. Most of them were stationary, but a special few turned in an endless mesmerizing dance. The fact that barber poles were the same colors as our flag, lent an aura of patriotism to the place.
Today barber poles are manufactured exclusively by the William Marvy Company in St. Paul, Minn. I visited the place once. They told me the barber pole business was steady but no longer a growth industry.
Sometimes I miss my visits to the barbershop. Still, I have to admit there is much to be said about scanning through Ladies Home Journal these days and swapping recipes with the lady who cuts my hair.