Banner photo of Larry Eugene Meredith, Ronald Tipton and Patrick Flynn, 2017.

The good times are memories
In the drinking of elder men...

-- Larry E.
Time II

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Clip Joints and Other Hairy Memories

I published this poem of mine in my "Old Man and the Syllables" Blog recently, but since my good buddy over at Retired in Delaware recently did two posts on a bad haircut I decided to reprint it here and ramble a bit about haircuttery.

(I have absolutely no affiliation with Mr. Larry's Hair Salon.)


I’ve been to the barber
Beyond the cosmos where such thing exist
In white hanging light through Witch Hazel clouds
Where lidless cylinders hold scissors at ready.
And there is in the distance of mirrors within mirrors
And bruised and battered hardwood chairs
Tiny tables with scattered tattered magazines
And comics for the kids
Who are lifted up screaming upon the strange saddle
That balances across the arms of the glistening porcelain chair.

The man is named Tony, they all are named Tony
Except for Blackie and oddly enough Clarence
And how is a Clarence in the tonsorial trade?
He flaps off a sheet with a shake and sweeps up the hair.
Or strops a straight razor on a strap beneath the arm.
He ties a tissue about the neck of the customer
He warms up a towel
He dusts off a shoulder
He sprinkles powder from the bristles of a feathery broom.

I’ve been to a barber
In some Biblical sense when men were still men
And Delilahs were barred from the tools of the trade.
I witnessed the pig-snouted brushes drowning in cups
When not surfing the white caps across seas of chins.
I’ve passed by the poles of dying past history
Spinning encased in glass shells to signal the trade
Of multi-talented gents.
White stripe for the shaving and cutting of hair
Red stripe for blood-leaching, the surgery, dentistry there
And all of it gone to the prissiness of the salon.

As for me, I never liked going to the barber.  I would have sided with my mother who cried when my dad insisted on my first haircut. She loved my long, somewhat curly, locks (which were red in my earliest years).

And of course once they gave me the first it wasn't to be the last. No, every couple of weeks someone would haul me off to the barber shop and I'd be thrust up on the saddle across the barber chair arms and have my hair brutalized.

My barber for most of my childhood was Clarence Miller. (His son, same name, was my trumpet teacher for several years.) He owned a shop in the center of town. I remember him as a somewhat small, mousy man with glasses. It was a long time ago, I could be mistaken. He looked more a bank teller than a barber, perhaps because he wasn't Italian.

It seemed every other barber in town was Italian and named Tony. (Except for a barber just up the street from Clarence who was named Blackie. I never went to Blackie's for a haircut and I don't know if he was Italian or not.) Clarence had other barbers working for him and my hair was usually cut by one of these. His name was Tony and he was Italian.

I don't know what it was, but all these barbers seemed to know only one style for me. I don't know what you would call it, but it generally had a kind of semi-bang effect over my forehead and this bang was usually somewhat ragged.

It never seemed to matter what I asked for, it always came out with the same ragged-bang-on-the-forehead cut.

The only time I got away from this shag was during a period when an almost down to the skin cut called "The Teddy Bear" became the fad.  There was a new (Italian) barber in town, up in one of the residential section behind where I lived, who seemed to popularize it and for a summer anyway I went to him and got my hair buzzed down to the bristles. Then people liked to run their hand over my head — ugh!

That was kind of a faddish year in haircuts. There was a Native-American (Canadian, actually) professional wrestler who had become very popular in the early 1950s. His name was Carl Donald Bell, but he was better known as Chief Don Eagle. He wore his hair in a Mohawk (which was his tribe) and suddenly kids were getting a "Don Eagle" cut. I was not one of them. See, I wasn't a tuff ol' rassler, I was just a cute, cuddly Teddy Bear.

Hmm, maybe I still got that ragged-edge bang cut even when my hair was sliced to the bone.

