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Sarge's Barber Shop--Part 2 by Just_Me
This is the continuation of a newspaper article about a country barber.
When asked to relate some of his greatest failures, Sarge chuckled and said, "Oh boy, where do I start?"
After a brief pause, he said, "Let me tell you about one of my first disasters. This was in the Fifties, and I hadn’t been barbering long. I had a mother call me one morning. She said, 'Tonight's my son's prom and he needs a haircut. I don't want you to pull one of your shenanigans and take all his hair off. Just a light trim, do you understand? I want him to look good.'"
"I assured her I’d do exactly what she asked."
"Her son came into my shop, and he had what I call a 'greaser’ look: long on the top, combed into a pompadour, with lots of Brylcreem in it, and a DA in the back--kinda like early Elvis."
[Editor’s note: "DA" is an abbreviation for a haircut popular in the Fifties called a duck's ass.]
"I was a lot younger then, and I cared about what people thought. I already hated long hair on a man, but I was determined to give the boy the haircut he wanted."
"I sat him in the middle chair there, and soon had him caped up. I guess he was so excited about going to prom that he couldn't be still. I warned him several times that he was gonna make me mess his hair up, but he just wouldn't stop wiggling."
"I was trimming the back of his hair, and he jerked right into my clippers. I was mortified to see a hole right in the middle of his DA. I didn't know what to do. He didn't notice, so I reached down and picked up the clump of hair, grabbed a can of hairspray and glued the hair in place. You couldn't tell anything was wrong. I figured it would get him through the prom, and that I'd deal with the aftermath later. I let out a big sigh of relief when he left with a smile on his face."
"He and his mother were there the next morning when I got to work. She jumped out of her car before I had the truck turned off, and she was screaming bloody murder. I didn’t understand all she was saying, but I eventually figured out that the boy had worked up a sweat while dancing. The clump of hair fell off, embarrassing him in front of his date and friends. The mother threatened to sue, and told me I had ruined her boy's life."
"I made the mistake of saying, 'What's the big deal? It's just hair. It'll grow back.'"
"That really set her off, and she commenced to cuss me."
"Now, I was in the army twenty years, and in all that time I never received a cussing like the one she gave me. I'll take a cussIng if I deserve it (and I've probably deserved more than I've got). Normally, I'll be doomed to the devil before I'll take a cussing I don't deserve, but I took her cussing, even though I didn’t think I deserved it. Somehow I kept my mouth shut that day."
"When she wound down, I explained what had happened, and said I’d fix it The young man and I walked into the barber shop, and be danged if she didn’t come in with us. I didn't like that at all. Back in those days, the barbershop was a man's haven and women didn't come in. In fact, she was the first woman to ever step foot in my shop."
"I didn't like her being there, but considering the circumstances, I didn't say anything. I caped up her son, and started combing his hair. I decided I could fix it with a minimal amount of cutting, as long as he took some care with how he combed it. I told her that, but she wouldn't have it. She kept cussing me."
"I was mad because of the cussing she was giving me. After a while I got tired of her mouth and and wanted her out of the shop. I grabbed my clippers and cut the boy's hair all off."
"She cussed some more, but there was nothing she could do. That poor young man left with about a quarter inch of hair on his head."
Sarge laughed, and continued, "She did sue, but the judge threw the case out, saying, 'A little haircut ain't never hurt nobody.' She started cussing the judge out, and earned a fine for contempt of court and one for filing a frivolous lawsuit. Looking back, I guess I was lucky. I don’t know if a judge nowadays would be so lenient."
"That is one of the few haircuts I regret. I later apologized to the young man. He had done nothing but be polite. I was wrong, and I told him. For some reason, he kept coming back to me, and he's still a regular customer. He's sporting a quarter inch haircut again, but this time it's not because I messed up. It’s because he doesn't have enough hair left for a pompadour."
When asked if he had any more stories to relate, he said, "I could keep you here all day and all night telling you stories."
Then he started relating another story.
