Carroll Vertrees: There just aren’t enough barbershops anymore
Carrol Vertrees July 7, 2012 6:22PM
Updated: August 9, 2012 6:18AM
A kid back home said, “I wonder what goes on in them beauty saloons.”
Elnora did have a beauty shop and maybe a saloon, but I was never in either, so I could not answer his question. I reckon that he meant “salon” but maybe not.
I thought of that when my friend in Hobart complained he had a hard time finding a barbershop, and he winced when I suggested that he go to a place near my house and get beautified by female tonsorial artists. It is not like the great little barber emporium back home, but it works for me.
Barbershops in rural areas were the heartbeat of America’s farm country. Problems were solved there, and in my town on Saturday morning, our basketball games were replayed by “experts.” One of the neat suggestions to help the Elnora Owls win was to turn out the lights and let us play in the dark. It did not sound practical, though. We weren’t real owls.
That little place seemed big when I was a kid. Guys could just walk in, read the paper and join in the conversations, even if they did not want a haircut or shave. We farm kids thought that was neat.
Now, it stands there on the main drag, like a deserted doll house, quiet. In my day, guys would sit outside in nice weather and play euchre, checkers or rummy. Life moved rather slowly.
Rural America was perfect for barbershops like that. Lots of small farms, lots of folks who needed a town. That is history, but I can still hear the laughs, the jokes, the fish stories that entertained customers and fellows who were just hanging out. I suspect that in hundreds of little places like Elnora, the barbershop had status.
A wonderful piece of Americana is gone. I don’t know if there is still a beauty shop back home, but there is a saloon, I believe.
I remember the Elnora barbershop fondly, even after my dad, who had a deceptive sense of humor, took me there while he went to the hardware store, and he told the barber to “take it all off.” The guy did, and it broke my heart. For weeks I rarely took my straw hat off. I thought that when one of our mules hee-hawed it was making fun of me.
Maybe being bald would have made me famous. I think of guys like Michael Jordan, Kojak and many other stars. Then I see the athletes with long, unruly looking hair and I wonder if they cannot afford haircuts — tonsorial work costs more than a quarter that my dad paid to make me bald, but those guys make more than farmers did back then.
I don’t know if my friend is really frustrated or just disillusioned. Maybe he does not want a woman approaching him with a pair of scissors. Maybe regular barbershops really are in short supply. This could be serious. Maybe America is falling apart. Maybe the barber pole industry is crumbling. I am afraid to make a study.
The female persons who cut my hair are all younger than I ever was, and they are friendly. They don’t know who Tom Mix, Jean Harlow, Gabby Hartnett, Jesse Owens or Lon Chaney were, and they are too young to remember Nixon, which is a break for them.
They often ask how I feel, how I like the weather, how I like being retired. And before I can think of clever answers to these penetrating questions, my beautifier person says “OK, that’s it. How does it look?”
It takes only about eight minutes. It costs more than a quarter, but I come out looking really spiffy. This is a great country.