On the ground floor of our apartment building, about a floor and a half below us, there was a barbershop. The barber of the barbershop was something of a celebrity, a popular local hero, a sports fan, a fisherman, and an artist.
But first and foremost he was a barber, and because he was Dad’s childhood buddy, and because he had his shop in our building, that’s where I went to get my hair cut. Or, that’s where I went when Mom told me to get a haircut.
Jorkki was his name. Well, Jorkki was his nickname, but nobody called him by his real name. And funny was his style.
Being just a kid, I didn’t have big preferences on my hairdo, so Jorkki had free reign to make sure I was cool, or even more importantly, didn’t look like a dork. He’d put a pillow for me to sit on, then crank the chair as high as it went, making it slide down a couple of times, “by accident”, and then he’d get to work.
Jorkki worked on my style, and we’d do what men do with their barbers: we talked about sports – and stuff.
Fifteen minutes later, he would pull up a mirror and show me what the back of my head looked like. I never liked it because thanks to the blow drying, I always thought I looked like a girl and couldn’t get home fast enough to mess my hair with a hat or water. But, I always just nodded, because the best was yet to come.
That’s when Jorkki took the trimmer, flipped it backwards, and gave me “a shave”. It was exciting and embarrassing at the same time. A dry run of a rite that I was years, many years, from. Jorkki would do it for a few seconds, admire the result, and then finish the job with a splash or two of his special “Superman” after shave.
Another reason to run upstairs and take a shower. Who would want to smell like that?
Beards are fascinating. They’re a disguise, a status symbol (for something), and a sign of masculinity. We like to play with the facial hair, it’s always been a symbol for something – it’s just that the trends and fads change.
When I was a boy, my father had sideburns the size of oven mitts. When he shaved them off, I didn’t recognize him, and got scared. Then, almost suddenly, for the next 20 years, men didn’t really have facial hair. (Except Dad’s brother, my uncle, who never shaved off his Vegas-Elvis sideburns).
And before I knew it, but by the time I could grow them, sideburns made a comeback. Thanks a lot, Jason Priestley.
These days, I shave maybe once a week, so I go from being clean shaven to a Homer Simpson stubble to a guy with a beard. Not a long one, but one that covers my face. And apparently, one that tickles people when I try to hug and kiss them.
So, my beard – like my hair – is on a constant journey towards getting long, but every time I get close, I shave it – or cut the hair – and start all over again. Like a playoff beard, which is now such a part of general vocabulary that when Wife saw Sting sporting a massive beard on TV the other night, she spontaneously said, “come on, Sting, the game is over!”
But I’ve never gone all the way to the final. I’ve never had a full beard.
In my family, becoming a man has been equal to growing a beard. That’s what Jorkki’s shaves were all about, that’s what all the talk about rubbing chicken manure to the face, to get a better beard growth, was all about.
The chicken trick seems to work since I did have a mustache when I was 14. Not a big, impressive one, but something you could definitely notice under my nose. And, more importantly, a mustache that I could see. In reality, you could still see my mouth from underneath, and no food ever got stuck on it, but like a cold sore or a zit that you have on your face, that mustache felt much, much bigger than it was.
As I grew, my mustache grew. Maybe somebody somewhere thought it was cute, but for me, it started to become a burden so one winter’s afternoon, during my first year of senior high school, after weeks of contemplation, I shaved.
I don’t remember how I got the razors. Maybe they were Mom’s disposable ones, maybe I had secretly bought disposable ones, but there I was, standing in our bathroom, staring at the mustache with a yellow razor in my hand. I was home alone, having waited until Mom and Dad had gone out.
I simply put the razor under my nose, and pulled. It hurt. It hurt a lot. But the small beginning made it easier to keep going, so I shaved some more, and then some, and then I was done.
There was no turning back. When Mom and Dad came back home, I tried to act natural.
“Have you shaved off your mustache?” Mom asked.
“Oh, yeah, that thing,” I said.
“How did you.. What…? Did you use shaving cream or something,” she asked, but I just went into my room.
Shaving cream? Jorkki had never used it.
But I would have loved some of that Supeman’s after shave.