Saturday, June 8, 2013

Barbers I Have Known and Not Known

*Look for a new posting every Tuesday and Friday*

I could almost count on one hand the barbers who have cut my hair during my entire life.  And yet, I would be hard pressed to tell you the names of more than two or three of them right now.  I'm sure that speaks volumes about my anti-social behavior.  With a blank legal pad or a keyboard before me I have no problem babbling on about the most mundane of things. (This is the point that my blog-editor daughter might be tempted to add links to previous blog posts to prove that point, but perhaps she'll spare me.)  I'm actually quite personable, charming, and witty when I'm not around people. So, suffice it to say that if you put me in a barber chair I simply have no interest in talking or being talked to.

And yet there has never been anyone in my life that I have been more loyal to than my barber.

This is as flat as it got
My first barber was J.W. Thorpe.  He was the first and only man that ever cut my hair until after I graduated from UT in Knoxville.  If J.W. was not working at his East End Shop, I would politely excuse myself and return the next day.  He was the only one I felt knew where all the "bumps" were in my scalp, and I was concerned in those days that my "flat-top" should be flat; to match my head.

They left me a little hair on top

The next two years were "lean" years, coiffure-wise; those were my army days during which anyone with a pair of shears could simply pass them over my head and say "Next."  I don't even include these years in my résumé of barbers. 

Following the army I lived in Philadelphia for four years and quickly found a barber just outside the underground train station in the middle of the city; third chair from the left end of a barber shop that had 12 chairs in it.  If my guy, Name Unknown, was not there, I would come back another day.  This shop looked like it was used as a 1930's gangster movie set.

They got their beautiful hair from me

I lost my ears in the 70's
When I moved to Atlanta in 1972, I have only sat in four different barber chairs.  The first was that of Mike who cut hair in the downtown Hyatt Regency Hotel across from the Stouffer's Restaurant I managed for six years.  When I left Stouffer's and went to work at Herren's Restaurant on Lucky Street I was still only a few blocks from Mike's chair, so our relationship continued uninterrupted for at least another eight years.

Note the gold chain, open shirt, and pocket protector 
Even after a career change, an address change, and a life change, I continued to go downtown once a month to let Mike work his magic on my head.  And yet, during this entire 20+ year period I would bet that I had not spoken more than a handful of phrases to Mike.  Then the unthinkable happened; the Hyatt decided that they no longer needed a barber service in their hotel.  When I approached the shop door with my shaggy head and found the sign "Shop Closed," I was devastated.  Mike, one of the few constants in my life for over 20 years, was abruptly gone from my life.  (I actually found out quite by accident some years later that Mike had only barbered a few more years at a shop near his home in Tucker before he dropped dead of a heart attack; he had a pair of scissors in his hand when he fell.)

My bearded period was a once-in-a-life time thing.
I must have gone at least two months without a haircut when out of desperation I wandered into an old barber shop, complete with barber pole at the door, in Forest Park near Ellenwood where Marty and I bought our first house. Glenn was middle-aged, slow, bald, and, worst of all "talky."  But I'd walked into his shop and  he was now my chosen barber, so for the next 10 or more years I listened; and occasionally talked.  And then Glenn died and I was barber-less once again.  I was starting to get concerned about the health and well-being of anyone I chose to trust with this task.

Fairly quickly I discovered "Friendly's Barber Shop," not far from Glenn's place.  I didn't like the name one bit but Glenn had talked about his competition on a few occasions and I took that as a recommendation of sorts.  I actually recognized several of Glenn's old customers there, so I felt somewhat at home there right away.  Despite the name of the shop, the owner was exceptionally quiet and extremely fast.  He cut my hair shorter than I was used to, but that just meant that I could go even less often than I had been going. It didn't really occur to me to ask for him to do it differently; that would have required a conversation.

But a little trim & I was
 back to normal

After 15 years living on the south side of Atlanta, Marty and I moved to Cumming, GA on the north side and about 45 minutes from my "Friendly" barber.  Being the loyal soul that I am, for the next four years I commuted to my nameless Forest Park barber to get my five minute haircut every six weeks.  And then I killed him off too.

Two different hair styles from
two old roommates
I should mention that, not included thus far in my "barber count" is the fact that on a few occasions when I was in Tiptonville visiting my mother I would go by and get a haircut from Hurschel Runion at the East End Barber Shop.  Hurschel actually had been a new, part-time barber back in my high school "flat-top" days, so I would go by there as much for the nostalgia as anything else.  That shop had not changed in the least in the 60 years since I got my first hair cut from J.W.  The walls still had all the same old pictures providing Tiptonville with a museum known only to a few old men.  Hurschel passed away not long ago, but after 50 years as a barber, and only a handful of times as my barber, I can hardly be responsible for that.

I have decided to spare the life of the new, young barber that  has taken over the place recently.  I understand he is the youth minister of his father's church in Union City.  I let him cut my hair once when I learned of Hurschel's passing and he seems much too nice to be exposed to my "barber curse."  I notice much of the memorabilia from the walls has been removed.  I hope Wendol Thorpe donated some of it to the collection that is in the Tiptonville Museum inside City Hall.

It took forever to grow that hair for my short run as Cher
For those keeping track of this, let's recap.  We have: J. W. Thorpe, "third guy from the left," Mike in the Hyatt, Glenn in Forest Park, "Friendly Guy" his competition, and Hurschel.  Those six men were my only barbers for the first 65 years of my life.  While I really don't remember how old "third guy from the left" was, I at least know that he was alive when I left Philadelphia.  I buried all the rest one at a time, then moved on to strike again. 

I decided to try something new about four years ago following the death of "Friendly Guy."  Marty told me her "hair gal" had men customers and suggested I might like to give her a try.  I did and she has been cutting my hair ever since.  I have not told her anything about her possible fate.  She is a very chatty, young, Korean lady who I fear would totally "freak out" if she knew that she was only my seventh barber, ever, and understood the full consequences of cutting my locks.  This is not a problem anyway because I still don't like to talk. 

Please say a prayer for Annie.  


Jimmy LeDuke (I'd love to hear from you...feel free to comment below, or click HERE to send me an e-mail.)

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