Read Old Man Scanlon

Three on Top

01 December 2012

A haircut, at least after successfully completing the standard long-haired rebellion against materialist bourgeois conformity, can be one of life's simple pleasures. Haircuts at my previous barber's were not. He was a Portuguese farmer who moonlit as a barber and professed to have learned his craft shearing sheep. I do not doubt him. Crude, profane, constantly in pain from a bad back, the man smoked in his shop in defiance of municipal ordinances. He knew and discussed the local dirt and political dramatis personæ, but fortunately never tested my sports small talk. His laughter bordered perilously close to deranged. And I hated his haircuts—he always left it too long in front. They were a minor ordeal, so I spaced them out as far as I could; but located less than a mile away in an annex to the corner store, he was irresistibly convenient. In a truly perverse case of Stockholm syndrome I continued to frequent his smoky hellhole until he retired.

My inertia so rudely and violently interrupted, I tried a couple of salons. All scissors and styling and girl talk, they too did not satisfy, and in the bargain were north of twice the price. My wife had spied a shop on a side street in the city and had spun her feminine intuition into a complete scenario featuring a perfect old-fashioned barber shop. She was in fact right. You wouldn't think a big red, white, and blue gingerbread Victorian house could be so discreet as to escape my notice, but the dozens of times I'd passed by I never noticed it. Cheryl thought I should give it a shot. I resisted her suggestion, but sometimes good sense gets the better of me, and I went in.

During my long odyssey in the desolation of unisex salons I learned from my grandson that it was possible to specify a haircut using only the integers which designate the clipper's guide comb size. In the new shop I risked everything and said, "Two on the sides and three on top, please." As the barber set to work I felt a slight whoosh as the TARDIS took us back fifty years. I had just read National Geographic rather than Sgt. Rock and Superman, and it would cost me more than 75 cents, but the experience was otherwise totally authentic. Businesslike clipper work, minimal fussing with scissors (but including a bonus sortie against the geezer eyebrows), hot lather ear-to-ear along my dorsal hairline, and straight-razor enforcement of the proper stark boundary between hair and naked skin. I'm not forgetting the tissue-paper collar, which even in league with the vacuum and powdered whisk broom always allowed a few itchy clippings to work their way beneath my undershirt, nor the astringent-slathering finale.

Surprise is of the essence in time travel. It no more avails to plan a trip back to childhood than to try to tickle yourself. During subsequent haircuts I have to deal with the here and now. My barber is another gentleman of the hard-working Portuguese persuasion—surely a coincidence—and we bemoan taxes, the nanny state, the pitiful condition of the general run of men, and still, no sports. I catch and catalog tantalizing glimpses of Azorean culture. Who knew there's an Azores channel on cable? And who knew that it broadcasts, in season, the running of the bulls in the Azores? This is as far out of my bubble as I dare to go.