I Remember …
This month’s Talk Travel by Ron Stern
Those once familiar red, white and blue striped poles are disappearing from the face of America.
Barbers are a vanishing breed. Like the spotted owl or dodo, I think they should be placed on the endangered professionals’ list. Old-world craftsmanship has given way to high-priced hair stylists and a “one-size-fits-all” uni-cut mentality. I have yet to find a fancy stylist who knew how to shave a man’s neck for that finishing touch. No razor straps or warm shaving cream found in any salon that I know of.
So why should anyone care? Certainly Generation X won’t. They don’t even know of those past simple pleasures when barbershop talk turns to stories of baseball: Sandy Colfax, Don Drysdale and the Dodgers’ chances of winning the pennant. Maybe patrons, waiting for their turn in the red-vinyl swivel chairs, would discuss the latest episode of Ozzie and Harriet. Usually, the 1950s television program involved a family problem that could only be solved by Mr. Cleaver inside his pristine living room or at the local malt shop with a friend named Wally.
Corny? Probably. But I can still recall the smell of Vitalis® and Brylcreem® and families anxious to have their little boy’s haircuts finished in time for the local little league game or the neighborhood barbeque.
Bazooka Joe bubble gum, complete with a comic inside, was only a penny back then and the final reward for this bi-monthly hair-cutting ritual. Sadly, for me, those days have long since disappeared. Today there are fewer barbers and barber schools to learn the craft. Yes, many from this generation have passed on or retired as their hair-cutting art goes the way of the buggy whip.
I was too young to recall my first barber, but certainly not the others who groomed me through adolescence. There was Charles or “Chaz,” the immigrant from Italy who arrived in America with little more than the clothes on his back. Eventually he made enough money in 30-odd years to support a wife and family. Dominique, from Southern California would not only cut your hair, but also give you a head massage with a portable hand-held contraption that made your teeth vibrate. Albert, well, I never did figure out where he came from, but many times, he sure made me look better than I felt in those tumultuous adolescent years.
Maybe it’s just nostalgia, thinking about a happier time when people felt safe in their homes and cars or just while walking down the street at night; a time when families ate together, prayed together and a person’s handshake was as good as a promissory note.
Nowadays, people probably prefer the appointment system of a glitzy hair salon, instead of the slower-paced “there are three ahead of you” method typical in most barbershops. For some this high-tech, fast-paced, stress-filled life seems to fit better.
For me, well, there is something to be said for these symbols of our eroding Americana. Like a faded Norman Rockwell painting or an old Chevrolet rotting in a junkyard, these images have become just dust-laden memories in the attic of my mind. Every now and again, I go, dust them off and fondly remember.
Does cinnamon bring back the smell of grandmom’s muffins? Is there something you’d like to share with us. Write to Talk Travel at firstname.lastname@example.org.