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The Bull Goes On Forever

Sunday I got my hair cut. I went to a place called Sport Clips. It is a chain, like Supercuts, but aimed specifically at men. All the stylist are women. The decor looks like a locker room with the individual stylists using cabinets made to look like lockers. All the screens have sports on. I watched Tiger’s breakthrough at hole fifteen where he took the sole lead for his fifth Master’s title. I got what is called the MVP package which includes a hot face towel in a recliner in a low light room, labeled the showers. While you get the hot towel your stylists shampoos you. After wards she finishes with a neck and shoulder machine with a hand-held massage machine.

It is a great experience and at twenty-five bucks not much more expensive than a regular place. If you haven’t had such personal attention, I recommend it. My girl, Z, takes great pride in body service much more extensive than Sport Clips, so I already had a taste for it. The personal attention as a selling point is a less intimate relative of the “girl friend experience” so many escorts advertise. For any ladies reading, if you want to impress your man learn to shave him and cut his hair then offer the “Sport Clips experience”. I think you will be surprised at the results.

That said, as much as I enjoy the attention there is something I would trade it for. I would trade it even if I wasn’t getting such personal attention, although with an additional emotional connection, of such grooming care from Z.

That thing is a barbershop. I genuinely miss a good, old fashioned, barbershop.

There are two barber’s shops that stand out in my mind growing up. The most memorable one, which changed locations during the time, was in the Hilltop Shopping Center in Casper, Wyoming. It no longer exists. I went there with my dad from the age of four through the fourth grade and then again in the seventh through ninth grade. In between we lived not in Wyoming, but east Texas. There he and I went to a small shop on Main Street in Nederland, Texas. For a kid, a barbershop is a long wait with comic books, Magnus Robot Fighter and Sgt. Rock being my mainstays and seeing the things men do. By ninth grade I wasn’t a kid. Time, Newsweek, or a science fiction paperback replaced the comics. The biggest change was I was reading less and learning about being a man more.

The shop in Wyoming had a sign whose meaning I didn’t know until late in going there. It read, “Cows may come and cows may go, but the bull in here goes on forever”. Looking back it captures what I miss about the barbershop.

A barbershop is a male space. As Dr. Kristen Barber notes in her article on the decline of the barbershop, it was a place for men. Men’s spaces are much less common and, despite efforts to create more, are often suspect today. Women too often feel the need to invade them. However, women are not the only issue separating some place like Sport Clips from a good barbershop.

Dr. Barber describes the image of the old classic barbershop as small and dirty. She admits there is classism in this when comparing the modern, male salon to the classic barbershop. The point of the barbershop was not the haircut. When money was tight more than once my parents cut my hair with a Wahl home clipper. My father either cut it himself or my mother did. Certainly, there was more to the barbershop than just the haircut.

And there was. I didn’t realize it, but listening to the men and noticing reactions to each other I learned a lot about being a man. The natural sorting of male hierarchy was well on display. Pride of place was split between the man in the chair and the senior barber. The topic was the property of the man in the chair, if he wanted to talk. Otherwise it tended to fall to the barber.

He did not, however, have to talk. Often he read and among the things available was the current issue of Playboy. Despite jokes older than me about reading it for the article and holding it with one hand, these men read Playboy. Oh, I am sure they looked at the pictures, but not once do I remember the centerfold being unfolded. There was a lesson I absorbed, lost to younger men, about the appropriate way to look at attractive women. You didn’t wolf whistle or leer. It was a glance, an appreciative glance, but integrated into normal behavior and did not draw attention to itself.

The not drawing attention was another aspect I remember. A man might unburden a bit about his problems. An offer of help might be made, but I don’t remember great details being shared on the former or hashed out on the later. It wasn’t the ultimate stoicism, else there would not have been discussion, but there was stoicism.

Also, the place was not dirty. It was well used. There is a difference. A good barbershop was kept clean, or it wasn’t a good shop. What it was, however, was well worn. I think the best comparison would be to a classic hand tool. Old planes and handsaws, kept well oiled, still bear the signs of their age. There are wear patterns and perhaps worn in dirty no amount of cleaning can remove. I expect that in a well attended barbershop.

The most interesting point Dr. Barber makes is one about race and class. He argument is the barbershop isn’t disappearing so much as it is becoming invisible because it is no longer a place for white, upper and upper middle-class men. She notes, as anyone with eyes can, how strong the barbershop tradition is among black men.

In fact, I envy the black men I see visiting the barbershops around here. They have tempted me from time to time to visit, but a good barbershop is a community location. It is rude to intrude onto the community of others without invitation or at least permission.

There are some expensive barbershops aimed at hipsters, but I fit there even less.

Perhaps there are still a few working class barbershops near me frequented by white men. Despite my decidedly white-collar job and education I suspect I would fit right in. I will look around before I next need a hair cut.

Because what I miss, what I wish I had, was a place to just be around other men and shoot the bull. There is something important in doing that missing in modern life. Yes, I can do that some at work, but conversation at work has gotten less free over my lifetime. Even what would have been in common parlance twenty-five years ago now results in jokes about HR showing up.

I will admit that change may have as much to do with me being in a major financial institution instead of the submarine service, but losing a place to be that kind of man is real if the change is time or class.

I would rather leave the hot towel and shoulder massage to Z, where it is more extensive both in the physical grooming and the loving care, and get my hair cut among a bunch of men complaining about taxes, BMW drivers, and this year’s NFL draft.

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