MATTHEW VOLLMER


35.

 by Anna Delgado

by Anna Delgado


this grave holds a man who, at thirty-two years of age, made the executive decision to renounce all barbers, to never again give another human being legal tender in exchange for the cutting of his hair, not because he didn’t enjoy the barber’s cool lather on his neck or the thorough and often somewhat erotic-seeming shampoo supplied by well-manicured hairdressers, but because he had come to a point in his life where he wanted desperately a haircut that would require little to no management—i e , combing or wetting or brushing or gelling—on his part, a haircut that was so simple that he could maintain it himself, without the aid of a third-party, and so out he went, to retrieve a pair of clippers—a deluxe model that promised to vacuum the clippings into a transparent, removable shell—and from that day forward, the deceased became his own barber, which meant that sometimes he missed places and walked around with chunks of hair longer than others but also that, every two weeks, he popped a number two guard onto the clippers and went to town, relishing the shearing of his head in a similar way to the satisfaction of mowing stripes across an overgrown lawn, thus establishing—over time—a uniform length for all hair-strands/grass-blades, and in this way the deceased was not only able to enjoy the gratification that so often accompanies the rituals of personal hygiene, but also the satisfaction of a penny earned, since, by cutting his own hair, he saved himself hundreds of dollars a year, and furthermore, he began to cut the blond, cow-licked locks of his own son, an act that was—for this proud, self-taught barber—a touch bittersweet, as he knew that he was depriving the son of an experience that he had—once upon a time—dreaded, but now looked back upon now as essential to his own social growth and development, that being his trips—as a boy himself—to Parker’s Barber Shop, which was run by a barber named not Parker but Mintz, a giant of a man who stood six foot six inches tall, wore size 18 shoes, and would later develop (but not seek the removal of) a goiter the size of a grapefruit in his neck; a man who had to special order his scissors, because his hands were—as his feet—the very definition of enormous; a man who wore black, horn-rimmed glasses and a barber’s smock whose V-neck revealed an abundance of salt-and-pepper chest hair; a man who could speak loud and laugh heartily but also knew when—usually for the purposes of encouraging young customers to sit still—to whisper; and though the deceased almost always dreaded getting his hair cut—mostly because it meant walking from his father’s dental office after school to the shop by himself, and as a shy child he did not look forward to being in a room of strangers for any length of time—he would recall his time spent at Parker’s Barber Shop with fondness, remembering the polished plum-colored leather of the chairs and the silver metal handle that, when pumped, raised or lowered the seat via a greased shaft; the glass containers filled with combs soaking in lime- green Barbicide; the mirror running the entire length of the western wall, where the letters of Parker’s Barber Shop, which appeared backwards from inside the waiting room, reversed—and thus righted—themselves; the looped strip of hide hanging from the side of the chairs and which Mintz ostensibly used to sharpen his razors, though the deceased had never seen it used; the ancient cash register, its paint chipped; the heavy, vinyl-cushioned chairs; the sepia-toned photograph of a horse with six of Mintz’s grandchildren sitting atop its back—a great blond beast that seemed to the deceased to be twice if not three times bigger than any regular horse, or was it, he had no idea, or only a vague one, not having spent time with horses, having been deprived of a life where one harnessed beasts to employ them for labor or pleasure; but of course the most memorable of all barbershop relics—other than Mintz himself or the other baseball-capped and overalled men— was a framed depiction of a cartoon barber, a bug-eyed maniac who was gleefully shaving a stubbly strip down the center of a terrified boy’s head—a strange choice, the deceased had often thought, since many a child might’ve seen that picture and wondered “what if Mintz goes crazy” and “what if Mintz turns maniacal and shaves a strip down the center of my head” and “What if he makes me bald,” though that was the thing, that was what made it work, Mintz was not crazy, would not ever go crazy, was too calm and collected, and the fact that this picture hung on the wall— in a frame, no less—suggested that he was identifying the potential chaos that was hair-cutting, but also containing it, which, the deceased would later think, was maybe the way to go, to acknowledge the dangers of scissors and razors and make light of it, not with actual words but with a picture that could’ve appeared in the funny pages, a picture that was never once commented upon by the old men who came into the shop to talk about politics or the best place to pick huckleberries or the lack/excess of rain or the Japanese submarines that lived beneath Los Angeles or Ole Man Johnson who’d stuck a wild hog in the neck with a jackknife and held on till it bled out, all of which were stories that the deceased heard as he sat in the chair, worried what would happen if Mintz were to become distracted by the details of one of these tales and snip a chunk of his ear right off, but of course that never happened, partly because Mintz had been cutting hair ever since WWII, when he’d shaved boys high and tight on an aircraft carrier, and partly because the deceased always remained absolutely as still as he possibility could, a stillness he summoned only in this particular chair and which did not go unnoticed by Mintz, who used to whisper repeatedly to the deceased that such stillness was, in Mintz’s own words, “the finest I ever seen,” an analysis the deceased never questioned, at least not until years later, when cutting the hair of his own son—a kid who, because his skin was so sensitive that it would blush pink where the cut hair fell upon it, was not above pitching a fit to express his frustration about how irritated this skin had become—the deceased whispered “hold still for me now” and then complimented the child on his ability to  remain  motionless  and  used the same line that Mintz had used, and the moment it escaped his lips he knew that’s all it was, a line, a little trick, and that the deceased’s stillness had not, in fact, been noteworthy, nor was it likely that id had literally been the “finest” Mintz had ever seen, and that saying so was merely a way to perpetuate the deceased’s stillness, a way to nourish and thus maintain his statuesque pose, a strategy the deceased would use upon his own child, surprised to learn that Mintz’s dramatic whisper—after all these years!—had the power to subdue the bestial tendencies of the deceased’s own kid, and so he—the deceased—chanted it over and over— “the finest I ever seen, yes sir, the finest I ever seen”—an incantation that would give birth to another equally ridiculous delusion, which was that the deceased had learned a lesson about the rules of communication between parent and child, and that this—the melodramatic whisper, first employed by his childhood barber— was the best and perhaps only way to guarantee that a child would listen to you, and that when speaking to his  only  son  he—the  father—would  never,  under any conditions, raise his voice in anger again, but that he would soothe both his child and the savage beast of himself by reciting Mintz’s hypnotic incantation, and  thus—in  doing  so—indeed  give  rise  to  the  finest  that  he  had  ever  seen

 

 

BIO


MATTHEW VOLLMER 
is the author of Future Missionaries of America, a collection of stories With David Shields, he is co-author of Fakes: Pseudo- Interviews, Faux Lectures, Quasi-Letters, “Found” Texts, and Other Fraudulent Artifacts, forthcoming from Norton in fall of 2012. He teaches at the MFA program at Virginia Tech.