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Saturday, November 23, 2013

The Cut. By John von Daler

               #Tulsa, Oklahoma, about 1950. Dad and I entered the large, light room with mirrors all along two opposite sides. White tiles covered the floors with a small, black pattern without any meaning. Small piles of hair were continually being swept up across the pattern. We took seats along the wall.

                Six barbers in white cotton jackets. In their hands scissors that reminded me of quacking ducks, the bills thin, long, shiny metal pieces that clicked and snapped angrily. Six chairs like pilot stations in a rocket ship: levers and pumps and head rests and armrests. Machines to hold in the hand and vibrate the heads of tired businessmen into quivering passivity. Other small shavers that brummed and shook in the confident hands of the barbers, not to speak of the huge razor blades they punished frequently and expertly on the thick leather straps that hung from the back of the chairs.
                Today I was to have my hair cut. The balding man who smelled of aftershave and hairtonic and mouthwash threw a padded wooden board across the leather armrests on one of the chairs and helped me crawl up into place. My father sat reading The Tulsa World on one of the small chairs along the opposite wall. Beside each chair was a round metal container with a sloped, smooth top with a hole in it. These were spittoons for the tobacco chewers, not all of whom could aim as well as Jesse James. The sides of the spittoons bore the marks of their unlucky shots.
                My job up on the board on the armrests was to sit absolutely still. I held my breath as the angry duck snapped around my head, but the task of staying clear of its dangerous beak would often become too much for me and I would twitch and then the barber would lift the scissors into the air like Paganini's bow. He would wait, demonstratively frozen, until I had twitched and scratched and then the snapping would start again and I would go back to holding my breath. These ten minutes or so seemed like hours. But finally the haircut would be finished and I would crawl down from my perch.
                Then it would be Dad's turn. The barber removed the board and Dad settled in, his newspaper in hand. The barber swished a great sheet around my father in the chair and fastened it around his neck with some opague paper he folded around the cloth. Then the snipping started again.
                I sat on my chair and grabbed a comic book and began to read. We were not allowed to have comics at home, so I usually liked running through Donald and Daffy Duck. But at some point I always got tired and stopped, fully aware that they bored me a lot more than The Book of Knowledge. Then the itching would start. From that moment it would increase in strength until I reached home and jumped in the bathtub to wash away the small bits of hair that stuck to my neck and back.

                I tried to use the magazines to forget the itching until Dad got finished. The barber flourished a mirror behind his head as my father gave him some coins discreetly. Then we paid the lady at the cash register and left through the door by the two large twirling candy canes and got into our sweptback Buick and drove home, me riding shotgun with my itchy back. We did not talk. This was a man's day.

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