THE BARBERSHOP AROUND THE CORNER – GARRY ARMSTRONG

Haircuts can be a complex problem for a guy. Nay, you say?

Yay, I say — if you’re a man of color.

Not all barbers can cut “our kind” of hair. It’s one of America’s darker secrets. If one has curly, sometimes called “kinky” hair, barbers are befuddled and sometimes nervous. White barbers. Fellas used to the electric razor and scissors to trim the smooth hair of boys, teens, men, and even older gents with fair skin.

It’s a sensitive, ethnic thing.

Growing up, I always went to black-owned and operated barber shops in our diverse neighborhoods. No worries. You asked for a summer or winter haircut. Close or maybe moderate — to accommodate the weather. Awaiting my time in the barber chair, I’d peruse the men’s magazines with pictures that stimulated my growing body. The air was usually full of cigar smoke and raunchy conversation with much laughter. One of the barbers would caution there were kids in the shop. The laughter only got louder with someone slapping me on the shoulder. I remember those days with great affection.

Fast forward through the decades. It’s 1970 and I’m a newly arrived TV news reporter in Boston. Predominantly WHITE Boston. I was living IN Boston, five minutes away from downtown businesses and the TV station. There were several barber shops or men’s hair stylists in the area.

I tried one recommended by the star anchorman whose blonde, carefully layered coif was a thing of beauty.

I could feel the stares as I entered the ornate hair salon. I waited a few, very long moments until a gent who looked like the old time actor William Powell approached me. His white barber jacket had perfect creases. He offered a polite smile while informing me his shop could not properly “address” my kind of hair. I smiled and left, quietly seething inside.

I needed a trim before making my Boston television début.  So it was that I instantly became a celebrity client at the local barber’s college. It wasn’t pretty.

Word spread quickly and I received a call from Boston Mayor Kevin White’s office. A day later, I had a personal barber. It was the beginning of a beautiful relationship that lasted more than 30 years.

Fast forward again, maybe another 10 years. Now retired and living in small town New England,  I had no real need for spiffy hair cuts. However, I still travelled a distance because I didn’t trust any of our local barbers who didn’t seem eager to get my business.

We were now living on a fixed income. It seemed silly to travel that distance and pay $40 (plus tip) for a fancy hair salon clip with my receding hairline. I summoned up my old Marine Corps courage and decided to check out a local, corner barbershop.  The classic barber’s pole beckoned me. I entered and surprise —  smiles and friendly greetings. I walked over to the available barber and quietly, awkwardly asked if he could cut “my” hair. He smiled broadly and said, “No problem, Bro”.  It was the beginning of another beautiful friendship.

Eddie knew his stuff. He smiled as I removed my hearing aids and told him I was in his hands.  Ten minutes later and I was a new man with a crisply trimmed coif that managed to hide some of the growing shiny spots atop my head.

Eddie would tell me he prided himself with his work. It was his way of saying ethnicity was not an issue. His biggest issue? Smart-aleck kids with overbearing parents. Eddie soon opened his own shop. He branched to a second operation and is a well-respected fella in our small town. Yes, I’ve recommended him to other people of varying ethnicities.

There are no men’s magazines with adult photographs in Eddie’s place. He’s sensitive to the young people who come through the door. There are lots of interesting pictures on the wall,  most guaranteed to make you smile.

If you’re in our town and need a haircut, stop in at Eddie’s place. You’ll like him.

You’ll love his prices.

32 thoughts on “THE BARBERSHOP AROUND THE CORNER – GARRY ARMSTRONG

  1. I loved the old fashion barber shops. I went to one for years (decades, actually). There was baseball or some other local sports on the television and many magazines on the table. It is probably the only place I would actually look at Field and Stream or Popular Mechanics while I waited. Now I go to a shop close by because it is cheaper and I do not have as much work for them anymore/

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Haircuts are more of an issue than people think. If you’ve got long hair and are female, you have to worry that whoever is holding the scissors is going to decide what you REALLY need is a nice, short haircut. Many is the time that years of growing have landed on the floor because some “designer” decided HE knew what I wanted, no matter what I said. Now, I cut my own hair. At least if it goes terribly wrong, I have no one to blame but me!

