They just don’t make ‘em like they used to. That’s the kind of sentiment I heard almost non-stop growing up. To this day, my father takes note of the ways in which society has lost qualitative ground. Most of his assertions, like 90% of anything a parent tries to tell a child, go unappreciated until I notice them for myself.
My father took me for my first real haircut when I was three or four. From that point, I became part of his bi-monthly saturday trek to the barber shop on Afton Avenue in Yardley. The shop had that old fashioned barber pole outside and was run by an gentleman named Jack. There were three chairs in the back and a waiting room out front. It was a first-come, first-served event, and so my father and I would get there right around opening, which was about six in the morning.
There would be a few other folks there (mostly male), and it was a fairly social situation. I remember patrons and barbers alike sharing in perpetual discussion, with conversants usually being picked off as their haircuts were completed – certain ones would stay even after they were finished; I have a feeling my dad would have too, if not for having a son in tow.
Jack cut my hair dozens of times during my youth. The squeak of the scissors, the buzz of clippers, and the smell of a hot shaving cream dispenser (meshed with the scent of aftershave, perhaps) remain associated with memories of that ritual.
By the time I’d reached high school, Jack had grown much older than he ever seemed when I was younger. His hands had grown less steady. At a point I noticed he no longer shaved the back of my neck and sideburns with the straight blade. A year or two later, he was gone from the business altogether, and new management took over. It just wasn’t the same after that.
So I started patronizing chain haircutters after I was out of high school. That persisted right up until I moved last summer. After I’d settled into my new place, I discovered Mike’s Barber Shop around the corner from me.
The proprietor, and only barber, is a guy named Mike. He’s a little Italian guy, about 75 years old. He’s been cutting hair since he was 13, back in the old country. He’s still a pretty good barber, and if you stack him up against the skills of your average chain haircutter, he’s downright extraordinary. He’s the first haircutter I’ve been to since my youth who isn’t afraid to break out the straight blade, and like Jack, he has yet to even nick me with it.
Mike has skills reminiscent of when cutting hair was a trade, rather than a minimum wage job. When I go there I generally leave a huge tip. This is mostly because his prices are dramatically lower than a place like the Hair Cuttery, and I can’t justify the thought of paying one penny less for his services than I would for theirs.
The past several months, I’ve revelled in the experience of sitting in a barber shop with a few other guys on a Saturday morning. I’ve re-lived my earlier days, soaking in the atmosphere of squeaky scissors, straightblades and hot shaving cream.
This past Saturday, as I sat waiting for my haircut, part of the discussion was about how Mike is planning to retire and his shop is going on the market soon. One of the other patrons was a freshman home on spring break. His name was Bill, and his turn preceded mine.
When Bill vacated the barber’s chair, I took his place. As the young man walked out the front door, Mike asked me, in his thick Italian accent, “See that guy?”
“Yeah.” I responded.
“I gave him his first haircut.”
There was a smile on his face and a gleam in his eye as he said it. Which is what made me think of Jack, and all those Saturday mornings at the barber shop during my youth. I’m nearly twice as old as the last time I set foot in Jack’s old place, and I think how fortunate I’ve been to relocate that long lost experience in Mike’s establishment, even if only for a short while.
As my father has often told me, they just don’t make ‘em like they used to, but fortunately there are still one or two of the older models in stock. I wonder if there will be in another generation when Bill, the college freshman, is my age.