The Shared Experience of Hair Removal

That old pizza parlor down on the corner of Brunning and North Fifth Street is finally being torn down. I asked my barber, Christoph — whose shop is just down the road at Fifth and Main — if he knew what was going on. His reply was “All I know is that The Armenians bought that property, and that’s great, because they run a tight ship when it comes to business. I’m glad to have them as neighbors.”

See, that just goes to show you: barbers always have their fingers on the pulse of local business. And they really appreciate the value of having The Armenians in town, the way I do. That makes them swell in my book. I love going to see Christoph.

Let me tell you one thing, son: a real man should have his own barber, who knows him, and takes care of him, the way that Christoph takes care of me.

I know that most fellas either cut their own hair willy-nilly in the shower, or just drive over to the shopping mall and take what they can get from those sassy gum-snapping girls who work at that unisex beauty salon there. But I don’t think of my haircuts as a chore. I think about them as something I look forward to, and so when I get them, I want them to be an experience.

And, boy, does my barber deliver that. Christoph has been cutting hair at the same chair for 43 years, knows how to tell a tale or two, and is completely on top of all the latest news hereabouts. Would I have been all excited to know, or even be aware, that The Armenians were buying the old pizza parlor lot if I hadn’t been in to see Christoph? No sir, not a chance of it.

So you get a solid half hour of good man talk, the latest business news, a real shave, and an eyebrow or nose hair or ear hair trim as needed, all for less than the price of a ticket to a Saturday movie matinee, without popcorn. It’s a bargain. Plus, did I mention that they always have coffee and donuts there for while you’re waiting? They do. It’s great. Though you have to careful about closing the donut box real quick before any hair gets in it, and it’s best to put a lid on your little coffee cup while you’re sipping it.

Nothing ever seems to change in there, but just think about what my friend Christoph has seen looking out the window of his shop over the past 43 years. All the kids and dogs and moms and dads walking by. And, boy, I’m guessing just about every kind of car that’s ever been, in every color, has driven by there at least once. He’s seen all the seasons passing, all the trees growing up from nothing, all the styles changing, businesses coming, businesses going, all the potholes filled, all the police cars and ambulances going to all those crimes and accidents, some of them involving folks who might have sat in Christoph’s chair just the day before, then never did again.

The world just rolls on by, every day, even in a small town like this, and Christoph stays where he is, watching it all, listening to whatever news people bring to him, passing it on when it’s proper and respectful for him to do so. Like with The Armenians.  Oh, and get this: Christoph calls Arnold, the other barber in his shop, “the new kid” because Arnold has only been there for 18 years. That’s just amazing in these days when nobody’s loyal to anything, and no one has any darned stick-to-it anymore. And I’m guessing that Arnold’s at least 50 years old, by the way, and he’s probably been cutting hair since he really was a kid himself. But it’s all in jest between them, and they’re like some old comedy act now poking fun at each other, and each of them has their own regular customers, and sometimes they get into the act, too. I laugh a lot when I’m there. It’s a good time.

I went to a barbershop like this when I was just a kid myself. My daddy sent me there every two weeks, like clockwork. It wasn’t quite as much fun as Christoph’s shop can be, though, especially for a little fellow. It was a serious business, see. There were these two old German barber brothers who owned the shop, right in the village square next to my dad’s general store, and everybody in town called them Herr Hans and Herr Jens. They didn’t talk quite so much, but they had cornered the market on haircuts in the county, and their place was just legendary.

There were these old regulars in there all the time, with tobacco spit dripping down their chins, and there was a real brass spittoon for them. And there was an old radio with Woody Herman or Harry James or Kay Kyser or something similar playing through a blown speaker with bad reception. Photos of race car drivers and 15-year old calendars with pictures of pretty women on the walls. All that real man stuff.

Herr Hans and Herr Jens didn’t even ask you how you wanted your hair done, they just cut it the way they thought was best, threw some smelly toilet water on you, and charged you a quarter or so. They’d look at anyone new a bit suspicious at first, but they’d still give everyone one heck of a cut and shave, no questions asked, just so long as you were respectful and said your “pleases” and “thank you, sirs.” Though if you lipped off to them, they weren’t above giving your ear a little nip with the scissors, or cutting your sideburns a  little crooked, just to make sure that you minded your P’s and Q’s the next time you stopped by. That’s a good lesson for a young fellow to learn, since if I came home with a bad haircut, my daddy knew it was my own fault, and dealt with me accordingly.

So I always recommend a visit to a good old barber shop like Christoph’s, for sure, even if you want nothing fancier than “Shave it all off with a number one clipper.” Because at a real barber, instead of having little plastic doohickeys on the clippers that change the length of the hair that remains, they have actual different size metal blades that they put on. My barber Christoph has been cutting hair with the same clipper since he opened the shop, 43 years ago. It’s American made, son! It’s all metal, it weighs a ton, and it cuts the heck out of your hair! I know all this because it takes a solid half hour for him to shave my head and neck, and he talks the whole time about whatever’s on his mind, including the tools of this trade. Which he’s proud of. As he should be.

I always leave a tip when he’s done, because Christoph earns it, just like Herr Hans and Herr Jens earned it when I was a little fellow, learning what it meant to be a man. The thrill and fear of having some old guy running a bare, six inch-long straight razor blade around your ears and throat is something every real man should experience regularly.

That’s what real manhood is all about, if you ask me: the shared experience of hair removal.

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