Southern Life

Confidentially, this situation with my hair is not good.

My hair constantly tries to defy and spite me. It’s lazy, uncooperative and has what is commonly referred to as ‘an attitude.’ Lately its been impossible…lies down and rests when it should be doing something else … standing up when it ought to be laying down…you know the type. It plays these insufferable pranks too…like sprouting from places that it never has grown from before and hiding in completely unexpected venues — like my ears. Finding hair suddenly growing out of my nostrils was frightening.

Not too long ago, it played a particularly mean trick.  One night, without my permission, my hair disguised itself and turned from black to gray. I was not amused. If I had tried that stunt when I was growing up… well, believe you me, nobody would’ve tolerated it. I might not even be here to write about it.

I’ve figured out that my hair may have an identity crisis. I’m pretty sure that it thinks it’s really kudzu. I mean the stuff grows fast… real fast … like there’s no tomorrow. If I didn’t know better, I’d swear the stuff was on steroids.

Oh, it’ll promise to ‘do better’. You know,  behave itself for a few days. But then, three, maybe four days after a new cut, the stuff returns to its recalcitrant, rebellious ways. On occasion, after a night out with the boys — and especially one with the girls — its even been known to be drunk and disorderly.

Friends tell me not to worry. “It’s just going through a phase.” Easy for them to say — they don’t have the problem like I do. Their hairs are all grown up and ‘out of the house.’ My friends are ’empty nesters’, if you get my drift. It’s not a problem for them anymore. As for me, I’ve tried everything: punishment, talking to it as if it were a house plant, even conditioning it. I’ve even tried taking the hair brush and giving it a few whacks. Call it behavior modification.

So far nothing has worked. I think it may even need re-hab.


“I don’t know what are going to do with your hair.” While he surveys the damage on my head, the barber wears that same exasperated look that I’ve seen ten thousand times before.

“That’s why I brought it in, Marvin. Now, it’s your problem — not mine.” He takes his left hand and positions my head in a more or less  north by northwesterly direction, the exact position that he wants it in for shearing.

Marvin Bishop, Jr. has been my barber ever since a time historians refer to as the ‘Age of No’ — a time when there was NO Internet, NO cell phones, NO ATM’s, and NO ‘a whole bunch of other stuff’.

“I been tellin’ you for years, Will,   that you weren’t raising it the right way.”  “You didn’t train it to behave. Now keep your noggin still, else you’re going to make me mess up!… and quit lookin’ around. Look straight ahead. You know everybody here. We’re all friends. You don’t have to look at ‘em to hear what they’re saying.”

Even at this early hour on an ‘almost spring’ Thursday, the place is crowded. The antiseptic smell of Barbarsol is already in the air.

“Here…here, take this. Just don’t turn the channel to anything that’s stupid, Cantrell. We all know how you are.”

And while he does know ‘how I am’, he hands me the remote control to the television mounted on the south wall of the barbershop. The TV is one of those new flat screen jobs that gets a zillion channels and programs that originate from the moons of Jupiter. The damn thing is big enough to need its own set of drapes and I sometimes think that there is a projectionist hidden in the  wall behind it.

I turn the channel.

“Pink… it’s the new black!” The proclamation is made by the morning TV show’s female co-host. We’ve caught her in mid sentence. I’ve seen her before. She’s been on this show for years but this morning something about her is different from the last time I looked… something that I can’t quite put my finger on. At least not at first.

Aha! Now I’ve got it

Blonde must also be the new brunette, at least as decreed by her network’s policy regarding on-air talent. Nevertheless, the woman is still pretty. She is also pretty determined that the world will soon be ensconced in ‘pink ‘… and liking it!

The brunette turned suddenly blonde  has not come alone. While she narrates, a half dozen supermodel types sashay across the TV screen. Each  is wearing some supposed dangerous hue of pink. They walk along a catwalk in that urgent, unreasonable way that models walk, one that NASA scientists have recently discovered means “These fashionable shoes are killing my feet. I’m also in a tight … I need to find a bathroom, fast!” (You’d think that in the same post modern world that developed the vaccine for polio, whooping cough, and the croup, somebody — Jonas Salk, Steve Jobs, maybe Flava Flav — would have, by now, found a cure for the way that models walk. Sadly this is not the case.)

“This year, the well dressed woman will be wearing a plethora of pink. Men too! Even The Donald will be wearing pink — shirts, shorts, ties, and socks…”

“How the hell does she know what color drawers Donald Trump is wearing,” blurts out a voice to my left, setting off a range of usual barbershop …er, ‘advisorss’.

“I’m partial to camouflage myself”, says another.

“You need camouflaging”, says someone else.

“Nothing beats khaki, ‘cept plaid. It’s my favorite color.”

“Plaid ain’t a color, you idiot. It’s a pattern.”

“I don’t care. I ain’t wearing pink nothing. I don’t care what that skinny broad on the TV says. Those models need to eat something. All of ‘em look hungry to me.”

In addition to haircuts, the real specialty at Marvin’s is ‘mulling’–mulling questions that have tormented scientists, philosophers and theologians for centuries: ‘Are we alone in the universe?’ ‘Who killed Kennedy?’, ‘What are those Kardashian women really up to?’

Before the TV supermodel’s interruption, the topic de jour was “What in tar nation is wrong with our kids? U.S. kids are lagging behind the rest of the world’s kids in school. It’s embarrassing.”

“Anyway, like I been tryin’ to tell you guys, it’s the parents. Dumb parents begets dumb kids is all I’m sayin’.

