Tuesday, May 29, 2012
The Barbers of G-Ville (and elsewhere)
The first barber I remember was named Grover. He looked nothing like a Muppet--more like a dentist. He wore one of those white tunics; he seemed ancient (younger, surely, than I am now); smelled like after-shave and Chiclets-chewed-too-long. His shop in Enid, Oklahoma, was on the other side of Broadway Avenue from my grandparents' house, and all four Dyer males patronized the place. Kids' haircuts were 50 cents in the early 1950s. I don't remember what it cost for an adult--maybe 75 cents?
Years later--seeing Sweeney Todd for the first time--I realized that Grover (or "Old Grover," as my dad called him) was the first actual man to awaken terror in me. (Horrible men in dreams, of course, were something else altogether.) I would watch him, slapping that razor up and down the razor strap, watch him soap the neck of his client/victim, hear the scraping sound, steel against flesh, clear across the little room, where comic books offered small consolation.
By the way, I just looked: You can buy a razor strap on Amazon.com (Razor Straps on Amazon).
When we moved to Hiram, Ohio, in the summer of 1956, there was a barber in the little business area (post office, grocery, barbershop, The Hub--a hangout for the dissolute likes of me). But I don't remember his name, and he didn't last too long.
When our son was little, I used to take him with me to the barbershop in Kent, "teaching" him about the day he would one day sit in the chair. I was worried about his first cut. Would he freak out? Scream and cry? Require violence or sedation? (Kidding.) During his pre-cut days, he would sit there and do what I'd done: look at comic books.
Then the day came for Cut Number One. I got mine first, then (we'd "discussed" this at home already) stepped down and told him it was his turn. Held my breath ...
Up he popped from his chair, bounded up into the barber chair, now equipped with its little booster, and sat there, unmoving and smiling, looking like a toy king on a throne, while the Kent barber sheared his Samson locks (yes, locks: he had a mass of curly hair as a kid).
And now I remember an evil neighbor kid in Enid, older (my brother's age), who convinced me that an old barber chair in his garage was actually an electric chair, and if I didn't shut up (or whatever), he would use it on me. I believed him, absolutely.
I've gone to any number of barbers since Grover and Hiram. One in Aurora was killed by lightning on a golf course. Another in Hudson lost my commerce when he let others cut in front of me (the "others" were almost always little boys in company with their Hot Moms or Hot Older Sisters). Another in Hudson lost me because he was so far to the political Right as to be invisible on the continuum of humanity.
I only once went to a "stylist." I felt the whole time as if I'd wandered into an alternate universe (one, by the way, where things cost a lot more than I was ready for) and bolted out of there afterwards as if pursued by Furies.
I now go to Mickey, a wonderful meticulous barber. He rides a bike. Likes Democrats. Is from West Virginia. Somehow knows when to talk, when not to. He stunned me one day when he told me he'd be happy to drive me to a radiation appointment up at the Cleveland Clinic. I didn't need the help, but I could barely send forth the words of thanks from a throat constricted by a profound emotion.
But Mickey is not flawless. One day my younger brother, Dave, was in town. Said he wanted a haircut. So I took him down to Mickey's, even though it was near closing time. Mickey was sweeping up when we got there, was ready to go home. But he set the broom aside, cut Dave's hair cheerfully, talking the while as if he'd known Dave since stroller days.
And now for some inexplicable reason Mickey virtually always calls me "Dave" when I come through the door. Yet more evidence of my charismatic presence.