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The plight of a barbershop drifter

My mother’s longtime friend Jean McKenzie always maintains, “there are only three days between a bad haircut and good haircut.” The point being, if you wait a couple days, any haircut will look good. Jean always has a nice easy to care for hairstyle, and I don’t get the impression she spends many hours stressing over it in the beauty parlor.

I have been in search of the perfect haircut for many years. The truth is I am usually quite happy with every haircut I get. It’s my wife who often gives me a startled, borderline horrified look when I return from the barber and she asks, “Who did this to you?”

The odd time she says the hair cutter did a good job, but quite often it is too short in some places, or too long in others. One of her favoured observations is that the cut is well suited for someone in a mental institution. Like she would know about pysch ward fashion trends.

It’s not that I have grand expectations of the type of cut needed. I always say, “just a trim all over, I don’t want it to look too severe.” And then I let the professional take it from there.

Of course my wife might argue I’m not going to shops where they employ professionals. My criteria for a barbershop is based mainly on price and speed. I look for places offering haircuts for under $15, and I usually do a drive-by to make sure there aren’t too many people waiting. One of the best haircuts I ever got was a $14.95 job (before tip) and I was in and out of the shop in seven minutes. Now that’s a great barbershop. And as I recall the cut got a C+ rating from the Mrs., so that was a bonus. Unfortunately the place is on the other side of the city and not handy to get back to.

Way back when

It was simpler in the good old days. Growing up in my hometown of Chesterville, Len Giles was the barber so you went to Giles’ Barber Shop. My mother often took me there. In those days, when you got a hair cut, you made it count. Mom didn’t want to be bringing me back in a couple weeks for a trim. Those were cuts that carried you for six weeks or more — perhaps the whole summer.

There was also a barber about 10 miles in the other direction from the farm at a little community of Goldfield. I forget the barber’s name, but his feature was that his shop was open some evenings. So if a daytime cut wasn’t possible I would go with my dad and sometimes my brother to Goldfield and we’d all get a haircut. Those were long evenings, boy. There would be us three and then if there was one or two other people waiting, the whole evening was shot. And there was absolutely nothing to do in this shop — no TV, nothing — so you just sat and waited. Fortunately for my dad I was well behaved. That experience may be where speed of a haircut became an issue for me. I was probably traumatized by long evenings in the Goldfield barber shop, so now time is of the essence.

On the road

Later in life, working in Cranbrook, B.C. I went to Roy’s Barber Shop for many years. There were a few hairdressers in town, but really just the one barber, Roy Gaskell. My friend Barney would often go to a hairdresser, make an appointment and all that nonsense, but real men went to Roy’s place.

But since Cranbrook, I have been a barbershop drifter. When you live in different communities it can be hard to develop a relationship or bond with one hair cutter. My friend Mike has lived near the Crowsnest Pass in southern Alberta for more than 30 years and he always liked Hugo’s barbershop in Blairmore. I was there with him once. I think the price was right — $6 as I recall, but don’t be in a hurry. Going for a haircut at Hugo’s was almost an all day affair — slower pace, lots of visiting going on. Unfortunately Hugo had to retire due to ill health.

In Calgary there is just too much choice. I was going to a Lebanese barber for a while — a woman named Maha. And actually she did a good job. Price was a bit higher, about $20, but usually no waiting, and quite often her cuts got a B+ to A rating from “The Inspector.” Trouble is that Maha’s shop is about 10 or 15 minutes in a direction I don’t usually go, and her shop can be closed on those days when I suddenly decide I need a haircut.

So then I will quickly cruise the circuit I am familiar with, with my checklist — who’s open, any advertised specials and who’s not busy? My wife often points out, there is a reason these places are not busy.

Never mind Jean’s three-day rule on haircuts. My wife says it has been three weeks since my last haircut, and only now I’m looking like I don’t need a bib and help cutting my food when I eat. I didn’t think it was that bad. It was $17 with the tip, and total of 10 to 12 minutes. And I had said, “just a light trim.” I guess that may mean different things to different people.

I am not sure if there is a resolution to the perfect haircut, at the right price, without waiting, and not a lot of pre-planning. We’ve gone the ball cap route to cover it up in emergency situations, but that has it’s own adverse side affects — a bad haircut, complicated with hat head.

I probably should just make a point of planning my days and trips so I can get Maha to cut my hair. Or I may have to resign myself to simply taking my wife with me on hair cut days so she can supervise, but that would be a very last resort. Damn the expense, Maha warm up the scissors, here I come. †

About the author

Field Editor

Lee Hart

Lee Hart is editor of Cattleman’s Corner based in Calgary.

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