Mr. Dave and the barber shop

Alabama Living Magazine

Of all Dixie’s cultural icons, the one I miss most is the old-fashioned barber shop. 

Once the barber shop was a male bastion, a place where manly men gathered to solve the problems that faced them all.

Nowadays, the only offering in some of our towns is a “salon” for both men and women, into which men slip, get clipped and leave before they are recognized.

 It wasn’t always this way.

Once upon a time, a boy’s first haircut was his induction into a world of men, and men only. Seldom if ever did women intrude into those dark, dank dens of manhood, and when they did it was usually on an errand, not for a trim. 

Waiting customers read men’s magazines. Field and Stream, Sports Illustrated, and others that contained jokes aimed at adolescent males of all ages. 

If you didn’t read, you could watch, for a barber with comb and scissors always put on a show.

Or you could listen. 

In my youth, while waiting for my turn in the chair, I was often privy to opinions my elders exchanged on topics ranging from football to hunting and fishing to automotive repair to politics to whatever else happened to be on their minds. Listening to grown men gripe about the government or debate when to plant tomatoes taught me a lot about the diversity of my community and the nature of the men who set its tone.

What they seldom talked about were women – wives, girlfriends, either or both.

Except once.

The man getting his hair cut was loud and opinionated. No matter what the topic being discussed, he had something to say and he said it with the authority of the self-assured. What he lacked in knowledge and logic he made up for with volume. 

Among the increasingly irritated listeners was Mr. Dave, one of the town’s leading citizens and one of the wisest men I ever knew. 

Mr. Dave, gentleman that he was, ignored the man in the chair.

When the barber finished clipping his customer he shaved the man’s neck, as was the custom back then and, I suspect, still is in older shops with older barbers. That done, the barber asked if the man in the chair would like some after-shave cologne which soothed the skin and left one smelling “like you’ve been to a barber shop.”

“I don’t want any,” the man thundered. “If I came home smelling of that stuff my wife would think I had been in a house of ill-repute.”

He paid the barber and as he walked to the door, Mr. Dave took his place in the chair. 

“Just a trim,” he told the barber. 

Then he added, “And you can put that cologne on me. My wife doesn’t know what a house of ill-repute smells like.”

The opinionated man skulked out without a word.

All the while I listened, and learned.ν


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Award-winning Alabama Living is the official statewide publication of the electric cooperatives in Alabama and the largest magazine of its type in the state, reaching some 400,000 electric cooperative consumers.

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