Tuesday, April 23, 2002

Invading the men's hair club

        Even though my brother had the really cool toys — an electric train and a cap gun — I never suffered from the envy famously described by Freud. But I did have Pete Envy.

        Hair care for little girls in the 1950s, at least in our family, was accomplished in the home. When my bangs got too long, my mother would announce ominously that I looked like “a sheep peeking through a thicket” and she would plaster them to my forehead, then carefully cut them too short. They looked like a visor for a couple of weeks.

        When the rest of my hair needed a trim, she'd whack that off, too. Sometimes, she covered a bad haircut with something worse — that most vile amateur cosmetic procedure, a Toni Home Permanent. Once, after a particularly disastrous session, my mother threw in the towel and sent me to a professional.

        “This child's hair is actually swollen,” the woman said. “I have to cut it all off.”

        I begged my mother to let me stay home from school until my hair grew, but she said I'd probably miss the entire third grade and possibly long division.

        It was pretty short.

        My brother, Steven, on the other hand, was making regular trips to Pete Lones, a professional barber. He was lounging around in a big red leather chair reading Boy's Life and listening to men solve the world's problems, surrounded by manly tonics and creams in tall bottles.

A whiff of the past

        This I could see from the window. I always wondered what it was like inside. So I took my nosy, liberated self to see Tom Cottingham, who has been in the same location for 32 years. His establishment, the Barber Shop of Harrison, is located just off Main Street there.

        Tom uses a laptop computer now, but “everything else is just about the way I remember it when I was a fidgety kid,” promised Sean Grandstaff. The big red chair, a fish tank, golf memorabilia all over the place. Tom purely loves the game.

        A financial planner living now in Cleveland, Sean goes back to his boyhood barber “every chance I get.” For a haircut, of course, but also for a dose of Tom. And maybe a little whiff of life as it used to be. “I always loved his bad jokes,” Sean says. “Not tasteless or dirty, just groaners.”

        The jokes are mostly of the “Women, you can't live with 'em, you can't live without 'em” variety. Gentle. Male. Tom has lived with the same woman, Rose, for nearly 37 years. A breast cancer survivor, Rose has regular chemotherapy treatments on Wednesdays, Tom's day off. The day he used to golf.

        “Hey, no big deal,” Tom says. An easy choice to make, he insists.

        Tom sells haircuts for $9 for retired men and $9.75 otherwise. Children under 12 are $9.50. The Barber Shop of Harrison does not offer razor cuts, color, perms or manicures. Just an atmosphere where a boy can still come for a first haircut and get the works, including a complimentary envelope to send the curls home to his mother.

        “All I know is that I always feel better when I see the guy,” Sean says.

        This is just as I suspected back in the days when my brother was having his curls professionally shorn by Pete Lones. And I felt a familiar twinge of envy.

        E-mail lpulfer@enquirer.com. Past columns at Enquirer.com/columns/pulfer.


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