barbers 1.17.99

I got a haircut last night from Viv. Yessir, another Bigtime Married Guy Saturday Night. Put on your slippers, fellas, it's time to shuffle down memory lane.

Viv has the distinction of being the second person ever to cut my hair, as I'm one of those fellows who had a childhood so entrenched in routine that only one barber was ever given the opportunity to take scissors to my head. His name was Estorcio Ramirez, but everybody knew him as Ray.

Whenever I'm getting a haircut, I get a feeling like there's a rod running right through the middle of today and poking straight through the calendar page of every day I ever got a haircut, so that they all line up, each memory almost identical to the rest; I could be six years old, or eleven, or fifteen, and I'm sitting in the same position and there he is, snipping away around my ears with those silver scissors, the pointy kind with the pinky rest. Snink snink snink. It's impossible for me to get a haircut and not think about the barbershop where Ray worked, and how I could've spent so much time in a place where so few things happened, and yet so much went on.

The last time I saw Ray was almost twenty years ago. I was a man by then, and he'd seen a lot of me and I'd seen a lot of him. Whenever I was in his chair, he was always good for a story to the strangers waiting on the couch about how he gave me my first haircut, and how I cried and cried. According to Ray, I also used to have a pretty solid rendition of "Take Me Out To The Ballgame", though I have no recollection of it. Just another of my happy little trauma blackouts, I suppose. Dang, those are handy.

Even though Ray was my barber, Rueben owned the shop. It was just the two of them, right on Main St., snipping away every day but Sunday, staggering the schedule for the drop-ins, and working at a pace to accommodate the regulars who'd made an appointment. I can see it clearly in memory now, I look up from the word KOKEN written in the metal scrollwork on the footrest of the chair, and painted on the inside of the plate glass window, in red, is "POHS REBRAB S'EBUR."

Those were great chairs. Classic big black & white machines, the kind that swallowed kids whole. The kind that mobsters got rubbed out in, with a long leather strop hung off the side, where Ray would hone his straight-edged blade with a frightening thwap thwap thwap thwap.

The place was full of golden sounds - some from my head, like the spine-tingling buzz of the warm electric clippers hitting that bone behind the ear, or the scrape of the straight razor at the bottom of a sideburn. Others came from the room itself -- the snap of the fresh linen being flung out for the next customer, the ka-thunk of the lever to raise him, the little pops of Ray's half-stick of Doublemint, traffic, and the ragged slap of a magazine hitting naugahyde.

The magazines were for the men. Men's magazines. Dozens of them. The forbidden fruit. If a man picked one up I had to look away. I don't think I could've survived the embarrassment of being caught sneaking a peek at the pulchritude, or the chiding that would surely follow. The men would sit there, clearing their throats and flipping through, pausing on the pages that offered the most sizzle.

Rueben always had the scoop on the latest risqué breakthrough - he kept track - and he'd let customers know on just which pages the women were pushing their envelopes. It was very much male territory, so much so that not once did a woman ever, EVER, pass through the door and into the shop.

Haircuts are much different for me now. There's no gum-popping, no straight-edged razors, and the only magazines near the chair are back issues of Highlights. But when Viv leans in close for some careful trimming, there is the bonus of some very thrilling contact and it's all I can do to focus on The Timbertoes to keep the haircut on track.

today's music:



today's wisdom:

"Most men become men at the cost of a certain innate decency."

- Norman Mailer