Blog No. 22 Haircut

MIDDLEBURG, VA --- Change is hard.

The same woman, Maria Palacios, has been cutting my hair since 2004 at a joint in Leesburg, VA, called Salon Cielo. For nearly 13 years, she has done a great job. She is congenial and efficient.

I’ve learned Maria’s life’s story over the years, sitting in the chair as she clips away. Her family, her relocation from Michigan to New Jersey to Virginia; the trials and tribulations of dating her boyfriend, whom she eventually agreed to live with, etc.

Recently Maria and her beau had their first child, a daughter, which has been a cause of celebration we were happy to share with her.

Overall, I genuinely like Maria. I like the job she does. She has been a loyal, reliable and talented barber/hairstylist. No one could ask for more.

Until now.

Maria announced at my last haircut that she is changing venues in May to a new place farther from my house. The old clip joint (hah!), Salon Cielo, is right near my old office. But since I don’t work in Leesburg anymore, schlepping there from my house here isn’t bad, but it’s a hassle, especially since I live about 12 miles away, in Middleburg, VA.

But now that Maria has announced she’s changing shops, further east toward Washington, DC, in Sterling, VA, which is close to 20 miles away, I’m starting to ask myself, is it really worth driving 40 miles round trip for a haircut?

Which takes me to the alt-Maria.

The potential replacement is a guy named Dwight Grant, who owns a one-chair barbershop in my hometown of Middleburg, VA. He’s a nice guy, also does a good job, and frankly charges less than Maria. Sounds like the thing to do -- change to Dwight now that Maria’s moving further out. After all, you could argue, she’s leaving me.

Dwight place even has a red and white barber pole.

Maria’s Salon Cielo has no barber pole.

No problem you say. After all, it is just hair. Not a big deal. Man up, get it over with, and just move ahead, right?

And, Dwight is chatty, so it’s a chance to get some fresh copy ideas. In fact, when I wrote a political column for the Fort Lauderdale News and Sun-Sentinel, my local barbershop was an important source of gossip about news, sports and politics.

If I didn’t have a column idea, I’d grab a haircut.

Which was an idea I got from one of the greats -- Ring Lardner, the great Chicago newspaper columnist.

For those who are not fans of early 20th Century American Literary Fiction, Lardner was a good friend of F. Scott Fitzgerald and other authors of the Jazz Age. Lardner’s books were published by Maxwell Perkins, who also served as Fitzgerald's editor. There’s an old story that in order to assemble his first book of short stories, Lardner had to gather up copies of his writings from the magazines that originally bought the stories. Apparently Lardner held his own work in such low regard that he hadn’t bothered to save copies. Perkins helped him gather up the stories, and meld them into several books.

Some believe that Lardner was in some respects the model for the tragic character Abe North of Fitzgerald's last completed novel, Tender Is the Night.

It is also believed that Lardner influenced a young writer named Ernest Hemingway, The two men eventually met in December 1928, thanks to Max Perkins, but did not become friends.

In short, I was and remain, a big Lardner devotee. He wrote for a variety of newspapers in St. Louis and Chicago from 1900-1933. He wrote plays, short stories, and wrote several marginally successful novels.

Max Perkins, who was Fitzgerald’s, Hemingway’s, James Jones’ and Thomas Wolfe’s editor at the publishing house, Charles Scribner and Sons in New York, kept Lardner in booze and cigarettes. Lardner, Perkins said, was, simply put -- something out of Gatsby. Perkins himself edited many amazing novels, including The Sun Also Rises, From Here to Eternity, The Yearling, and of course, The Great Gatsby. Here’s more on Perkins from Wikipedia:

Perkins keen editing advice was responsible for the success of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, whose The Yearling (1938) grew out of suggestions made by Perkins. It became a best-seller and won the Pulitzer Prize. Alan Paton's Cry, the Beloved Country (1946) was another Perkins find. His penultimate discovery was James Jones, who approached Perkins in 1945. Perkins persuaded Jones to abandon the autobiographical novel he was working on and launched him on what would become From Here to Eternity (1951).