Sarge literally growled in his deepest bass voice before he started this story. 'It's been a long time since this happened, but it still makes my blood pressure go up when I think about it. This happened just a few days after the one I just told you about. A father and son came in (I'll call the father Dick, because that's what he was). Dick was in need of a haircut, but he sent his son to the chair, with a curt, 'I'll be back later. Give him a short back and sides.' After Dick left, the boy asked if I could leave his hair a little longer. "
"Thinking about the fiasco of a few days before, I carefully trimmed the boy's hair, even though I really wanted to follow the father's direction."
"Remember, I was a new barber and didn't have many clients. I was trying hard to please everyone that came in."
Sarge laughed and said, "I quickly outgrew that. Soon I was cutting hair how I thought it would look best."
"Anyway, I finished the haircut before Dick got back, so I gave the boy a magazine and told him to wait."
"I was cutting another customer's hair when Dick came back. He looked at his son, and started yelling. 'What is this? What’s the matter with you? Are you too lazy to do your job? When I say short back and sides, I expect to come back and find some short back and sides.'"
"Then he yelled at his son. ‘I'll bet this is your fault. You told him to disobey me, didn't you? You'll pay for it. I'll show you! Sit down in that other barber chair.’"
"I tried to tell Dick it was my fault, but he ignored me."
"The young man sat in the chair, trembling. Dick punched the kid while screaming, ‘Don't you ever override my authority again, or I'll beat you so hard you won't be able to move for a month.' He slapped the boy upside the head and said, 'You illegitimate son of a whore, when I tell you I want you to do something, you dang well better do it or you'll pay the price. If I say I want to see your ears, I want to see your ears.' Then he viciously twisted both of the boy's ears. It looked like he was trying to tear them off the boy’s head."
"I debated stepping in, but kept quiet. I'm not one to interfere when a parent disciplines a child...and God knows children need some discipline. I've always believed a few whacks on the backside is good for a boy's character. In my day, I've given a few punishment head shaves, but it was never violent like that. I just didn't believe in that kind of attack...and I still don't. I couldn't fathom Dick’s reaction. I got mad!"
"The boy hadn’t reacted to any of the slaps, but he cried out when his ears were twisted. Dick slapped him again. 'What did I tell you about taking your punishment like a man?'"
"He reached over and picked up MY scissors and whacked out some chunks of hair. Then he said, ‘Now do you think you can give him a decent haircut?’"
"I really struggled. I wanted to punch Dick in his... um...where it would hurt a man the most, but I didn't say anything. I already had a plan in mind. I thought, 'Hang in there kid. I'm about to become the Lone Ranger and come to your rescue!"
"Dick growled at the boy, 'Keep your butt in that chair and don't move. I'll be watching you, and I'll be back if you so much as twitch.'"
"Well, I have to tell you. Seeing the way he was treating his son made my blood boil. I took the cape off the man in my chair and said, ‘Al, move out. I’m gonna fix his hair now. "
"Al went and sat down in the waiting area with half a haircut. One look at him was all it took to see he was as mad as I was. I knew Al well. I hoped he wouldn’t tear Dick limb from limb. I didn't want blood all over my shop!"
"I got the boy in my chair, and tried to get myself under control. I knew I had to be calm to execute my plan. I had to pretend nothing was wrong."
"I looked at the boy's hair: there wasn't much I could do. I said, ‘Dick, I’m gonna have to give him a recruit's haircut.’"
"You should’ve done it in the first place. I ain’t got all day, so get it over with. He deserves it. He knows better than to not listen to me."
"Then he made his second mistake. He pulled out a pack of cigarettes. I'm a confirmed cigar smoker, but I've always hated cigarettes. I offered him a cigar, he turned it down--rudely."
"His third mistake was to make a nasty, rude and crude comment about cigar smokers. He got personal, and I resented it."
"I salvaged what I could of the boy's hair, and apologized to him for having to do it. He sat there with tears in his eyes, but didn't say anything. Then in a very small voice, he said, 'It's not your fault. I probably deserve it for being so bad.'"
"Hearing him say that broke my heart and I almost cried... but it also made me madder than a raging bull. The decision to do something set in my mind like concrete. I was so mad at Dick that I couldn’t see straight. I literally saw red, but I already know how I was going to pay the slug back."
"I looked at Al. I guess he could see I was about to take Dick out. Al shook his head, and then made a motion of a razor across the throat. I reluctantly shook my head, although I have to admit the idea of taking my straight razor to Dick’s throat, and hanging him up to bleed out like a slaughtered hog had a great appeal to me."