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  3. You’ve had some wonderful experiences with barbers. One fact resonated with me…..that you lived in Boston the same time my daughter did. She had just become a stewardess for TWA and chose to be stationed in Boston. I remember right after she graduated from flight school, she called me to ask my advice on her posting. “I have three choices,” she said, “Kansas City, Los Angeles, or Boston.” My answer was, “I don’t think you’ll like the Midwest. We live in California. Choose Boston. I think you’ll like it.” So she did and had a great time there.I visited her a couple of times, and loved it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Boston was a very fascinating city in the 70’s. It was pre “big dig” Boston when you could walk to all parts of the city with ease. I lived in “the east end” area, former digs of Leonard Nimoy and others. The old “east end” had just been demolished and turned into fancy high rise apartments. I must admit I rented in one of those dwellings. I could see the Charles River from my living room window. I also had a grand view of the 4th of July concerts given by Arthur Fiedler and company in those days. Fiedler was a very funny man. I covered many of those concerts over the years from ’70 to the late 90’s. The Fiedler years were the best. Yes, he chased fire engines!!
      I miss the “old” Boston!

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  4. I’m from Asia & the only time I have stepped into a Barber shop, decades ago, was when my papa once urgently needed a haircut before a church meeting. Wow! I didn’t know men’s hair & different ethnics’ hair need such ‘specialized’ styling. Reason: no brothers; no sons; husband goes on his own. Your post got me smiling ~ thanks ~ I’ve learned something new & you write with great subtle humor.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Garry, this is the kind of “problem” people like me can never fully comprehend. When I had hair it was straight brown and, as a kid, was worn very close cropped- almost military. During the sixties and into the seventies it was shoulder length. And I hate to admit that, in the eighties, I had a mullet. Yeah.Me. Nowadays, I don’t even know where a barbershop is in our city.

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  6. Garry,
    I liked what you wrote about this barber blog. I am also a barber and it is not that easy at first. You need to practice a lot to be a good barber and you need to treat your clients good so they could come back. What is your best part about being a barber?
    Gerardo Sevilla

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    • Just so you understand, Garry isn’t a barber but he is a good barbershop client. He could tell you what he likes best about his barber, but not about being one 🙂

      Marilyn Armstrong, aka wife

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  7. Great story Gary. I have been a barber for 21 years in 4 states and I am blessed to have multicultural clientele. Many times a client who has never been in an “ethnic” shop may walk in with trepidation but they always leave satisfied. I pride myself with being able to hold an intelligent conversation with anybody; any race, any political or religious denomination or any sexuality. I was taught that your client should feel comfortable in your chair so talk about their interests. As a younger barber it used to bother me when I had to turn away different ethnicities because I did not have the skill to service them. However, I was determined to learn. I worked at a multi-ethnic shop and met a barber named Ben (RIP) who taught me about White hair and I taught him about Black hair. Once I learned, I never had to turn down a client again.
    Thanks again for the story and Marilyn thanks for the pics!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi, “CLL”. Just catching up with you because the piece was just re-posted by the American Barbers Association. What a compliment for my little story!! It’s great to hear YOUR perspective. Congratulations on your due diligence!!

      Thanks!!

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  8. I’m a hairstylist…over 20 years. Please tell me the proper thing to do when handling a situation like what happened to you. I would have NEVER done what that gentleman did to you. I would have just said, Hi there! Come on over! But truthfully, I would’ve just been winging it and doing my best because I don’t have hardly any experience with ethnic hair. Asian hair takes a practiced hand too. I live in a smallish town in Tennessee, and we just don’t have African Americans coming in the shop. It’s the women’s hair that scare me to death cause I have no idea what I’m doing! I wish salons were more integrated, but they’re not. It’s not that I don’t want to…I just don’t know how! I’m sorry that happened to you, and I appreciate you sharing your story.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m not sure there IS a perfect response. Best? Try to make sure you know how to manage different kinds of hair. Otherwise, you can try the truth, which is that you haven’t got a lot of experience doing this kind of hair. You’re willing to give it a try, but you need to warn him/her that it might not be their best-ever haircut. Garry is really sensitive about his haircuts, so if he knows you aren’t sure, he would never press you. A lot of “the right answer” is sensitive presentation. Honesty is not a bad start 😀

      Anyway, I’ve had plenty of bad haircuts and I’ve got the world’s easiest hair to cut!

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    • Hi, Tracey! Pardon the belated response. It’s so nice to hear your compassionate take on the story. It’s really a matter of being honest and sharing your situation with the customer. Some just assume it’s racism when it’s not. Honest conersation is a great ice breaker!!

      Thank you, Tracey!

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Pingback: THE BARBERSHOP AROUND THE CORNER – GARRY ARMSTRONG — SERENDIPITY – American Barber Association

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