I mentioned it’s a small town, right?

My fellas like to do that guy bonding thing whenever hair gets too long.  BrightSide shifts his schedule so he can come home early – preferably on Monday or Tuesday so the really talented guy cuts their hair – picks up T-man, and off they head to the barber shop.

barber shop sign

By barber shop I mean old-timey, pole out front, no frills gathering spot for men.  As a rule I stay far, far away from man caves like these, only venturing into them under the most dire circumstances.  Cue October.

A few weeks ago we all had crazy schedules.  Work was busy, most afternoons crammed full of activities or appointments, and the guys just couldn’t sync up.  Normally this would simply delay their haircuts, but an appointment for family pictures was approaching quickly so we were on a deadline.

Which is how T-man, Bear, and I found ourselves sitting in the barber shop after school one day last month.

Now I’m sure those are fine men in there, but just crossing the threshold made me all squirrelly.  Suddenly I felt way too…girly.  Hormonal.  Like just having a uterus put off some kind of low frequency alarm screeching Intruder alert! Intruder alert!

So what did I do?  Took out a notebook and began jotting things down, of course.

The first thing I noticed was this incredibly old cash register, the kind with the big round buttons and giant display numbers.  I assumed it was decorative but that’s just foolish talk because sure enough, when it came time for the guy in the chair to pay, the register opened with a resounding ding!  Oh-kay…super old AND functional.  Huh.

There was a small sign hanging beside the cash register declaring the shop’s establishment in 1928.  Nineteen-twenty-eight, people.  I had no trouble believing it, too, because everything about that place screams small town barber shop from a gazillion years ago.  (Yeah, I’m great at that history stuff.)

The carved wooden coat rack standing in the corner.  The big black barber chairs with their steel foot rests.  The black and white tile floor beneath a lazy ceiling fan…it’s easy to picture that place being plucked out of Small Town, USA almost a century ago.  The biggest clue you’re in the 21st century lies in the view.  Their window looks out over Main Street, and I’d imagine the scene men watched while visiting the barber was a bit different in 1928.

In an odd way, though, even the view promotes that back-in-time feeling.  The speed limit is 20mph downtown, so while the cars driving past might be modern, they’re missing that flurry-scurry feel of today.  Almost as if there was no reason to hurry at all.

And of course you’ve got the gum ball machine by the door.  Our butts had barely skimmed the seats when Bear began begging for a quarter.  Who knows how many thousands of kids over the years have pleaded with their parents for change in exchange for being good at the barber shop?

As I sat there I couldn’t help comparing BrightSide’s barber shop with my own beauty salon across town.

The men have wide, comfortable leather chairs lined up against the wall for waiting, while the beauty shop has decorative chairs clustered around a coffee table and area rug.  The barber shop is spartan, stripped bare of almost any decorative touches, their only concession to entertainment being a simple magazine rack.  The women created a space designed around beauty – there are magazines artfully arranged, flowers, a chandelier, and a small jewelry section.

Even the feel of the shops was markedly different.  The barber shop definitely felt like guy space; it rang with amiable conversation between barber, client, and often the other customers waiting.  It was an easy going banter (though I’m sure the presence of this mom and sister changed the dynamic a bit), and people seemed at ease greeting each other and making small talk.

The beauty shop balances between the chattiness of women catching up and the promise of a sacred space…there are times when I show up in the mood to gab, but there are others when I just need to zone out and let someone take care of me for a change.  There’s also less openness at the beauty shop; not between a hairdresser and her client, but between the customers themselves.  Some unusual things go on in there – color, caps, tinfoil highlights, waxing – but there’s an unspoken agreement not to stare, no matter what.  I’ve developed the ability to either slide my eyes right over a person and down to the floor or gaze vacantly into the distance, lost in thought.

My afternoon was definitely enlightening since I’ve always wondered what goes on in those bastions of masculinity. But even though my trip to the flip side may have been intriguing, I think I’ll leave BrightSide and T-man to their barber shop bonding time.

Doug&Turner

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