Putting our Heads Together

Putting our Heads Together
I don't think he sees me

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Splitting Hairs



Finally after too many weeks, I had time today to get a hair cut. It is not one of favorite things to do; it used to be, but not anymore. For a man with straight hair combed to the right (and yes I had to check that as I wrote this, my perspective of my hair comes from visits to the mirror which always leaves me turned around), I don’t need a salon to wash and rinse, style and set, massage tight shoulders, or even a latte while being primped by professionals. I just want my hair cut. Too many places are around that offer too many options; I am a man of simple needs.

As a little guy in Orangeburg, my mom took me and my brothers to Mr. Boyds Barber Shop. It was a small shop at the old Orangeburg Mall with two chairs equipped with leather strops; hair strewn warped linoleum floor, big mirrors, and the smell of talc. I remember going there from when I was little, and Mr. Boyd would slap down a board across the arm rests to raise me to cuttin’ height, slip the bib around me, and start cutting, talking all the while.

When I went away to Clemson for college, I found several barbers within easy walking distance of campus. I quickly learned on my only visit to Clint’s to tell the barber that I am not ROTC before he starts in with the clippers. It did not take me long to settle on Charles and Al’s as my regular barbers. They were happy men with sure scissors. They were also only two doors down from my favorite bar, and the meeting place for the Outta Control Track Club.

On my own; adult male at large, I moved to Colorado and engaged in a long and at times desperate search for a proper barber. After seven years, I stumbled upon Tom’s. Tom will always be the barber by which all other barbers are measured by for me. He was a round, congenial Hispanic man in his late sixties with thick graying hair and an infectious smile. I don’t think there was ever a time that I didn't go into Tom’s and find the visitor chairs populated by a few old men jawing among themselves and with Tom. They weren't waiting for haircuts, they were just there to gab and play checkers. Walking into Tom’s past the striped barber’s pole was like stepping not back into time, but outside of it, away from the world into a nexus of manly peace. As he cut my hair over the years, he talked, Tom loved to talk. I learned he was a divorced man whose girlfriend was his ex-wife – he said things worked better that way. He talked of the blizzard of ’62, of his first wife dying from an asthma attack, of how when he was a young man, he and his brother brought a cousin across the border and up to Colorado where they hid him in a barn. The capper was that this jolly man was also a motorcycle enthusiast who rode with great pride and as often as possible a blue Harley. Seeing Tom, I felt as if I was being groomed by history in thirty minute increments. He passed fifteen years ago, and I am sure he is missed by more people than just me.

In Tom’s wake, I have found no one. I tried a barber downtown but he was soulless and worked by appointment. Most other shops I try are operated by immigrant women who cut hair with acceptable skill, but the atmosphere is more foreign to me than their accents. My hair has now become a whore for sale to the cheapest bidder - $12 at Fantastic Sams, $15 at Cost Cutters, $8 at the shop I went to today (ten minutes start to finish by a stoic and somewhat rough Korean woman).

When I think of barber shops, I think of Floyd’s on the old Andy Griffith Show. It was not a caricature or an ideal, it was how barber shops were. I grew up with one version or another of it, following the form well into my adulthood until the trail went cold. How do I share this with my grandson? How do I even convey to him that at one time manhood began not with football, sports cars, or the latest Nikes, but with a kindly man placing a board with grey chipped paint across the armrests of his chair to trim your hair and tell you a story?

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Humid Beings


The Colorado Springs night sits cold and quiet, attended by the moon and stars. Snow patches glow softly, muted reflection of lights both heavenly and man made. The frigid air that is dry to the touch, cracks skin and chaps lips. That arid quality is a constant through the seasons here, and something that drive my thoughts back to humid life in my native South Carolina.

I eschew the hallowed "dry heat" of the West. Its status shilled by snake oil salesmen marketing this starkly beautiful, rugged, and parched land. The dry breezes, the dry heat, and the dry cold are all odorless and impersonal, leaving seasons incomplete, lacking some essential element of their personalities.

Seasons are distinct in the South because of humidity. In the winter she seeps through layers of protection; transfiguring simple cold to something more personal assuming residence in our joints. In spring she moistens the new life that honors her with vibrant colors. In the summer she carries the heat deep into the shade, into every crevice of the day. In the autumn she is like some transformative Hindu goddess, easing the natural compost of life into reincarnation for spring rebirth.

Humidity in the South is synonymous with the land’s context and inseparable from its holiness and hospitality. Humidity is protector, companion, and lover. Her presence is a shield thwarting an onslaught of Yankee immigrants, Northerners who believe our air oppressive and somehow worse than the polluted humidity of their great cities. Their stifling confines are too real and definable, while our moist and fecund world is of mythological and romantic proportions.

