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Sgt. Russ' Barber Shop by Gator

Sgt. Russ’ Barber Shop
By Gator

I was feeling nostalgic a few days ago. I found a picture online of a barbershop in Southwest Detroit – Sgt. Russ' Barber Shop.

It was the late 1970’s and I was active duty Marine. I would drive to my parents’ house a couple of times a year. Since it was a two day drive, I always made sure that on the second day of driving, I would get into Detroit before Sgt. Russ closed for the day. His shop was about 6 feet wide and about 40 or so feet long. It was a hole in the wall type place on Michigan Avenue, a few blocks from the old Detroit Tigers’ Stadium. The city was in a state of decline then and Michigan Avenue was the old Detroit. However, being a young Marine and full of himself, I always stopped for a cut. Cuts were cheap - $3.50; with a tip $6.00. Sgt. Russ was a retired SFC and he had stories to tell – of his Army times and of this part of Detroit.
My first visit was in the afternoon during the winter. I parked the car, walked in to an empty shop. Sgt. Russ stood up, patted his seat, and said, “Nice to have a young Army man here.” I smiled and chuckled, “No sir, I’m a Marine. Are you willing to cut a Jarhead a nice high and tight, sir?” He laughed and said, “I don’t care which branch of the military you’re in, son. And I will give the best darned high and tight ever.” With that, he swung the cape around me – a solid white cape – put the tissue paper around my neck and snugged the cape tightly. My kind of place! The shop was filled with pictures and a lot of stuff that was Sgt. Russ’ life. He had pictures of men’s haircuts (although he did say he’d given women cuts if they ventured in), bumper stickers, pictures of celebrities, and other stuff that kept your eyes busy. But, don’t move your head!

He told some great stories about World War II and how he learned to be a barber. I don’t remember much about that particular cut except that he used clippers and lather shaved around my ears. I do remember seeing my hair all over the cape. As he applied the lather around my ears, he said, “I’ve gotten much better at shaving then when I first started!” We both laughed. At that time, Sgt. Russ had been cutting hair at least 20 some odd years in the same spot. He finished the cut, showed me my cut in the mirror directly across from his barber chair. “Will it pass inspection for your CO?” he asked. I felt the sides of my head – it was a fine grade of sandpaper. “Yes, sir!” I replied. “Ah, you sound like a Marine!” We shook hands. I grabbed my heavy sweater. “Don’t be a stranger now.” “No, sir. I will stop by on my way out of town after Christmas. This is a great cut!” He replied and said, “Most often I tell the men they look about 20 years younger, but if you did, you’d be about 2 years old!” “Yes, sir!” I left the shop, got in the car, and rubbed that sides and back of my head for the next 40 miles to my parents’ house.

Christmas vacation was over and I was headed back south again. I kept my promise to visit Sgt. Russ on my way home. I stopped, walked in, and was greeted with, “My Marine is back!” I smiled, sat in his chair and got another high and tight that matched my first one.

Switch to the early-1980s. I was now on reserve duty for the Marines. I was enrolled in college and still made monthly visits to see Sgt. Russ. I was only now about an hour’s drive away. I enjoyed the visits, the cuts, and his stories.

It was now the mid-1980s. I had moved south again, still in the Marine reserves, and teaching high school in a community that was next to an Army installation. I always got grief about being a Marine in an Army town. I still made those trips north to see my parents and always saw Sgt. Russ on my way up and on my way back through Detroit. I used to joke with Sgt. Russ about moving south to show the Army soldiers how to cut a true high and tight. By this time I had graduated to a high and tight flattop. On my first trip through Detroit, I questioned whether I should stop. I had never seen Sgt. Russ give a flattop before, but he advertised flattops. I threw caution to the wind and stopped anyhow. I walked in and he looked a little surprised. “Hmmm. Now I need to give you a Marine flattop I guess,” he said. “Yes, sir!” “Have a seat and let’s get this done.” As I sat down, I joked with him about being a Marine in an Army town. His only comment was, "I bet you give them hell, son." I smiled and nodded.

The cape got tightly snugged around my neck. The clippers came on. He started on my left side and ran those clippers straight up the sides, around to the back, and finally on the right side. “I bet you had a Marine barber give you this last cut.” “No, sir! It was a barber in an Army shop! Perhaps you need to come down and show them how to give a flattop, Sergeant!” He straightened my head, pushed it slightly forward and said, “Don’t move that head, Marine.” He turned on the clippers and ran them tightly down my landing strip. The clippers were so tight that I felt the vibration of the clippers all the way through my scalp! He spent as much time on my top as he did on the sides. He made sure that my top was flat as possible. “I need to make sure we can land a fighter jet on this landing strip,” he joked. After he got the top flat, he made a few passed to blend in the top and the sides. It was perfection! After the shave around the ears, the talc went on and the cape came off. I wished I was close to this shop again.

I kept up these visits twice year – one trip to my parents and then one trip on my way back south. On one of my visits, I found out the Sgt. Russ had passed away and that his family was slowly closing down the shop. I was heartbroken on my last haircut ever at Sgt. Russ’ Barber Shop. Many years later, I love looking for shops like Sgt. Russ. The old-fashioned type shops and cuts are hard to find now.

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