| What was I thinking? Well, obviously I wasn't thinking.
I decided to get a haircut and beard trim and then do a little grocery shopping in South Portland on a recent Saturday morning after my radio show? Usually I'd attempt something like this around mid-morning in the middle of the week when my regular barber is often napping in the chair or watching Rachael Ray and eating bon-bons, waiting for someone to clip. I've often had to wake him up or tell him to drop the bon-bons and pick up the clippers. There's also a similarly slow pace at grocery stores at that time.
For now, I'd like to describe my barbershop experience. As most men know, Saturday mornings in barbershops are something like opening day at Fenway Park or the Friday after Thanksgiving in Walmart. Your typical barbershop on your typical Saturday morning is always mobbed with fathers and sons looking get their ears lowered, as they say in barbering circles. But I thought, hey, how bad can it really be?
I'll say it again: What was my gray-matter thinking?
Not only did I decide to go to a barbershop at 10:30 on a Saturday morning in South Portland, but I decided to up the ante by going to a four-chair barbershop at a time when all four barbers were clipping like crazy with both hands. Oh, yes, and all the other 16 chairs were filled with waiting customers. I know now what I should have known then: It was a mistake. It had been so long since I had been to a full-to-overflowing barbershop that I felt uncomfortable with the situation.
First, since all the good reading material had been scoffed up by those already there, I was forced to read articles on things like the do's and don'ts of selecting ammo for my next deer hunt. I don't want to say it was a waste of time but since I only hunt birds these days I'm sure I'll never use any of that good ammo information, except maybe in columns like this.
While pretending to read, everyone in the barbershop's waiting section is also keeping an eye on the clipping to see who might be done next. The watch is made more frustrating because barbers have all those little things they do before they declare the haircut done making a few last clips here and there, brushing hair off your shoulders, loosening the sheet and taking the tissue paper from around your neck, spinning you slowly one-more-time in the chair so you can see his finished handiwork from all angles. It's not even over when the customer stands up because there is often a lot of last-minute banter during the payment-portion.
When the customer finally pays up and moves on all those waiting look around at each other, trying to decide who should make the first move toward the free chair. Some will defer to the rest, waiting, saying they want to wait for a certain barber. Others might say they don't know who's next because they can't remember who came in ahead of whom. Deli counters at supermarkets solved this problem years ago when they installed those number tags on a roll that you can just rip off and wait for your number to be called. But, barbershops are nothing if not traditional, in fact they're steeped in tradition. They don't go by numbers, they let customers work out the "who's next" issue among themselves.
At one point I rose to take a free barber chair at the same time someone across the room rose for the same purpose. If it had been another time and we both had pistols on our hips it's likely there would have been a face-off and one of us would have ended up bleeding on the barbershop floor.
I won't say who got the chair next, but I think it's an indication of how enlightened we are that no "gun-play" occured and we both survived the experience.
John McDonald is a humorist and storyteller who performs regularly throughout
New England. Contact John at firstname.lastname@example.org or 899-1868.