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Back to a four-chair barbershop

By Wallace W. Buckner / February 10, 1987

EIGHT years had passed since I had my last real barbershop haircut. During that time, I was a faithful patron of styling salons in three cities. Like an anthropologist on foreign assignment, I immersed myself in styling-salon culture. Always located in fashionable shopping malls and on trendy streets, these establishments were interior design showcases where customers sipped international coffees, herbal teas, or Perrier while they waited. My ``appearance consultant'' concerned her-self with the pH balance of my hair-care products. Sales personnel hawked shampoo gel, nonaerosol hair spray, and styling mousse. A wide range of services complemented the product line -- manicures, facials, sessions on the tanning table, and wardrobe/color consultations.

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A crisis broke my styling salon perfect-attendance record. My stylist had recently married and moved to another city. An impending two-week business trip forced me to act promptly. I was a person without a stylist in need of a haircut. Because of trip preparations, I did not want to take the time to research, locate, and make an appointment with a new stylist.

So, under the circumstances, I went to a barbershop just minutes from where I live.

Located on the backside of a strip mall in need of a face-lift, this shop is a four-chair shop -- not counting the shoeshine chair. Signs indicating the barber's first name and his day off hang behind each chair. An auto supply company's calendar and a handmade ``NO CREDIT CARDS ACCEPTED'' sign are prominently displayed.

The context had changed little in my eight-year absence. Appropriate beha-viors returned without bringing attention to themselves. I hung my jacket on a hook on the wall, nodded my head, and said, ``Mornin'.'' I noted the three men waiting for a vacant chair -- all reading sections of the morning newspaper.

In search of something of my own to read, I turned to a card table piled high with magazines. Selections included Popular Mechanics, National Geographic, and Outdoor Life. Gentlemen's Quarterly, Esquire, and M were conspicuously absent.

Just as I settled down to browse through a four-month-old copy of Field and Stream, the barber in chair No. 2 (Warren/Off Tues.) looked at me and said, ``Next.'' I halfheartedly pointed to the three men reading the newspaper and shrugged. He said, ``No, you're up.''

During the next several minutes, I discovered that these men were not customers at all. They were refugees who had fled their wives' ``Honey-Do Lists,'' searching for fellowship with other men and the latest neighborhood news and gossip.

Warren draped the protective white cloth over my shoulders. A sanitized strip of tissue paper encircled my neck. Cloth and collar clipped in place, I twisted my head, chafing against the tightness.

My hair was in its just-waked-up state. Warren ran a comb through it with no apparent effect. I grabbed a handful on the back of my neck and said. ``This is getting just a little shabby.''

``Um-hum,'' he replied.

Snip. Snip. Snip.

Rapidly and with no apparent plan, comb and scissors navigated my scalp. Hair began to fall onto the cloth in chunks.