The following was written shortly after I was laid off during what is now called the Great Recession. I have a whole archive of stuff I’ve written. I’ll try not to carpet bomb you with blogs of stuff from my past, just the good ones.
April 14, 2009
The other day I got a haircut at a local branch of a national haircut franchise salon. I walked in the door and observed a stable of gum-popping twenty-something young women in black smocks “doing” hair. One of them stopped midway when I came in and wanted to know my phone number. Had I been here before? No, but I’d been to one of their other branches. I’m sure other haircut franchises have me in their system too. I’ve also been out over the internet doing stuff. I’m in a lot of systems. You can run but you can’t hide. It would be a few minutes, please have a seat.
I sat on a black plastic chair. Tattered women’s magazines were on the coffee table. I was surrounded by posters of beautiful young adults with various hairstyles. Make me look like that. Beside me were two women, one talking on a cell phone. Annoying music that sounded like Brittany Spears and her cousins was being piped in from somewhere. I didn’t even have a Smartphone with an internet connection that I could fool with while I waited. They took that away from me when they laid me off. I thought about striking up a conversation with the young lady next to me reading a magazine, but then thought not. I didn’t want her to think I was an old pervert.
Years ago on the farm Dad decided to save money and buy some hair clippers. He would cut me and my brother’s hair as a way to cut expenses. My parents grew up in the Depression and knew how to stretch a dollar. Haircuts probably cost about a dollar back then, but why waste a dollar when you could invest in electric clippers? Besides, styles were simpler back then. You could have a “butch” or a “bowl”. A butch was a basic-training style cut where all the hair was mowed off leaving stubble that you didn’t have to worry about combing. A bowl was leaving it long on the top, but clipping it short on the sides so that it looked like someone had placed a bowl over your head and cut everything below it.
I had a “double crown” meaning that my hair swirls in two places in the back of my head and if it is cut too short it will stick up in a rooster tail like Alfalfa in Spanky and Our Gang. Spanky and Our Gang, also known as The Little Rascals, was a film series that was shot back in the 20’s and 30’s about the adventures of a gang of young boys, a girl named Darla, and a dog with a brown spot around his eye. That was back when young boys used to run in gangs and have adventures that didn’t have anything to do with guns or drugs. It was a diverse group whose leader was Spanky, a chubby cherub cheeked boy with a beanie hat, Alfafa with his rooster tail, freckles and cross-eyes, and Buckwheat, the token Negro with brillo hair and a constant look of astonishment on his face. The multi-racial and gender-integrated group was ahead of its time.
Dad would cut me and my brother’s hair on the back porch. It was always hot and I was always sweating. The big clippers were hot and when I complained Dad would turn them off, put them up to his cheek and say they didn’t feel hot to him. Therefore, they weren’t hot. He also said that getting to the hair in the back of my neck was like digging mud out of a well. I wondered what that meant. I wondered if he’d ever dug mud out of a well, but I didn’t ask. I just wanted the ordeal to be over.
When I was older and had a paper route and could pay for my own haircuts I would go to the local barber shop and get a flat top. A flat top was like a butch, but the sides of the hair would be cut so they would stick straight up and the top of the head was as flat as a table. In order to keep hair standing you would have to put Butch Wax on it. Butch Wax came in a jar and was a pink gooey like stuff that was kind of like paraffin. You’d paste it on and brush up your flat top with a round plastic brush that could also be used to brush burrs out of dogs. When it was hot the wax would melt and run down your forehead if you used too much. Older men, like my Dad, who didn’t have a flat top, would use hair oil to slick back their hair and make it shine. Dad’s brand was Lucky Tiger and it came in a bottle and looked like red transmission fluid. I haven’t seen it on the shelves in these modern times.
Back in those days women didn’t get haircuts in barber shops. They went to beauty shops, where they could sit for hours under some contraption that looked like an electric chair and read magazines and gossip. When they wanted to save money they would give each other home permanents. I remember my Mom giving home permanents to my sister and cousin. The permanent kit came in a box with a picture of a beautiful woman with shiny, curly hair. I would always try to be out of the house because it was an all day process that involved boiling eye watering toxic chemicals that smelled like ammonia, hair curlers, bobby pins and tissue paper. I’m not really sure how it worked, but I remember my sister and cousin coming out of the process, looking at each other, and bawling woefully.
In my hometown when folks were not trying to stretch dollars by doing hair at home, men went to barber shops and women went to beauty shops (or maybe they were salons). You could tell it was a man’s world in the barber shop because the only occupants were male. You would sit in big over-stuffed barber chair that would crank up and down and spin around. If you were little, there was a kid’s seat that would cradle between the arms of the chair and it gave you the feeling that you were a big boy. If you were old enough you might hear a dirty joke or two. You also heard opinions about events of the day and how favorite sports teams were doing. In my Dad’s hometown one of his relatives named Ercel was the local barber. He was a nice man with a big mole on his face who always called me cousin. He had pictures of hunting dogs on the walls, along with stuffed fish. Field and Stream magazines were on the table. Bottles of astringent and hair oil of various colors were lined up on the wall behind the chair in front of the mirror. The place smelled manly with a hint of stale cigar smoke. Back then everyone smoked. Now the twenty-somethings that smoke at places like the hair franchises do so on their breaks out back by the dumpster.
After forty-five minutes listening to Brittany Spears and thumbing through Better Homes and Gardens, I was finally called back for my haircut. My hair was cut by Tom, the only other male in the place. Tom wore a black and white sweat suit and his short hair stood up on the side and peaked in the middle like a shark’s fin. I wondered if he used Butch Wax. He asked me how I wanted my hair cut and I told him above the ears and a little off the sides and top. I forgot to tell him about the double crown. I walked out looking like Alfalfa. I gave him a dollar tip anyway after he rang up my discount coupon. I hope he knows how to stretch it in these hard times.