"Al used his fingers to imitate a pair of scissors. I nodded. He smiled."
"He casually made a fist. I nodded again. He smiled again."
"When I was through with the boy's hair, I showed it to his father. ‘I guess it's good enough. I was hoping you'd take off more.’"
"I apologized for not listening to what he wanted for his son in the first place, and said, 'It looks like you could use a haircut too. I'll tell you what, have a seat, and I'll give you a haircut on the house. The boy's is free too.'"
"He looked at me suspiciously, but I could tell he was a cheap so-and-so. He wasn’t going to pass up a freebie."
"He swallowed my story--hook, line and sinker.
'I'll take that free cut, but I'm warning you. Don't mess it up. If you do, I’ll mess you up.'"
"Saying that to me was like saying 'sic 'em' to a bulldog. I've never wanted anything in my life as much as I wanted to pay this fool back for what he'd done to that boy, and then I wanted to pay him back for what he'd said to me. I didn't let on though. I assured him I'd do exactly what he wanted...all the while thinking, 'This man is too stupid to realize he's got a tiger by the tail, and that the tiger is about to bite him in the butt!'"
"I started playing with him like a cat plays with a mouse. I put the cape on, and asked him exactly what he wanted. I listened carefully, and asked a few questions. Then I picked up my comb, and carefully combed his hair. I started taking tiny snips off his hair. He nodded approvingly. I felt him relax....and I got ready to have fun!"
"Once I had my victim where I wanted him, I nodded to Al. (I don't know how we knew what the other was thinking, but we were in perfect sync. Al played the role beautifully.) He reached toward his pocket and said, 'Oh, Sarge. I forgot. I picked up a cigar for you while I was in Havana. Let me give it to you before I forget again.'"
"He casually walked toward me. When he was standing beside the dick-head--I mean Dick, I stepped aside and Al wrapped his arms around the man and hung on tight. You coulda probably heard the man's screams a mile off. I picked up some hair and gave it a good chop--just like he'd done to his son. While Al struggled to hold him, I kept whacking until he had gaps all over his head. I got too close to his scalp, and there was some blood involved, but I didn't feel sorry for him. He earned what he got."
Sarge gave an evil laugh. "I had never seen anyone with hair as messed up as his was, even when it was kids who'd been playing barber. I've also never been as proud of my handiwork as I was that day!"
"Dick started screaming at me, cussing up a storm. I gave him about thirty seconds, and then I put a stop to it. Before he knew what happened, my military training was in charge, and Dick was laying on the floor--gasping like a fish out of water--while my foot put a little pressure where it would hurt the most. He howled like a banshee. I said, 'Oh, you want to cuss me? I spent twenty years in the army, and I can out-cuss you any day of the week. Keep talking, and I’ll make sure you never father any more sons, and I’ll make you so ugly a woman won’t get close enough to you for you to father any more sons! You’ll be so messed up you’ll have to hire whores, and they’ll make you put a bag over your head before they’ll let you touch them. Got it?'"
"I proceeded to put the fear of Sarge in the man. I told him exactly what I thought of his behavior. I politely told him about the standards of civilized behavior and the finer points of parenting, while maintaining a firm pressure with my foot on his family jewels. He laid there and groaned while he listened to me. After I was done with him, I said, ‘Al, drag this piece of hyena dung out of here and leave him where the wolves can find him!'"
"Al grabbed his feet and pulled him out the door. I heard the thumps of Dick's head bouncing down the steps. Not long after that, I heard some more thumps and I knew Al was delivering a final humiliation to the worthless degenerate."
"I went to the boy, wrapped my arms around him and held him for a while. When he was calmer, I said, 'I'm sorry you had to go through that. You shouldn't have had to experience what your father did to you, nor should you have seen what I did to him. I was wrong. I'm sorry I didn't think about asking you to go outside and play."
"I gave him my phone number and told him to call any time his father acted like that. I said, 'Son, I don’t think you’ll have anything to worry about it any more, but you listen to me. If he ever acts like that again, you find a way to call me. I'll make sure he regrets it, and then I'll bring you here to live with me. I mean it!"
