I am going to the barbershop today.
Okay, so that opening line isn’t exactly “Call me Ishmael.” Or, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” Or, even, “Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins.” Frankly, it seems to me that Humbert Humbert should really see a good dermatologist about that fire of his loins situation.
Regardless of its lack of literary pizzazz, I am going to the barbershop today.
Until I was about ten years old, my Mom cut my hair. She had a little clipper set and would sit me in a chair by the washer and dryer with a sheet wrapped around me and start to snip away. She was pretty good at it except when a song she liked came on the radio, mid-clip. If it was Perry Como’s “It’s Impossible” I would end up with more hair left on my head. Not sure why. Perhaps the relaxed phrasing of Mr. Como made her slow down. On the other hand, an upbeat tune, like “I’m A Believer” by the Monkees increased her speed and made her dance around the chair, resulting in a shorter hairstyle. You don’t want to know what happened when she’d hear Scott Joplin’s “The Entertainer.”
One day, she decided I was old enough to go to the barber. She gave me a five-dollar bill and sent me on my way. I rode my bike to Gordy’s Barbershop.
Gordy’s Barbershop was like Floyd’s in Mayberry but with slightly less day-to-day excitement. After serving in World War II, Gordy used the GI Bill to attend barber college. Then, he opened a shop in the college town of Madison, Wisconsin. All was well until the 60s hit and male students quit getting as many haircuts. That’s when Gordy moved his operation to the small town of Prairie du Sac.
It was a two-chair shop with haircare products sitting in the window that nobody ever seemed to purchase. He had his combs and other stuff sitting in that blue Barbicide. There was a singing bass on the wall. Comic books and old copies of “Field and Stream” available to read. (“Esquire” was kept face down inside the display case because it was rather naughty. I never saw a man ask to see it. Too embarrassing.)
Gordy opened at 6:00 a.m. Monday through Saturday. There were always farmers waiting for him when he got to work.
In the days before the Social Network, Gordy’s Barbershop served as a living, breathing version of Facebook and Twitter. Facebook-like news was shared and Twitter-like one-liners were bandied about…things my Mom called “barbershop jokes.” That meant they weren’t always funny and weren’t usually applicable (or acceptable) outside the barbershop.
When I walked in to get my first real barber haircut, Gordy said, “Joel, you’ve got Audubon hair.” I asked what Audubon hair was. He said, “Audubon on a dog.” That was a “barbershop joke.”
Gordy cut my hair. Took three of the five dollars. Handed me a piece of Juicy Fruit gum and sent me on my way.
When I got home, my Mom was not pleased. She felt Gordy had cut it too short. So, she called to tell him so. Gordy laughingly replied, “Well, send him back and we’ll glue some back on.” (Barbershop joke.) My Mom was not amused.
Don’t worry about my Mom and Gordy. They got even with each other about ten years later when they got married.
My wife and I would let our boys’ hair get pretty shaggy so that Grandpa Gordy could cut it when we headed back to Wisconsin for a visit. In this 21-year-old memory, Taylor, Alexander and I watch Harrison get his first ever haircut.
Meanwhile, Samantha is hanging out, waiting for her piece of Juicy Fruit gum.