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Close Encounters

Brand loyalty, or even political loyalty, has no comparison to a man’s loyalty to his barber. I speak from the old school, those who get hair cuts. I freely profess to know nothing about the loyalty of those men who get their hair styled.
Brand loyalty, or even political loyalty, has no comparison to a man’s loyalty to his barber. I speak from the old school, those who get hair cuts. I freely profess to know nothing about the loyalty of those men who get their hair styled. I know or understand even less about the chaps who wear those little pony tails. A real pony tail, as worn by some native men or motorcyclists, I can appreciate, but for me, short hair has always been my thing.

This may have started in my tender developing years when first my father, then my mother, cut my hair with those deadly, hair-pulling manual clippers. They never actually put a bowl on my head, but it often looked that way after trying to even-up the trim given a squirming five year old.

When we eventually got electricity on the farm, mother bought a set of Sears electric clippers and the haircuts improved. But when the Beatles were all the rage and hair was been worn longer, I still preferred the short hair style. My staple was a brush cut in the summer and a ‘military’ cut the rest of the year.

Growing up in Powassan there was no choice of a barber. Old Mr. Fawcett gave one style of cut for boys and men. His barber shop reminded me of the fictional shop in Crocus Saskatchewan, made famous by W.O. Mitchell’s Jake and the Kid. The conversations were certainly the same as Repeat’s – farming, weather and politics.

The problem is that my barbers have all been older gentlemen, and when they retire I have to go looking for a new barber. Or they move their shop to a very inconvenient location where the rent is lower, often forgetting to leave a forwarding address. Barbers are not big on advertising, relying more on word of mouth, or in some cases, the quality of their work as seen walking around town.

The short hair cut usually means I have to explain to a new barber that I am not in the military and not a policeman. I just like my hair short. Like mother used to cut it – sort of.
The trouble is that sometimes my barber gets the hair a little too short – just like mother used to. My wife can spot the slightest uneven trim and even though I may have seen it in the mirror, I know better than to complain to a man with a straight razor in his hand. But there is usually an explanation for a close encounter.

The most recent close encounter was when my two barbers, one Greek, the other Italian, got into a lively discussion of the Olympics while cutting my hair. My wife said, “You really you’re your money’s worth this time!” I said, “Damn Greek weight lifter tested positive.”

Then there was the time I asked for my summer brush cut with a new barber. I liked the brush cut for swimming and for wearing my motorcycle helmet, I told him. His answer: “Does your woman know about this?” I didn’t think a 55 year old man needed a note from home to get a haircut! At least he remembered and didn’t embarrass me in front of the other patrons for the next three or four years when I asked for my summer cut. My wife would only shake her head in disbelief and say that it must be summer – she never did say I couldn’t get a brush cut.

When that barber retired a couple of ladies took over the shop, and being opened-minded, I thought there was no reason why the fairer sex couldn’t cut my hair. I mean, there should be little challenge to a ‘mil’ cut. The problem was, my hair is fine and soft and the ladies kept saying, “Just feel his hair – it’s so soft!” I mean to say, the running of fingers through my hair is reserved for my wife. I thought about putting a gel or something in my hair before going for a haircut, but it was easier to search out a new barber.

Last winter in Florida I needed a trim before I could pass muster at the border with my passport photo. The only barber in The Shoppe who was taking ‘new’ clients was Charlie, a fellow who it turned out, was 73 and a veteran of the Korean War, as the Americans call that conflict. He was chatting up the fellow in the chair about his military service, highlighting the fact that he was actually Italian, but thought it his duty to serve as needed by his new country.

Right away he spotted my tattoos. I have a tiger on one forearm and a dragon on the other. I have been asked so often about serving in Southeast Asia that I have considered making up a story about actually serving in Vietnam! Even though I had heard most of his story, he began telling me how he had served in Korea. He enlisted thinking that he could apply for a quartermaster posting to Italy where the US had some troops stationed after WWII, but he drew Korea. He stayed in the army and retired as a Sergeant. He was supplementing his pension by cutting hair two days a week.

“I saw your tattoos – you serve in Vietnam?” he asked. I couldn’t resist. “No, actually I was in Cambodia. I’m a Canadian. I figured that I ought to replace some of those draft-dodgers that came up north.”

“Yeah, I never liked that. What outfit were you with?”

“Rangers. Lost a couple of good friends over there,” I said. Before he could ask any details, I knew I could change the subject. When we ‘vets’ don’t want to talk about our war experiences, we change the subject to sports and the other fellow understands. “How about those Tampa Bay Lightning!” I said, and we were off onto NHL hockey.

When he held up the mirror I could see that I had received a really good Marine haircut. I said, “That’s fine, Sarge” and gave him his dollar tip. My wife took one look and said, “What happened, did you have a close encounter with a whipper snipper?” “Korean War,” I said. She knew.

The problem now is that my barber just bought a building lot that borders on City ‘parkland’. He thinks he got a good deal because there will never be anyone building next to him. He wants to talk about his house plans but there is no way I want a close encounter in the chair when he realizes what the current city policy is on ‘parkland’. How about those Blue Jays, eh?


Bill Walton

About the Author: Bill Walton

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