My first haircut made an indelible impression on me not because of the Beatles-inspired mop top my parents elected to have sculpted to my dome, but due to the trauma bond I established with the barber, George Lincoln, who began his career in 1947 working as an apprentice in his father’s shop in Wauconda, Illinois, eventually assuming ownership.
By the time I plopped down on the black-and-white checkered Naugahyde vinyl that upholstered his barber’s chair, whose padded armrests featured a pair of well-used steel-plated flip-top ashtrays, George had been cutting hair for nearly four decades, and his bedside manner with children corresponded directly to his longevity in a profession that commands — nay, rewards — a certain crassness.
“Son, you’ve got the hair of a god,” George exclaimed as he grabbed a fistful of my chestnut locks.
So began my affinity for barbershops, which has only grown over time. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been drawn toward environments in which the currency of a good story is all the tender one needs to fit in. A barbershop, it turns out, is full of stories and storytellers — and there’s always room for another.
When I moved to the Flathead Valley in 2010, it didn’t take long before I needed a haircut. My wanderings along downtown Kalispell’s Main Street led me to Shorty’s, whose proximity to Ceres Bakery checked several critical boxes right off the bat.
At Shorty’s, I found all the allure of a classic barbershop, minus the girlie magazines and fraternal exclusivity enriched by the era of all-male establishments. Conversely, Shorty’s was owned and staffed entirely by women. Opened in 2008 by Amber Radabah, Shorty’s has since relocated to the south end of town, but it remains the only place I’ve gotten my hair cut in 13 years.
The quality of a Shorty’s haircut is, for me, unrivaled; but it’s not what’s kept me coming back all these years. Instead, it’s that everyone who’s ever laid their shears to my skull has been well versed in the quid-pro-quo reciprocity of storytelling. I’ll flap my gums for a few minutes and then sit back as Amber holds forth on the goings-on of a community in which she grew up, and where she remains its eyes and ears.
When I started working at the Beacon a decade ago, I learned that the entire newsroom relied on Shorty’s for their hair appointments, a trend that has surely been sustained by Amber’s steadfast support of our weekly newspaper, which was launched just one year before she opened her barbershop.
However, I suspect there’s more to the story than that.
An editor once told me that the only time she could completely clear her head of the clutter and chaos inherent to newspaper work was while ringing music with her church’s handbell choir. She encouraged me to find a similarly meditative activity and practice it regularly.
I’ve found this in my daily running practice, as well as through other more traditional meditative practices. But I’ve found it most reliably at Shorty’s, where my shoulders unhunch and my metabolism slows almost as soon as Amber fastens the barber’s cape around my neck.
And then she tells me a story.
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