Gene the hero barber (from August 20, 2018)
Gene is 88. He retired two years ago after working as a barber for 65 years.
The small town where he lives is apparently named after an Indian tribe that got carried away with the number of w’s and u’s they put in their name. Probably just to impress or confuse the white man. It’s the kind of a name that when said out loud three times in a row causes drums to beat off in the distance and rain clouds to gather.
I would say “but that’s neither here nor there” but in reality it was there.
This town had a problem. It started two years ago and just got progressively worse.
The new barber was terrible.
Parents could no longer bear to put their children’s school pictures on the mantel. The local news stopped interviewing townsfolk on camera, preferring to capture their audio while the guests sat in darkened rooms like people speaking about organized crime. Townspeople would rather let their homes burn to the ground than face the prospects of half a dozen firemen showing up with their terrible haircuts.
So, at the advanced age of 88, Gene unretired and agreed to come back to work as a barber.
It was front page news and most of the town showed up on his first day back. A colorful “Welcome Back Gene” banner hung across the front of the shop. Little Billy “One Ear” Jognson was his first client. Although nervous he climbed up into the chair at the behest of his glowing parents.
“Gene used to cut your grandfather’s hair” said his proud father.
To relax the child Gene, in his familiar manner, decided to tell the boy a story.
“I used to fly planes back in the war” he began.
Billy wondered to himself which war. Looking at the old man he assumed that they must have had planes in the Civil War and he then imagined Gene at the controls swooping down out of the clouds and unleashing hell on General “Stonewall” Jackson.
“You see Billy, I’m completely comfortable in the air. Which makes this story even harder to believe.”
Billy stopped daydreaming about his hero barber and paid attention. As did Billy’s parents and everyone crammed into the small barber shop.
“I was flying back from who knows where one time when sitting to my right was a couple that was clearly afraid to fly. They were nervous at take off and only got worse as the flight progressed. I kept my eye on them and tried to allay their fears best I could.”
Everyone could see Gene doing just that. Good ol’ Gene.
“As we started to descend for landing the latch on the luggage compartment began to rattle a little. The couple kept looking up at it with concerned looks on their faces. I leaned over and reminded them that it was only a latch. The wings were fine and the structural integrity of the hull was in tip top shape.”
Billy was no longer worried about getting a haircut. Gene had him and everyone else enthralled.
“As we got closer to landing the rattle got louder and louder. Soon it sounded like the devil himself was trying to escape. Other passengers started to fret. Somewhere a little girl began to scream. All of the blood drained out of the faces of the young couple. They look terrified. I didn’t know what to say; even I was getting a little rattled by the sound of this latch.”
You could hear a pin drop. The only sound in the place was Gene’s voice and the slow, steady sound of his scissors at work.
“Finally, just as we were about to land, the latch reached a crescendo of rattling. You could swear the top of the plane was about to rip off and go flying off into the sky and the whole time there is this little girl screaming. She wouldn’t stop and it was just making things worse so I decided to turn around and ask her to stop when I realized there wasn’t a little girl and it had been me screaming the whole time.”
There was a long pause, easily two or three seconds, and then suddenly the place exploded into laughter. Billy laughed. His parents laughed. The dozens of people waiting for haircuts laughed. And, loudest of all, Gene laughed.
His body shook with laughter and perhaps I should have pointed out earlier that Little Billy “One Ear” Jognson only got his nickname after this trip to the barber shop.