The Nation's Pulse

The Outlawed Josey Wales

The trappings of a good barbershop in Northern California.

By 8.12.05

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I picked my barbershop a long time ago because it's cheap, and also because it's a no-nonsense, froo-froo-free guy's barbershop, which in Northern California is sometimes hard to find.

I could tell this was the case, because they had guy magazines like Sports Illustrated and Field and Stream in the rack by where you wait. But I was certain this was a gentleman's barber shop because the first time I sat in the barber chair I was facing a black-and-white poster of Clint Eastwood, squinting and brandishing two enormous Walker Colt revolvers -- a still from the movie The Outlaw Josey Wales. I had the same poster on my door in college.

Hailing from a small town in Oklahoma, I'm used to barbershops with deer heads, dark paneling, and straight razors, so this well-lit spot was already a bit of a compromise. Certainly compared to the two-dollar haircut I got in Sucre, Bolivia, where the barber ostentatiously sterilized his tools in a jet of blazing alcohol, it was not particularly studly. But I'm not that picky; the right vibe was there.

My ideas about barbershop atmosphere, let me add, aren't an issue of what the left would call "homophobia." I neither know nor care about the personal life of my barbers. I just got used to barbershops looking, sounding, and smelling a certain traditional way, and I dislike the trend toward metrosexual Euro-fabulosity that asserts itself in too many clip joints these days. Even more worrying, many barbershops are simply abandoning their unique character for a bland, generic sameness. Which is where I was going with this story.

I hadn't gotten by this particular barbershop for a while, and when I sat down to wait my turn, I reached for an Esquire or Bowhunting magazine to pass the time. All I found were People and U.S. News & World Report from three weeks ago. The guy magazines are gone.

Then I sat down in the chair, and the first thing I noticed is that Clint Eastwood has vanished too. I mentioned this to the barber and he told me that every time a little boy would come in to get his hair cut, he'd see that picture and go, "Wow! A gun!" And the mom would say, "No, no, that's too violent!" So the poster came down. And the same, said the barber, with the hunting magazines. Little boys would see pictures of guns and get all hot and bothered, and Mom would freak and demand the magazines disappear. So, they disappeared.

The TV was also gone. Apparently the kids would whine until the barber turned on cartoons. As soon as the kids left, the barber pointed out, the other customers would tell him that they didn't really enjoy cartoons that much and he was constantly changing the channel back to ESPN. So, he took out the TV.

As is his right, the barber made a business decision that he would lose more business by keeping the posters and the TV and the magazines than he would lose by taking them down. I wish him well, and I'm sorry this piddling nanny-state politics intruded into his business. But I'm not going to enjoy going to his shop like I used to, after he decided to turn it into a Picture-of-Gun-Free Zone.

Perhaps the biggest irony is that he had replaced the glowering Eastwood with a picture of Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Peter Lawford, and Sammy Davis Jr. leaning on a pool table. Nothing wrong with them, except that they're not exactly role models, you know? The title character in Josey Wales founds a new outpost of civilization in a dangerous corner of the wild west. The broken, hardened, but still chivalrous gunman played by Eastwood risks his life to save some settlers from violation and slavery. He may be a myth, but he is a salutary one. The Rat Pack's attitudes toward women were more modern, but certainly no more enlightened. If I had a son I was taking to the barbershop, I know which example I'd rather see on the wall.

Instead, the prevailing myth is that a glimpse of an antique pistol at the barbershop will somehow pervert our children into trying out for the Columbine All-Stars. Attention, paranoid moms: if you believe this, rather than assaulting this last masculine redoubt, go somewhere already soulless and generic like Supercuts, or better yet go buy a dad-gum Flowbee and cut your own kid's hair at home. After all, you never know when, out in the big wide world, he might wander away and be exposed to an illicit glimpse of Sports Afield.

I went back last week, and after the haircut I asked the barber when he was going to put Josey back up. He winked at me and pointed high above his chair, where a small poster from A Fistful of Dollars (the second one here) scowled down.

I'm glad I said something. I just couldn't stand back and watch a noble institution commit Barbicide.

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