The Barbering Kind

21May09

 The Barbering Kind
     By Kailey Harless

       A black and white rectangular sign hangs above the cutting station where Alan Trout spends roughly 45 hours a week, trimming and shaving his regulars. It reads: “Notice: Prices subject to change according to customers [sic] attitude.” What it doesn’t tell you, though, is that if you behave during your haircut, Trout rewards you with two pieces of Dubble Bubble. And if you’re on your very best behavior, you may even get to select your favorite flavor Dum Dum. While the sign applies to very few people, if any, the gum and lollipop treatment applies to all.

      It’s that sense of classic charm delivered with a chuckle that brings customers to Carsey’s Barber Shop week after week, year after year. Without Carsey’s, the men of Athens, Ohio, would have no place to get a tight trim, a close shave and, most importantly, the latest news. Sports and fishing memorabilia decorate the milk-colored walls. Four barber chairs and a handful of nondescript, measly chairs for those waiting, or just stopping by for an update, line the shop’s perimeter. Though the shop’s construction and décor are simple, the barbers, customers and world within the walls are anything but. In a single day, Carsey’s barbers may shape up the heads of the ex-sheriff, the city law director and the high school football coach. Having been in business since 1942, it’s clear that Carsey’s is an establishment that is here to stay for decades to come. Men need a place where they can tell jokes to an audience that understands and embraces humor and values that aren’t always politically correct.

      “We offend everybody equally here,” Trout says with a smirk. Trout, the shop’s manager, is a boisterous man with a gentle face. Through quarter-inch lenses, his eyes permanently smile, as if always excited to share the punch line—a guaranteed ending to all of his stories.

      “My next customer is Bob. He was dyslexic as a child. That’s why they named him Bob,” he says in his friendly, rhythmic, baritone voice, and with an accent that pronounces “Cincinnat-uh” instead of “Cincinnat-ee.”

        Trout’s fellow barbers play along with his jokes, each adding a line to whatever Trout has most recently delivered. Directly next to Trout’s station is Cecil Gillette. Gillette, hair flecked with gray and skin bronzed, is the quietest of the bunch and only works Tuesday and Wednesday. Bryan Hendrickson is the youngest of them, with a clean, trimmed goatee, black rimmed glasses and a soft, delicate voice, and works full-time. A picture of his baby son sits at his station, goofily smiling with plump, chubby cheeks. Max Carsey— the son of Jess Carsey, the man who opened the shop—is stationed at the fourth black leather barber chair, farthest from the entrance. Carsey has been barbering for 54 years and is semi-retired, working Thursday and Friday, and begins and ends his work days when he pleases. Contrasted with his short white hair and moustache, Carsey has leathered, copper-toned skin. Of all the barbers, he spends the most time conversing with regulars, giving a sense he’s known them for as many years as he’s barbered.

      “I still can’t get spinach to grow,” he shares with a gentleman who sympathizes with his gardening woes.

       Trout, Hendrickson and Carsey are full of advice. Advice and piss and vinegar, that is. Throughout my visits I gained wisdom from each:
       “You should have painted your toenails pink,” Trout tells me. “You’ve got the pink shirt, the pink pen, the pink fingernails—gold toenails don’t work.”
       “A swim coach once told me he felt like a million dollars after that,” Hendrickson says of a hangover cure-all. The magic mix: Pedialyte with water.
       “A shot of Jack Daniels,” is what Carsey suggests I take for a scratchy, voice-less throat.

        Jack Daniels might as well be a fifth barber in the shop, as Trout has things to say about him, too. A student’s mention of drinking two drinks to his father’s one reminds Trout of a time in his early twenties when he drank too much Jack. “I was loaded,” he says, and he was in a bar with his friends. They had spied a cute, high-heeled girl and Trout worked up the nerve to dance with her. He was puzzled when his friends roared with laughter at him. “It was one of those female impersonators. A transvestite.”

      On a recent Thursday happy hour, however, Trout’s drink of choice is Diet Pepsi. “I’m at the point where I don’t need to drink to have a good time,” he says. Considering he grew up in a college town and started drinking at age 15, one can see why at 55 he’d be tired of frat-like, raucous behavior. “I used to be really shy,” Trout says, which comes as a shock. He grew up as the youngest of five and quickly learned that he needed to be louder and bolder in order to be heard. Flourishing into the gotta-talk-to-everyone jokester he is today wasn’t a challenge.

      To occupy himself in his teen years, he dated college girls that he met at bars and parties. One of those girls happened to become his wife, Ann Trout, the current Clerk of Courts in Athens. They met at a party, where she had been fighting with her at-the-time fiancée. As that relationship ended, she entered another with Trout, and a speedy six weeks later they got married.

      Perhaps it’s because Trout has an insider look at the on goings of the local political scene that Carsey’s “is the Mecca of information,” as Trout puts it. One sticky, sunny Friday afternoon, the barber shop is abuzz with the latest news. A high school football coach from a nearby city has been fired. The town for which he was a coach, Nelsonville, is minute, but “has a football field as nice as Ohio University’s,” Trout explains.

      A man in Carsey’s chair at the opposite end of the shop chimes in. “Sometimes the superintendents tell you they want to go in a different direction,” he says. He knows this first hand, as he was once fired from his high school basketball coaching position.

      After the man leaves, Trout shares that “he has a temper and a temperature, because he’s a hothead.” The basketball coach is known for breaking his hand from angrily punching a locker and unintentionally hitting a woman with a chair he threw in fury. “They fired him, and he took some anger management classes. He’s mellowed out and they rehired him,” Trout says. Rumors about the football coach bounced around the shop in a similar manner.

