Red River Scrapbook: The candy stripe helix
By Edward Southerland
Jan 19, 2017
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When was the last time you saw a revolving barber pole? I mean the kind with red, white, and blue candy cane stripes that turned slowly round and round in a glass tube. Hair stylists don’t have barber poles.

They don’t have last names either, only first names, like Mr. Kenneth or David of the Chateau du Coiffures. Nor do they have proper barber chairs, only little plastic seats that go neither up nor down and can’t spin around like real barber chairs.

Barber chairs go up and down, and tilt and spin. They have a footrest that flips over; it is padded on one side and has a metal grid on the other side, which says “Acme,” or some such in the middle. Nobody, no male at least, ever got a proper haircut in a little plastic chair.

A shop in the 1900s. Note the mother waiting for her son in the front chair.

Barber shops have mirrors, mirrors on opposite sides of the walls so when you look into them you see yourself reflected back and forth, over and over and over again, getting smaller each time. You can try to count the images, but you can’t do it. Nobody can. You lose track a have to start over again.

There are row of lumpy chairs along the wall, under the mirrors, for those waiting. Protocol dictates that the waitees read the newspaper or old issues of Field & Stream. This holds true even if the waitee is no more interested in outdoor life than a goldfish.

The barber, whose name is Charlie or Al or Eddie, talks to the man in the chair, who mumbles back while trying to keep his head still so as not to mess up the man with the scissors. Even kids are treated like grown ups went they’re in the chair. It’s in the rules; you can look it up.

This shop from the 20s had chairs for everyone.

Before they became politically incorrect, most barbershops had a shoeshine man in residence. You climbed up into his chair, put your feet on the footrests and watched magic happen at your feet, or rather on your feet.

First came the rag doused with secret solution number one that cleaned the dirty shoes and prepared them for the shine, then followed polish, brushes and the rag. The rag snapped and popped and you could see the glow coming up on the leather.

Two chairs and all the rags and brushes and somewhere in a little bottle, the secret shine potion.

Some special coloring for the edge of the sole, an anointment with special secret solution number two—great shoeshine guys have more secret solutions that a mad scientist—then another flying pass with the rag and a gentle tap on the sole to indicate the job was finished. Your clumsy, battered brogans, wing tips or boots had gone through a metamorphosis and come out bright as a new penny.

Few things are better for the soul that a good shine. When you get out into the sunlight, you look down into the leather and see your smiling face looking back. You turn your foot so the light bounces off the glistening foot wear, and you walk with a lighter step and a bit more confidence than before.

One thing barber shops don’t have is women. It’s a man’s world behind the revolving pole, and while a mother waiting for junior to be clipped might be tolerated, she upsets the atmosphere of the place. By all that is holy, she ought to go down the street to a store and do some shopping while the kid is in the chair. He will be all right, and maybe he’ll learn how to skin a moose while reading the magazines.

What about women barbers, you say. Actually I rather not, but if I must, OK. To each his own, I guess. I had a woman barber, for a while, in Atlanta. She was a short and couldn’t quite see the top of my head. For a couple of days after a visit, when the wind blew, the hair at the front of the part would stand straight up like an Indian’s feather. People would say “How!” when I met them. I got a new barber, a taller one.

Back in the days when men read the Police Gazette, while waiting for a shave, ladies dared not venture into tonsorial parlors for fear of being offending by the racy engravings of solidly-built chorus girls in tights that decorated the pages of the aforementioned tabloid. The men perused the weekly only for the interesting and timely articles, of course, and hardly noticed the illustrations. Alas, the Police Gazette is no more, and an errant Playboy is the best a waitee can hope for in most establishments these days, and even that has bowed to the PC crowd. Or so I’m told.

Barbershops are among the last places where men can be men. Women have entered every sanctum sanctorum previously off limits to their gender, and it’s getting crowded, not to mention a little scary.

Which one is George? Who knows, but both barbers are ready for business.

Men need a place where they can have 30 minutes to themselves. Where they can say things like “torque wrench,” or “buck lateral,” or “four-barrel carburetor,” and be taken seriously.

Men are sensitive beings who won’t laugh when their comrades use those kinds of words, even it they don’t quite know what they mean. Women know most of the men don’t know what they mean and just hoot it up. We need a little respect here.

You won’t see guys hanging around beauty parlors, at least not as visitors rather that staff. They know women need a place to call their own, let their hair down, figurative and literally, and unwind. At least that’s the reason I figure.

Then again, it may be the smell. When I was kid, I delivered a newspaper everyday to a couple of beauty parlors around the square. The places reeked of ammonia. I’d take a deep breath and hold it when I went in with the paper. If no one asked a question or tried to make conversation, I didn’t have to breathe until I got back outside.

I don’t see how the women stood it without gas masks. Of course, things may be sweeter smelling these days. I haven’t delivered any papers since 1956.