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The Christmas Haircut

Page 2

Neil Blick

“You’re a number three back and sides not too short on top?” he states in an enquiring tone.

A slight nod from the man in his chair. His patter is the same, his cuts tailored to each customer who will hold his head steady in a Buddha-like pose. They stare into the large mirror, often avoiding their own eye contact, watchful of Milton’s concentration. Seeing Milton’s own baldness provides its simple irony.

Customers re-enter every six weeks, or thereabouts, because “That’s how long it takes for hair to shoot from neatness to scruffy”. Milton understands men’s hair better than most know their own. He sees it from all angles, watches as age and fashion slowly transform to the succeeding phase. He listens to men talk, or stay mute. Men watch as their locks drop onto the blue, nylon smock they briefly wear, before Milton draws it away with a well-practiced flourish of his hands. Cut hair is now debris on the tiled floor.

Milton can tell when someone wants to talk. Not that he asks questions, because Milton does not talk very much. He sticks to his script. He also knows the W.C. Fields line; when asked by the barber, “How would you like your haircut?” Fields replied, “In complete silence”. Thus Milton follows the same prattle from one customer to next. “I guess this is the highlight of your day!” A routine that has served him well for the past 30 years and will do so into the next. Somehow it seems barbers retire late in life. This could be due to low income, or maybe spending so much of their working lives standing on a rectangular rubber mat, stationed below a large chrome chair, maybe it keeps them fit. Not that Milton stands exactly, he moves in a slow, genteel skip. A dance around each client, stepping from side to side, bending to snip, standing higher to clip, each move calculated to a well-practiced method.

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