By Tim Hayes
“Hey Pal, hey Skip, hey Chief, hey Buddy, hey Buster, hey Friend, hey Champ, hey –“
Clark the Barber would rattle off these calls to the next kid in line at his hole-in-the-wall shop around the corner from our neighborhood strip mall, until you clambered up onto his well-worn chair.
Clark’s barber shop became one of those places that got fixed in your memory, because nothing ever changed there, starting with Clark himself. Standing close to six feet tall with a sandy, reddish crop of hair himself, Clark wore a white barber smock and always seemed to be snapping a pair of scissors in his hand, whether he was in the process of cutting someone’s hair or not. That jar of mysterious blue liquid that allegedly kept combs and stuff clean, always sat there on the shelf below the mirror.
He held court behind a green faux-leather barber chair, with a web of small creases and cracks on the seat, little silver tin ash tray flaps on the arms, and the chunka-chunka hydraulics set to work as Clark foot-pumped the chair higher. A big plate-glass window with Clark’s name painted backwards provided the portal through which you could look out and see your buddies making faces at you while Clark clipped away at your mop-top.
And then there stood the two crowning jewels of Clark’s small kingdom – the greatest collection of Archie comic books in town, and the Pepsi cooler where you could help yourself to a miniature bottle of pop while waiting your turn and enjoying the latest adventures of Betty, Veronica, Jughead and the rest of the Riverdale High gang.
I loved going to Clark’s for haircuts, and did so until I started high school, when everything changed. No, not with me, but with Clark.
He’d been on his feet, snipping away, for a very long time and I guess he either got tired or decided he’d made enough money by that point. Or maybe he lost his shirt giving away all that Pepsi. Whatever the reason, Clark hung up his shears and retired.
After years of comfort, familiarity, and free comic books, suddenly it came time to find another barber. The only trouble was, in the mid-1970s, barbers had become quite hard to come by. All I had to pick from were “stylists.”
Being the frugal, pragmatic type – also known as a broke high school kid without a car – I started going to the stylist within the shortest walking distance from my house, a fellow who went by the last name of “Barbieri,” which to this day I believe was a crass marketing ploy to make rubes like me think they were getting some Italian-trained hot shot hacking away at their heads.
My new stylist started by dunking me into a sink for a shampoo, then using a razor to “shape” and “contour” and “stagger” my manly locks into something unique and stunning. He wrapped things up by slapping a lot of “product” all over my scalp and using a hair dryer to bring the dynamic episode to a breathtaking, flourishing finish.
All I could think of was, “Toto, I don’t believe we’re at Clark’s anymore.” The bill – which included purchases of some hoity-toity special shampoo and conditioner, along with styling mousse or some such crap – sure didn’t resemble Clark’s either. With Clark, you sat down, he cut your dry old hair, he brushed you off, kicked you out of the chair, collected his dough, and started his call for the next guy in line.
Thus began a lifetime of searching for a person to cut my hair who I really like. Some of these relationships have lasted longer than others, but none has ever really taken root, so to speak. All I want is a comfortable, safe, reliable haircut. And maybe a couple of comic books and a free Pepsi. I put it to you, is that really too much to ask?
Hey Pal, hey Skip, hey Chief, hey Buddy, hey Buster, hey Friend, hey Champ. I’m still here. Still waiting.
Copyright 2014 Tim Hayes Consulting and Transverse Park Productions LLC