I was always told “The Princeton” was the proper man’s haircut. That was my grandfather speaking. And what he advised was law.
High and tight. Military. A shellacked coiffure, ending its reign over young adults by the late 1960’s.
The Princeton it was for me. And still is.
My grandfather said to never solicit a barber shop without a barber pole. On display, it had to hang just outside the entrance. The older the better. Both the pole, the shop, and those barbers employed inside.
On my commute to work, dozens hang, filthy, lackluster from the sun’s shine. Each, a beacon to a vacant space once filled with aging history.
Piles of Golf Digest and Sports Illustrated laying on stools. Pictures hanging: Of ancient race cars when boxes of steel propped on rubber wheels caught light speed.
Shelves of clichéd items. Endless junk.
Nic-nacs that define what it is to be a man.
And the conversations:
Who’s hunting what, with which rifle,
Conquests run amok,
Men talking about manly things.
The barber pole dates back to Medieval times. Barbers were on hand to cut your hair, extract a tooth, or, to use a barber’s pole in the aid of bloodletting.
The pole: a white staff. At the top, a basin to hold leeches. Once extracted, the patient’s soiled bandages were wrapped around the rod as blood dripped to the bottom. Here it was corralled in a lower basin.
Patients were asked to hold on. Tight. Squeezing the pole to make the blood flow.
“What would you like sir?”
I sat down in the rotating steel chair. Bolted to the ground, it magically spun three hundred and sixty degrees. With a cast metal base, weathered leather armrests, and that metallic squeak, it resonated the sounds of decades as I was spun full circle in front of the mirror.
“A Princeton,” I answered.
It was half statement, half question as I sought some sort of recognition. The hope of acceptance into their coven. Of wise men with a millenia of secret knowledge.
Looking above the mirror I catalogued those artifacts of a lost time. Dusty golf balls lined an old toy railroad track. And there was a photo, propped on an altar. It looked like a blown up baseball card, signed by the player.
‘To Fred. Thanks for the cut.’
“Isn’t that what you call it?” I asked after a long pause.
The barber pulled scissors out of an opaque cylinder. They had sat dormant, disinfecting in a bluish ooze.
“Damn right it’s a Princeton,” he confirmed.
He shook his scissors. The liquid flung across the terrazzo floor as the smell of mint filled the shop.
“High and tight…damn right,” he commended.
Barbasol was the brand. It sat underneath the sink next to the liquid Drano. Grandpa swore by it. The only cream that lathered correctly he had said. Always more than enough on one press. And Cheap.
A buck and a quarter for one can.
And it lasted months.
And made your head smell like a leather saddle.
The Barbosol can, like the Barber’s pole, was a mix of those three indicative colors. Medieval doctors thought the blue stripe resembled deoxygenated, venous blood. The red, oxygenated, arterial blood.
The blood that bled from a plague victim hundreds of years ago.
Or today, the blood drawn from a cut too close.
“Hustler still a magazine? I’m out of the loop when it comes to porn.”
I had gotten through the door just in time. The last cut of the day where I was propelled into an established conversation.
A lady walked by the window as I was seated. Her business attire revealing little.
“Wow she’s hot and she’s older.
What’s she? Probably forty-five?
Have you seen the younger girls and the way they dress?”
“I wonder what those women from the salon think next door?
When we walk by, I betcha’ they say ‘Whoa, here come the barbers!’
“They probably say, ‘Wow. Look at all those barbers. They all probably have small pricks.’”
The room broke into an uproar of guttural laughs. Each man, having smoked a pack of menthols. Their voices deep and rasping from years of lung abuse.
“A Princeton, huh?” The barber asked, hoping to engage in another throw away conversation.
One of many that day for him.
The small talk that consumes superficial relationships.
Those obligatory connections forced out of the act of service.
‘My Grandpa told me that that’s the only cut to get,” I answered, half jokingly.
“Well, I guess so back in the day,” the barber confirmed.
His electric razor already clear cutting the scruff on the sides of my head.
Until the vibrating teeth on the razor nicked my ear. I could feel the drops of blood drip down my neck.
And with a towel, the barber applied pressure to stop the bleeding.
After a minute, he peeled it away.
And there, on the ivory-white cloth, red streaks spiraled down.