I have a bad habit of putting off my haircuts. I’m not sure why I do this since I love having my hair cut — it’s a very sensual experience — but I often go six weeks or longer between haircuts.
I prefer old-fashioned barber shops, the kinds with gossipy old men standing around telling stories about hunting and fishing and the kid who burned down the old barn last Saturday.
I’ve been going to the same barber shop in Canby all my life. This shop added a new barber recently. Before Christmas, when he cut my hair for the first time, I was pleased that he wasn’t too talkative. I may enjoy the shop conversation, but I don’t necessarily want to participate in it.
Toward the end of the cut, the new barber raised my chin and examined my neck. “You have trouble shaving, don’t you?” he said. I nodded. “I thought so. Ingrown hairs. I have the same trouble. You know, what you need is the brushless shave cream that I use. It’s great stuff. Gives you the smoothest, closest shave and no ingrown hairs. We don’t have any here — I used to get it in at my old place — but I’ll have some for you next time.”
I left the shop and promptly forgot about the conversation. In mid-January, I had my hair cut at the place in Oak Grove. (It’s an old-fashioned shop, too, with three gruff old guys cutting hair while they watch Perry Mason and ESPN — they flip channels during commercials. On the day I had my hair cut, Perry was exposing a man who had driven his car backward to take miles off the odometer, and ESPN was showing a cross-country bike race.)
Last week, I went back to Canby to have my hair cut. I drew the new guy again. (At these types of shops, you take whichever barber comes up, or you can defer your place in line to have a specific fellow cut your hair.) He didn’t ask me how I wanted my hair cut, so I started to tell him: “Clipper cut on the side with a four, but longer on top, just—”
“I know,” he said. “I remember. I cut it last time, didn’t I?”
“Er, yeah,” I said. No barber ever remembers how to cut my hair, even after they’ve done it a zillion times. I figure they have far too many clients to remember how some anonymous guy likes his hair done.
The old guy cut my hair, and I listened to the talk about Dr. Kevorkian, recent land annexations in town, and the Iditarod. (One of the barbers, Howard, is a big fan of the Iditarod.) My mind entered a Happy Place.
Eventually, my barber started talking. “So, I got some of that brushless shave cream in,” he said.
“What?” I said.
He explained. “Last time you were in here, I told you about this brushless shave cream. You have trouble shaving.” He gently ran his finger under my chin. “Your skin gets irritated. You’re shaving too close, and you cut the whiskers off below the skin. I ordered this brushless shave cream for you.”
“Oh. Since the last time I was in, I’ve been trying to use an electric shaver,” I said. “But it doesn’t really work.”
My barber stopped cutting my hair. He was horrified. “You don’t want to use one of those. They’re awful. They chew your skin up. No, you need this stuff.”
He walked to the back room and came back with a big pink tub. He unscrewed the cap and held the tub for me to sniff. It smelled medicinal, almost like Icy-Hot.
“This stuff is great,” he said. He took a dab of it and rubbed it on my neck. “You don’t need a lot. Just a thin film. You don’t want to lather it up. If you need a lather, use a bar of soap. You apply a thin film of this and it makes your skin extra smooth. Feel it.”
I felt it.
“Now stand up,” he said, removing the hair cloak (what are those things called, anyhow?). I stood and followed him to a mirror. He lifted my chin and pointed. “Look at those hairs. See how they’re standing on end? You want to leave this stuff on for ten seconds, thirty seconds, even longer. The longer you leave it on, the more your hairs will stand up, the closer shave you’ll get.”
He motioned for me to sit back down so that he could finish the haircut.
“You don’t have to buy this,” he said. “And if you do buy it, and you don’t like it, just bring it back. I’ll give you your money back.”
I was dumbfounded by the whole exchange.
I left the man a large tip. I would have tipped him even more but (a) he didn’t trim my ear-hair and (b) the blade with which he shaved the back of my neck was rough, so that it felt like he was scraping it with sandpaper.
“I’ll see you next month,” my barber said as I put on my jacket.
“Yeah,” I said, but then I caught myself. “Actually, I guess not. Every April, I spend a weekend in Bend with some guys. I get my hair cut there every year.”
The other barbers perked up. I was the only customer in the shop by now. “Where do you get your hair cut?” asked Howard. He and I have had this conversation before, but apparently he’d forgotten.
“At the Metropolitan,” I said. “I love that place. Also, the guy who used to own this place — Jerry — he works there.”
Howard beamed. He went to his drawer and dug out a newspaper clipping from the Bend Bulletin. It was an article about Jerry and another guy. They’d left The Metropolitan and opened their own barber shop one street over. Their trick is that they serve you beer while they cut your hair.
“That’s going to be rough,” I said. “Now I’ll have to choose. I love the Metropolitan, but Jerry’s been cutting my hair since I was a boy. My family once traded a parrot to him for a hundred haircuts.”
“No shit!” said Howard. “That was you? Jerry loved that bird.” I’d already told him this at least once, possibly twice, and yet it was as if it were new information. Still, I don’t hold it against him. I know how my memory is.
I’ll bet the new barber will remember every detail of the conversation, though…