First trip to the barbershop by Tate@mail.com
“Stephen, your hair!" cried my mom, as I got in the car having just left Clint’s Barbershop.
I was 13 and had just gone to the barbershop alone for the first time. It was a rite of passage more memorable and consequential than my mom or I could have imagined at the time.
Before that day, I had always gone with mom to her beautician, where my brown and very straight hair was cut with scissors to the middle of my ears, to my collar, and to right above my eyebrows. When I complained that I was tired of being one of the ladies, my dad had suggested she drop me off at Clint’s.
Clint’s Barbershop sat right on Main Street in Dixon with a plate glass window framing the old-fashioned barber chair. A small bell on the door jingled as I entered, and I took a seat in the empty line of chairs at the rear. The barber greeted me with a smile and said he’d be right with me. I saw an older gentleman in the chair getting his neck shaved with a straight razor!
The barbershop smelled sweet and wonderful, much better than the chemical odor of the beauty parlor. As promised, in about a minute, the old man paid and left, and the barber beat his cape against the red leather chair and invited me to have a seat.
He put a white tissue too tightly around my neck and covered me in his red-striped cape. He spun me to face the mirror and asked me, my reflection, “You’re new here, aren’t you?"
“Yes, sir," I said, “this is my first time."
“I’m glad to have you. How would you like your haircut?" He pointed to a sign hung on the wall beside the mirror.
The black sign with white plastic letters listed haircuts—Regular + neck shave, Crewcut, Flattop, and Butch—and prices for each, cash only.
I had not contemplated how to talk to the barber having never had to give haircut instructions before. I scanned the list quickly and my heart began to race.
I knew I had never had a neck shave. I knew a crewcut and flattop were short, though not sure of the difference. A butch was cheapest and I surmised must be the basic haircut that I normally got.
“Butch, please," I said, neither with confidence nor hesitation.
“Good choice," said the barber.
He introduced himself as Clint and reached for a very large pair of black clippers hanging from his counter. Then he spun the chair away from the mirror, to face a tv playing old Westerns, and raised the height of the chair by pumping a foot pedal.
As he placed the loud clippers at my forehead, he asked me my name, and pulled the clippers straight back through my hair. Before I could answer “Stephen," he was making a second pass. I felt long strands of my hair cascade down the cape, though with my head held tightly by the barber and no mirror in front of me, my view was limited.
In what seemed like only seconds, the haircut was done, or so I thought, and he blew off my head and the now hair-covered cape with a jet of air from a rubber hose. No scissors were ever used. He spun the chair around and I saw the reflection of a different person—familiar, but different. Gone was my long hair, replaced by nothing but but fuzz.
“I’ve given you a #2 butch, so I can still go shorter if you want. I thought this might be a good length for your first one. Feel it. You’ll need to come in every week or two to keep it looking this good, but it’s priced so that your parents won’t mind."
As I rubbed my now bristly head, I gave a nod and said that I liked it. I’m not sure that I believed this completely, but was doing my best to be polite while still in shock.
“Well, let me shave your neck and we’ll be done," said the barber as he spun me around again.
I heard a whirring sound and then felt a warm foam being rubbed on my neck, and around my ears! It felt really good.
My head now light and loosed from the barber’s firm grip, I turned my head to watch Barber Clint stroke his razor back and forth on a piece of leather hanging from the chair. Then he pressed my chin to my chest and began scraping the back of my neck.
It kind of hurt, but kind of felt good, certainly like nothing I had felt before. Then he shaved around each of my ears with very short and deliberate strokes, before wiping the razor off on a towel folded over my shoulder. He rubbed a stinging lotion around both ears at the same time and wiped my neck and ears clean.
He uncaped me, and I rose from the chair. All of my nerves suddenly tingled. I paid him with the money from my mom and he returned plenty of change. I thanked him once more, and he said he looked forward to seeing me again real soon.
I stepped out onto Main Street and felt the now cool air around my neck and ears. I opened the passenger door of my mom’s car and looked across to see her reaction. Her mouth dropped open. “Stephen, your hair!"
But by the time we got home, she had calmed down, laughed at my story, and was enjoying rubbing my head.
When my dad got home, I opened the door for him. Unlike my mom, he immediately smiled and exclaimed, “I love your new haircut!"
By then I knew I did, too. And my weekly haircut ritual had begun!