The Captain’s Chair is a barber shop in its unadulterated form. There is no pretense of hair styling, or unisex salon trendiness. The barber pole is in its classic form, if a bit battered. There is a red and white striped awning, scissors and comb are shown on the big front window, and old-fashioned barber chairs inside. As you walk by, you can see men getting their clipping or thumbing through magazines as they wait their turn.
These days I get my hair cut at a unisex salon about a block from my office. It is quite a change from the barber shops of my youth, which usually had two or three red barber chairs on a black and white tile floor, a crew-cut barber with a white coat with scissors and combs in the breast pocket, and a waiting area of chairs that, if you were a lucky kid, might include an otherwise-illicit Playboy or two. A haircut took about 10 minutes and involved using the clippers to mow your hair down to half-inch length. At the end your neck would be dusted with witchhazel, the barber would slap the now-empty chair with a towel and send cut hairs flying, and say: “Next!”
No more. When I show up for my appointment at the salon, a nattily dressed host asks if I want a latte or a hot chocolate. My hair is as likely to be cut by a woman as a man. Usually the stylist wants to wash my hair before getting started, and often there is a scalp massage thrown in. The whole process takes about a half hour. When the haircut is done, they typically ask if I want any “product” put in my hair. The only “product” featured at the old barber shops was Brylcreem (“A little dab’ll do ya!”) and an appalling product called “Crew Wax” that was the consistency of axle grease and featured a hard plastic brush on top that was used to painfully rake your scalp and leave your hair in prime, “flat top” condition.
Getting a haircut in a place that also has women patrons is interesting. In some ways, I feel like I have gotten a peek at the mystical rites of a secret society. For example, the woman in the next chair may be having some aluminum sheets put in her hair, for some mysterious purpose. What the heck is that all about? Or the woman and the hair stylist might be having a lengthy, detailed discussion about whether a different hair coloring or “frosting” agent should be used this time. (I’ve never heard a male customer at a barber shop say anything about their haircut except: “Give me the usual.”) The last time I was at the salon the stylist working on the woman in the next chair wheeled over some large, scary-looking device. I asked the stylist cutting my hair what it was, and she explained it was contained hot liquid wax that was going to be applied as part of an eyebrow waxing. Ouch!
Sometimes I miss the old, no-frills barber shop, with its talk of sports and testosterone-drenched sense of male camaraderie. But, I think I get a better haircut at the salon, and I often come away with a different perspective and newfound respect for hardiness of the opposite sex.