Thursday, February 11, 2010

Barbershop Wisdom

Six Views of the Holly Famous Barber Shop, 2008

Before you start thinking I go to a barbershop with pictures on the walls of dogs playing cards, let me set the record straight. There probably were once pictures of dogs playing cards on the wall of the Holly Famous Barber Ship. There certainly were at Bill’s Barbershop, the place just down the street where my father took me every other Saturday when I was a kid.

Imagine taking your son to get a haircut every two weeks today! They’d probably sue for emancipation.

Bill’s was owned by a gruff old man named Bill Faircloth. (His wife, who was the nurse in my doctor’s office, was equally gruff.) Bill wasn’t much of a talker, at least to kids.

Kids were the province of Windy, a kindly older fellow who had the first chair by the door and whose real name I never knew. What little I did know about the man who clipped my hair every other week for eight or ten years was that he and his wife lived in a scary looking old house nestled into a sand dune just a few blocks up Pacific Avenue from the barber shop and that they were foster parents to a changing roster of teenagers just out of reform school. Or so the rumor went.

Bill’s Barber Shop was just what you’d think a 1950s barbershop would look like. Four big barber chairs on one side and a row of seats on the opposite side for people waiting for haircuts. Mirrors ran down two sides of the shop. On the rear wall was hung the aforementioned picture of dogs playing cards. My friends said they were guys straight at the barber program at the state penitentiary. There was a black janitor who hung out in the closet at the back of the shop and came out from time to time to sweep up the hair from the floor.

The latest issues of Field & Stream and Life magazine were on a little table near the door. There was a big hand cranked cash register at the end of the counter behind the barbers and the whole place smelled of Vitalis and Barbasol. A striped barber’s pole twirled outside.

Bill’s closed during the late 1960s. The Holly Famous Barber Shop, on the other hand, has been in continuous operation under different names for close to sixty years. Over the last ten or fifteen years, it’s been overseen by Darlene, who’s on a quest for peace in her life, and a changing cast of female barbers.

They don’t over promise. They are barbers, not stylists. This is not a salon. A no-nonsense haircut costs $14, plus tip. The signboard at the front door lists a variety of services. But I’ve never seen anyone get anything but a basic haircut there. There are no longer any pictures of dogs playing cards on the walls. But there are old pictures of Virginia Beach, surf pictures and postcards from places some of the regular customers have vacationed.

There are issues of Field & Stream and Sports Illustrated on the magazine rack. People, too. But the magazines that appear to get the most use are Maxim and Garden & Gun, if that tells you something about the mix of customers, which includes an eclectic blend of locals, everyone from surgeons and judges to oceanfront shopkeepers, waiters and drywall installers. The guys who work construction sometimes bring their dogs to the shop.

The defining link among the barbers is that they’ve all been done wrong by one or more husbands, lovers or boyfriend. They’ve been bounced around a lot. Most have pasts they’d rather not talk about. As such, they’re a scrappy bunch, hard working and dedicated to sustaining or regaining their independence.

The Holly Famous Barber Shop is a place of politics too practical to be pinned down to any one party. Politics really don’t factor into conversations much there anyway, unless it’s to complain about the municipal sewer project that’s shut down the street in front of the shop for several months. Mostly there’s just a lot of good-natured ribbing and flirting between the barbers and the customers. And I learned early on that it’s not wise not to raise the hackles of the woman cutting your hair over some silly political topic, especially when she’s the one holding the scissors over your head.


  1. Haaaa! Garden and Gun. Oh, maaaan.

    In the "salon" I go to, my hairdresser is one of those people who has honestly had a pretty hardscrabble life, but unlike your Holly Famous Barber Shop, she just loves to share it all with you. To look at her, she's attractive, and appears to "have it all together," but I can always count on her for some new drama during any of my six week stretches between visits. In all honesty, I have often thought she seems nonchalant about making what seems to me to be the completely wrong choices in every situation she ever describes to me. Some people kind of thrive on all the drama, I think. I kind of look forward to her stories--she's a character, for sure.

    Your memories of childhood haircuts are a riot.

  2. I only went to Holly's famous a few times but I remember spending a lot of time in the chair looking at the reflection of myself in the mirror being reflected back to me infinite times by the mirror on the opposite wall and wondering how many times my image was being reflected back and forth by the mirrors. I vaguely remember Bill's on Pacific and some hacks at Oceana NAS,,,,but I pretty much don't remember getting my hair cut very often back in the 70s..........