Every Three Weeks by Kevin
Short hair wasn't the fashion when I was growing up. It was just the way it was. Every three weeks, my brother and I were driven to, and later directed to, Jim's. Tucked away on a side street not far from the grocery store, it was not an old fashioned barber shop. It was a barbershop that had become old. Chairs were porcelain, the leather cracked. The walls were once a pale green. But smoke, time and the sweat of hundreds had taken them a shade or two closer to dust. Jim had been cutting hair for a while. Something like ten years by the time we passed into this den of men. But the shop had belonged to his uncle so nothing much had changed in thirty five years. Like most kids in the early sixties, our hair was cut short. My mother didn't like a total baldie. Something a about it looking like kids who were being treated for lice. So we had what was known as an Ivy League cut. A cut which while created the same way, clippered on the sides and over the top a bit then clippers and comb on the top gradually getting long enough to comb up front, seemed to vary in length by the seasons. I guess the barber used a different blade in the summer.
But as the sixties moved toward the seventies and I from a boy to a teen, my hair got longer. Nick was replaced by Kutters, at the mall. Unisex and twice or three times the price. But frequented much less often. Seventies flowing hair, trimmed back to "anchorman over the ears” as college ended and careers began. Kutters was replaced by any of its ilk in cities I studied, worked and visited. I hadn't been in a real barber shop in close to forty years. While just past fifty, I still had a thick head of hair that was losing the pepper with every passing month. Lighter in color but more wiry in texture it seemed to have developed a mind of its own. So when my last stylist left the salon near my home I needed to find another place to get it tamed.
Call it fate or just luck, but for some reason my normal exit was closed when I was leaving the subway underneath the Port Authority in New York one morning and I walked by a barbershop in the tunnel on the way to 45th Street. Standing in the doorway was a barber who was a contemporary of Jim's. It other words he must have been cutting hair for over fifty years. He was older but judging from the hours he worked hadn't lost any of his stamina. I started walking by there every day to see his handiwork. From cops to college kids to young execs, all the cuts seemed great. There were flattops, fades, crew cuts you name it. So I decided to join the ranks. One rainy evening on my way home, I stopped in. For some reason, he told me barbers don't do as well on rainy weekdays. A rainy Saturday is another whole thing. As I sat down in the chair, he combed my hair a bit then asked what I wanted. I told him my concerns with the wiry grey and he said. I'd go shorter. So like riding a bike, or the the automatic response to a prayer, I said an "Ivy League.” He said, "Excellent choice." Out came the clippers, longer than shorter. To feel the buzz against the skull, was not a new feeling exactly but one I hadn't felt in decades. I liked it. He worked tirelessly and used the clippers over his comb to gradually sculpt my top so that it effortlessly went from prickly short in the back to a short combable bit in the front. He then reached in a drawer put a bit of paste in his hands and combed up the front a bit. When he was finished I liked what I saw. And how I felt. At last, I had found not only a decent haircut but an excellent barber. His name is John and he's been cutting hair for over fifty years in the Times Square area. How much longer he'll be cutting hair God only knows. But as long as that is, I‘ll be there every three weeks.