The Reluctant Barber
(A True Story)
The following is a true story. Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction.
Having left the winter-ridden climes of the northeast, I had ventured away from home for the first time in my young life. I had finished my senior year in High School, and much to the disappointment of my parents, had decided to take a year off before heading to University.
“If you don’t go now, then you probably won’t go at all.” My mother said, and in the majority of cases, she was probably right. It wasn’t easy quitting a good-paying job to relegate myself to being a penniless student. I was the exception to the rule, but it was far from easy. Anyway…
Houston was a long way from home, and a totally different environment from the mostly liberal mentality of the northeast. There, you were a Texan first, and an American a close second. Strange accents that I could barely understand, and an incredibly chauvinistic attitude towards women. These were the norm. Now make no mistake, Texans respect their women. God help a guy who would be stupid enough to insult a woman in the presence of a Texan. He’d be chewing his teeth for a month.
That being said, I didn’t exactly fit the mold as far as what was classified as beautiful there. I was reasonably attractive, but wore my hair drastically shorter than any other woman I saw there. Most men mistook me for a man, until they caught me in profile and realized I had a respectable cup size.
Before I left home, I had paid a visit to Sammy, our local barber. Now I hadn’t asked for a cut anything close to the ones I’d received with the baseball team, (curious, read ‘Just One of the Boys’) but Sammy was notorious for taking a little more off than you asked for. That day was no exception.
“Claire!” Sammy grinned, looking up from his newspaper. I swear, barbers must be the most well-informed bunch, for all the newspapers they read.
“Hey, Sammy.” Being the only one in the shop, I flung my coat over one of the chairs and took a seat in the one Sammy had just vacated. Nothing worse than sitting on cold leather in the winter.
He swung the cape across my shoulders, and fastened the stretchy paper around my neck before clipping the cape in place. “Buzzing it off today?” He asked. I kind of think he got a kick out of taking a girl so short, but I was about to disappoint him.
“Not today, Sammy. No, I’m heading south, and I just need a trim for the road.” I really did need a trim. My hair, as short as it was, always seemed to grow unevenly, so there were longer bits and shorter bits. Annoying. “Something I can still part if I want to, but you can take the back and sides down tight if you want,” I suggested.
That was all the license he needed to go a little overboard. He did leave the top long enough to comb, but the back and sides were skinned to about halfway up my head, whitewalls and all. I actually liked the look, but it wasn’t what I really wanted. He wished me luck on my adventures, as I walked out the door.
I managed to score a job working for one of the large refineries that ringed the southern part of the city, this one being in Pasadena. It was a good job, and paid really well for the time. It wasn’t an easy job by any stretch of the imagination. I was on a line maintenance crew, that would do routine inspections of the pipes that ran throughout the refinery and the storage facilities.
None of the men on the crew could understand why I would want a job working in such a dirty environment. Even though I was covered head to toe and wore gloves, it took a real scrubbing to get the oil residue out of my skin and hair. My face took the worst of it, and I could tell that if I worked the job long enough, I would take on the rugged, leather-faced appearance of some of the older guys.
Wearing a hard hat all day, was murder on my hair, as short as it was. So, it was after about two months that I had had enough, and ventured out on my day off to find a barbershop. Considering what I was doing, a serious buzzcut was what I had in mind. I really didn’t care what people might think, to be honest.
I drove down Richey Street and saw the spinning barber pole from across the plaza, that curved in a large semicircle away from the road. I’d only been looking for ten minutes, so I considered it a stroke of luck.
Walking through the door, most of the men didn’t give me a second look. Had they known a woman had just walked into their domain, they probably would have reacted differently. I grabbed a number from the rack near the door and took a seat next to an old guy, who looked like he’d been freeze-dried. Too much sun does funny things to you. I must have looked like a kid or something, because that’s exactly how the barber addressed me when my number was called.
“Been a while, huh kid?” The barber commented, noticing my rather shaggy hair. Of course, that’s when I opened my mouth.
“About two months. I need a haircut.” I managed, before the guy took a closer look.
“What. You’re a girl?” The guy said, amazed.
“A woman, yes, I am,” I responded.
“Well, we don’t cut ladies’ hair in here. You’ll have to go.” He said, almost rudely.
“You’re kidding, right?” I asked, serious.
“Y’all run along now. Next!” Ignoring my incredulous glare.
I walked out of the shop, annoyed, frustrated, and most importantly without a haircut. I must have had the same reaction from half a dozen other barbers that day and I was about to run into Montgomery Ward, buy a set of clippers, and do the job myself. The thing was, I knew that I wouldn’t be happy with how I would have cut it. Chances are I would have ended up bald, and that definitely wouldn’t have flown.
The following day, I showed up at work frustrated and angry.
“What’s the matter, CC.” My one real friend on the crew asked. Terry could see I was out of sorts.
“Well, I tried to get my hair cut yesterday, but couldn’t find a barber that would do it. What the fuck is with this town, anyway?” I scowled.
