A barber is by nature and inclination a sport. He can
tell you at what exact hour the ball game of the day is
to begin, can foretell its issue without losing a stroke
of the razor, and can explain the points of inferiority
of all the players, as compared with better men that he
has personally seen elsewhere, with the nicety of a
professional. He can do all this, and then stuff the
customer's mouth with a soap-brush, and leave him while
he goes to the other end of the shop to make a side bet
with one of the other barbers on the outcome of the Autumn
Handicap. In the barber-shops they knew the result of
the Jeffries-Johnson prize-fight long before it happened.
It is on information of this kind that they make their
living. The performance of shaving is only incidental to
it. Their real vocation in life is imparting information.
To the barber the outside world is made up of customers,
who are to be thrown into chairs, strapped, manacled,
gagged with soap, and then given such necessary information
on the athletic events of the moment as will carry them
through the business hours of the day without open
As soon as the barber has properly filled up the customer
with information of this sort, he rapidly removes his
whiskers as a sign that the man is now fit to talk to,
and lets him out of the chair.
The public has grown to understand the situation. Every
reasonable business man is willing to sit and wait half
an hour for a shave which he could give himself in three
minutes, because he knows that if he goes down town
without understanding exactly why Chicago lost two games
straight he will appear an ignoramus.
At times, of course, the barber prefers to test his
customer with a question or two. He gets him pinned in
the chair, with his head well back, covers the customer's
face with soap, and then planting his knee on his chest
and holding his hand firmly across the customer's mouth,
to prevent all utterance and to force him to swallow the
soap, he asks: "Well, what did you think of the Detroit-St.
Louis game yesterday?" This is not really meant for a
question at all. It is only equivalent to saying: "Now,
you poor fool, I'll bet you don't know anything about
the great events of your country at all." There is a
gurgle in the customer's throat as if he were trying to
answer, and his eyes are seen to move sideways, but the
barber merely thrusts the soap-brush into each eye, and
if any motion still persists, he breathes gin and peppermint
over the face, till all sign of life is extinct. Then he
talks the game over in detail with the barber at the next
chair, each leaning across an inanimate thing extended
under steaming towels that was once a man.
To know all these things barbers have to be highly
educated. It is true that some of the greatest barbers
that have ever lived have begun as uneducated, illiterate
men, and by sheer energy and indomitable industry have
forced their way to the front. But these are exceptions.
To succeed nowadays it is practically necessary to be a
college graduate. As the courses at Harvard and Yale have
been found too superficial, there are now established
regular Barbers' Colleges, where a bright young man can
learn as much in three weeks as he would be likely to
know after three years at Harvard. The courses at these
colleges cover such things as: (1) Physiology, including
Hair and its Destruction, The Origin and Growth of
Whiskers, Soap in its Relation to Eyesight; (2) Chemistry,
including lectures on Florida Water; and How to Make it
out of Sardine Oil; (3) Practical Anatomy, including The
Scalp and How to Lift it, The Ears and How to Remove
them, and, as the Major Course for advanced students,
The Veins of the Face and how to open and close them at
will by the use of alum.
The education of the customer is, as I have said, the
chief part of the barber's vocation. But it must be
remembered that the incidental function of removing his
whiskers in order to mark him as a well-informed man is
also of importance, and demands long practice and great
natural aptitude. In the barbers' shops of modern cities
shaving has been brought to a high degree of perfection.
A good barber is not content to remove the whiskers of
his client directly and immediately. He prefers to cook
him first. He does this by immersing the head in hot
water and covering the victim's face with steaming towels
until he has him boiled to a nice pink. From time to time
the barber removes the towels and looks at the face to
see if it is yet boiled pink enough for his satisfaction.
If it is not, he replaces the towels again and jams them
down firmly with his hand until the cooking is finished.
The final result, however, amply justifies this trouble,
and the well-boiled customer only needs the addition of
a few vegetables on the side to present an extremely
During the process of the shave, it is customary for the
barber to apply the particular kind of mental torture
known as the third degree. This is done by terrorizing
the patient as to the very evident and proximate loss
of all his hair and whiskers, which the barber is enabled
by his experience to foretell. "Your hair," he says, very
sadly and sympathetically, "is all falling out. Better
let me give you a shampoo?" "No." "Let me singe your hair
to close up the follicles?" "No." "Let me plug up the
ends of your hair with sealing-wax, it's the only thing
that will save it for you?" "No." "Let me rub an egg
on your scalp?" "No." "Let me squirt a lemon on your
The barber sees that he is dealing with a man of
determination, and he warms to his task. He bends low
and whispers into the prostrate ear: "You've got a good
many grey hairs coming in; better let me give you an
application of Hairocene, only cost you half a dollar?"
"No." "Your face," he whispers again, with a soft,
caressing voice, "is all covered with wrinkles; better
let me rub some of this Rejuvenator into the face."
This process is continued until one of two things happens.
Either the customer is obdurate, and staggers to his feet
at last and gropes his way out of the shop with the
knowledge that he is a wrinkled, prematurely senile man,
whose wicked life is stamped upon his face, and whose
unstopped hair-ends and failing follicles menace him with
the certainty of complete baldness within twenty-four
hours--or else, as in nearly all instances, he succumbs.
In the latter case, immediately on his saying "yes" there
is a shout of exultation from the barber, a roar of
steaming water, and within a moment two barbers have
grabbed him by the feet and thrown him under the tap,
and, in spite of his struggles, are giving him the
Hydro-magnetic treatment. When he emerges from their
hands, he steps out of the shop looking as if he had been
But even the application of the Hydro-magnetic and the
Rejuvenator do not by any means exhaust the resources of
the up-to-date barber. He prefers to perform on the
customer a whole variety of subsidiary services not
directly connected with shaving, but carried on during
the process of the shave.
In a good, up-to-date shop, while one man is shaving the
customer, others black his boots; brush his clothes, darn
his socks, point his nails, enamel his teeth, polish his
eyes, and alter the shape of any of his joints which they
think unsightly. During this operation they often stand
seven or eight deep round a customer, fighting for a
chance to get at him.
All of these remarks apply to barber-shops in the city, and
not to country places. In the country there is only one barber
and one customer at a time. The thing assumes the aspect of
a straight-out, rough-and-tumble, catch-as-catch-can fight,
with a few spectators sitting round the shop to see fair play.
In the city they can shave a man without removing any of his
clothes. But in the country, where the customer insists on
getting the full value for his money, they remove the collar
and necktie, the coat and the waistcoat, and, for a really
good shave and hair-cut, the customer is stripped to the
waist. The barber can then take a rush at him from the other
side of the room, and drive the clippers up the full length of
the spine, so as to come at the heavier hair on the back of
the head with the impact of a lawn-mower driven into long grass.
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