“A prating barber asked Archelaus how he would be trimmed. He answered, ‘In silence.'” — Plutarch
Throughout my forty-five years in Fargo-Moorhead, there have been barbers. Sure, we have our share of uni-sex salons and stylists, but they hardly evoke recollections of “It’s a Wonderful Life” or “Music Man.”
Men of a certain age hanker for a barber (preferably a male) in an setting without ferns or feathers. There’ve been a handful of such places here, but they were joined recently by Everett’s Barber Shop on Broadway. Two of the chairs are staffed by women but they have recently been joined by two men — each sporting 19th-century topiaried face-fur to reassure the wary.
In late 19th century Agincourt, the manly ritual of a morning shave was as regular as pie and coffee at the Bon Ton. A businessman’s morning began with his stop at the barber shop for banter about politics, sport, and weather; then conversation muffled by steamy towels, the clunk-thunk of making lather and the slap of razor on leather strop. Eventually the patron left in a cloud of bay rum.
But the shop was so much more than cigars and bonhomie (though those were both present). It was as essential to urban life as the stoa had been in the ancient Athenian agora, a place for commerce of all sorts: for the exchange of information and ideas; for wheeling, dealing and other sorts of business and boasting; a “bar” without the booze. Like Las Vegas, what happened there stayed there.
And there would have been several, on the right and wrong sides of the track; a shop for every budget. Someone once asked my father’s second wife, a beautician, about the difference between a $35 perm and the $50 version. “Fifteen bucks,” she said bluntly, because there was no appreciable difference in either the product or its application, other than the satisfaction of having afforded something conspicuously above one’s usual station in life.
Apart from the different skills involved, the personality profiles of barber and bartender are indistinguishable: limited conversation; stock phrases; the ability to feign interest, even concern; to agree without actual commitment; to stand for something without being able to pinpoint what that “something” is. Agincourt will have had its share of these virtual psychologists; you can tell because they’re busy.
“There was a barber and his wife,
And she was beautiful.
A foolish barber and his wife.
She was his reason and his life,
And she was beautiful,
And she was virtuous,
And he was… naive.” — Sweeney Todd