As people in many states are exiting their homes from shelter-in-place orders due to the coronavirus pandemic, word is, the first stop for many is the barber shop or hair salon. After three months at home, these services are now seen as an essential part of modern life.
That got Mister Boomer thinking about his summer haircuts. It was about this time each year, when school was finished for the summer, that his mother would give him and Brother Boomer a dollar each, often in quarters, and tell them to go to the neighborhood barber shop, a block from Mister B’s childhood home. The haircuts were seventy-five cents, and the extra twenty-five cents was an additional tip for the barber. Each boy could give the man the cost of a haircut, and an extra quarter, just like the adults.
On the designated day, Brother Boomer and Mister B would hang around the house until the barber shop opened at 9 am. Despite not having to get up for school, it was their usual pattern to wake at the same time and be ready for outdoor fun by 7:30. The walk to the shop was usually uneventful, except that it was situated on the opposite side of the main highway that connected Mister B’s state with the neighboring one. For a duration of at least the next five years, which spanned the late 1950s and early ’60s, the Boomer Brothers would see this highway evolve from a two-lane blacktop to a three lane, and finally five lane highway. At the same time, the motels and luncheonettes that dotted the area slowly disappeared as the interstate freeway system built two blocks the other side of the Boomer home lured the truck traffic from the road, forever changing the type of vehicles that traversed the 35 mile strip between cities in neighboring states.
It was all a matter of timing, first taught by his father and then repeated by his brother. The boys stood on the edge of the highway waiting for trucks to stop at the traffic light four blocks to the north, then, calculating the speed of the traffic coming from the other half of the road, made a dash to cross to the other side. (The answer to why the Boomer Brothers crossed the road was not just to get to the other side, but to get a haircut). There was usually enough time to do so, as traffic on summer mornings was not that heavy. Nonetheless, as a child under the age of eight, it was a daunting exercise that gave Mister B pause each time.
The barber shop was housed in a cinder block building that sat adjacent to an empty lot. The name of the shop was painted on the side of the building, and the familiar barber pole spun around next to the front door, fixed to the brick column that framed the glass front. Sometimes the shop would be empty, and the boys would be the first ones in the chair. Other times, there was already a line of two or three men, eager for a trim, shave or cut. In the early years, the barber had a helper, but later, he ran the shop alone. The boys always preferred him to the second-banana barber — he knew them by name as soon as they walked through the door.
He was a man of Italian descent, who ran his namesake barber shop in a city that was a mix of people from various parts of Europe, along with a healthy dose of southern folks who had come north to work in the factories, the same as the region’s Poles, Germans, Irish, Greeks, Italians and Slavs had done. The barber was more relatable to Mister B and Brother Boomer because he looked like Mister B’s maternal side of the family; short and stocky, with extremely hairy forearms that would flash into view as he deftly maneuvered scissors and trimmers around his head.
Brother Boomer and Mister B always came for the same summer style — a buzz cut, also known as a crew cut. Having no consideration for fashion, the style was purely practical. By getting the military-like mowing of all the hair on the head, the boys were free of combing or flicking hair from their eyes all summer long. Whether the boys engaged in neighborhood baseball games or spent the afternoon at the local high school pool, hair was not going to get in the way.
Brother Boomer was three years older than Mister B, so as he was entering high school and discovering the fashions of the sixties, that left Mister B to visit the barber by himself for a couple of years. By the time Mister B was twelve, men were wearing their hair longer, and the idea of a summer buzz cut was no longer as attractive a notion as it had once been. Visits to the barber were no longer dictated by season. By the late sixties, the barber was out of business.
These days, quarantine or no quarantine, Mister B’s hair has receded to points unknown from those days sixty years ago. Consequently, his wife has handled his haircuts with an electric home trimmer for nearly forty years. Every three or four months, she remarks on the unkempt ring of what’s left of the hair on his head, and a haircut is planned. Her style of choice? The buzz cut. She says it gives her a sense of power, plowing through the shagginess and leaving behind a velvety stubble that she says reminds her of dog fur, something she much prefers than the thought of running fingers through a little dab of Brylcreem.
How about you, boomers? Did you get summer haircuts?