Monday, March 23, 2009

Special Edition #3: Haircuts

Father always cut our hair. My brothers and I--but not my sister--all grew up wearing butch or crew cuts. I have no idea where my father learned to cut hair, or rather, if he ever learned, and I'm not sure why he wanted to cut our hair, except that there's a lot of Scot on his side of the family and it was probably out of a sense of thrifty economics. But he cut mine and I was always a bit bald in some old photos; when we were younger he just gave us thin, butch cuts that followed the shape of our heads and later we had more of the honest crew cut. I know that we didn't like getting our haircuts. When the time came--always Father's decision--he'd get the box of electric clippers out, set up a seat in the dining room and call us with his megaphone voice. I think we went in order of age: oldest, second-oldest, me, fifth-oldest. (Of course my sister, fourth oldest, was exempt. (Actually, I can't say if I know this is completely true, certainly she didn't have our butch or crew cuts, but maybe he trimmed her straight blonde hair or maybe Mother did, I doubt she went to a beauty shop.)) Then we would all scatter. At least I know I scattered. For some reason, it was the act of getting a haircut that we hated, not necessarily the cut we ended up with. (None of us cared that much about our hair when we were little.) I would run around the house, climb under the table, sometimes run outside to avoid the ignominy. But he always caught me, eventually. Sometimes it was just a matter of chasing me down in the house, other times it was a game of just waiting--I had to come home sometime. And, at times, he would spank me, with his hand or sometimes with a belt, for disobeying him. I realized that hitting your child nowadays, especially with a belt, is almost shocking. But that was a different era and he came from an era previous to that--you know, how far back in history do you want to go if you play a parent blame game? He was a good father.
Now, when we were much younger, the haircuts meant little to us. We complied, I know sometimes I cried. And after we got to Tennessee--as we hit our teens and our hair did matter to us--then he let us do what we wanted. It was our hair, it was our decision. And that remained true as we moved up to Iowa in the Seventies.
But I still can't recall going to a barber shop.
Maybe I went to a couple as a child or teen, but I only have the vaguest of memories about it. I think Mother cut my hair for a few years when I was a teen. I wore it longish for the times, unbrushed, less-than-shoulder length, bangs covering my face. My hair was neither straight or curly. I had the sloppy-look down. And later, I began to cut my own hair. A pair of household scissors did the trick . . . Sure. I looked terrible.
I remember I was maybe eighteen or nineteen when I first went to get a haircut. It was the late Seventies, style salons for men were just catching on, old time barber shops were starting to disappear. So, I went to a "salon" and I had no experience at it. It was a man--this was in Urbandale, Iowa for god's sake--and he wanted to wash my hair. This was strange, I thought, and when he led me to the sink, I tried to put my knees in the chair and hold my head over the sink. He corrected me and washed my hair. Then he took out scissors and went to work. Then he blow-dried it. It was all new to me. But I liked it okay and I paid and tipped him--not knowing how to tip either--way too much. From then on I got my haircuts at your average type Supercuts place; though in Iowa City I did use a beauty school where students cut your hair at discount prices (seems maybe, later, I did that somewhere else, too).
Now I go to an old fashioned barber shop close to the house. But they know all that they need to know, certainly more than they need for my services. They'll also trim your eyebrows, ear hair, neck hair, even straight razor blade your neck with foam and then massage it with aftershave. All for less than twenty bucks--which is probably what I paid, with tip, for that first salon haircut in Urbandale.

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