"We talked some more, and I was beginning to get worried because Dick hadn't come to collect the boy. The thought crossed my mind that Dick had abandoned the boy, and I had inherited a new son. I even wondered if we had hurt him so badly he had died (and I sorta hoped it)."
"Eventually Dick stuck his head in the door, and Al and I started laughing like a pair of loons. His ‘haircut’ looked ridiculous, plus he had the start of a big black eye. When we finally stopped laughing, he asked for his son."
"I picked up my razor strop and said, 'Before you leave with him, I have a few things to say to you. Let's step outside.'"
"The fear in his face thrilled me, but I said, 'Don't worry. Even though you deserve it, I'm not going to use this on you unless you give me a reason. If you give me any flack I'll flay the skin off of you with this here strop! If you listen, you’ll go home without any more damage to your sorry carcass.’"
"Al got up to go with me, but I said, 'You stay with the boy. I won't be long. I don't want to spend any more time with this skunk's butt than I have to.'"
"Dick hobbled outside, and I enjoyed every painful step he made and every groan that slipped out of him."
Sarge paused and said, "I guess I shouldn't admit that I enjoyed his misery so much, but I did. If that makes me a bad man, then I'm a bad man".
He continued his story. "Once we were outside, I made Dick look at me. 'Listen to me, and hear what I’m saying. First, I think you're lower that a dead snake's belly and I'd kill you if it wasn't for that boy in there. Knowing you’re no longer polluting God’s creation would make it worth spending the rest of my life in prison--even though I doubt a jury would convict me, after what you just did. Secondly, I know where you live, I know where you work and I know dang near every person in this county. If I ever hear you’ve laid more than three licks on that boy's backside, or if I hear you berated him and called him names like you just did, I'll find you and make today seem like a walk in the park. Do you understand me?'
'"Now, we're going back in there, and you're going to apologize to that boy--and you'd better convince both of us you mean it. You're also going to promise him it'll never happen again... and you dang well better keep that promise! Now get going!'"
"The way he groaned when he turned to go back in the shop was music to my ears."
"After Dick left, I looked at Al and, 'Nice job, buddy.' I reached in my drawer and pulled out the bottle of bourbon I kept hidden. 'I think we need a cigar and a drink or two before I finish up your haircut.'"
"Al howled with laughter and said, 'I'll share a cigar with you, but my friend, you must think I'm pretty darned stupid if you think you're getting anywhere near my hair when you’ve got some liquid courage in you. Finish my haircut and then we'll have a drink.'"
"I couldn't help but laugh at Al. I responded, 'You're probably right. Now get your butt in this chair so I can have some of that bourbon.'"
"The boy never called me, and I often thought about him. About ten years later, a monster of a man came in wearing an army uniform. He was strong and confident looking. He said, 'Do you remember me?'"
"I had to admit I didn't. He said, 'I'm the boy you rescued from his abusive father. I've never forgot you.'"
"Tears flooded my eyes, and I hugged him. I said, 'I wish you knew how many times I've wondered how you're doing and what became of you. Thanks for coming in. Now sit down and tell me about yourself '"
"We talked for hours, and I still hear from him regularly. I don't know how he managed to do it with the raising he had, but he turned into an incredible man. I'm proud of him."
When he finished that story, he lit what seemed to be an ever-present cigar, and said, "Is that enough stories, or do you want more?"
After being assured that more stories were wanted, he started another tale. "Ok. This next one is one of my top ten favorite stories to tell but it’s fairly short. Sometime in the early Sixties, a greasy biker with really long hair came into the shop, and plopped down in the chair. I had heard about the hippy movement, but I had never seen a bona-fide hippy. I was fascinated and repulsed at the same time."
"The dirtball said, ‘Just trim it. Don’t take more than a 1⁄2 inch off anywhere.’"
"I looked at him like he was crazy, but I picked up a comb, and spent some time combing his hair. After a bit, I reached back and picked up the clippers, while picking up the hair at the nape of his neck. I turned the clippers on before he suspected a thing, and went from the back of his neck all the way to the front, and plopped all that hair in his lap."
"Always one to play to an audience, I turned to all of the old farts that always hung around the shop, and said, "I didn’t know what to do with that crap but cut it off."
