A Barber Pole, A Walnut and a Time Traveler

On a snowy Saturday morning on a dirt road somewhere in Vermont I came across a vintage 1950’s barber pole.  Red and white striped. Lighted.  Spinning.  “Men only” and “Open Saturdays.”

I used to think that only shamans and monks could be transported but I entered a world with which I was intimate a lifetime ago — carrying more weight and some gray hair — but getting my “holiday haircut” just like when I was a kid.  Maybe there are different types of reincarnation.

Worn linoleum.  Hair rains.  Hair reigns supreme.  The smell.  Aqua Velva.  The big guy in the chair nods, saying nothing, continues to listen to the radio.  Trading Post.  Neighbors bartering, trading, selling making a few bucks for Christmas.  Craig’s List read by your next door neighbor or Cousin Bill.

I have a front row seat to the barber ballet   — snippin’ and clippin. He fashions a balding head into respectability. Then comes the foam from an ancient machine followed by the razor from the blue-lighted sanitary oven. The big finish?  A flourish of talcum powder, applied liberally to the neck.  Money and pleasantries exchanged, it’s my turn.

He has a crew cut, a hearing aide and a bad eye.  I’m not sure which one to look at. No pre-cut foreplay like “How would you like it cut?” Instead “This is the way we do it around here” hangs heavily in the air.

More silence is exchanged while the drape is secured, the paper neck-protector fastened and the clipper activated. Finally, the ice breaker. “You don’t live around here.” It’s a statement, not a question: The Vermont Way.

More silence. A framed 1952 Nash Rambler brochure, a dusty stuffed fish, a vice on a jury-rigged platform on the floor, the latest fishing and hunting magazines on the rack.

Looking for an opening, I ask about the vice.  I think I made some stupid remark about him also doing dentistry. A long look comes back my way. Hair cutting comes to a stop and the clippers are set aside. Out of his pocket comes a walnut and along with it my lesson on how to extract the nut from the shell – with particular emphasis on using the structure of the shell and a gentle application of the vice for the widest opening. This flatlander needs an education.

Back at work, the Trading Post sells a rifle, two tires and some machine only a farmer can appreciate. He begins to talk again in mid-sentence says,”And while we’re talkin’ about barbering let me tell you about how they treat barbers in Vermont!” We segue through the good old days… before licenses and exams… when you paid $5.00 to open a shop. We finish with the little-known fact that part-time barbers (read ‘Saturday only’) do not have to pay licensing fees.

More silence as the mounds of hair fall to the floor and the sides of my head that haven’t seen daylight for years suddenly appear. Too late now. The finish is a flourish of smelly powder and a long-gone skin bracer. I look at this guy in the chair. He sure looks like my Dad.

Something has changed in these thirty minutes. As I leave the chair I’m shown photos of fishing exploits, hear the story of how he fell from his bike as a kid, injured his shoulder and the riddle of how he became a left-handed barber was solved.  I’m invited back.

We connected – all for the exorbitant price of $5.00.


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