Sadie Burgher is off for the month, so please welcome today’s guest writer, Quentin Baker. Quentin is a member of the final graduating class of Calvin College (2019). He graduated with a B.S. in computer science with a minor in writing and now lives and works in Holland, Michigan. His vices are Taco Bell and science fiction novels. You can find more of his writings on his (erratically-updated) website, quentb.com.
I am the son of a VanderPol; this means that like most other VanderPols, I have ridiculously thick hair. My great-grandmother Agnes had a full head of hair up to the day of her death at the age of 103.
Having a full head of thick hair has its problems, however. I’m not saying I’d go without it—I assure the follically-challenged reading this, I understand this gift given to me! I just want to say it’s not all sunshine and daisies in head-carpet land.
The big problem is haircuts. My father cut my hair himself when I was younger: I’d sit on the back step and he’d run an electric trimmer over my head until the sound of the motor stopped whining when it hit uncut patches. Dad worked in a quick mechanical manner—no finesse. This would occasionally mean on a new approach, the trimmer would bind and tear a little hair out, or the plastic guard would poke my ears. By the time I entered high school, I had finished a stint with the Civil Air Patrol (think JROTC but for the Air Force) and was ready to move beyond buzz cuts.
So dad took me to his barber.
Herb had a small barbershop in downtown Colorado Springs. It was right out of the 1960s. Wireframe chairs in the waiting section, beige and wood accents, angled mirrors, and the barber’s chair was a massive metal contraption with lots of sharp angles. Herb, by then in his seventies, worked with the grace of a craftsman who had decades of experience under his belt. This was a place where you didn’t need to bring in a photo or specify how many inches you wanted the sides to be. You just sat down, and told Herb, “clean up the sides and even out the front” and he’d work his magic.
Did I mention that the haircuts included a shave with hot shaving cream and a straight razor? You walked out of there with a straighter back and a freshened appearance. I didn’t go with Dad to Herb’s shop often, but I always felt like Beaver Cleaver or Opie afterwards, a little bit of an “aw shucks” kid from midcentury America.
Herb had some grand stories. He told my Dad how he’d been the barber for six of the last seven city mayors. The seventh mayor was a woman, and even when a connected friend told him he could arrange a visit so he could keep his streak going, Herb didn’t feel he could do it: as a barber, when he trained, he’d only learned men’s styles. He’d joke that he didn’t give haircuts; he gave “herbicides.”
Of course, that was over ten years ago now. Herb has long since retired. Where his barber pole once hung there’s now an upscale Vietnamese joint that does light lunches and dinners. I’ve been there and enjoyed it, though I surreptitiously checked the corners and under tables for any trace of hair before sitting down.
Dad sometimes laments how difficult it is to find a good haircut these days. He’s travelled around and lately has been visiting a man in the same vein as Herb: Guido. Guido works out of a salon and spa. Dad will come in, and one of the ladies will look up and immediately shout, “Guido! You got someone!”
Guido is also nearing retirement, though. Dad is, I think, coming to terms with someday using a chain like GreatClips or SuperCuts. I do feel for him though.
I graduated this May and moved to Holland, MI for my job. I brought up Google Maps and searched for “barber.” There were the usual spots, a few salons, the aforementioned chains… and one tiny pin, with barely any info. It read “Robert’s Barbershop.”
It’s only open Tuesday through Thursday and has strange hours. I slipped out of work for a long lunch and drove over.
Inside I found one more of the men like Guido and Herb. Robert is also an older gentleman, with a single chair in his little shop that oozes a yellowed ambiance of some time before millennials and the “sharing” economy—a time where the biggest existential threat was a Russian ICBM and not greenhouse gasses.
Rob took a look at my head and said, “You want me to take it off the ears and clean up the sides?”
I have one of Rob’s business cards in my wallet. I wonder when he will hang up his trimmer and blade. For the meantime, I am enjoying the present, where I have found one my Father’s treasured disappearing barbers.