Volume 5 Number 3
Jackson enjoyed his trips to the barber shop. They were one of the few remaining "time with the guys" he could still fit in his busy schedule. He enjoyed catching up on things in their lives and careers. He liked the discussion and debate, and the solving of all the world's problems in the couple of hours he spent there each month. He especially enjoyed the smell of the tonic, the buzz of the clippers, and when fathers brought their sons in for their first "big boy" haircuts. He still remembered the time his father took him for his first.
Timidly he walked in the shop with his father, holding his hand despite how it defeated the "big boy" image he wanted to portray to the men sitting there. The chair was so big when he climbed up that he got lost in the expanse of it, and they gave him a booster seat. Really it was just a board that sat across the arms of the chair, and it felt rough on the back of his bare legs.
Every sensation new to him, "Little Jack" jumped as the Barber shook out the apron with a POP! He felt the cold chill of the metal clip holding the apron around his neck; it was tight and uncomfortable. Hearing the click-bzzzz as George, his father's barber, turned on the clippers, Jack's muscles tensed from head to toe; this was it. He could see his father's face and reassuring smile as he stood beside the chair, so he squeezed his eyes shut, gripped his knees under the tented apron, and held his ground.
His father leaned over while George was working on his hair, and said something to George that "Little Jack" didn't hear. When he had finished with the clipping and snipping, the barber removed the metal clip and that strip of stiff crinkly paper, and brushed off the back of his neck; the vacuum startled and tickled him. Breathing a little easier, Jack thought he was done. Without waiting for George to remove the apron, he made a move to get down. George stopped him before he could escape to the safety of his father's pant-leg, and asked him, very grown-up-like, "Wouldn't you care for the warm lather, sir?" He winked at Jack's father as he said, "Most gentlemen prefer the warm lather and a close shave of the neck."
Jack looked nervously at his father, who smiled and shot Jack his comforting wink, smile, and nod, which always meant, "Go ahead, Sport; it's OK." He heard the whirrrrr of the hot lather machine and smelled its minty aroma as George smeared the warm, creamy froth on the back of his neck. It reminded him of ... morning.
George took the straight razor out of his breast pocket and opened it up. Jack's head snapped forward and he froze, head down, not twitching a muscle, not turning his head, but doing acrobatics with his eyes and brow as he strained to catch sight of his father's face without moving.
Grabbing the strop, George gave the razor a slap, slap, slap back and forth over the smooth, supple leather, honing the edge of the blade.
A sight and sound so familiar now and inviting all these years later for Jackson. "Little Jack" struggled between the image of a man putting a sharp razor blade to the back of his neck, and the calming reassurance of being with his dad, which had to mean that this was all OK. With all the courage a six-year-old can muster when faced with being "Daddy's little man," he remained seated (if not relaxed), twitching as the razor touched his virgin skin. He slowly got used to the scrape, scrape, scrape as George gave him what his father later called, "The Gentleman's Treatment."
When he finished, George cleaned him up, talced him down, and dusted him off with that tickly brush again. Relieved, and slowly filling with conqueror's pride now that it was over, Jack not so much climbed, but rather floated down from the chair, busting with his sense of achievement and unable to stop grinning; he had a handle on this haircut thing. It took a couple of days for word of mouth to get around about "The Gentleman's Treatment." But, as it was his mouth spreading the word, he took care to make sure they knew exactly what that meant concerning his new position in the pecking order of his small group of friends. (The swagger died down in a few days.)
Years later, while talking to George one day in the shop, he recalled how scared he had been. George chuckled and told him that for kids, he always used the spine of the razor and never the blade. He just made a big show of opening it and using the strop to give the kids an experience. He also told Jackson that on more than one occasion, the best-intended schemes of fathers and barbers hadn't always worked out, as the phone calls from irate mothers would affirm.
It was a "rite of passage" moment for Jack, and began a bond of relationship and activity with his father that they shared well into his adulthood. Their "Haircut Day" outings, regular as clockwork in his childhood, grew erratic through his teens and early twenties, even more so after Jack moved out, and ended finally with his father's passing.
Full of nostalgic emotion and fatherly pride, Jackson went about this morning wearing that blissful grin people get but are unaware of when all is right in their world. He prepared to begin the cycle again today with his son. He wouldn't tell his wife just yet; some things a mother just shouldn't know beforehand.
BIO: An aspiring writer living somewhere in the universe, J.D. Bradley is as yet unpublished.
Editor's Note: This J.D. Bradley has hit on the basic paradox of time. He is now published, but his bio refers to a time that no longer exists.