Sarge chuckled, and continued, "Until that time, I thought I could cuss more than any man alive. That biker proved me wrong."
"He kept getting more and more vocal, and honestly, I was getting scared, wondering if he was going to try to hurt me. I had my guard up, hoping my military training would come to my rescue if he attacked. I was also hoping one of my customers would have the sense to get a shotgun out of their truck. None of them did. They were too busy watching the show the fool hippy was putting on."
"After he finally calmed down, I said, "If you wanted a lady’s cut, you should’ve gone to the beauty shop across the street where all the women go. If you’ve got some balls with hair on them, you’ll sit your butt back down in this chair and let me give you a real man’s haircut."
"That was the wrong thing to say. He commenced to cussing again. He finally sat down. ‘Finish it up.’"
"I finished him all right. He probably didn’t get another haircut for at least three years."
Almost like a curse, Sarge said, ‘Blasted hippies!’"
He looked like he really cherished the memory of that haircut.
He got up and walked over to his "Success Wall" and started looking at pictures. He selected one, and then said, "Oh, here’s one for the books. I’ve never known if this was a success or a failure...but I know it’s the only time in my career I didn’t know what to do when I was asked to give a haircut."
He showed a picture that featured a man and five children. The kids looked like they ranged from eight to sixteen years old. They had all just received what is referred to as a summer cut. Four of them looked extremely unhappy. One had a huge smile. The one with the smile was wearing a cute dress.
Sarge said, "Ray came in, and apologized for bringing his daughter with him, explaining that he was watching the kids while his wife was away. He pointed at the boys, and said, ‘Watching these hooligans flick their bangs out of their eyes is driving me crazy, and all four of them are getting their hair cut today. If they give you any crap, don’t take it.’"
"I was quick to say, ‘Ray, I don't think it's fair to expect the boys to get a haircut when you've got that hideous mop on your own head. Lead by example and set your butt in this chair.’"
He looked startled, and started to sit down. Then he shook his head. 'I know you’re right, but I don’t know if I can do it.’"
"You’re gonna leave here with four boys flicking their bangs out of their eyes if you don’t practice what you preach and sit down in this chair. I’m not gonna make them cut their hair when you’re not man enough to get your own hair cut."
"After a long pause, he said, ‘You’re right. It’s only fair. Cut mine first, just to show them I’m man enough to take it--and what’s in store for them. Give me a short crewcut.’"
"He grimaced. 'Jeanine is gonna kill me!'"
After laughing at him, I responded with, 'I doubt she'll kill you, but she might put you in the doghouse. I have a cot in the back you can use until she gets used to your new look. I promise you, you won't be the first one to use it.'
"You don’t know my wife. I might have to take you up on that."
"I waited a bit, and he was still standing. Finally I said, ‘Well, I can’t cut your hair when your head is over there. Plop your butt in this chair, and I’ll square you away.’"
"He slowly walked over, acting like he was going to the electric chair."
"‘One extra-short crewcut coming up,’ I said--hoping he didn’t notice that I threw the word ‘extra’ in there. I put the cape on him, and started combing out his hair. His hair was a typical Seventies cut: long enough to cover his ears, and hang over his collar. What made him so special was the mutton-chop sideburns he was sporting. They were thick, wide and long. I picked up my clippers, and took the first sideburn all the way off. I went right up to the top of his head, leaving no hair at all, just a whole bunch of white skin."
"He looked rueful, and said, ‘I wish I’d thought to tell you to leave me a little sideburn, but I guess it’s too late for that. Get rid of the rest of the hair on my head.’"
"I followed his directions. I took the sides as low as the clippers would go, and used a #2 blade on the top. Once I had finished with the clippers, I spread shaving cream over the sides of his head."
"He looked startled, and said, ‘What the heck are you doing?’"
"In my shop, an ‘extra-short crewcut’ includes shaved sides."
"I started on the sides with my straight razor. One of his boys started howling about not getting his hair cut that short."
"Ray pointed at his son, and said, ‘Be quiet. I told you what was going to happen if you didn’t do something with your hair. You didn’t do anything about it, so now I’m doing it for you.’"
"After I finished with Ray’s hair, he said, ‘Wait a minute! You said extra-short crewcut. I just said a short crewcut!’"
