Tonsorial Fables

When the pandemic first came to town, we had no idea where this was all going. For all I knew, within days we were all going to be boarded up in our homes, while the sheriff’s men patrolled the streets, shooting anyone who ventured out. I laid in a few sacks of beans and rice and hoped for the best.

Within short weeks, however, two problems emerged that I hadn’t counted on. One was that I couldn’t get my hair cut, and the other was that there was no toilet paper left in the grocery stores. The first could have conceivably been solved by simply letting my thinning hair grow out to my shoulders and beyond. But there was no simple remedy for the other.

Having spent months on my grandfather’s farm as a lad, I knew that if one was away from the house when Nature called, you could use a variety of plants to accomplish a clean-up. With time you learned which plants scratched, which were fragile, which caused intolerable rashes, etc. Highly unpopular was any plant that had the word “thistle” as part of its name. Each child was an amateur botanist because they had to be. In the outdoor privies back at the homestead they used magazines, catalogs, telephone directories and other printed materials to fill in for TP shortages. So no big deal in the early pandemic days. After all it was springtime and foliage was coming on plentiful. But the prospect of an autumn and (God forbid) a winter without proper paper products was not a comforting one. That, however is another story.

Upon learning that the salons of the area were shutdown, I made some enquiries. I found that a brisk black market business in men’s haircuts had sprung up under a bridge outside of town where an enterprising and sturdily-built woman named Gertrudis brought her tools, expertise, and a pair of Carhartt overalls . The lady accepted any customer with a $20.00 bill in their hand. There was no choice of styles, however, you had to take what Gertrudis had to sell or be off with you and bother her no more.

This is where I might mention that this enterprising woman’s day job was as a sheep-shearer. What with the Honda generator to power her clippers, and a leaf blower to blast away the severed hairs from your clothing, it was all very intimidating. Many customers might have bolted at the last minute, but they found that those strong forearms that Gertrudis had developed from years of restraining Shropshires were a match for most men, and you were restrained as in a vise by one arm while the other did the necessary work on your locks.

I don’t have any photos of actual customers, as they were quite alarmed at the prospect of having their picture taken in such challenging circumstances. I did find, however, a pic of a newly shorn Shropshire, and I can tell you that the human clients looked pretty much the same.

As for me, I couldn’t handle the situation. I was standing in line waiting for my first Gertrudis haircut when the customer in the chair let out a scream and ran away bleeding profusely. He had moved at exactly the wrong time, the big clipper had its way, and he now had only half a right earlobe as a result. That was all it took for me to reconsider my options, which I did while doing a full-tilt boogie away from the bridge and back into the sunlight.

Next day I studied a few YouTube instructional videos, dropped by a local emporium, and was soon the proud owner of a Wahl hair cutting set for the amazingly low price of $24.99. Combs, a clipper, a tiny booklet … everything I needed. That same day I gave myself my first haircut and have been doing so ever since. As opposed to what happened when I used to go to that exclusive salon called Great Clips where my appearance would swing back and forth between shorn and shaggy, I now give myself a trim every week and always look the same. Mediocre, perhaps, but the same.

The price has gone up a bit, but just for interest, the kit looks like this. Bulletproof, cheap, and my own earlobes are still intact. (Notice that the box claims that the guards provide “goof-proof haircuts.” This is not exactly the case. Any goof worth their salt can still mess things up)

There was a learning curve, however, I will admit to that. The front always looked okay, but the back was another matter for quite a while. Not being able to see what I was doing behind me, the rear of my head looked pretty much like I was recovering from various sorts of haphazard neurosurgery for about two months as I acquired necessary skills.

When the rules loosened up and salons began to open up once again, Gertrudis packed up her equipment and disappeared. I hear that she is still working sheep ranches in our area, living in a caravan with one of her old customers, a man called Harry Feldenfelden. Harry was a man of rare temperament who found that he enjoyed being handled roughly by Gertrudis, had several repeat shearings from her over that first spring and summer of the pandemic, and eventually joined her on her travels.

Harry took up the fiddle as a pastime, as you can see from the picture at left. ‘Tis a couple well met.

