The weather is hot here in central Alabama, and lately the Redhead has been hinting (well, nagging really) that it’s time to get my “summer” haircut. The summer haircut is an old southern tradition in which men get their hair cut a little shorter than usual for the summer months. In my case, it’s not going to make a lot of difference, because every passing summer leaves me with a little less hair to worry about.
The summer haircut brings back old memories. I hated haircuts as a child. Funny how the passing of the years turns such memories into soft-edged nostalgia.
My dad always took me to a downtown barbershop in Sylacauga back in the late 1960’s, which I believe was located on one of the side streets between Broadway and Norton. This shop was a real man’s haven: three big leather-clad barber chairs, black and white checkered tile floors, and mirrors on the back wall. Other walls adorned with mounted deer heads and a largemouth bass or two, along with an auto parts store calendar featuring a pin-up girl (scantily clad in the latest one-piece bathing suit). In one corner, an old glass-front cabinet filled with creams and tonics that every man needed to keep his coiffure under control. Metal chairs with vinyl cushions lined the waiting area. One or more conversations taking place at all times, usually about football, problems at the mill, or the latest frustrations rebuilding a small block 350 engine. Plenty to read while you waited: Field and Stream, Popular Mechanics, and the current edition of the local newspaper, The Daily Home. An old AM radio on the counter, playing good country or gospel music. Depending on the time of day, you might even hear old L.R. Ross tell you what great merchandise was available for sale or trade on the “Shop and Swap” segment on W.F.E.B.:
“Neighbors, we have a man who’d like to trade a real nice goat for a single-shot 12 gauge shotgun. If you have a gun you’d like to trade, please call…”
I can still smell the witch hazel and talcum powder.
Although there were three chairs, I only remember one being used. The barber was old Mr. Mallory. As a little boy, it seemed quite possible to me that he had probably given Moses his first hair cut. Mr. Mallory wore glasses that had lenses as thick as the bottom of an old green glass coke bottle, and the end of his nose was always about an inch from your head while he worked his magic.
Mr. Mallory always asked “How you want it?” The answer never mattered. You might “want it” like Elvis, but you “got it” in a style called “flat top.” I believe it was the cut he liked best. But it was the haircut for the small town southern gentleman at that time. I was always just relieved to leave the chair with both ears still attached. If I didn’t squirm too much during the whole ordeal, I’d get a piece of Bazooka bubble gum as a reward.
Times sure have changed.
The place I go these days for a haircut is a “style shop.” The customers are both men and women, although the barbers are all now called stylist and are exclusively female. The walls are pastel and there are flower arrangements. Something soothing and “New Age” plays on the sound system. The place smells of bleaching chemicals and potpourri. There is no Field and Stream, though if you look hard enough you might find a copy of Time or National Review. The last time I went, the receptionist asked me if I wanted a warm cookie.
My stylist is blond and attractive. She tries to engage me with conversation about American Idol or Dancing with the Stars, but it is to no avail. I have never watched either. Confident that my ears will survive intact, I usually have to fight the urge not to doze off while she works. She always asks if I would like a little mousse or styling gel before I leave. I always decline. As Eastwood said, “A man’s got to know his limitations.”
She and her coworkers are trained psychologists. They tell me how good I look–how my gray hair makes me looked “distinguished.” I am aware that I am being worked for return visits, like a young, pretty waitress works a middle-aged man for a bigger tip.
I’ll admit she does a good job with the little bit of hair she has to work with. But for her skills, she charges a fee that would have probably made Mr. Mallory decide to close up early and take the rest of the day off.
Manhood still barely intact, I leave knowing I’ll have to return in a month or so. I feel a strange urge to go rebuild a small block 350 engine or shoot an animal.
Maybe times haven’t changed all that much over the years.
I still hate haircuts.
This post originally appeared here in 2010.