In the old neighborhood where I grew up in Dallas, I got my haircuts at Brownie’s Barber Shop on Oak Lawn Ave. at Rawlins St.
Brownie’s was one of the small stores across from the Esquire Theater. It had plate-glass windows on either side of the front door. When you entered you would see barbers working at four barber’s chairs on the left. The barbers wore matching white tunics. A shelf and mirror ran the length of the room behind the barbers’ chairs. The shelf held tonic bottles, powders and tall jars of blue fluid that disinfected combs inside the jar.
The customers’ waiting chairs were on the right interspersed with low tables holding magazines such as Boy’s Life, Argosy, Field and Stream, and Popular Mechanics. In the right-hand corner of the room sat the shoe shine “boy,” an elderly Negro (using the parlance of the day), who always smiled and laughed along with the barbers.
When he shined shoes, he used his fingers to apply the polish. He popped his shine rag as loud as a gun shot, partly to impress his customer and partly to pay the barbers back for their racially-demeaning jokes.
I got flattop haircuts in those days. Flattop was the term for an aircraft carrier in WWII. I wanted a ducktail haircut, but the Dallas school board didn’t allow them. The school board considered ducktails to be hoodlum haircuts. Edd “Kooky” Byrnes combed his ducktails in the opening sequence of 77 Sunset Strip, but that was different.
One time, I saw an illustration in Boy’s Life of a dad helping his son build a soap box derby racer; in other words, building it for his son. The dad’s hair receded at the temples, which looked really cool to me. I pointed to the picture and asked a barber at Brownie’s if he could cut my hair like that. He said, “Your hair will look like that soon enough.”
The barbers’ leather razor strops fascinated me. The barber would whack, whack, whack his razor on the strop, then fill his left hand with hot lather from the lather machine. He would remove my paper collar and spread the hot lather on the back of my neck. I held very still when he shaved my neck with the bare razor—an indescribably delicious feeling.