The residents of Aroostook County, Maine generally consider themselves to be conservative by nature and it usually takes quite a while for new styles and fads to catch on. When the news finally reached Ashland that longer hairstyles were "in" for men, the news was greeted with wholehearted enthusiasm. The entire male population heaved a sigh that was equal to a condemned man's relief, when he hears that his death sentence has been rescinded.
The only barber shop in town was located on Main Street and it was sandwiched in between Michaud's Restaurant and Bushey's Clothing Store. The barber's name was Philbert and he was nearly seventy years old. At the mere mention of Philbert's name most of the male population quivered in their boots and headed for the liquor cabinet, the Maine State Liquor Store or the nearest bar.
In his younger days, Philbert was a pretty competent barber, but with advancing age and declining eyesight, he became known as the local menace. Any man, who needed to get a haircut, would usually stop off at Michaud's Restaurant to fortify his courage with a few bottles of beer before venturing on to the barbershop.
The conversation in the bar tended to run a little like this. "Jaysus Jake, ain't it time you got your ears lowered?" "Yup, I know. I been puttin it off as long as I could but this mornin my old lady told me not to come home until I got a haircut." "In that case Jake, let me buy you another beer, you're gonna to need it."
Philbert was a good old guy but he just wouldn't admit that he was getting old and his eyesight wasn't what it used to be. He'd squint at the next customer who was sidling into the crappy old barber's chair and say, "What'll it be sonny?" He never waited for an answer. He'd whip out his electric razor and with a touch that was akin to Braille, zoom up the back of the head two or three times, grunt, and take a feel of the left sideburn. He'd then drop his electric razor, grab his rusty scissors and snip off a few inches of hair. He wouldn't touch the right sideburn at all. Then he'd lift some of the hair on the top of the head, snip or as some folks said, pull out most of it by hand and you were done. He'd whip off the hair encrusted cape, peer intently at the next victim and say, "What'll it be sonny?"
Sometimes, he'd take a long look at the person sitting in the next chair and say, "Say, you must be a newcomer around here. I don't think I seen you before." "Jesus Philbert, the angry customer would reply, "I've lived here all friggin my life. Why don't you get some new glasses?"
Sometimes, Philbert would grab a warped mirror and shove it into the victim's hands to show them what a good job he'd done. If the customer happened to be stupid enough to point out to Philbert that he'd forgotten to cut off a few long hairs here and there, the old barber would simply grasp the offending strands between his thumb and forefinger and rip them right out! After experiencing that traumatic event, most people never bothered to point out anything he might have missed. They'd wait until they got home and let their wives finish the job.
Most of the town's kids used to whine and plead with their parents not to force them to go to Philbert's for a haircut and over the years, Sears & Roebuck and Montgomery Wards catalogs did a brisk business in the "do-it-yourself" home haircutting kits. All the kids would rather risk having their mothers make them look like fools rather than take a chance on Philbert.
London had nothing on Ashland in regard to the "latest" hair fashions. We had the punk rock haircut in our small town long before it became popular in England. The standard comment in the fifty's and sixty's at Ashland Community High School upon seeing someone with a really strange hair cut was: "I see you went to flub-up Philbert's."
The other oft-told story told around town was: "A man went into Philbert's for a haircut the other day. Old Philbert peered at him and said, "How do you want it sonny?" The customer, with just a hint of sarcasm in his voice, replied, "I want you to shave off the left sideburn right up to my temple but leave the right sideburn alone. Then want I want you to cut all my hair off in the back right down to the bare skin. On the top, just take one swipe down the middle but leave a long fringe on my forehead hangin right down over my eyebrows." Hearing this request, Philbert would blink a couple of times, squint his watery eyes and gape at the man. "Jesus sonny, why in hell would you want your hair cut like that?" "Well," Replied the customer. "That's the way you cut it the last time!"
Philbert may have been old but he had the mind of an eighteen year-old! If anyone was foolish enough to insult him or his haircutting ability, he remembered it till the day he died and he always paid that person back in one way or another. If he even heard that a "regular" customer had slid away to another barber's establishment in the neighboring towns of Squa Pan, Masardis, Portage, Mapleton or Presque Isle, he'd lie in wait like a fox and he was very, very patient.
Every now and then, he'd toss the missing patron's name out in a general conversation and wait to see the reaction of the man's friends. Upon hearing the man's name, the other customer's would slide their eyes sideways and lie their asses off. "Did you say Henry Dion?" They'd ask innocently. "Why, I believe he's workin up along the Canadian boarder for the Great Northern." Or "Henry?" "Oh, I jist heard yestiday that he'd taken a job in Mars Hill for a farmer down that way." They'd lie all the while knowin that Henry was slinkin off to another barbershop somewhere close by.
But old Philbert was a patient, patient man. He's long career of dealin with the public had taught him a couple of things, one, a man's hair never quit growin and two, an emergency like a funeral or a surprise weddin, always brought those little rats back to his shop. Sooner or later, they'd be standin in his door wantin a quick trim. The barber would eye them up and down real good and then he'd flip his hair-encrusted cape sideways with a snap like a bullfighter and in a tone heavily laden with sarcasm, say, "Please ta meet yah, stranger. Now what kin I do for you today?" The offending customer would sidle into the barber's chair, hopin against hope that the old man would not have noticed that he'd not entered his shop for a period of several months.
But, the old barber wasn't fooled, not one bit! He'd grab his trusty, rusty old clippers; flip the switch to on and with a sound that a B52 makes as it begins its final landing approach over to Loring, he'd commence to trimmin. He trimmed so much and so close that the customer had slid way down in the seat, trying not to give Philbert so much head to cut on.
As old Philbert made his last cutting approach he'd stop and yell directly into the customer's ear, "Fer good Christ's sakes, Sonny, could yah stop flinchin and sit up in yer chair! "I been doin this a good long time and I ain't kilt anyone yet!" And with that, he'd zoom over the head a couple of times more and he was done. He'd turn, grab his crooked mirror, slap it into the patron's hands and snarl, "Have a good look Sonny, and let me know if it's to yur likin. Maybe you'd wanta be consultin your other barber to see if I done it right!"
By now, the customer knew that it was too late. As he carefully slid the warped mirror into view, his eyes told him what he already knew deep down in his gut. There wasn't a single strand of hair left on his entire head! Old Philbert had his revenge!
Old Philbert passed on to that great, big barber shop in the sky not too long ago and we now have a new, very efficient barber. However, with Philbert's death, we lost a beloved town character and the barbershop is just a regular barbershop now.
I felt sad about Philbert's demise and as I thought about the ending to this story. I had to laugh, knowing Philbert; I could just imagine him arriving in Heaven armed with his faithful clippers, rusty scissors and cape. He'd probably take a quick look around and then he'd walk right up to Jesus or St. Peter, take a long look at their flowing tresses, whip out his plastic cape and say, "Say, I ain't seen you around here before. What'll it be sonny?"
Autobiography of a Simple Soul
Memories, Another Place - Another Time
Recently Published Articles include:
Great Uncle Hal
Charley, The Lazy Goose
Diary of Death
Ashland High School Graduation - 1963
Mr. Bunners & the Snowman
M. Stevens-David Review: "I Am a Wish" by Marie Callegari
Childrens Stories include:
See also Vengeance is Mine a short mystery novel published at Magic City over 4 days.
All works by Martha Stevens-David published at Magic City Morning Star News are her copyright property and may not be reproduced without her permission.