Monday, October 22, 2012

Gimme' A Head With Hair

My life came full circle last week. I was in desperate need of a hair trimming and I happened to duck into the same barbershop where I received my first haircut as a child during the days when barbers cut hair with dull axes and knives and were specialists in "bleeding." I remember so well when my mother first brought me to this place of sharp scissors and buzzing clippers, and long black combs dipped in a mysterious blue liquid. I squirmed and cried as if I were about to be tortured, despite the frantic reassurances from my distraught mother, and I was only twenty-six years old. As I grew older, I  requested, "Just a little off the top, and hold the leeches." My barber was Marvin Kennington, who had a tattoo on his arm which read, "I Love Ya Wanda." I always asked him about her but he was vague as to Wanda's destiny. Marvin cut my hair until I was a teenager when he became a professional wrestling referee under the name of Randy Roper and worked the matches on both TV studio wrestling and the Monday night main events at the Coliseum. We were good pals and I always enjoyed entertaining the notion that Marvin might have borrowed my name for his nomme de guerre. It's possible.

The strange thing is that the barber shop, located in a tiny space in High Point Terrace, looks almost exactly the same as it did decades ago. I sat in the very chair I remembered as a child, and when I  looked down at the footrest and saw the name "Koken," I was flooded with memories and became wistful, as if in a personal "Rosebud" moment. I knew it was the exact chair even before the barber had a chance to tell me how the gears and hand pump had been refurbished and the seats reupholstered. I chose the oldest barber there since I trust a man persistent in his trade, and also he was the only guy available. I regaled him with boyhood tales of bicycle rides and visits to the soda fountain in the drugstore that no longer existed next door. I believe the name was Farrell's, and the long-submerged memories came bursting forth, like the smell of the bubble gum that came in a pack of baseball cards, the taste of a real fountain Coke, or the challenge of a jaw-breaker. When I was through reminiscing, I realized I had been in the chair over 45 minutes and the barber was still snipping. Although it took him a while, my wife Melody said it was among the best haircuts I've had lately. The problem is, there's just not that much to cut anymore. I'm not looking for topiary spirals in the horseshoe fringe. Just clean me up so I don't look like Howard Hughes, and I'm good for another few months.

The only reason I went to the barber shop to begin with is that my wife won't do it. I have the beard trimmer with the hair-clipping attachment. It would take five minutes. Melody will pick my clothes, prepare my food, listen to my complaints, laugh at my bad jokes, and cuddle with me at night, but she refuses to cut my hair. She accused me of being a cheap bastard, but in truth, I've never enjoyed the barbershop experience. That's why I've had so few barbers in life. In all my years in the Bluff City, I've had five barbers: The aforementioned Marvin Kennington, Bobby Rye, Hector Flores, Jackie Ayers, and George Perry. With Marvin it was pretty simple; buzz cut in the summer; Elvis in the winter. Bobby Rye was a bespectacled flat-top specialist with a shop on Poplar Ave. He was a bit intense and not very talkative, but the man was an artist. Your hair would be as flat as a sidewalk, but he always left a small patch in the front to be propped up straight with a dab of Butch Wax. Bobby saw me from young adulthood until I reached the age of eighteen, when I stopped getting haircuts altogether. Because I was a musician and I could, my longhaired days ultimately turned into ten years. Upon returning to semi-normalcy, my barber was Hector Flores, mainly because he was also my landlord.

When I was nineteen, my hair fell out. Other men's hairlines recede; mine retreated. I first noticed it in the shower when the water level rose above my ankles because the drain was clogged with ringlets of my hair. I was traumatized and pondered what could be the cause of this hair avalanche. Was it because I had let it grow and the weight was pulling it out? Was it the pot? Was it my cheeseburger diet? I finally decided that it was karma for spending too much time looking at my hair in the mirror when I thought I was a teen rock star. Now there was more on the towel and the pillowcase than on my head. Other men begin to lose a little hair; I was shedding like a Collie. I became morbidly self-conscious, which will sound familiar to any man whose hair is prematurely thin, because everyone has sport with the bald man. You can't call someone ugly, or joke about anybody's weight, but the bald man is still fair game. It's improper to refer to a little person as a midget, but it's fine to call a bald man "slickhead," "chrome-dome," or "cue-ball." At high school reunions, they give funny awards for the shiniest pate. In a panic, I began to execute the comb-over to present the illusion of hair, until one night, some woman in a club exclaimed, "Hey! You're all bald on the top." In my show-biz desperation, I opted for the "hair-weave," which needed periodic maintenance for which I found Jackie Ayers. She remained my barber for the next thirty years until her retirement.