“It’s in the Bible”, interjects someone else that I can’t quite see while I am trying to keep my head still and straight — lest Marvin mess up. He’s warmed to the task, trying mightily to deal with my wayward hair.

“So you’re sayin’ that I’m part of the problem? If you are, you’re wrong… cause for darn sure, I’m not. My kids did great on that C-R-B-T or whatever they call it, ” I hear another voice say. He’s at least mildly irritated.

“In my day…” begins someone else.

Rodney Howard, another of Marvin’s long time customers, makes an entrance to the already full barber shop.”Good morning gentlemen.”

“Hey Marv, it’s my birthday Marvin. Do I still get a free cut today?”

“It’s your fiftieth, right? Hell, Rod, you don’t have that many hairs left to cut,” laughs Marvin. “But yeah, you get a free cut on your birthday. Happy birthday, Rod.”  Marvin has developed a Rolodex memory system in his head in which he remembers the names of wives, children, dogs and even birthdays of  hundreds of clients.

“Fifty is the new thirty, ya know” says Rod.  “Read it in the wife’s Cosmo. Heck, I think that they’re right too. I don’t feel a day over thirty. Anyway, it’s a nice day for a birthday. Weatherman says that it’s going to be an eight today.”

“No way is it an eight. The guy on Channel 11 says today is a seven… and he uses an eleven point scale. That means it’s really a six.

Lately, our local TV stations have taken to rating the upcoming day’s weather. Rather than saying,”it’s going to be a nice day,” they’ve been assigning a number or even a letter grade to the day’s predicted weather.

“What guy said today was an eight?”

“Hal Goodlookinhair on Channel 4.”

“Apple Bottoms on Channel 49 is my favorite weatherman. She uses the alphabet to rate the weather. She says today is going to be a B-minus day.”

“Last time I checked, Apple was not a weather MAN…”

“Hey guys, look, here’s an incoming Sports-News Bulletin from Channel 19,” alerts Travis Watson.

“This is Channel 19’s Skip Sideburns. We interrupt this broadcast to bring you this bulletin. Slick Badfella, the Sidewinders’ All-Star point guard has been traded to California for future considerations.

Sports fans, this is good news. Badfella was a cancer on the team. A real no-goodnik if there ever was one. Our Sidewinders will be better off because of this trade. It’s addition by subtraction.”

“Hell, I agree wit Ol’ Sideburns. Badfella is just a jerk.

“Getting’ back to the kids, I say the problem is that we give ’em too much. I tell ya something else…”

His weekly trim completed, Horris Greentea rises from the sixth and last barber’s chair. Although he looks no more than seventy – maybe seventy five years old — by all estimates, Horris is pushing a hundred. The legend is that Mr. Greentea has outlived three wives and several offspring. Of course, for as long as any of us have known him, Horris has been an old man.  Once, in the Age of No, I asked him the  secret of life.  “Two shots of vodka a day and the fact that I have stayed away from churches and ministers, kid,” he winked.

“I been listening to you fellas yap for over an hour now. I reckon all of you must be blind. Deef too. Plum deef. Pink is black! Fifty is thirty! And what one of you fools says is an eight, another one of ya sez is a damn seven… or maybe a six. One of ya even says it’s a “Q”. And the guy on the dang TV, Skip Whathisface, says that the best way to add is to subtract. What kind of foolishness is that? No wonder your kids and grandkids are behind the rest of the world. You’ve confused the hell out of ‘em.”

Having said his peace, Greentea slowly surveyed what had become a suddenly quiet barbershop, gave us that wink of his — and taking no questions  — hurriedly left the premises.

The small enclave still left in the shop, the same ones seeking the truth about why our kids ‘can’t read, did a collective gulp and just looked at each other. Sometimes answers to questions are ‘right there’ in front of you, hiding in plain sight, — where you’d least expect it. Of course, we were also all satisfied that out of the collective wisdom of Marvin’s Barbershop, we had solved yet another age old problem…even if the problem wasn’t that ‘ old’ and even if we had to have help from someone who was likely approaching… er, well… immortality.

You can learn a lot if you just keep your head still…and look straight ahead. Problem solution is one of the little extras that Marvin offers as part of his menu, a  fringe benefit, one might call it.

It’s just too bad that Horris Greentea was in a hurry. I’m sure the old man could’ve figured out what to do about my hair.

© Copyright 2011 Will Cantrell

Will Cantrell

Will Cantrell

Will Cantrell (a pseudonym) is a writer, storyteller, and explorer of the milieu of everyday life. An aging Baby Boomer, a Georgia Tech grad, and a retired banker, Cantrell regularly chronicles what he swears are 'mostly true'  'everyman' adventures. Of late, he's written about haircuts, computer viruses, Polar Vortexes, identity theft, ketchup, doppelgangers, bifocals, ‘Streetification’, cursive handwriting, planning his own funeral and other gnarly things that caused him to scratch his head in an increasingly more and more crazy-ass world.   As for Will himself, the legend is at an early age he wandered South, got lost, and like most other self-respecting males, was loathe to ask for directions. The best solution, young Will mused, “was just to stay put”. All these years later, he still hasn't found his way but remains  a son of the New South. He was recently sighted somewhere close to I-285, lost, bumfuzzled and mumbling something about “...writing' his way home.” Of course, there are a lot of folks who think that “Cantrell ain't wrapped too tight” but hope that he keeps writing about his adventures as he finds his way back to the main highway.