Get A Haircut, by George Thorogood and the Destroyers

(The story told above is 50% falsehoods, 20% true, and 30% polyester.)

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From The New Yorker

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Yesterday Robin and I were out for a constitutional, walking on the path along the Uncompahgre River, and I was paying particular attention to the human/dog combinations who were sharing the path with us. Somewhere there must have been a class named How To Be A Proper Coloradan which I missed attending when I first came to this fine state. Dog ownership must have been stressed in that class, because I swear there were 2.4 dogs per human on the walkway today.

Most of the canines were very small breeds of the sort that you must often remove from your ankles where they have attached their tiny teeth in a vain attempt to appear ferocious. This afternoon they were on their best behavior, however, and there were no such incidents. I have owned several dogs in my life, but was never tempted to acquire one of the “toy” breeds. There was just not enough dog there to be attractive to me.

Let me tell you about Lady, a sweet creature who lived with us when my kids were quite young. One fine Sunday morning during my stint in the Air Force, my former wife and children returned from attending Unitarian services in Omaha (I was on call) with a largish cardboard box. A parishioner with a devious mindset had brought a bunch of mixed-breed puppies to church to share with anyone who wished to complicate their life, and he caught my wife at a weak moment.

Lady was so fluffy that it was difficult to tell which end was which, you had to keep turning her until you saw the eyes to know for sure. She had a fine temperament, the kids loved her, and she instantly became the seventh member of the family. She eventually grew to be a medium-sized animal, long-haired and with one of those curly Siberian Husky sort of tails.

She was not a biter, tolerated the good-hearted abuse that young children always dish out to pets, and except for one quirk, was pretty easy to have around. The quirk was that Lady became furious when in the presence of anyone of color. When the black meter-reader would come by our house in Buffalo NY, there was so much savage growling and tooth-baring that we had to restrain her and shove her into a room until he left the premises. A youngster named Peter who lived just down the street was unfortunate enough to have a disease that made him perpetually jaundiced, with a pronounced gray-green color to his skin. Lady could not be in the back yard playing with the kids whenever Peter was around.

One day we had gone to a nearby state park for an outing and were returning home. We were all tooling along in our VW microbus, with me driving and Lady riding shotgun with her window nearly all the way down due to it being a hot day and the fact that VW microbuses were not air conditioned. We were cruising at around sixty mph when Lady saw a large butterfly going by and out the window she flew to try to catch it. We were all horrified when we saw her leave the car, and in the rearview mirror I saw her hit the ground tumbling over and over in a cloud of dust.

I pulled the bus to a quick stop and ran back to where Lady was lying on the side of the road, fearing the worst and hoping to avoid having the kids see their friend all bloody and awful. But by the time I reached her she was sitting up looking a bit dazed and except for missing a patch of fur under her chin, she seemed none the worse for her vain attempt at flight. No broken bones … no bloody hide … nothing, although she was very quiet for an hour or so. By the time we had reached home she seemed completely back to her old self.

Lady was never allowed to use that seat again. From then on she was banished to the back of the bus whenever it was moving. Once was enough.

Old Blue, by Joan Baez

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A Dick Guindon cartoon.

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The Doonesbury cartoon this week was particularly informative, I think. A no-nonsense guide to becoming involved in social media.

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We finally have some wintry weather this week. Oh, nothing really to complain about, compared with what our Midwestern friends have suffered, but when it’s cold, damp, windy, and the sleet is flying by … that counts for something. It merits at least a four on the nasty scale, I think.

What would a ten be? I think that an Old Testament-style blizzard* would fit the bill. Heavy snowfall, wind over 45 mph, visibility down to a few feet in front of you. The kind where farmers would leave the house to go to the barn and lose their way, their bodies found days later when the skies finally cleared. Where children in one-room prairie schoolhouses were marooned with their teachers, burning the furniture for warmth until help arrived. Where livestock might freeze to death standing up in the snowdrifts. Those would be a ten.

On reflection … maybe today’s is just a three.

*I know, I know, there are no blizzards in the Old Testament. There’s not even any snow. But given the rest of what’s in those stories, if it did snow it’d be a blizzard. And a doozie at that.

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