Dad Playing Barber by Shornlocks
My father played barber to me and my sister for years as we were growing up. Unlike the dad in Jerry Rideout’s story though, my dad would wait until my sister and I grew huge moptops before breaking out the clippers and buzzing us practically bald.
Both my sister and I had thick hair that grew very quickly. Mine was dark brown and curly, my sister’s was light brown and straight. After about five months of growing, my curls were adding a good five inches to my height because they were piled so high on my head, and my sister’s hair was past her shoulders and very luxuriant. It was at about this time that my father would notice the situation, and would usually choose a Saturday morning to bring us down to the basement for our biannual shearing.
I was always first in the chair. Dad would oil up the clippers, bang ’em against his hand to knock away the remnants of last season’s massacre, and (BANG!) would always begin with a flurry by shearing off my bangs from left to right, just plowing up one side of my front hairline and down the other, presumably so that I could have a better view in the mirror of the upcoming atrocities he was about to commit. After the bangs were history, he’d turn his attention to the crown and start whacking mercilessly at the big curls up there, mowing them down like it was a video game and pushing them all backwards onto the floor behind the chair. Next he’d make short work of the back by actually cutting upwards and over the already shaved crown, so that the huge masses of rich chocolate brown curls would role down my forehead, explode and break apart on the white cape covering my lap. Similarly, he’d shear the side curls upwards, sending those to bounce merrily on the sea of hair already in my lap. From start to finish this would take between 30 and 45 seconds, just enough to shell shock me until the next time he decided to take off my moptop.
What was bad for me was even worse for my sister. She was an attractive girl, in large part due to her shiny light brown hair parted down the middle reaching to her shoulders or beyond. He’d sit her in the chair after he was done with me, and instead of doing the bang trick would begin with three or four swipes going from her forehead to her crown, sending the torrents of long brown hair falling backward on top of my freshly shorn curls. Then he’d start on one side of her head and just shear upward, each path cutting off a 2-inch swath of her mane until he was around the other side and there was nothing left to cut. Oh yeah, the other difference was that with me he would use the blending attachment, and with my sister he would only use the 3/4″ one. What a generous guy!
All this isn’t even the bad part though. The wastebasket in which he would throw the hair was down in the basement, and was the one that got emptied the least. All the baskets upstairs were emptied at least weekly, and even the basket near his workbench downstairs was emptied annually. The basket in which my and my sister’s hair was thrown was emptied (no fooling) about every four years! There would literally be at the bottom of this basket hair that had been cut during a previous president’s administration. The layer upon layer of hair in the basket would have been an excavator’s dream! Sometimes when I would go downstairs to get my bike out of the basement I would just look at this thing. It was incredible! It must have been an 18-gallon basket filled to the brim with hair!
One day (surprise, surprise) my dad decided to empty it. Instead of putting it all in a bag and tying it up though, he decided to just dump this huge cloud of hair on top of the regular trash on the curb, for all the world to see. Yep, you guessed it… He put it out there on a Sunday night, a very WINDY Sunday night, and the next morning it had just about all gone. It don’t mean the trashmen emptied it, I mean it blew up and down the street, collected in the gutter, was being used by birds for nesting, etc. My sister’s long brown locks were easily identifiable as the stuff caught in the neighbor’s shrubbery. Every day for about three weeks, when I was doing my paper route, I’d see some new pile of my or my sister’s hair and think, “Gee, I wonder how old THAT bunch is?”
My sister finally got sick of the whole “dad as barber” scene when he gave her the buzzing of her life when she was about 13. I think what happened was he forgot to switch the attachment between my haircut and hers, and she really did look like one of those poor kids you see with childhood cancer. This was at a time when all the girls were wearing their hair long, and sometimes I wonder if my sister is still in therapy over the whole episode.
It took me a little longer to smarten up. When I was sixteen I went away to stay with a relative for summer. When I left home in June I hadn’t gotten sheared for about six months (already longer than normal), and I ended not having enough sense to go to a real barber all summer, so that when I got home in late August I was truly a sight to behold. Dad knew immediately when I walked in the door what time it was… SHEEP SHEARING TIME! Only this time he broke with tradition. Instead of going to the cozy confines of the basement, he set up shop on the front porch so that the whole neighorhood could see! He even had to get an extension cord so the clippers would work out there! Talk about hairfall! To this day I’ve never seen more hair in one place than there was on that porch after I got clipped. I can walk by barbershops today where the floor hasn’t been swept for hours, and there STILL isn’t as much hair as there was fallen at my feet that day. The worst part was that all the neighbors, on such a hot steamy day, decided to get off their own porches and come over to observe the spectacle of my curls hitting the porch floor in one wave after another. The most vocal of the bunch was all the old retired military guys saying stuff like “Yup, I remember my first haircut in boot camp… boy was that something!… ‘Course I didn’t have anywhere near as much hair as your son there, Jake!”
Well, that was the last time I submitted to that kind of humiliation. After that I started using my own money to go to the barbershop, and got much more frequent haircuts than before so that dad would never again get that gleam in his eye whenever he saw my curls approaching balloon status. Of course, when my dad died shortly before I went away to college, I pretty much knew what I had to do to make peace with this memory. Seated alone in my dorm room on weekend, I reached down into the Sears bag containing the Oster clippers I just bought, and headed to the bathroom with them.
To my huge mass of curls I did the bang trick, buzzing from below my left temple and not stopping to I got to the right temple. The bangs fell gracefully into the bathroom sink, their dark brown color a sharp contrast to the whiteness of the porcelain. Then I went nuts on it. Bowing my head over the sink, I placed the clippers on the nape of my neck and plowed upward, showering the bathroom sink and countertop with curls. When there was nothing left in the middle of my head, I attacked the sides, sending river after river of even more curls raining down the sea of curls already there. I didn’t have any attachments on the clippers. My hair had never been this short before; it really couldn’t even be described as hair because nothing resembling hair was even visible, except of course for the mounds of it covering the countertop in front of me. When I went to clean up this dark, beautiful mess that lay before me, I considered the options available for its disposal. I knew of course that there was really only one option. I grabbed an empty box that had once housed a case of BUD Light, pushed all the hair on the counter into it and scooped out the handfuls of curls that had fallen the sink, stepped to window of my eighteenth floor dorm room, opened the window, and gave my curls their freedom. Not since that windy Sunday night had my hair been so free to swirl up sidewalks, blow up and down people’s driveways, and get caught in their bushes. I knew it was a fitting tribute to my dad. A little bit of him had rubbed off on me!