By Harvey H. Jackson
Today, I write about an American institution that does not get the credit it is due.
The Barber Shop.
These days men often get their hair cut in the same places where women get their hair “styled.”
Once upon a time, it was different. A boy’s first haircut, and his haircuts after that, brought him into a world of men, and men only. Seldom if ever did women venture into those dens of manhood.
Waiting customers read men’s magazines. Field and Stream, Sports Illustrated, and Parts Pups, an automotive publication that contained jokes aimed at adolescent males of all ages.
If you didn’t read, you could watch, for a barber with comb and scissors always put on a show.
Or you could listen. In my youth, while waiting for my turn in the chair, I was often privy to opinions my elders exchanged on topics ranging from football to hunting and fishing to automotive repair to politics to whatever else happened to be on their minds. Listening to grown men gripe about the government or debate when to plant tomatoes taught me a lot about the diversity of my community and the nature of the men who often set its tone.
What they seldom spoke of were women – wives, girlfriends, either or both.
The man getting his hair cut was loud and opinionated. No matter the topic being discussed, he had something to say, and he said it with the authority of the self-assured. What he lacked in knowledge and logic, he made up for with volume.
Among the increasingly irritated listeners was Mr. Dave, one of the town’s leading citizens.
Mr. Dave, gentleman that he was, ignored the man in the chair.
When the barber finished clipping his customer, he shaved the man’s neck, as was the custom back then and, I suspect, still is in older shops with older barbers. Shaving done, the barber asked his customer if he would like some after-shave, cologne, which soothed the skin and left one smelling “like you’ve been to a barber shop.”
“I don’t want any,” the man thundered. “If I came home smelling of that stuff my wife would think I had been in a house of ill-repute.”
He paid the barber, and as he walked to the door, Mr. Dave took his place.
“Just a trim,” he told the barber.
Then he added, “And you can put that cologne on me. My wife doesn’t know what a house of ill-repute smells like.”
The once-loud-man silently slipped away.
Harvey H. (“Hardy”) Jackson is Professor Emeritus of History at Jacksonville State University. He can be reached at email@example.com.