Next time I get my ears lowered, I’m raising my standards


I wandered past a mirror the other day and stopped to take stock of myself. In the still of the morning, I could almost hear my late grandfather’s voice saying, “You need to get your ears lowered.”

There are plenty of things I took for granted before the quarantine set in, and the simple task of getting a haircut is near the top of that list. Heading off to the barbershop with my dad to “get my ears lowered” is among my earliest, and fondest, memories.

We’d walk through the front door and set a little bell a-ringing, which drew the attention of the barbers as they clipped away. We’d usually get a nod and maybe a grunt depending on how busy they were before they went back to talking to whoever happened to be in the chair at the moment.

We’d take a seat, making a mental note of who was ahead of us. I’d usually grab a Sports Illustrated, and my dad would wade into the conversation. 

I was always amazed at the panel of experts who convened in those shops every Saturday morning. As I thumbed through my magazine, I’d often find myself halfway listening as all the world’s problems were solved in short order by a collection of seemingly ordinary guys in flannel shirts. 

One by one, the men would climb into an empty chair and start in talking about the weather and which fish were biting, though they were very careful never to mention where they were catching all these fish. Men tend to guard a good fishing hole the way women guard family recipes. 

Once it was my turn, I’d sit up tall and straight, doing my best to sit still as those scissors snipped ceaselessly around my head. The whole thing ended with some lather on the back of the neck and a few swipes of a straight razor.

We moved around quite a bit when I was young, but the barbershop never seemed to change no matter what city, town or state we found ourselves in. I chalk that up to my dad’s formula for picking a barber. There’s probably an app for it these days, but back then, all my dad had to go on was a set of criteria he developed over years of trial and error. 

The first rule was that any barbershop worth its salt should have a barber pole, and that pole should be in good working order. My dad also seemed to shy away from shops with more than two chairs. A three-chair operation would be considered, but any more than that seemed to be a deal breaker. I’m pretty sure extra points were given to establishments with wood paneling, and a mounted trout or deer head on the wall also reflected well on the place.

Saturday haircuts remained a constant in my life until my brothers and I reached the age where we wanted more trendy hairstyles. Since the barbershops we went to only offered three flavors – active duty, reserve or flattop – we started insisting on going to a stylist. 

When I struck out on my own, I took a more cavalier attitude toward hair care. Getting a haircut was just another chore to check off my list, like getting the oil changed or running by the bank. As a result, I’ve usually just gone to whoever is cheapest.

However, this current global pandemic has rekindled my yearning to walk into an honest-to-goodness, genuine barber shop on a Saturday morning. I’m ready to take my place in that perpetual conversation while I wait for my turn in the chair.

I may not be able to help solve all the world’s problems, but it sure will feel good to walk out into the warm, spring air with a clean-shaven neck.


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