A TRIP TO THE BARBER SHOP
I am not a vain hair person: I never comb my hair – I just wear it. I like long hair, but my wife doesn’t, so I go the barbershop when she starts to remind me, again and again that I am overdue for a haircut.
I went in this morning. We have a small barbershop with three chairs. There are three women barbers. Each woman has pictures of her family on the counter in front of the mirror. There is a coat rack inside the front door, a poster on the wall with pictures of men with different hair styles, some plants in the front window and a radio playing soft music.
Each time I go in for a haircut I can’t help but remember the barber shop of my childhood in a small Delta town in Mississippi.
Back then a barbershop was a man’s world. No woman would have ever gone into the barbershop even with her children. It was a place where old men hung out and smoked and talked of farming, women, weather and politics
I remember deer heads on the wall and mounted fish, calendars with pictures of tractors and scantily clad women. The atmosphere was heavy with smoke from cigarettes and cigars. One old barber constantly had a cigarette hanging from the side of his mouth and the other chewed tobacco, so there were two spittoons – one near the barber and one near the door. More than once I smelled whiskey on the breath of one of the barbers.
The walls in the barbershop were yellowed plaster -probably from the constant smoke, and there were no mirrors. The counter with the clippers, scissors and straight razor was also full of mysterious, colorful hair products like Lucky Tiger, Jeri’s, Clubman, Brylcreem, Vitalis and others. The floor was always covered with hair from previous cuts
I was raised by my grandmother, but when she would send me to get a haircut I entered the world of men. I always got a friendly ribbing when I was young, but it was an inclusion, an acceptance that I would someday become one of them.
There is no gender identity today, and some would say that is a good thing; but back then, in the forties and fifties, manhood was an exclusive club. When you made the cut, you knew who you were and you were comfortable with your distinct gender roll.