She greets us in the morning as we step from our homes, imbuing the air with the day's scents of decay and growth, of grass and pine, of pluff mud and swamps. She lazes about the day slowing our motions and greedy fervors, settling us into a more languidly paced life. She settles in the night as we retreat to the regulated comforts of our homes; waiting just outside, prepared to accompany us when the new day begins.

Humidity is a special intimacy that we are sanctified by each day. She draws us in with warm embrace, clinging with sensual desire, caressing the body with eddies of damp heat which flush the skin with pleasure, and curls and kinks the hair as if we were coursing with the raging hormones of youth. Moving within her constancy stirs some primal part of our brains, recalling the amniotic womb that sheltered us when we were nameless, infinitely dependent, and at our most vulnerable.

Humidity is the continuum of which all things are inexplicably bound in the South. She is a palpable ether, subtext, and lead character to the people that “speak right,” remember manners, and savor the counterpoint of ice cold sweet tea to the hot heavy air of a summer’s day. She is an anthem to my spirit, and a persistent siren call for me to return to my roots.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Radio Days

Smaller than a tissue box, it sat on the nightstand between our beds. It was hard green plastic with a black face and cardboard back. The dial glowed in the dark with soft, warm light. It held the interest of two boys who should have been asleep but were captured by voices broadcast from near and far on the AM band.

My brother and I connected through the radio to both the broader world in the night beyond our bedroom walls and to each other through its magic. We listened to sports, music, radio drama, and talk radio from local WDIX in Orangeburg to far flung WLS in Chicago, the dial was open territory and all was fair game.

We would listen to the incomprehensible hockey games of the Fort Wayne Komets on WOWO and the Philadelphia Flyers on some long forgotten station out of Philly. What did we Southern boys know of games played on ice? We became die-hard Braves fans as Milo Hamilton and Ernie Johnson guided us through many losing seasons. Still we were thrilled by Hammerin' Hank Aaron, Ralph “the Roadrunner” Garr, and Knucksie Phil Nekro. We would even dial into Philly games because we could never get enough baseball. Our basketball thirst was satisfied not by any pro team, but by the heroic efforts of Mike Dunleavy and John Roach who played for the Gamecocks under the near mythical Frank McGuire on WIS in Columbia.

I’m not sure of Chris, but talk radio really drew me in. When I was young there were such characters that roamed the airways. I remember Larry King before he was tainted by television. I listened to one host that instructed me to go outside beneath a full moon with outstretched empty wallet, turn around three times uttering "Filler Up" with each spin. Another distant regional personality continually claimed that Montana did not exist, because whenever he passed over it in travels it was night and therefore never any proof of the pilots assertions "We are now flying over Montana." I checked an rechecked maps, it certainly seemed like Montana was there to me, but how could I know?

It was the onslaught of the TV era when we were hooked on night time radio, but CBS radio still put together its weekly CBS Radio mystery theater, hosted by the wonderful voice of the venerable E.G. Marshall and produced by Hyman Brown. They performed adaptations of classics like Poe's The Black Cat, The Hand by Guy de Maupassant, and The Monkey’s Paw by W. W. Jacobs, as well as their own original radio plays. My brother and I were chilled and delighted by each broadcast. I loved these so much; my friend Jim Albergotti and I produced our own hilarious shows (at least to us!) recorded on cassette tapes.

Chris and I also would listen to music, not a lot but some. It was far from our main fare. For some reason the only song I can remember hearing from that blessed box in those days was Windmills of my Mind. Curious.

There were nights upon nights that Chris and I made these nocturnal excursions while never leaving our beds. Flights of imagination piloted by voices deep and resonating that would take us to the very edge of our dreams each night. I clung to my nighttime radio habit many years beyond when my brother and I got our own bedrooms.

Sadly as is the way of progress, shows went away, regional personalities gave way to syndicated ones, and airwaves became too crowded for my radio to reach out beyond the boundaries of South Carolina. I miss all those programs. I miss the endless variety that haunted random and magical points on the dial, and I miss Chris in his bed and I in mine listening to the static tinged world so vast beyond our walls.

Monday, April 15, 2013




It is a different world
Without you, Dennis.
Leaving us to wander in the wake of why

It is somehow wrong
That the sun still rises, the earth
Still turns relentlessly night to day to night

You were so strong
A lanky smile beneath
Your shock of thick perfect hair

Your daily toils
Honest and of the earth
In gardens that bent to your tending

Your humor irreverent
Enduring beyond your health
A salve to others, a shield to youself

The memory of how you
Turning your wasting into
A gaunt pale grace to ever be a legacy of how to live

We go on trying as you run and poise in eternity
To cling to your shadow, your earthly taunt and remain
Catching nothing in our futile grip, missing you then missing you