Five dollar haircut in the catfish capital of the world

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

"See this diner, Sonics?", said Lori, giving me an improvised tour of her hometown from the pickup. "We used to sneak out of school and go there to smoke cigarettes. The town truant officer would drive past and look through the window at all the booths. We'd see him coming a mile off and just duck under the table. He never caught us."

We passed a sign that read Welcome to Savannah, Tennessee - the catfish capital of the world.
"And that barbershop I was telling you about should be down here. It's run by some old guy, but I'm pretty sure it's still open, one of my friends used to send her kids."
We pulled up to a shopfront with the word DeCourley's painted in white on chipped wood. Lori dropped me off and headed to Walmart. I walked into the shop. My boots clomped loudly on the hardwood floor. The only other sound in the room was a steady hum that came from the ancient wooden vending machine in the corner. The back room opened and a balding man in shirt and braces shuffled out.
"Hello... are you open?"
He laughed and said something in a Tennessee accent as thick and gritty as cornbread mix.
"Okay," I said, "can I get a haircut?"
"Yom wan aroun yum ears?"
"I'm sorry?"
"Yom wan aroun yum EAR?", he repeated, making scissoring motions with his hands. He was an old man who had earned the right to a peaceful life without having to suffer fools.
"Yeah, okay." I answered sitting in the chair and leaving him to it.
I was expecting him to turn the chair toward the mirror, but he didn't. Instead he spent five minutes trussing me up in gowns and stuffing paper down my collar to deflect the falling hair. Breathing heavily, he yanked my ears flat and cut a out a rough semi-circle of hair.
"How long has this place been open?", I asked, articulating each word with the presumption that he found my accent equally difficult to understand.
"Bhibbhybhibear.", he answered.
"How many?" I asked again.
"Fiddy six year!" he shouted into my ear, which he still had hold of.
"Wow." I said, wondering why I was facing the Coca Cola machine and not the mirror.
"Yumph. Alway cheapes' cut in town by long mile. Fiy-ve dollar," he stressed, waving five fingers in the air. "Fiy-ve dollar!", he repeated, forcing me to dodge the rogue pair of scissors that flashed past my eyeball.
"Are you from Savannah originally?", I asked.
He put down the scissors and picked up a cut-throat razor.
"Nup ammaf Missuhsssuppi. Yuh know Missuhssuppi?"
"Mississippi, yeah", I said, being careful not to distract him as he scraped the razor down the back of my neck.
"Yup, my gran-pappy, herounoff champion o 'all Mussuhssuppi wid da spi-yit. Ya know? Longes Spiy-it". He mimed spitting tobacco across the room. "Trew his mud-dash!" He laughed and playfully cuffed me in the cranium.
"Yeah on thofarm in Mussussuppi they is lonn, they is lonner than tha'eye can see. Hoprite machainerah they gottair, fiels longer thantha 'rizon."
I was too busy trying to figure out what he was saying to notice that he was already unfastening the gown.
"Are you finished?" I asked.
"Yawann more?"
"Well, would you be able to cut some of this hair on the top of my head?"
"Yammacammancurriferya", he replied, re-fastening the gown.
With the instincts of a master butcher, he began to grab fistfuls of my hair and make a series of clean, dry cuts. I still had my back to the mirror. I wondered what my hair was going to look like once Sergeant Scissorhands had finished with it. There was always a possibility that he would finally turn me around to reveal some newly-erected, mullet-like structure, and I would be faced with a new existence as a Billy-Ray Cyrus lookalike. Was it actually possible for a barber to add hair to someone's head? Probably not. But I wondered all the same. Our greatest fear, after all, is that of the unknown.
There was a magazine rack on the wall. It contained one copy of the Hardin County Courier and four holy bibles. Sergeant Scissors had disappeared from my field of vision, but I could still hear his boots squeaking around behind me.
"Mullerehcuthnamuch", he muttered. "Yammanacka hoy on".
He launched one more assault on my rear mudflap, and then began to unfasten the gown again.
I stood up, turned around and looked at the top of my head. The hair cut was alright. Not the most symmetrical cut, but it had a certain brutality to it that was quite appealing.
"Thanks," I said, handing him eight dollars. He counted the bills and then squared up to me, all defiant-shoulders-and-braces.
"AH SAY IT FI DOLLAR", he yelled, handing three dollars back.