I don't remember going to the new barber long. At some point in the narrative of my youth, my grandfather began taking me all the way across town to a barber shop next to the pool hall because the barber charged less than any other. It didn't matter, after the summer of the Teddy Bear any and all barbers put me right back into the old bang over the forehead look.

I didn't totally escape this forehead with the fringe on top until I reached high school. There was an explosion of new hairstyles for guys a-sudden on the market. I went into Clarence Miller's one day and when he asked how I wanted it, which he or his minions of the clipper always asked and then ignored the answer, I said I wanted a "Hollywood". Now there were probably several names for that particular cut, but "Hollywood" was the name I knew. The barber had to consult some pictures and he had a frown the whole time, yet I walked out with something new and no bangs.

Now I'll try to explain the "Hollywood" cause I don't think it comes across exactly what it was in the photo. (I still couldn't escape the photographers ordering me to tilt my head to the side so their Klieg lights didn't reflect in my glasses. I wonder why they are called Klieg lights anyway? The brothers who invented them were named Kliegl, John H. and Anton Tiberius Kliegl, with a L on the end.)

It was cut flat on top, but not as short as the standard "Flattop". It was left long on the side, which were then combed back to form a duck's tail on the back of the head. It was quite the rage in the late 1950s.

In all honesty I always hated going to the barber shop. It wasn't just I didn't like the haircut. I never cared for that much closeness between some stranger and me, the touching and the fussing. I didn't like those guys leaning on my shoulder, their hands on my head or their breath in my ear. Now my Retired in Delaware friend has never mentioned this closeness as bothering him except when he was stuck with a woman stylist. He did not care for a feature of the upper female anatomy pressing into his face.

I suppose I could say I always thought that was a side benefit of going to a lady barber.

Actually, the truth is that made me uncomfortable, gentleman that I am. I would try to scrunch and make myself smaller under the cloak, but it never quite worked, especially if the person had been blessed well in that department. Sooner or later certain physiology would be pressing into an upper arm or resting on a shoulder or tickling the back of the neck.

I found a certain solution to my tonsorial touching aversion as the 'sixties progressed. Mainly, just let the old mane grow. At worst, you only had to show up at a barber shop about four times a year. At such times, when a long-hair like me would walk in the door, the barber would go into cardiac arrest.

By the time I was into my Hippie phase, my locks had reached my shoulders and I hardly ever heard the snip-snip of scissors.

I sometimes had some conflicts with bosses at places I worked because of my hair length though.

Not so long ago,
When I worked in the city,
Working in an office there,
My boss called me
And said it was a pity,
But it concerned my hair.
My hair, my hair,
It can’t stay there.

He gave me praise,
Said I worked like an eagle,
Then he followed with the kick.
My hair’s too long,
It might cause a giggle,
Or brand me -- lord, lord -- a beatnik.
My hair, my hair,
It can’t stay there.

He was for me,
For we judge by appearance
Inside the business land.
If you stand out,
They’ll greet you with forbearance,
Which explains their stoic stand.
My hair, my hair,
It can’t stay there.

You ain’t for me.
It just ain’t worth the money
To sacrifice my private ways.

Nonetheless, I confess I have tended to keep my hair long most of my life and also avoid the salons and stylists.

Oh there would be times I would go back to a regular trimming, but by the 1990s I had bought a home barbering kit and pretty much taken care of eliminating any excessive growing myself.

I even cut ladies' hair and that I did rather well. (And I still have no affiliation with Mr. Larry's Hair Salon.)

As it were, God and nature finally took care of most my hair care.

I started out in life as a redhead, but by grade school it had turned a very dark, almost black, brown. Before I graduated high school some gray strands had invaded and by the time I was in my thirties my hair was more white than anything.

Then in my sixties it began to bid me adieu, until I am this charming dome top you all know and love today. The photo on the left explains what happened to me and my long time best friends' hairlines.

Now I just take my electric clippers and trim both beard and what hair remains.

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