I have this problem. Whenever I have time to get my hair cut, I forget that I need a haircut. And when I remember that I need a haircut, I don’t have time to attend to it. So I tend to go rather longer between haircuts than appropriate solicitude for my fellow humans’ aesthetic sensibilities would suggest.
But when I do get my haircut, I go to this little joint on Main Street. It’s in an arcade-style building which is a converted movie theater. There’s a long breeze-way style central hallway with small (generally less than 300 square feet) offices lining it on either side. The barber shop has been there at least since we moved to town in 1968, and so far as I know Billy has been there cutting hair since Day One (I could be wrong about that, but after a long enough period, I don’t suppose it matters). He’s well into his upper 70s now.
The barber shop has a tile floor, alternating red and what used many years ago to be white tiles. Two workstation chairs and a bench running along one wall. The bench’s naugahyde covering is taped together in several places. There’s a magazine rack along the window, which looks into the breeze-way. That’s pretty much it. For many years there was one of the old-style soft drink machines, the kind where you put your money in, opened a door, and reached in to pull out the desired (glass, of course) bottle. It was an RC Cola machine, as I recall, and my world tottered on its foundations, a bit, when one day I came in and it was gone. But the sun came up the next day and I learned to live without that tangible reminder of a tiny child’s thrill to be given fifteen cents by mommy and permitted to go up to this great, humming machine towering over one’s head, deposit the shiny coins, and reach in and select one’s own treat from a veritable cornucopia arrayed right there before one’s eyes.
The cash register Billy uses is so ancient it has the old manual typewriter-style keys and a wooden drawer. But it still works just jim dandy and still makes the ca-ching!! sound that only comes from such a machine.
During election years, Billy will post a couple of pieces of posterboard on a wall, with all the local races and candidates on it. Customers get to put an X in a box. Billy once told me that as a predictor of wins and losses it proved pretty accurate, even if the actual margins may not have matched.
I’ve gone there to get my hair cut since moving back here after law skool. I like going there because at 47 I’m still usually the youngest person present by anywhere from 25 to 40 years. I shut up a lot while there, and listen to the old guys talk about who’s sick, who’s died, whose wife’s in the hospital, who brought in the biggest acorn squash anyone’s ever seen, what’s the word on the county commission’s latest shenanigans, and so forth. Can’t say as I agree with every opinion I hear expressed but then that’s not why I’m listening.
Another thing: Almost everyone in the room, from the barbers to the other customers to myself, is a veteran. It’s difficult to explain the sensibility that knowledge awakens. It’s not like you’re buddies with everybody and his cousin just because you all wore a uniform at some point in your lives. And as mentioned it sure doesn’t mean you think alike, or respond the same way to the same events. Nonetheless, there is a basic awareness of having something in common with them that one does not have in common with most of the people with whom one shares one’s existence.
For many years the other barber there cutting hair with Billy was a gent name of Bob, who has now “retarded” and moved away to live closer to his children. I was concerned when Bob retired for the obvious reason that it must have put similar thoughts in Billy’s head if they weren’t already there. And then for several weeks Billy vanished. I found out later that he’d had some pretty serious health issues, including getting badly “down in his back” (as we say around here) and of course for a barber that’s a career-ending injury. Then one day the shop was open again and there was this younger guy working the second station. Rather many tattoos on his arms for my taste, but then they’re not my arms. Turns out he’s a National Guardsman (so sometimes the shop’s business hours have to shift to accommodate his drill schedule). Gives a pretty decent cut, too. He’s there for the long haul, he says, and in fact the shop now has a Facebook page (it’s the only page I’ve ever “liked” on Facebook).
And then one day there was Billy, back in harness. He’s moving a bit slower now, of course, and I understand he’s not there every single day (given my haphazard grooming habits in that respect I wouldn’t know it if he were). Sometimes when I go I get my cut from Billy and sometimes from the new fellow. Other than the new barber I’m still the youngest guy present by decades.
This past week when I went in I saw that the price for a haircut, which had remained at $10 for years and years, was suddenly $12. Twenty percent jump in price. It’s still by far the cheapest cut around, though, and I’d always wondered how in the world they managed to pay the bills on $10 a head. So I don’t begrudge them the increase even a tiny bit. But that twenty percent is a measure of the pressures on the shop and the people who work there. The younger guy is married and has children; he’s trying to raise a family from that chair and $10 a head just won’t get the job done any more. To me at least that twenty percent says a great deal more about the state of the economy than all the government spin numbers you can quote to me. Someone providing as basic and necessary a service as a haircut has to crank his prices up by twenty percent in order to keep his head above water. What’s going to happen to them when those pressures are increased exponentially by the coming hyperinflation, and their customer base, most of whom live on fixed incomes and/or interest-based assets, sees its life savings go up in smoke in a matter of weeks? The soccer moms will never take their precious little darlings to some nasty ol’ barber shop. The young, the employed, will not have the time to come all the way downtown for a cut. And the barbers will have to keep raising their prices, beyond what their customers can pay.
That’s the result of “quantitative easing.” That’s the result of “stimulus” spending. That’s result of the doctrine that no one who has ever drawn a government check should ever not get a government check any more. Thank you Ben Bernanke. Thank you Dear Leader. Thank you all the Congresscritters who voted for the healthcare take-over without bothering to read the bill. Thank you all the RINOs for meekly going along with the new-spending-is-the-answer-to-everything leitmotiv that has guided American governments since the 1930s.
Now where am I supposed to get my hair cut?