Smalltown lost its barbershop, an important social center for the men in this community, about ten years ago when old man Whitney dropped dead while giving my Uncle Herbert his monthly flat-top.
Roland Whitney was old. He was the only barber I’d ever seen for a haircut until I was pushing fifty. Dad would take my brothers and me to Roland’s Barbershop every six weeks, or so, for a buzz cut. I always enjoyed the experience.
I liked sitting in the big chair which Mr. Whitney would pump up with his right foot to bring me to his height. I couldn’t tell, because he always wore the same baggy blue pants; but I always figured Roland’s right leg must be twice again the size of his left.
As a kid, I liked the big mirror I faced while in the barber chair. These days, I’d rather look at a male Holstein’s backside than to spend twenty minutes staring at my own face. I’m sure some would argue that there isn’t much difference except that there isn’t as much bull crap coming out of the Holstein.
Old Mr. Whitney was a talker. Once in his chair, one was his captive audience and he’d run his pie hole non-stop. He’d go on about the Red Sox and how they fell apart in September; he’d rave about the New York Giants (that was before the Patriots were New England’s team), yammer on about local politics or town gossip, and tell the same old stories at every haircut.
My brothers and I would giggle because on the ride to the barbershop we’d imitate Mr. Whitney telling about how he could have been a professional baseball player if he hadn’t been drafted to fight in Korea.
“Did I ever tell you I was a pretty decent second baseman in my younger days?”
Snicker, snicker—I tried not to look at my brothers in the mirror.
“Yup, played for the Montpelier Senators. Semi-pro. Mighta been drafted by the Red Sox but had to go fight in Korea.”
“Hee, hee . . . huh, huh.” My face was the color of Dad’s hunting hat from trying to suppress laughter.
“Oh, this razor tickles, don’t it Joey?”
“Yup.” Finally, I could laugh out loud . . . along with Sam and K.C.
“Don’t laugh at your brother, boys. You’re next,” Mr. Whitney would say.
As I got older, I still enjoyed my haircuts. It was the same old stories and, basically, the same haircut, but I found it really relaxing and grew to understand why Dad would always fall asleep during his trim. I’d wake up, though, when the warm shave cream would hit my face. It felt great, but, by then, I knew old man Whitney drank a lot and the thought of him with a straight razor to my neck made me pucker a little.
Nobody stepped up to fill Mr. Whitney’s shoes when he died. I guess men don’t want to stand for eight hours a day and shave the hair from the ears of crotchety old geezers like me.
So, these days I go to see that little girl, Tammi, down at the Shear Pleasure beauty shop where the little woman goes to get her hair cut and her roots colored. It’s not the same.
First off, the waiting area is full of blue-haired old ladies and Good Housekeeping magazines. There isn’t an Outdoor Life or Hot Rod journal to be found.
The place smells funny, too—all lavender, roses and weird smells from the strong chemicals it takes to make some women look good. It’s enough to make your hair curl!
And then there’s Tammi. She’s young and cute and friendly enough, but she doesn’t know squat about the Red Sox, Patriots or the breeding habits of whitetail deer. She rambles on incessantly about some desperate housewives in New Jersey or the cute little dress she bought on sale at Small-Mart, and doesn’t know Tom Brady from Marcia Brady.
To add insult to injury, I pay twice as much for Tammi to trim me up even though I seem to have misplaced about half the hair that once covered my noggin.
I guess that old red, white and blue turning barber pole has gone the way of phone booths and full service gas stations, but oh how I long to hear about Roland Whitney’s baseball career.