By: John Carlson—
As a fashionable person who hates being stuck in a proverbial “rut,” I try to change up my hair style every 50 years or so.
The last time was Wednesday.
So I walk into this shop called Shaggy and Sheek and explain what I want to my sexy little barber, Alex (Vital note: That’s Alex as in Alexandra Gluschenko). Soon she is clipping hairs and rubbing nice stuff on my head, while I sit there purring like some cat.
Meanwhile, I can’t help but contrast this treatment to the next-to-last time I changed my hairstyle, back when I was a boy.
At the time, I was having my hair cut every other week by a grandmotherly neighbor who would gently sculpt one’s noggin for the nominal sum of 50 cents. Well, cheap as that sounds, it doesn’t take a math genius to figure out this added up to a whopping total of about $12 a year. This was an exorbitant sum my father decided he could save by cutting my hair himself.
Soon he was heading off to my hometown’s Giant Tiger store, an infamous discount outlet offering super-cheap prices on shoddily manufactured merchandise. Before long he returned home, proudly bearing a $3 set of what I believe were French Foreign Legion surplus electric hair clippers.
I, in turn, was sitting nervously on my back porch, caped if not blindfolded and awaiting my fate, wishing I were old enough to smoke so I could have a last cigarette.
Now, I’m pretty sure we had four seasons way back then. When it comes to my father’s haircuts, however, the only season I remember is summer. Our porch was totally unshaded with direct western exposure, and Dad would usually wait until about 4 p.m., when the temperature was hitting 99 degrees, to usher me back there.
Cinching the heavy plastic barber’s cape around my neck, he’d figure it was just about tight enough when he heard my death gurgle.
“Can you breathe, son?” he’d then gently ask.
And if, against all odds, I croaked something to the affirmative, he’d cinch that sucker even tighter.
Dad’s only barber training, I should note, came from studying the pictures in the four-page instruction booklet included with the clippers. They being surplus Foreign Legion, of course, all the writing was in French, full of indecipherable instructions like, “Voulez clipaires ala les haires, monsieur, toot sweet.”
Not that any of it mattered to Dad.
If he had a philosophy of life beyond a steadfast belief in God and General Motors, I’m pretty sure it was that any man who could mow his own lawn could mow his own son’s hair. You just stuck one of the four attachments – labeled “short,” “shorter,” “shortest” and “skin graft” – to the clippers and had at it.
Anyway, between choking, sweating, itching and squirming, those interminable back-porch barbering sessions with Dad were among the most hellishly uncomfortable stretches of my life.
Frustrating? Torturous? Dehumanizing? You bet. Sometimes, fighting for consciousness as my quivering ears turned purple from oxygen deprivation, I’d be on the verge of exploding in anger.
“Give it a break, will ya, Albert DeSalvo?!?!” I wanted to scream at him, though I doubt he would have gotten the Boston Strangler reference. Besides, back in those days, kids didn’t scream at their fathers and live to tell about it, at least not without their butts smarting for the next eight hours or so.
Anyway, when the Beatles showed up a little later, I finally had my revenge, letting my hair grow out until it almost touched the top of my ears.
Now that my dear friend Alex is in charge of my hair, though, my joy is complete. Not only is it stylish, but with this little spiky hair thing she kind of greased up front, I’m practically back to standing 5-foot-6.
A former longtime feature writer and columnist for The Star Press in Muncie, Indiana, John Carlson is a storyteller with an unflagging appreciation for the wonderful people of East Central Indiana and the tales of their lives, be they funny, poignant, inspirational or all three.