On my way to brunch today, I walked past Joe’s Barbershop and, without thinking, gazed through the window. I had been going to unisex salons for so long that I had forgotten what a real barbershop looks like. This one was real in that manly, guy-who-thinks-of-a-haircut as a 3,000 mile-tune-up sense of the word.
The front of the shop was just about as plain brown wrapper as your can get: Metal chairs were lined up against one wall. In front of them were low tables covered with magazines. Four barber chairs ran along the opposite wall, as well as sinks, a counter, and the requisite mirrors, tonics, combs, and other tools of the trade.
The back of the shop was plastered with posters of hairstyles dating back to the 1950s, including enough buzz cuts to satisfy the army recruiter in the building next door. More pictures were taped to the shop’s front window, all so faded by the sun that the models’ hair and faces were varying shades of blue.
That barbershop itself got me to thinking about when I used to take my little brothers, Mikey and Chucky, for haircuts. My memories of those days are populated by old men sitting in folding chairs waiting for their turns at the clippers and flipping through back issues of ... what? Meanwhile, my two brothers would be completely absorbed in Superman comic books.
The entire barbershop experience, as I remember it, was that the haircuts themselves were of significantly less importance than the quality and quantity of the reading material.
This got me to thinking about my own youthful experiences.
In true tomboy spirit, I hated getting my hair done and considered hairspray as logical as wearing a girdle on my head. But there were times when, despite my protestations, visiting a beauty parlor had its rewards.
These included Motion Picture, Silver Screen, and Screen Stories magazines. I would never have purchased them myself. No sir. Not me. Doing so would have made me feel like a brainless bimbo who considered “Beach Blanket Bingo” a form of high art. I read Steinbeck. I read Dostoyevsky. American epics and Russian tragedy were more my speed.
Which is just another way of saying that I was a complete and unapologetic hypocrite.
Because there was absolutely nothing I enjoyed more than stories about Audrey Hepburn, Gary Cooper, Deborah Kerr, William Holden, Grace Kelley, and Cary Grant. What they did. Who they did it with. Who they married. Who they were divorcing. What they wore. Any beauty parlor worthy of its revolting pink décor had stacks of such magazines scattered around the store. New ones. Old ones. Tattered ones. Glossy ones hot off the press. This alone made getting my hair done so rewarding that I willingly subjected myself to the gagging smells, the incessant chatter, and the looming menace of a helmet hair dryer.
Back to this morning.
By the time I arrived at the restaurant for brunch, I had sufficiently mulled over my memories to run them by my friends, Diane and Jerry. Diane reminded me that beauty parlors of that era also provided heartthrob weeklies like True Romance and Thrilling Love. And Jerry recalled that the tables in his old barbershops were stacked with back issues of True Detective, Jungle, Men’s Adventure, and Weird Tales – all featuring pulse-pounding covers with half-naked women being menaced by Nazis, monsters, or thugs.
Then Jerry he brought us back to the present.
“For years, I couldn’t stand getting a haircut because the only thing to read at the salon I went to was Harper’s Bizarre.” He bit into a bagel. “I hate Harper’s Bizarre.” He chewed on his bagel for a few seconds before adding, “A year ago, I reconnected with my roots. Now I go to Joe the Barber, and I love to get my haircut.”
Jerry didn’t have to explain why.
“Girlie magazines,” I said with authority.
Jerry rolled his eyes and gave me a happily evil grin.
So, there you have it. The literature that keeps us shaved, permed, trimmed, shaped, and beautiful. Most of the magazines of the 1950s have disappeared. But women still have In Touch, OK, Star, and Us to feed our appetites for celebrity gossip. And men still have their well-thumbed copies of Playboy.
Which reminds me. Yesterday, the only reading material lying around at the salon where had my hair done were back issues of National Geographic and Forbes.
My hair looks great, but ... well, there’s really no doubt about it.
I will definitely have to change salons.
Shelly Reuben is an Edgar-nominated author, private detective, and fire investigator. For more about her books, visit shellyreuben.com
Copyright © 2008, Shelly Reuben