It was Lardner whom a young Perkins greatly admired. He helped the newspaperman get his works published, though to limited critical acclaim at the time.

In short, Ring Lardner was partly responsible for Perkins’ early success, which in turn later helped foment Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Joyce and Rawlings.

Lardner was a classic newspaper columnist; and I always admired him. Still do.

Lardner used to write a column, and a major source of his information often came from his local barbershop. He’d listen to the latest political, social and sports gossip among the customers at his local barbershop. Lardner was able to capture the flavor of the 1930s from his perch at that barber shop, and spin tales of mayors, governors, ball players, swells and pols from his time.

Eventually Lardner was able to craft several columns into a 5,040 word short story entitled, appropriately “Haircut.” It’s a story of the trials and tribulations of small-town America. The economic, social and political problems of a tiny hamlet in Michigan, with all the idiom and wise-cracking dialogue of early 20th Century America. Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and eventually Max Perkins all came to love Lardner’s style.

But I’m no Ring Lardner, and Salon Cielo frankly, doesn’t offer much in terms of political discourse, sports stories, or social information.

But they do a good job cutting hair. So, back to the story.

Dwight’s clip joint, which is called Salon Aubrey, seems to get a lot of the Middleburg locals cruising through, saying hello, and checking on the latest news and information. In essence, it’s more in the guise of what Lardner used for his column. Politicians, cops, newspaper guys, waiters, bar tenders, farmers, firemen, horsemen, painters, grocery clerks, artists, chefs, doctors, accountants and lawyers all come and go through Dwight’s shop.

It’s kind of a nexis of local news, gossip and general discourse, all in one tidy place.

And there’s more. Dwight, like Maria, is an equal opportunity clipper. He cuts both men’s and women’s hair. So, unlike Lardner’s male-only barbershop, Dwight’s features men’s and women’s opinions flying through the place.

For instance, I learned that a local restaurant, The French Hound, was going to close weeks before it was made public in the local papers, just by visiting Dwight’s shop.

When Maria took family leave while she was having her new baby daughter, I ventured over to Dwight’s for a tryout. He did a great job cutting my hair. And the stories about issues on the town council, problems with tenants and landlords on Washington Street in town -- all were tidbits of gossip tossed about as Dwight trimmed and clipped.

Unlike Maria, Dwight uses shaving cream and a straight razor to trim the back of my neck and around the beard and sideburns. Maria uses an electric clipper.

Dwight shaves tight; and his razor is super sharp. He’s skilled.

But Maria’s great and detail oriented.

Maria knows how I like my haircut, and I don’t have to really talk very much, just kind of nod and agree.

“The usual?” she’ll ask.

“Yep,” I’ll say.

I’ve been known to doze off a time or two, as she works. She doesn’t mind, does her job, and makes sure I’m happy with the finished product once she’s done.

Dwight is chatty, but not to the point of being annoying. And he’s up on all the town council news.

Both people have similar political views. As I mentioned, Maria is from New Jersey. Dwight is a local guy, from Northern Virginia.

My daughter gets her hair cut by Maria.

My wife gets hers cut by Dwight.

So, as you can see, this decision is a tough one. But, since I only have one head, I’m going to have to make a choice.

Lately my beard and hair are starting to look shaggy, mostly because I don’t have the nerve to tell Maria I’m leaving.

On Monday, Elizabeth and I were walking downtown in Middleburg to dinner. Dwight stepped out of his shop to say hello.

“You guys look great,” he said, eyeing my shaggy hair. “Randy, I haven’t seen you in a awhile. Everything okay?”

As Joe Louis said, you can run, but you cannot hide.

So you say, this decision needs no further consideration. It’s an easy call.

Dwight’s shop is closer to my house. It’s less money than what Maria charges. And, my wife likes the guy.

Better copy ideas, too.

No brainer, right?

Like I said, change is hard. But I’ve got to decide soon, before I start looking like a Shaggy on Scooby-do.

Meanwhile, at least I got a Blog with 1,568 words out of the dilemma.

I’d like to think Ring Lardner and Max Perkins would have appreciated that.

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