It was a one chair shop on Saturday, because the two male barbers had bailed. The owner who inherited the shop doesn't work Saturdays, period. The other guy thought he might be coming down with what his wife had. That left Linda, working her second job with a sore back, and a stack of cranky guys.
Understand that this shop used to belong to Hilda, a true Alaskan character. She was a wild bawdy bombshell who famously shot-gunned (and killed) her soon-to-be ex-husband's Cadillac and stopped conversation at bars by leaning across billiards tables in short skirts, winning much more money there than she lost. As she and her legend aged, she ran a barber shop and told stories, remembering with her older mostly retired military customers, and entertaining the rest of us. If a youngster couldn't sit still, she'd box his ears, and point to the dusty stuffed animals mounted there. "You wanna be next?"
Hilda died last year. We all miss her.
Now, Linda will carry the conversation when it lags, but this day it was animated. Other than griping about her coworkers and her back, she didn't participate much. Considering the topics, and the situation, that must have taken some lip biting.
When I came in, four older guys had skeptical looks, while the mother of a teenager and the guy in the chair talked about pyramids. If I'd been busy, I'd have left, like a half dozen that peeked in after me. But this was the last of my to-do-today list, and Hilda's is one place I don't mind waiting. Pyramid guy was evidently supporting the mother of the teenager, who'd introduced the topic to a mildly hostile cross-armed audience.
"Believe me, the math supports the power of the pyramid", he said, glancing nervously from face to face in the room. "Modern critics didn't take into account the limestone siding, the math is perfect!", he almost pleaded. "Actually", he leaned confidingly toward the mom, "I built a pyramid sauna. In my yard. You can FEEL the energy."
Linda cut the motor on the massager. Pyramid guy looked disappointed, handed her a bill, and walked over to the mom, talked in hushed tones like everybody couldn't hear about how he appreciated her research and to keep it up. He hugged her and left.
As the teen walked to the chair, the guy with the buzz cut, arms still crossed, asked the room about pyramid guy; "Gay?"
"Yup", said combover.
"Yessirree!", said flattop enthusiastically.
"Ah-hah", mumbled hat hair.
They all looked at me. "Don't care", I replied without returning their glance. The kid in the chair was grinning. Mom said nothing.
Linda broke the silence. "Where's your brother?" To the kid.
Mom answered before he could, unaware she was breaking barbershop etiquette, "He's getting ready for the PROM!!" Then she proceeded to tell us how HE had been asked by HER, and how he'd had no clue about what to wear or how to act, that the girl had insisted he take a dance class with her, and how he was shocked at how much this was all going to cost, and how he'd been embarrassed having to meet her folks, and how now he was all stressed out getting ready.
"And he didn't need a haircut?", asked Linda. producing a welcome but uncomfortable silence.
Finally, hat hair pipes up, "You don't get a five dollar haircut for prom."
Linda waves her scissors, "Mister, if you think you're getting a haircut for five bucks, you're in the wrong place!"
From Buzz, "He didn't say what you charged, just what it's worth". The kid is smirking again.
"Anyway", Mom spins back up, "They're meeting a bunch of friends. The prom is at the railroad depot. A wonderful venue. I've been there. Today's proms are more about getting together with your friends and having a good time. Not so much about romance."
Linda didn't flinch, but the rest of the room could have won a medal in synchronized chuckling.
" Oh come on!", Mom chided. "This girl chose him because he's a nice kid, and he's tall enough she can wear heels. That's all."
Silence. Mom looked like she wanted to put her hands over her son's ears when she half whispered, "It's not about SEX!"
Nothing. The kid's grin is almost audible, it's so big.
Linda, "Well he IS a really nice boy."
Combover leans forward. "I raised two spectacular daughters. They chose their prospective husbands in 8th grade, and they're still grooming them. Really nice boys. I'm pretty sure their proms involved some romance. I'm not sure about sex. I didn't ask."
Mom is wide eyed, throwing money at Linda and ushering her younger son away from our influence. As they get to the door, Buzz asks again, "Whaddaya think? Gay?"
Mom keeps walking, pushing the buttons on her key fob, escaping. The kid turns in the door to hear our response.
I hesitated. The boy raised his eyebrows, waiting. "I'm concerned for the brother, though."
The boy gave us a thumbs up, then ran to open the door for his mother.
Buzz creaked into the chair and Linda wrapped him in her Marilyn Monroe cloak and took his glasses while flat-top found the broom and swept up the hair from the last few cuts.
"Where's YOUR brother?", Linda asked Buzz. Nobody answered for him.
"He's laid up at Mercy. Cancer in one of his nuts. No proms for him for a while, I guess."
We all laughed, and then we didn't.
"Sorry", was all Linda said.
"I'll tell him we were talking about him at Hilda's", said Buzz. "He'll like that."