A Cut for Life
Shop talk.


Stephen Spruiell

Columbus, Ohio – It was the middle of the afternoon. I was killing time in a coffee shop, just a short walk from the spot in downtown Columbus where John McCain and Arnold Schwarzenegger were scheduled to speak at an evening rally. I looked out the window and noticed an old-fashioned barber pole outside a storefront window across the street. It had been awhile since my last haircut, so I decided to stop in for a trim.

The sign out front said “Walk-ins welcome.” Another, taped to the door, announced that prices had recently gone up — $17.25 was the new cost of a men’s cut. Increase or no, it sounded reasonable to me. I walked in and saw two empty barber’s chairs. A middle-aged barber rose from a chair by the door to greet me.

He had a kind, weathered face, and he smiled. “You must be my 2:30,” he said. I didn’t have an appointment, but I assumed he was making a joke about the empty shop. I played along — “Yep, that’s me” — and started to sit down. Then another guy walked in, and the barber looked confused. He asked the new guy, “Are you my 2:30?”

It turned out that neither of us was. The other guy rescheduled, and I agreed to sit and wait. Minutes later, the person who had actually made the appointment walked through the door and greeted the barber as though the two were old friends.

The 2:30 was a jumpy man in his early 40s, clad in flannel and jeans and slightly balding under a wool cap. He had clearly been to this barber before and made several references to his “tab”; from their repartee I gathered that the barber often cut this man’s hair for free.

The barber asked the man where he was staying these days, and the man replied that he was still at the YMCA. The barber said, “Well, it’s warm and dry,” and the man nodded: “Yeah, you know I’ve had it worse.”

The man asked about the barber’s wife. From his tone, I gathered that she had been sick. The barber said that she had passed a week ago. “It’s O.K,” he said, “because now she’s not in pain like she was.” But he said it wasn’t easy to lose the person you shared your life with, and it was hard to get used to.


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