Hear everything you want at Tom’s Barbershop

Published 7:35 am Wednesday, October 14, 2009

I loved going to the barbershop.

It wasn’t just a tonsorial parlor. It was a part of life’s concert. It was the center of community education with no student loans required, no grade point averages, and very little paperwork.

My father told me that an amateur liar didn’t have a prayer in a clip joint. My mother hoped aloud that I didn’t believe anything that I heard in a barbershop. I believed what the guys in the barbershop told me. They sprinkled just enough truth in their talk to keep me believing.

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I sometimes spent too much time in Tom’s Barbershop. My wife, The Queen B, would ask, “What should you always take into a barbershop with you?”

Before I could come up with a devastating witticism, she answered her own question, “Someone who knows the way out.”

Tom Benson was a good barber. Oh, sure, he would cut a few corners. There were a lot of square heads around. Genetics can be cruel. There is no truth to the rumor that barbers cause baldness in order to make the same money for doing less work.

Chief, Booty, Otto, and Lawrence kept office hours at the shop. Disguised as retired men, they were teachers waiting for students.

Otto smoked a pipe. At least he tried to smoke a pipe. He used matches to light his corncob. He would nearly have the pipe lit when someone would make an observation that necessitated his comment. By the time he’d finished adding his two cents’ worth, the match had been extinguished.

Otto was short. I was tall. When I made some moronic comment that I attempted to pass off as wisdom, Otto would look at me as if he were amazed that I was able to breathe and blink at the same time and say, “Watch it or I’ll reach up and pull your socks down.”

I made sure to put on my thinking socks before going to Tom’s.

Tom’s was a place where you could voice your opinion without judgment or fear of retribution. No, wait, that wasn’t Tom’s. Friendly combat in which reason, logic, and facts fell in step behind passions and discussions involving enthusiastic playfulness were on the menu. There were jokes to make one laugh and blush. The discourse was civil until it wasn’t. Then it became The Gong Show of wisecracks and gentle threats. Criticism can be hard to take, especially from a friend, an acquaintance, a relative or a stranger. It was easier to accept in a barbershop.

As he hacked away at hair, Tom (not an alias) added just enough to the conversation to keep the boil going. He was an agitator, playing the devil’s advocate like Isaac Stern played the violin.

A friend, Mike Minske, told me that men occasionally paid him to be allowed to go ahead of him at Bill’s Barbershop. That never happened at Tom’s. It would have gone against protocol.

I love going to barbershops.

Let he without aim cast the first stone.

Ask Al

This column has the very best customers. They ask the greatest questions.

“Have you heard the joke about butter?” Yes, but I don’t want to spread it.

“How do you split an atom?” Personally, I always give the other person the biggest half.

“Did Noah’s Ark have a litter box?” No, only a poop deck.

“What is mosquito control called in Minnesota?” January.

“Why couldn’t all the king’s men and all the king’s horses put Humpty Dumpty back together again?” Humpty had no insurance.

“Have you ever driven a Mini-Cooper?” No, but I did give one a jumpstart with my cell phone.

“You travel a lot. How does your wife react to your absence?” Very well. She’s rented out my sofa.

“Have you ever thought of becoming a vegetarian?” Give up eating meat? I don’t think I could quit cold turkey.

The news from Hartland

Hartland does not have a newspaper, but it does have Harold. Here are the headlines according to Hartland Harold.

Local café offers habanero pepper wine for those who are looking for a hot time. As a new service, any diner eating fried foods may have a copy of his receipt faxed to his cardiologist.

Casino, plagued by missing equipment, changes name to “Pair of Dice Lost.”

Doc Splint Eastwood prescribes chocolate for all his patients. “They’re going to eat it anyway,” he reasons.

Geriatric aerobics class learns to roll with the paunches.

Wife puts up sign near home reading, “Honk if you think my husband should paint the house.”

Pickle juice sold as a beverage for $5 a glass during celebration. Dill waters run steep.

City officials hold their breaths until sewer project is finished.

Hartland resident Al Batt’s columns appear every Wednesday and Sunday.