Williams column: Getting the back of my neck shaved by John the barber

Published 12:00 am Sunday, March 27, 2011

People remember the places where they have shopped for years as adults, but they also remember those places where parents or older siblings took them to shop before they could get there on their own.
One special area of West Innes Street contained three places where my father and my brother, Joe, took me in the late 1950s and early 1960s.
Some of my first purchased books were from ěBunkerís Book Shop.î My first purchased record was from the first location of Spence Hatleyís ě Music Martî before he relocated to a site with more space a little ways back towards Salisbury. That record was ěThe Ballad of Davey Crockett.î The third place of business in that block which we frequented was immediately next to the site of the old Music Mart, but unlike it, this place never relocated.
This place of business was the barber shop where I received my haircuts from the very late 1950s until embarking on my college education at Appalachian in 1969. It was called ěCollege Barber Shopî (its proximity to Catawba College inspiring its name). Its owner, and my preferred barber of the men who worked there, was named ěJohn,î but just now I canít recall his last name.
On the wall of Johnís barber shop were illustrations of a variety of menís hairstyles, resembling those on the wall of ěFloydís Barber Shopî on the Andy Griffith Show. These pictured choices were lost on me as a child, because during those years, my hairstyle, as well as that of most of my male classmates at Granite Quarry School, was basically limited to a crewcut.
While one waited to receive his haircut at College Barber Shop, reading materials were available, but whereas Dr. Frank B. Marsh had mostly National Geographics in his waiting lobby, the barber shopís magazines centered around the subjects of hunting, sports and the latest cars of the 1950s and í60s.
Men could have their faces shaved with a straight razor at College Barber Shop, but I rarely saw that. My father used an electric razor at home, always accompanied by Williams Lectric Shave.
Most of the shaving done back then with a straight razor had to do with the back of the neck. Nowadays, I tell the barber at the mall to ěblock it offî on the lower back of my neck instead of tapering, but with his use of the electric trimmer, it never seems quite as delineated as it used to be with the old straight razor.
Dr. Guillotin proposed the use of, but did not actually invent, the device which in his day was considered to be the most humane form of execution, and which forever has his name attached to it (with the inclusion of a final ěeî). Experts surmised that the last bit of feeling of those executed in this manner consisted of a slight tickling sensation at the back of the neck.
I guess I could say that due to me having my neck shaved by the blade of Johnís straight razor, up to a certain point King Louis XVI and I experienced the very same sensation, but beyond that point, our experiences with the blade differed greatly.
John would ask me how my school work was going. He would give his approval if my grades were good and would stress the importance of education.
Older men, in addition to my father would be seated in chairs, awaiting their turn for a trim. Since this was the late 1950s and early 1960s, men would be smoking in public, my father included. Large glass ashtrays with built-in, cigarette- width grooves around their circumferences would be placed on metal stands and strategically placed for the menís convenience.
The men would converse about the news and political headlines from the newspaper. They would also talk about sports, cars, hunting, etc., perhaps fueled by Johnís provided magazines, conveniently placed on little tables near the ashtrays.
I would listen to their opinions, such opinions always making an impression, simply because they were the opinions of older men. With all of the smoke from the cigarettes and cigars, I guess I received a good bit of second-hand smoke, but in listening to the older men, I also received second-hand ěman talk,î which I primarily heard at College Barber Shop but also when I was with my father while he got his car worked on at Hedrick Motor Co.
Second-hand smoke has, not very long ago, been determined to be detrimental to oneís health, but for a young boy, second-hand ěman talkî will always be proven to be healthy, and even essential.