Three or so years back I was getting my haircut by a guy named Rodney at a fancypants Hair Design
studio in the Loop/University City area of St. Louis. My girlfriend at the time talked me into
going there claiming it was actually worth $25 to get your hair cut really, really well.
I gave in as all men do when it’s easier than fighting about it. I put up with the foo-foo
atmosphere. I put up with the price. I put up with the girlfriend. And Rodney did do a pretty
A year later however, shortly after the girlfriend became an Exgirlfriend, Rodney raised his
prices to $32 a cut and I began looking for a new place to go.
My friend Brian had been going to this barber in Webster Groves, Missouri for a
few years and spoke very highly of the place and the sole barber in residence, Charlie.
So one sunny Fall morning, hungover and tired, I drug myself into the barbershop at 9 AM.
Charlie turned out to be an amiable old man, a perfect stereotype of anyone’s kind grandfather.
He wore the classic barber garb and his hair gave off that particular oily glint reminiscent
of the hair tonics and oils of years long gone.
There was only one guy in his 40’s getting his hair cut and no one else waiting. I noticed
the man in the chair was balding and didn’t have much hair left to cut and considered myself
lucky I wouldn’t have to wait long.
I went to the back of the barbershop where there was a small waiting area and picked up
a copy of National Geographic. Is there any barbershop out there that doesn’t have
a subscription to National Geographic? I think it’s a Union thing.
A short time passed and suddenly I became distracted from the magazine by a weird sort
of humming, buzzing sound coming from the front of the shop.
Now keep in mind here, as I was growing up my parents carted my so-called "shaggy hair" into
an oldtime barbershop in the County called "the Coachlight" where a barber named
Harry and sometimes another guy named Vince cut my hair for nearly ten years.
So I’m definetly not naive to the lathers, tonics, tools and techniques of barbers. But Charlie was doing something I had never witnessed in a barbershop before.
He was wearing a huge bulbous chrome contraption on one of his hands. It hummed softly as he
rubbed down the mans’ neck and shoulders. A cord ran from the contraption to a socket on the wall.
The man in the chair read the paper calmly like this was an ordinary event.
I watched transfixed.
Finally, I came to the conclusion this was some sort of extra package you had to pay more for.
The massage package? But there were no signs, no prices. No doubt about it, this was weird.
Soon Charlie was done with the humming contraption. The man paid him and left. Ane now it was my turn…
I hopped up into the elevated chair in the front window and Charlie fitted me with the barber’s cape, and collar.
He did a great job on my hair. I mean, for whatever price he was going to charge me – you got the whole nine yards: a twenty minute cut with all the typical barber trimmings.
While he cut my hair I noticed old faded, blue tattoos on his forearms and before long I had him telling stories about his years in the Merchant Marines. (I won’t get into what a Merchant Marine was. If you ever saw the play or read Tennessee Williams’ "The Glass Menagerie" you’ll know what one was.)
I listened to Charlie’s stories and watched the mailman, UPS delivery men and townspeople stroll up and down Lockwood Avenue from my high window barber’s seat. Leaves blew around in little whirlwinds and coasted by the window on their way down the street.
Finally, he lathered up my neck, my sideburns and behind my ears with a warm shaving soap
and brought out the precision straight razor for that cleaner than clean shave. He cut a few more hairs
off before he insisted I look over his handiwork in a few mirrors at every possible angle.
And with the task complete Charlie says,
"You got time for the vibrator?"
Now trust me, if I hadn’t seen him using that humming, buzzing contraption on the other guy I would have probably dropped a twenty spot without answering and run out of the barbershop as quickly as I could. I often wonder what would have happened if I had walked in alone and missed the earlier demonstration.
I looked around the shop and noted pictures of children and grandchildren. Based on this, curiosity and the fact the other guy hadn’t objected, I said, "Sure."
The weird thing was that it felt great. It WAS a vibrator, but different from the other kind of vibrator, the one that would have sent me running. He used the chrome contraption to massage my shoulders and neck until I nearly fell asleep. It did wonders for the hangover.
Total cost for the haircut was $8.00. I paid, tipped and thanked Charlie and walked outside into the morning sunshine feeling much better than before.
On Monday, I strolled into work sporting my new precision haircut. At the time I was "Webmaster" (what a horribly demeaning title for a technical position) for a toy company that will remain unnamed if only because future stories might be about working there.
In the mornings I would often stroll into the Electronic Gaming department where there was always something absolutely hilarious or entertaining going on. My good friend Brian, who had originally steered me to Charlie, worked in the department as did some of the coolest and funniest people I have met in my life.
So anyway, I stroll in that morning and Brian says, "Hey, great haircut.
How’d you like Charlie?"
"Well, yeah, I got a great haircut," I said, rubbing the clean stubble on my neck. "He really did a great job, and the lather and everything was great… But WHAT’S UP with that vibrator?"
And now with everyone in the rooms attention grabbed, Brian says:
The aftermath you can guess—me trying to explain, everyone laughing pretty hard and insinuating some pretty horrible things. There was much speculation about the vibrator.
I tried to explain what the vibrator was. But the only response I got was, “Weird. Totally weird man.”
Brian, as it turned out, wasn’t kidding. He insisted that in a few years of going to Charlie he had never witnessed or had any vibrator used on him. No one else in the room (or at work that day) had ever heard of such a thing.
Luckily for me Brian was due for a haircut. The very next weekend he went in to see Charlie and got asked the very same question, "Got time for the vibrator?" My reputation at the toy company was saved.
I still go to Charlie to this day but sometime in past year or so the vibrator has disappeared.
Did he get in trouble for it? Did some other guy slug Charlie or run out of the shop after being presented with the vibrator question? Did a pervert come in and enjoy it TOO much? Jesus, for Charlies’ sake I hope not.
Whatever happpened, I’m not about to ASK for the vibrator. Perhaps one of these days when we aren’t talking about his grandchildren, the Merchant Marines, Vegas or gambling, I’ll ask him about the story behind the contraption. When I do, I have it in my mind to talk him into calling it something other than "the vibrator." Any suggestions?