Over decades of time the guys (and gals) who have cut my hair changed based on where I was living at the time and how much attention to detail was required.
Various stages of my life necessitated me to look for a stylist who could fix my hair to make just the right statement. Of course the statement I was looking for has changed periodically based on age, social position and whether or not I gave a rip about public perception.
Actually, in the first stage of my life daddy was in charge of those things so it was much simpler. His basic requirements were that it didn’t cost much and that we didn’t have to go very often.
With those two prerequisites in mind he took us to Mr. Cowan. Mr. Cowan was far removed from what today is known as a hair stylist. In fact, I think he was a retired sheep-shearer from New Zealand, because the only tools in his bag were a large pair of clippers and some dull scissors. Strangely, there were no mirrors.
Each time we exited his establishment it looked like daddy had in tow a pack of stray dogs (my brothers and I) that had just been cured of the mange. Of course daddy cared not a whit about my social position nor the fact that we had to put up with no small amount of scorn from our classmates at school.
As time passed and I moved on to junior high and high school the need for a cool hair cut became much more essential. Had I showed up with one of those funky hair-dos from my early days there might have been disastrous results. I would never have been able to get a girl to look in my direction and DFACS would have come calling to see if there was some abuse going on at home. Daddy relented and thus some hair actually grew on top of my head for the first time in my life. It was an epic day when I was able to buy a comb and sweep my new locks into a beautiful upward curve using Bryl Cream.
When I went to college, things changed dramatically. I then had the freedom to have a hair style that was of my own choosing. I was a basketball jock and my two heroes of the day were Pete Maravich and Earl “The Pearl” Monroe, so I went for a combination of the two. Maravich had long flowing, floppy locks and Monroe had “mutton chop” sideburns so I had me a set of each. You might say that this was a dead period in my barber days because I didn’t have one for several years.
Nonetheless my social position called on me to make a fashion statement and thus I went five years without a visit to any salon. I was a sight to behold as I made my way around campus with a signature hair-do and I can honestly report to you that the ladies loved it. Daddy was not as enamored with it as the girls at school and on the occasional trip home I could not sit at the table to eat supper with the rest of the family. Daddy even threatened to take me to see Mr. Cowan. The old sheep-shearer would have been ecstatic to see me.
Upon graduation I got an actual job working as a high school teacher and coach and the scenario changed again. My principal told me to cut my hair or hit the road.
I met his demands for three reasons. 1) I was scared of him, 2) my social position as a teacher called for an All-American look and 3) my wobbly financial footing was as stake.
So, after a five-year sabbatical I went to a country barber. It took Mr. Cutall an hour to find my eyes and once he had a point of reference he took another hour to cull my mop down to a length that would pass muster with the school boss. The “mutton chops” and Maravich look were a thing of the past.
As I moved into a state of marital bliss my wife took over the hair cutting duties. She took on this project because we didn’t have any money, because she fancied herself a stylist, and because she said that’s the way we were going to do it. It was a miserable time because unlike Mr. Cowan she took immense pride in the end result and paid a great deal of attention to detail.
The process typically took about two hours as she snipped a 16th of an inch of hair at a time and then checked the evenness with a ruler. When she made a move toward the hair spray bottle I put my foot down. No self-respecting football coach would show up to the practice field with stiff hair. I will say however that my social status skyrocketed because I had the best haircut at school.
This arrangement came to an end when she could no longer make chicken salad out of chicken manure and she informed me that henceforth I would need to go to a regular barber.
So now I go see John in Madison about once every three months. It’s an easy job because my hair growth rate is about one inch per year and my hair line is in full retreat. John knows that I have a social status to preserve and so he does the best he can with what is left to work with. Once he finishes it always looks much better but at this stage that is a relative term. The only thing I tell John is don’t take too much off the top.
I’m scared that it won’t grow back.
Alvin Richardson is a contributing writer, retired educator, and public speaker. Contact him at email@example.com.