By this time, the pesky weave had been replaced by an off-the-rack, standard hairpiece. It was nothing for an old pro like George Perry to cut my hair and trim my beard in fifteen minutes, but he closed his shop too, which is why I ducked into High Point in the first place. I had a public event to attend and Melody declined to accompany me as long as I looked like a homeless vagabond. It was Melody who finally talked me out of the hairpiece. I knew I was reaching the age when I wasn't cute anymore, and the synthetic hair wasn't helping. My sympathies remain with the frustrated hairless, but it's been liberating to free myself from hairpiece bondage and all the accessories that go with it. Today, a balding man can just shave it clean and everyone calls him sexy. Years ago, everyone would just assume he had alopecia. Although it was a nostalgic jaunt through boyhood memory, one thing about the old barbershop has changed; men's haircuts cost twenty dollars and beard trimming is fifteen. I told Melody that if she thinks I'm such a cheap bastard, I'll give her the thirty-five bucks, drape a towel around my shoulders, and let her start hacking away. Consequently, it seems as if more professional haircuts are in my future. I may even return to my childhood barbershop once again, except they forgot to give me my lollipop.


Anonymous said...

Nothing prepares one for the depredations of old age. It is sort of like evaporating away. It must be harder on a performer, especially those who were in demand by the girls. When I realized that I was no longer sexy I stayed away from the bar scene. What is more pathetic than to see an old man wistfully watching the kids having fun hitting on each other and enjoying their youth while for you the raven quotes, "Nevermore". The slow march to the grave begins in earnest. Shoulda, woulda, coulda is our lament as we decompose and say goodbye to the days of wine and roses. Those who say that age is just a state of mind haven't gotten old enough to see that it is also a state of the body. The grave lies ahead so there is nothing to do but look back. You really don't know what youth is until you lose it. Then you realize that it was everything.

David said...

Hey Randy. Go to the Midtown Barber Shop on Cooper at Vinton. Haircuts just went up to ten bucks and they trim your beard for free. Three old guys who were on Cleveland for 90 years and moved into the new shop about 15 years ago. But don't go to the guy in chair number 1. he only knows one cut and unless that's what you like, you still get it.

Say hi to Melody.

Old And In The Way said...

Didn't Marvin Kennington make funny noises with his mouth while cutting hair? That made me wonder about him. I remember him from a barber shop in Poplar Plaza.

alittlegreen said...

Wow, Anon. you sound like a really scared and unhappy person. If all your looking for is women in bars... then yes, you will probably be lonely and unhappy, at our age there is more to life than flirting and getting laid (at least that"s what they tell me) but it makes me kinda sad to think that the grave is the only thing you have to look forward to. Look at it this way, kids all grown,house to yourself and all the time in the world to learn something new. Have fun dude and lighten up !

performs said...

" makes me kinda sad to think that the grave is the only thing you have to look forward to."

Don't ask me why, but this portion of the comment got me thinking of:

Three friends are killed in a car accident and meet up at an orientation session in Heaven. The celestial facilitator asks them what they would most like to hear said about them as friends and relatives walked past their casket.
The first man says, “I hope people will say I was a wonderful doctor and a good family man.”
The second man says, “I would like to hear people say that as a schoolteacher I made a big difference in the lives of children.”
The third man says, “I’d like to hear someone say: ‘Hey look! He’s moving!’”

Anonymous said...

Uh, alittlegreen, you missed my point. I don't even think about girls anymore, because I am too old to function in that respect. I was just remembering the old guys looking wistfully at us young folks when I was a patron of the pick-up bars many years ago. The post was an ode to those of us whose health and vitality are quickly fading due to age. It is a fact that as the future contracts, more time is spent remembering 'the glory days' when there was no horizon and life was our bowl of cherries. That being said, I have no regrets. I spent my one chance on Earth the best that I could. Besides, I am a Christian (please forgive me for that) and we believe that life really begins after physical death. Actually, I was commiserating with Sput's soliloquy about losing his hair. Perhaps I over did it. And, Performs, that was a good one.

Anonymous said...

By the way, alittlegreen, I owe you an aplogy for my sarcastic remark to you in another post. I still have a bit of a problem controlling my natural combativeness. Before I became a Christian I was not much better than an outlaw biker. I am still in progress. After I say something shitty, I always feel remorse later, but still manage to occasionally say something shitty. I will try again to do better.

Allen Rankin said...

Great post Randy. You brought back lots of memories for me of that dusty barber shop with the stench of Wildroot hair tonic, Bazooka bubble gum, old Argosy magazines piled on motel furniture end tables and grizzled old barbers peering through their bifocals trying not to sever an ear with that straight razor. From that first haircut, those Rights of Passage began. First, getting off that board they laid across the armrests for toddlers because you're tall enough for the barber to reach you with the chair pumped all the way up. The next Right was when they put lathered soap around your ears and used that dull straight razor to trim around your ears and neck. Around your late thirties or early forties when those mutated hairs start sprouting from odd places they start trimming in your ears and down the back of your neck. I suppose the last Right is the old coot stage, when they trim nose and eyebrow hair. I wouldn't want to go back to sitting on that board again. My roids couldn't take it. As my great aunt Bernice often said, “Old age ain't for sissies.” She was right, but I'd rather be here, bald, frumpy and arthritic, than gone. Someday, I'll be interrupting my daughter's garden club gathering wearing only a white dress shirt and one black sock. I'll be able to get away with pinching all the hottie young ladies on the butt without getting my face slapped. Come on curmudgeons! Have fun with it.

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