“I’ll tell you. You’re in Tehas baby, not New York City.” He reminded me.
“I really need my hair cut.” I pouted, which elicited a loud guffaw from him and caught the attention of the others.
One of the guys must have been listening. “Hey, I know a guy who’ll cut it for you, but you’ll have to blow him for it.” He laughed.
“Fuck off, dickhead.” I bit back.
“Yeah, she probably wouldn’t know what to do with a dick, if you catch my meaning.”
Now, the guy was sitting a good six feet away, but that wasn’t far enough to avoid my right hook, which caught him square in the jaw. A scuffle followed, where he got in a couple of shots, but nothing too severe. The guys broke it up, and it was a good thing. I had dislocated my finger when I hit him, so I was down and writhing on the ground.
“You idiot!” Terry yelled. “You fucked her up.” He leaned over and offered me a hand, whereupon I showed him my index finger, which was heading home without me.
“He didn’t fuck me up. I did that all on my own.” I grimaced. “Shouldn’t have done that, especially since he’s right.” That got the rest of the crew laughing and had the guy apologizing for the remark. I, in turn, said I was sorry for the punch. I thought for sure I would get fired, but apparently, fights were nothing new for this crew. Unfortunately, the dislocated finger earned me a week off, without pay.
All that time off work had me restless, and I decided to give the guy in the plaza another try. I would be damned if I didn’t come home with a haircut. I figured, early on a Tuesday morning would find the shop empty, and I was right.
As soon as I walked through the door, however, the barber was in my face. “I told you, lady, I can’t cut your hair.”
“You show me where on your license it says you can’t cut women’s hair, and I’ll walk out as fast as I walked in.” I challenged.
Incensed, the guy walked back to a large cabinet and took out what must have been the license restrictions pamphlet for the great state of Texas. Now, I already knew that there was nothing in the restrictions that prevented him from cutting my hair, so I waited patiently while he frantically searched the pages.
“Look mister, I know there’s nothing in there.” I offered, flatly. “There’s nobody around, and I’m not looking for anything fancy.”
“Why would a woman want a barber cutting her hair, anyway?” He asked; a valid question.
“Do I look like I could walk into “Betty-Jo’s Permatorium and Manicure’ (I was proud of that one) and ask for a style and set?”
He laughed. “Y’all are funny, but I still can’t cut your hair.”
I figured I had him laughing, so I added a wrinkle. “Tell you what. I’ll give you an entire minute to guess what I do for a living. If you guess it, I’m gone, and you’ll never see me again. If you don’t, you cut my hair, any way you want, and nobody would be any wiser for it.”
He still had to think about it. Finally, he gave in. “Fine.”
“Start guessing,” I said, holding up my watch.
He must have gone through every female-oriented job in the book, some that I hadn’t even heard of, but after a minute, I shook my head. “Time’s up.”
Reluctantly, he spun his chair around and allowed me to sit in it. “What do you do, anyway?” He asked, predictably.
“I’m on a line crew at Tenneco,” I admitted, smiling.
“Bullshit. Prove it, or I’m not cutting a hair.” He pressed.
I reached into my pocket and pulled out my check, which I still needed to deposit, handing it over to him. “There’s your proof.”
“Son… of… a… bitch.” He sighed, handing the check back. “Well, I still get to cut that hair any way I want.” He warned. “I hope you know what you’re asking for, Claire.”
“Go on, then. Cut away.” I smiled. I only hoped he cut it as short as I wanted.
Thinking he was shocking me, he made a show of pulling the clippers off the rack and cleaning them. When that didn’t get a rise, he flipped them on, again checking for a reaction. I figured he was out of stalling tactics when he raised the things to my forehead and drew them over the top. From the length, I guessed it was a number four.
A couple of months’ worth of hair started to tumble over the cape, and I smiled as my scalp began to show through the hair on the top of my head. He continued until he had clipped my entire head that length and switched to a shorter head. For a second, I think he contemplated running them over what he had just done, but then began working the back and sides with what looked like a number one. If he had gone ahead with the top, it would have been the shortest haircut I’d ever had. It was a risk I had taken, foolishly perhaps.
“How’d you get the shiner?” He asked, as he finished up.
“In a fight with one of the other guys,” I admitted.
“Come on.” He doubted.
I showed him my hand then, my finger swollen, and buddy taped to the one next to it.
“You should see the other guy.” I joked. It was the first easy moment we had had since I came into his shop. When he finally finished with a hot lather shave around my ears and neck, he turned the chair to face him.
“How’s that cut suit you?” He grinned, thinking I had gotten in over my head.
I looked at my reflection and then back to him. “It’s not far from what I came in for.” I ran my hand over the buzzed-down top. “Thanks.”
“Jeez Louise, you’re different.” He commented, and I wasn’t sure it was complimentary.
“Thank you, I think,” I answered, as I climbed out of the chair. “What do I owe you.”
“Not a thing. I ain’t no welcher. You won the bet fair and square.” He held up his hands, and then extended one in my direction. “Next one’s ten bucks.”