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Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow

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There was a lot more of my hair to cut when haircuts cost $4 than there is now that they cost $20. As time passes, the top of my head looks more and more like a crop circle. I miss the hair, but I also miss the simplicity of the old-fashioned barbershop. Getting a haircut today is more like a doctor’s appointment.

First, you check in at a reception desk, whether you have an appointment or—in a bow to tradition, I suppose—you are a walk-in. You sit in a waiting area that has accumulated out-of-date magazines, just like a doctor’s office. If you get a checkup and a haircut on the same day, the story in Time about the newly elected Clinton Administration you started in your physician’s waiting room will likely be available for you to finish at the hair salon.

When your name is called at the modern trim shop, you are not shown to a chair where your hair will be cut, but to another waiting area, where it will be washed first. Who goes to get a haircut and doesn’t wash their hair first? Aren’t you supposed to brush your teeth before you go to the dentist? Put on a clean pair of underwear before going to the doctor?

I wave off the maître d’, or whatever you call the person whose job it is to take you around to the various waiting areas in the salon, and tell her I’ve already washed my hair. She usually displays a mild disdain, as if I’ve upset the timing of the place by skipping the wash cycle. She then takes me to another chair and announces that my stylist will be with me shortly.

She appears, without stethoscope I note, confirming she is indeed who the maître d’ announced she would be. She asks what I would like done and if it’s OK to spritz my hair. What is it nowadays with having to cut hair that’s been wet first? My old barber didn’t wet my hair. Heck, my old barber didn’t even ask what I wanted done.

I nod a grudging assent to a spritz that for some reason is being maintained with a water temperature just above freezing. The first blast hits my bald spot like an ice-cream freeze, and I imagine the top of my head resembling a miniature polar ice cap.

In the two or three minutes it takes her to complete the tonsorial effort, and about when I feel the top of my head begin to thaw, she dutifully hands me what could just as easily be a script from my physician. I hope it’s for some deep-heating rub for my bald spot, but it’s just my bill. I return to the reception desk, pay and leave, nodding politely to someone sitting in the waiting lounge reading, no doubt, a Saturday Evening Post account of the recent surprise attack on Pearl Harbor.

No, it’s not like the old days at all. Back then you rode a bike to Sal’s or Blackie’s and sat down and waited. You may have read a 1958 magazine, but that’s because it was 1958. Sal or Blackie didn’t offer to wash your hair for you either. Back then it was your mother’s job to make sure you had the cooties rinsed first.

And there weren’t any styles to confuse you. Sal or Blackie had just two: A Boy of Eight and A Man of 45. You got the Boy of Eight cut right up till your 45th birthday. Then until you died or lost all your hair, you received the Man of 45 style.

Which is one reason why, in my hometown, all the men seemed to age so suddenly. Practically overnight.

Reid Champagne maintains that Once Around the Block would be a great name for an old-fashioned barber shop.

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