Thursday, October 18, 2007

Stories of Iowaville: Jake the Barber

Jake the barber's lonely daughter
Went down to her daddy's shop
She plugged herself to a barber pole
And took a little off the top

-Living In the Future by John Prine



I was shaking like a leaf when I sat down in the chair and the cord was cinched tight around my neck. The green folds of plastic draped across my legs like a cape worn on the wrong side. Jake spun the chair around so that I was facing the mirror, eyed me up and proceeded to cut my hair with a very sharp pair of shears. I kept an eye on my ears wondering if that would be the last time I saw them whole.

Jake the barber of Iowaville, had a small shack built onto a vacant lot just north of Thomas Grocery where an old building had been removed, well before my time on earth had begun. A beauty shop would move into a building up the street several years later but at the time of this memory, Jake was the only game in town and would be so for many more years until he hung up his shears and retired.

Rumor had it that Jake had clipped off part of someone's ear once upon a time and so I was scared that a similar fate would befall me. When Jake started trimming the hair around my ears, I'm sure a large corner fence post swayed more in a light breeze than I did. Finished, he pulled out a little round whiskbroom and swept the hair from my neck in a motion that tickled just a little. I thought he was finished but he pulled a glass bottle containing some green thick liquid from a shelf and poured a little in his hands before massaging it into my scalp. The liquid had a medicine smell and made my eyes burn and water just a bit. He untied my cape and wiping my eyes, I staggered out to the sidewalk to wait for my mom to pay.

On the ride home, my mom complained of the stink from the green gel and rolled all the windows down. Once home, I was ordered into the bath to get rid of the foul smelling stuff and then again later before bedtime when she determined that it still smelled. To a young boy, two showers and being forced to sit still while someone cut your hair was akin to torture. I begged my mom to cut my hair instead of Jake but she always forced me to go anyway. However, she would always insist that Jake leave off the green gel when the haircut was finished. I finally convinced my mom to let me go to the beauty shop up the street when I was about a freshman in high school and got a buzz cut. When my mom saw that, she decided that she could save the money by doing it herself and that was the way it was until I left home and set out on my own.

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