Saturday, January 24, 2009


Figaro! Figaro!

Until I was 14-years-old, there was only one individual in the world who I'd let cut my hair, a barber named Taylor. Taylor cut hair in a little shop about a half-mile from my house alongside a guy named Wallace. Wallace and Taylor's, that's what everybody called the barbershop.

Wallace cut my Dad's hair, and Taylor cut mine. My Dad says that's because the first time he ever took me to the barbershop (I was 4), he plopped me in Taylor's chair - actually on the little booster seat that they used for little kids - and told me that if I started squirming, Taylor might cut one of my ears off. Dad then plopped down in Wallace's chair. He says he looked over a couple of times and I was sitting there as stiff as a totem pole.

Needless to say, I didn't lose one of my ears to Taylor's shears. Dad says Taylor gave me a dollar when he finished, something he did whenever a kid cooperated during his first trip to the barbershop. For the next ten years, I wouldn't let no one near my head with a pair of scissors.

By the time I got to high school, it was no longer "cool" to go to the barbershop. Thus, I started using a "hair stylist" who charged $20 a pop, er, cut. That little experiment lasted about two years, until I got a serious after school/job and my Mom told me that I would have to start paying for my own haircuts. Suddenly, an $8 haircut at the barbershop wasn't so uncool anymore. Back to Taylor I went.

Taylor was the only barber who cut my hair for the next five years. He was in declining health, though, and one day he told me that he was going to retire. I can't tell you how far my heart sank when he told me that. I mean, the barber-customer relationship is a pretty serious relationship. You're actually paying a man who can single handedly dictate what you're going to look like for the next month.

I went to Taylor one last time before he retired. (Wallace was still cutting hair there at the time, but he would retire right on the heels of Taylor.) When I made a joke about never getting my hair cut again, like a Sikh, Taylor told me to go to Gene's Barber Shop, which he said was "just a hop and a skip" down the road. Taylor vouched for Gene, and that was enough for me.

To this day, I won't go anywhere but Gene's. I've used three different barbers at Gene's: Gene himself, James (who bought Gene's from Gene and refused to take Gene's off the sign), and Drew. Drew is a young guy, and he can flat wield a pair of shears, a trimmer, or a straight razor. (He used all three on my cabeza today.) I sure hope that he'll be tending to my tonsorial needs for a long, long time.

Why do I mention all this? Well, I'll tell you. Going to a barbershop ain't just about getting your hair cut. There's an atmosphere in a barbershop that you can't get in a fancy hair salon or one of those unisex strip mall joints. First of all, there's a distinct smell that you'll find in virtually every barber shop you'll ever visit: a combination of shaving cream, barber shop after shave, and that mysterious blue liquid in which combs are sterilized.

Second, and more importantly, the conversations in a barbershop are always top-heavy on testosterone. Indeed, sports and politics, hunting and fishing, cooking animal flesh on an outdoor grill ... that's what fellers discuss when they're sitting in a barbershop. And there ain't no such freakin' thing as being politically correct there, neither -- I sure as hell enjoy that part of the barber-visiting experience.

Exactly four years ago, I had some serious health problems that necessitated two extended stays in the hospital. My hair was cascading into my face during the second stay, and I had the hospital's resident hair stylist -- basically a nurse with access to a professional-grade trimmer -- cut my hair. When she got through with me, I looked like Morrissey circa 1987 on his very worst hair day. I made an oath to myself that I would never allow anyone other than a barber in a barbershop to cut my hair again.

Next time you need your forehead raised, you'd do well to go to Gene's. Tell 'em Joltin' Django sent you.

Gene's Barber Shop

1609 Murfreesboro Pike
Nashville, TN 37217

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