"I laughed, and said, ‘That'll teach you to listen Who’s next?"
"Ray called the oldest boy over. The young man squirmed and wiggled so much I couldn’t cut his hair correctly. Finally, I took the blade off the clippers, and just cut whenever, and wherever I could. He was completely bald when I got done with him. When the second boy sat in the chair, I said, ‘You have two choices. You can be still, and I’ll cut your hair like your father’s, or you can squirm and wind up looking like your brother. What’s it going to be?’"
"He promised to be good, and he was. I rewarded him with hair a little longer than his father’s, but not much."
"While I was cutting the second boy’s head, I noticed the little girl whisper in Ray’s ear. He shook his head. She whispered again. He shook his head again. Then she started crying. She yelled, "I wanna haircut like the boys. It ain’t fair.’"
"Ray took her outside, and talked to her awhile, and then came back in the shop. I assumed the issue was settled."
"After I finished up with the second boy, I said, ‘Next victim.’"
"Ray said, ‘Go ahead, Alicia. It’s your turn.’"
"She jumped in my chair--all eagerness. I looked at Ray, to see what he wanted. I don’t think I’ve ever been as startled as I was when he said, ‘She wants a haircut like the boys, so give it to her.’"
"I blurted out, ‘Are you sure?’"
"She answered for him. ‘Yes, sir. Just like theirs.’"
"I combed her hair, and tried to talk her out of it. ‘Alicia, little girls don’t wear crewcuts, and besides, your hair is too pretty. It’d be a shame to cut it all off. Won’t you let me cut your hair just a little?’"
"She shook her head. ‘NO! I want a haircut just like theirs’ pointing to her father and brothers. Then she looked at me with those beautiful blue eyes, and said, ‘Please!’"
"I’ve never felt so helpless. I looked at Ray again. I know my eyes were begging him to help get me out of this situation. He shook his head, and said, ‘I’ve never been able to deny my baby girl anything she wants. If she wants a crewcut, give it to her. I guess it’ll be a learning experience for her if she decides she hates it. Maybe in the future it’ll make her think twice.’"
"I stood there--shocked. Finally, Ray said, ‘Just do it. Get it over with.’"
"That was one of the very few times I didn’t gladly take someone’s hair down when they asked for it. I almost cried when I took my clippers to her long, beautiful golden hair, but she sat there with a huge grin on her face."
Sarge shook his head, and said, "I guess I’ll never forget that. I have to say, it was easier to convince the other two boys to cut their hair. All I had to do was say, ‘Your sister was man enough to take it, and you’re not?’"
"I never knew if she regretted getting her hair cut. They moved a few weeks later. I still wonder."
The interview was winding down when Sarge was asked about retirement plans. He said, 'I can't imagine retiring--my work is too interesting. I suspect the undertaker will haul my sorry carcass out of this shop, and some poor schmuck will be left with half a haircut.'
As the end of the interview, Sarge was asked if he had any final words of wisdom to share. His response was simple. "I ain't much for passing out wisdom. I'm a simple country barber. About all I can say is to stop and think before you act. I’ve spent too much of my life apologizing for not thinking."
"Oh yeah, I’d also say not to wear yourself out trying to change the world. Change yourself, and help a neighbor."
"When I got out of the army, I didn't wanna sit around and grow roses, so I took up barbering. I thought I was gonna change the world, and make everyone like a military haircut. A quick look out the window will tell you I failed at that. The long-hairs are in charge right now--although I think they’re losing their stranglehold on the world. I hope to live long enough to see them completely out of power."
"Anyway, I might not've changed the world, but I've changed some peoples' lives--one haircut at a time."
Postscript: This is not a part of my series, "Russell’s Haircut Adventures" but you’ll recognize some of the people in the stories.
Although the stories I related are true, I'm not a journalist, and was never a lawyer. This story was never syndicated. I just thought the newspaper format would be a fun way to relate some of the stories I've heard through the years.
My father and Mr. Callahan were good friends. Dad and I not only spent a lot of time in the barbershop waiting to get haircuts, we spent many hours there listening to Sarge tell stories...and I actually witnessed a few of these events. Mr. Callahan was a complex person, and I’ve tried to show some of the different facets of his personality.