Memories of barbershop can leave you scratching your head - and back
If you lived in my neighborhood when I was growing up, you knew when summer vacation from school began when you heard the wild shrieks of joy on the last day of school.
(I had heard my third-grade teacher, Miss Frumpwaggle, raise her voice at me in frustration and/or anger on many occasions, but it was the first time I heard her joyful shriek.)
If you weren't around when school let out, you would find out that vacation had begun because you would you hear mothers throughout the neighborhood calling for their kids numerous times a day instead of just at supper time or time-to-go-in time as during the school year.
Actually, you really didn't have to have good hearing to find out the kids were enjoying their 3-month reprieve from school. All you had to do was notice the hairstyles of my brothers, me and the other guys in the neighborhood.
We were all sporting hair that was about as short as you can get unless you're about to begin Marine basic training at Parris Island.
That was the first task of the summer - get a haircut. We got what we called a crew cut even though it was not the kind where the hair on the top of the head has to be brushed.
As a matter of fact, it was awfully close to what we called a "salty baldy." My younger brother Dave got the most memorable salty baldy in family history one year the day before we went back to school.
I don't know if he was upset about going back to school and got a start-of-the-summer haircut by mistake, but he came back from the barber looking as though he were about try out for the Yul Brenner role in a kids' production of "The King and I."
This "skin head" look was particularly aggravating to Mother, who was used to having three young sons and who was usually fairly difficult to rattle. The fact that school pictures were scheduled to be taken the first day of school might have pushed her over the edge.
I came across that school picture of Dave not long ago when I was sorting through pictures while procrastinating from doing something else.
If Dave had been holding a number and had posed for a profile picture as well as a regular one, he would have looked like he was in a pee-wee mug shot.
Going back to childhood haircuts is like going back in a time machine to the 50 or so years ago when I was a kid. However, the barber shop my brothers, the other guys on the block and I went to was like going back another 50 years in another time machine.
That was when there were dozens of beauty parlors and hair dressers in town, and almost as many barber shops and barbers.
Our next-door neighbor had a small barber shop, but he dealt with men. Actually, I think his nerves were a bit shaken having my brothers and me next door. We went to another veteran barber around the corner, who only had to put up with us about once a month.
I don't know when I first got a haircut there, but I remember he had to set up a kids' booster seat that spanned between the arms of his barber's chair.
Despite all the technology and gadgets of the 21st century, no one has yet to come up with a barber's cloth that will keep hair from sliding down your neck and causing your back to itch. If we complained about the itchy hair, we discovered that Mother would make us take a bath. We didn't complain about the itchy hair.
There were usually a few older guys sitting around the barber shop kibitzing with the barber. I think there is a state law that a barber cannot barber unless there are at least two or three people watching him.
Once we got seated and covered, it was time for the clipping to begin. And when I say clipping, I really mean clipping.
The barber did have some electric clippers, which were probably among the first ones developed after electricity became available. However, he preferred to use manual clippers.
These clippers were similar in operation to the old, hand-powered trimmers that used to be used in gardens. As a matter of fact, the barber's clippers probably would have done a better job on grass or even a hedge.
The clippers tended to pinch the skin on a regular basis, but it was preferable to the barber using the electric clippers, because one slip of the old barber's hand and I would have wound up with a reverse Mohawk.
However, to add insult to possible clippers injury, the barber finished up every haircut with two final steps. First, he would take one of the ancient bottles of hair tonic off the shelf and liberally douse what little hair I had left. He usually chose Wild Lilacs or some other equally offensive nice scent, and then would finish off his assault on my boyhood by dusting my neck with scented talcum powder.
When I left the barber shop, the first thing I did was to go to our backyard and roll around in the mud for a while to try to get rid of the smell.
I supposed I could have taken a bath, and that would have also taken care of the itchy hairs on my back, but a bath was just too high of a price for a guy to pay.
(Walt Kozlowski, a freelance writer from Mount Carmel, composes "Walt's Way" for each Sunday edition.)