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Getting a haircut and going home - Michael Davis

I went back to my childhood barbershop recently and I've got to say some things have changed.

Yeah, the walls are a little barer, the chairs are newer, and there's even a futon in the corner. To tell the truth, it's not even in the same location. Some years ago, it moved from one strip center to another, but I'm not really sure why.

It's different, but it's the same barbershop.

Matter of fact, I think its incorporated name is Barbershop, but I might be wrong. This place is really the barbershop I've been looking for ever since I left home.

Long about 1998, I broke out on my own and got a place with a childhood friend when we were both in college. It was a place our own, in our own time and in our own place.

I thought maybe I could find some things in the neighborhood that reminded me of home, and there were some.

I found a laundry that, while I never did my laundry at a Laundromat at home, I had worked at one, and it made me feel like home. I also found a restaurant that made me feel like home.

They served collard greens, mac and cheese and some of the sweetest peach pie I'd ever had. Not that I'd ever had a lot of peach pie, but it was good. And coming home from a long day at work or school, a meal there, and a chat with the waitress really made me feel at home.

But I've never been able to find a barbershop that makes me feel like my childhood barbershop has made me feel. I've been to places that bill themselves as barbershops, but they may as well be "salons" with men cutting hair.

Not that there's anything wrong with that, and I'm sure they have their niche.

But for years, I've been trying to find a barbershop that feels like the one in my hometown. And even though it's really not the same place, and some of the people have changed, the spirit of the place is still the same.

I remember as a kid jumping up into the chair, the chair built for adults, onto a padded board that lay across the metal arms. If I remember right, there were little ashtrays built in, but I'm not sure they were ever used. Kind of like on airplanes.

Donald, still my dad's barber though I'm told he only works on Mondays and Tuesdays, would crank up the sheers and tickle the back of my neck, trimming off the peach fuzz of a young customer.

Sometimes the buzz would send a chill down my spine and I would shiver in the chair, or on the bench, rather.

Later, as I grew up and older, Donald stopped using the bench and allowed me to sit squarely in the adult seat, though I'm sure he had to bend over a little more than was good for him to reach my thin-haired head.

About that time, I recall country music playing from a boom box that sat on top of the refrigerator on the far end of the shop. Next to it, a coffee can with a slit cut in the plastic lid accepted coins in exchange for entrance into the fridge that served as the soda machine.

Things really have changed around the barbershop over the years.

My first memories are going on the weekends with my father. We would go on Saturday mornings, and probably spend an hour or two in line and getting trims. Perhaps longer.

Later, when my dad had a different job, we would go in the evenings, and try to get in by 6 or 7 p.m., whenever they closed and stopped accepting customers. Anyone that got in before closing time would get a cut. However many there were, and sometimes there were a lot of us.

That sort of business model may not be the most practical, but man, does it make you fell like you're welcome.

For most of the years I've had hair, my dad's barber was my barber.

He was the guy that would boost me into the seat, the one that straddled the armrests and was covered in red vinyl, and the one that, when he felt I was ready, shaved my neck with a straight-razor and made me feel like I had finally crossed into manhood.

No other barbershop I've been to since has shaved my neck with a straight razor.

I was back the other day to get a haircut. Not a style, not a trim, not whatever else those pretentious little so-called stylists and salons do, but a haircut.

When I went in, there were newspapers and magazines scattered on some of the chairs. They were fairly new chairs, but that was OK. The one next to me had an arm rest wrapped in dark tape.

But when I opened the door, both barbers - and I call them barbers because they are a different breed than those folks you find at "style shops" - were greeting me, saying "Hello" and "Hey there, how ya doin?"

Yeh, besides the two guys in the chairs, I was the only customer at 4:30 on a Friday afternoon, but it wasn't long until I was involved in the conversation. The news of the day was Delta, of the plight of the working man and his family and what fate that lay before him.

That and the recent landing of the JetBlue flight that had landing gear problems but whose pilot still managed to get the airliner down in one piece with what appeared to be minimal damage. And no injuries.

A barbershop reminds me of the Bible Belt's version of the town pub. It's a place where the so-called men folk will gather and tell stories. Some of the best stories known to man, I'm sure.

I recall in my childhood barbershop, which was then and still is (although a different one) in a strip mall, gentlemen lighting up their pipes, their cigarettes, playing country music on the radio, telling stories and making friends.

When I went back last Friday, they welcomed me back as if I'd been an old friend. I'm confident I haven't been there in at least a year. And before that, I'm sure I hadn't been there more than once a year for at least the previous 10 years.

But the barber remembers me.

He knows me, he knows my father.

He didn't cut my hair this time. He never cuts my dad's. But he has seen me, seen me grow up.

Not long after I sat down in the chair and picked up the newspaper, the guy who came in behind me started talking about his daughter and her ambitions in life. Apparently, she wants to be in the military, I think the Air Force.

The barber, who I think owns the place and is the only one I see consistently when I go by with such irregularity, said something to the effect of: Don't remind me of how old I am. I used to cut your hair when you were this big.

He said the same thing when I left.

Michael Davis covers government for the Daily Herald. His column appears on Fridays. He can be reached at (770) 957-9161 or via e-mail at mdavis@henryherald.com .