      Shortly after the firing gossip quiets, the most feared woman in town enters the building. Fully attired in a baby blue, button down, badge-adorned short sleeved top, navy long shorts, black tennis shoes, a black visor, fanny pack and walkie talkie, she sits in the bay window. “Don’t say anything about the meter maid. She just walked in,” Trout announces.

      It turns out she’s not as scary as she seems. Charlene Cravens talks to Trout about the length of her hair, how she “likes it a bit longer.” She stops in frequently to get the scoop from Trout. “He doesn’t have to make up stories, they’re already in here,” she says.

      Some customers, however, are new to the barber shop and don’t recognize its information-hub status. “This is my first time here,” says Kyle Raffel, a freshman at Ohio University. “You never forget your first,” Trout spitfires back.

     Centered in the heart of Athens, Carsey’s attracts Ohio University students in addition to the good ol’ boys. Another first-timer, Joseph Klocke, is unsure whether he wants to rid his face of weeks-old scruff and experience an additional first: a straight razor shave. He had planned only to clean up his mop for his girlfriend, and after a few minutes of pondering he decides to go for it.
     “I trust you, Alan,” Klocke says.
     “Don’t do that,” Trout responds.
      Klocke doesn’t seem to breathe or even move during his shave. Trout carefully steams, shaves, steams, shaves Klocke’s face in a pattern he’s performed hundreds of times. Klocke comes up clean, unscathed and thankful.

      Carsey’s prides itself on old basics, like the straight razor shave, and simple hair cuts. They’ve always been a men’s dry barbershop, meaning they don’t shampoo. Simplicity and community are what keep this dying breed of barbering alive. Trout sees his job as more than barbering, though. He sees it as a way to stay in tune with the community as well as to serve the men of town. That’s coming from a man who also said barbering is “twenty percent work and eighty percent bullshit.

      At intervals in the work day, tufts of hair encircle the large, welcoming black leather barber chairs, coating the floor in rings as telling as the rings of a tree trunk. The colors and textures of the tufts vary: white and wiry from the above 60 crowd, salt-and-pepper gray from the middle-aged men, brown and soft from the students who decided it was time for a trim after a long winter.

      The floor of a barber shop not only reveals the age of its customers, but also acts as a progress report of how the day’s business has been. If it’s busy, hair is swept and dumped into a large Rubbermaid garbage can three to four times a day. Barbers can only hope enough hair has collected by 5 p.m. to fill the Rubbermaid.

      According to this hair-to-garbage can ratio, Carsey’s Barber Shop has had a good day. Actually, Carsey’s has had a good 67 years, and counting.

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17 Responses to “The Barbering Kind”

  1. 1 Shelby

    This is one of the best pieces of writing I’ve ever read Kailey!

    I felt like I was there, in the barber shop, joking with the guys.

    Stunning job love ❤

  2. this is fantastic! Really! I read it all straight through..you kept my attention the entire time. Great flow, great descriptions..I felt like I was there. Awesome work!

  3. Your writing is so incredibly detailed, that I can literally picture the shop and it’s characters so perfectly! Your a talent miss Kailey, in more ways that one!! This article is amazing, and I hope you’re proud of the outcome! Keep writing it up girl, you’d be a great reporter! LOVE YOU! 🙂

  4. 4 Emma

    This is fantastic. You really capture the essence of the shop, and of Alan. The work you put into it really shows. 🙂

  5. 5 Bec

    love it, you really capture the place. so much talent 🙂

  6. Fantastic! I give it 5 stars – that barbershop sounds great!

  7. Kailey this story is amazing. Your skills as a journalist are completely outstanding and so evident, the way you combine all these little anecdotes and make true characters out of these people. This is so so amazing i CANNOT wait to read more!!

    I am soo serious, this is NOT an..”OMG love it you rock girlie!!” comment ;D Not that I ever leave those..

  8. 8 Sarah

    kailey, this is such a thorough, well-researched, thoughtful, skilled, AND (most importantly) fascinating story! you really found a way to personalize the barber shop, and all the time you spent there comes through — i feel like i know alan now, too. i’ve never felt this way about a barbershop before 🙂

  9. yeah, i agree with all the rest. loved reading this, it flowed nicely and was very well written. you’ve got talent, keep it up!

  10. 10 Sarah

    Kale chips, this is awesome and such a fantastic read. I am also eternally grateful that my cupboard is always stocked with pedialyte. Thank you for sharing one of your many talents with us!

  11. 11 The Novice Berker

    This is SUCH an amazing piece. The lead is bangin’ and your writing doesn’t even let up for a second. It held my interest the whole way down. Way to rock it, Kailey!!

  12. 12 homegirlcaneat

    K-dawg this is amazing! I already knew you were a talented writing from your blog..but this ups your talent by like 110 points!! I love it! Mr. Barber seems so friendly and one of those guys who should be on a tv show like Gilmore Girls to gossip about all their lovers. I’m so glad he finally found his drink of choice after years of J.D… diet pepsi!

  13. what a great article! you really do have a lot of talent as a writer. thanks so much for posting so we could all read it 🙂

    writing skills will take you far girl!!!

  14. You are a gifted writer. I thoroughly enjoyed the article and got lost in the details and felt like I was actually there. I loved it!

    Keep up the amazing work!

    Have a fabulous weekend!

  15. wonderful wonderful piece! thanks so much for sharing with us 🙂 you are truly amazing!

  16. 16 Maya

    I LOVED the comparison of the rings of hair to rings on a tree trunk–awesome visual.

  17. 17 Colleen

    Wonderful job! Your brain is as beautiful as you are! 🙂


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