Shave and a Haircut

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By Ryan McSwain, ©2015

The old barber, Carl Miller, had just turned off the Open sign when a familiar face appeared on the other side of the glass.

“I’m not too late, am I?” asked the younger man outside in the snow. His breath fogged the window.

“No, Peter, you caught me just in time,” Carl said, unlocking the door. “Never thought I’d see you tonight. Please come inside. This weather’s not fit for man nor beast.”

Peter stomped the snow off and stepped inside the old-fashioned barbershop. Ice crystals filled his thick beard. He wore a heavy jacket, boots, and a black scarf. His long hair spilled over the scarf and onto the back of his jacket.

“Let me help you with that,” Carl said and took Peter’ jacket and scarf. He shook off the snow and hung them on the wooden coat rack. “Been a long time. It’s good to see you.”

“It has been a long time, hasn’t it?” Peter said, shivering and rubbing his arms. “I was surprised to see you open with the weather this bad. They just closed both highways.”

The shop had two workstations, both stocked with supplies. One chair looked brand new, despite its age, but Carl readied its twin, which was worn and well-used.

“Oh, they always overreact,” Carl said. “But people these days, a light drizzle and they start slamming their cars into each other. They don’t know how to drive unless it’s a perfect sunny day. Please, have a seat. What can I do you for?”

Peter sat down in the creaking barber chair. “My usual cut and a full shave.”

“Are you sure? Looks like you’ve spent some time growing out that hair. And that beard would turn Grizzly Adams into a green-eyed monster.”

“I’m sure. You still remember how I like it cut?”

“Of course,” Carl said. “I’ve been cutting your hair since before you were in long pants. Lift your chin.”

The younger man raised his chin as Carl fitted a paper strip around Peter’s neck and buttoned the white cape over it.

“So what are you doing with yourself these days?” asked Carl.

“Web design,” Peter said. “I’m told I have a good eye for it. I have enough clients that it keeps me pretty busy.”

“That’s wonderful.” Carl lifted a long pair of scissors and examined them in the light. “Glad you found something you like doing.”

“How about you?” Peter asked. “You keeping busy?”

“It was slow for a while, but business has picked up the last few years. New generation of young men realizing the benefit of a real barbershop. Not too many of the chain places know how to use a straight razor, you know?”

Peter chuckled. “I hear you. I don’t think I’ve had a decent shave in ten years.”

“I appreciate the compliment. Tilt your head to the left, please.”

Peter moved his head. “Is it still just you working here?”

“Yep. Apparently I’m difficult to work with—but at least I don’t have to share my tips, am I right?”

“Maybe if you did a better job sharing the profits, you wouldn’t have to share your tips,” Peter said.

Carl stopped mid-cut. Freezing wind whistled outside the door. The sound of the ticking wall clock echoed as it counted off the seconds.

“You’re probably right, Peter,” said the old barber, breaking the silence. “I do have a bit of an old-fashioned mindset about such things.” He started cutting again. “So what brings you to town?”

Peter shoulders drooped as he relaxed. “Just passing through. I was at a business conference up north all weekend. Didn’t expect to get stranded here when they closed the highways, that’s for sure.”

“Well, it’s nice to see you, whatever the reason.” Carl sprayed some water on Peter’ hair with a squirt bottle. “We heard you got married.”

“Sure did,” Peter said. “About, what, eight years ago? Didn’t work out, unfortunately.”

“I’m sorry to hear that.”

Peter sighed. “Yeah. Apparently I’m pretty difficult to work with myself.”

The two men laughed.

“Tilt your head to the right,” Carl said. “Are you seeing anyone now?”

“There’s this one woman I’m dating,” Peter said. “Nothing serious. How about your better half? Still giving you hell?”

“Every day of my life. She’s doing fine, fine. I’ll tell her you asked after her.”

“I’d appreciate that. Tell you what, I did get one thing out of that marriage. Hold off a second.” Peter leaned forward and pulled out his wallet. He handed Carl a picture of a little blonde boy smiling wide at the camera. “That’s Sherman. He’s six.”

Carl admired the photograph. “A beautiful boy. Just look at all that curly hair!”

He started to hand the picture back, but Peter held up his hand. “No, you keep it,” he said.

“Thank you,” the old barber said with a smile. He tucked the picture into the corner of the large mirror behind the chair. He admired it once more before wiping his eyes with his wrist and returning to work.

“Weird that it doesn’t still smell like cigars in here,” Peter said.

“City regulations,” Carl said. “The missus doesn’t mind so much, though. Says it’s nice for me to come home without smelling like I’ve been in a bar all day. I still have one occasionally, but I’ve cut back.”

“Progress marches on. Probably for the best, right? At least you’ve still got the striped pole.”

“Have to keep getting it repaired, but everybody loves that old thing. Tilt your head forward for me.”

“I’m glad you went to the trouble,” Peter said. “The place wouldn’t look the same without that old candy cane.”

The old barber put down the scissors. Moments passed before he could speak.

“Peter, I want you to know, I don’t blame you for what happened. I’ve always been stubborn as an elephant’s leg.”

“You’re not the only one,” said Peter. “Don’t worry about it. Water under the bridge and all that.”

Carl tilted back the chair and started applying the pre-shave oil. “Are you going to be in town for a while?” He placed a hot towel over Peter’ face and stropped the straight razor.

“Just for the night. I need to be getting back. I’m a one man operation, and you never know when something is going to blow up.”

“I know how that goes,” Carl said as he worked up a lather in a small bowl.

Carl took off the towel and used the badger-hair brush to paint Peter’s chin with the shaving soap. He hummed a tune as he removed Peter’ beard. When finished, Carl wiped away the extra lather with the towel and raised the back of the chair.

“Not a single nick,” Peter said. “You’ve still got the steadiest hand in the business.”

“My mama always said I should have been a surgeon,” Carl said dramatically, holding up his hands like he had just scrubbed in for an operation.

The two men laughed as Carl slid off the cape and paper strip. He spun Peter around to face the mirror and asked, “How’s that look?”

“Best I’ve looked in years,” Peter said, patting Carl on the shoulder.

A thick layer of hair covered the floor, so Peter stood up carefully to avoid slipping. He pulled out his wallet.

“Oh, no, no,” said the old barber, waving his hand. “This one’s one me.”

“Are you sure?” Peter asked.

“Wouldn’t dream of it. Just give me a minute to close up, and I’ll walk out with you.”

“I’ll sweep so you can get everything put away,” Peter said. “That is, if you don’t mind.”

“That would be nice,” said Carl. “Thank you.”

They quickly had the shop squared away. Peter flicked off the lights, and, bundled against the cold, the two men stepped outside into the snow.

“Do you have a warm place to stay tonight?” asked Carl as he locked the door. “You can always bunk at our place. We have plenty of room.”

“I appreciate it, but I’ve already checked into the motel. Got an early morning and a long drive if the snow cooperates.”

“I understand,” Carl said. “Next time you pass through, bring that kid of yours—Sherman, is it?”

“Will do,” Peter said. “Be safe, old man.” He held out his hand, and Carl shook it with both hands. With a nod, Peter started walking toward his car.

“Peter, they didn’t really close the highways, did they?”

Peter turned. “No, sir, they did not.”

Carl smiled and said, “I never changed the name, you know.”

“I noticed that,” Peter said, and climbed into his car. “It’s probably why I came inside.” With a quick wave out the window, he drove off.

The old barber got into his pickup truck and turned the key in the ignition. He sat there for several minutes before driving away.

Snow continued to fall on the Miller & Son Barbershop.

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