The Best Barber I`ve Ever Had - Michael Graff: Stories From All Sides

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The Best Barber I`ve Ever Had - Michael Graff: Stories From All Sides
The Best Barber
I’ve Ever Had
written by Michael Graff
Who do you trust to cut your hair?
The answer may say more about you
than you realize.
Photography by Travis Dove
98 Our State June 2012
ourstate.com 99
Some things have changed over
the years in the four chairs inside
the Haymount Barber Shop. Harriet
McLaren (left, reading the paper) now
cuts hair in the second chair from the
door. But for nearly a half-century,
Bob Peele has consistently gone
straight to the third chair from the
door — Donnie Barefoot’s.
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ourstate.com 101
L
ong before my barber
became my barber, he was God’s barber. He
— my barber, not Him — spent several years
cutting the hair of Rex Humbard, one of the
first evangelists to have a weekly television
program. Humbard delivered the ancient
Word right into 20 million living rooms
from his Cathedral of Tomorrow, and he did
it with one fine head of hair. That hair was
my barber’s doing. During the height of the
ministry in the 1970s and 1980s, my barber
flew from Greensboro to Akron, Ohio, every
three weeks to cut Humbard’s hair and come
home. My barber even cut Humbard’s hair
before he preached at Elvis Presley’s funeral.
How my hair compares to Humbard’s hair,
I do not know. But I do know that Randy
Hicks is the best barber I’ve ever had. That’s
not to speak ill of any of the others, past or
future, but if I’ve learned anything about
getting a haircut, it’s that the honor of Best
Barber I’ve Ever Had always goes to the one
who currently holds a razor to my neck.
Randy works out of Huffman’s Barber
Shop in Greensboro, a shop started years ago
by a man named Pete Huffman, who survived for four years as a Japanese prisoner of war during World
War II. It’s a place started by a real man for the rest of us who try to be.
I trembled a bit the first time I walked into Huffman’s. I’d just started a new job, at this magazine. At
the time, I was the only male on the editorial staff. I asked my coworkers if any of their dads or husbands
or sons or brothers had a reliable barber, one who would shave around the ears and neck and tell me lies.
A dismaying sign of the times: None of them came up with a recommendation. So I went into Huffman’s
not knowing what to expect.
We all go from one place to another place at some point, and in the process, we lose people and gain
people and lose people again. I’ve moved a half-dozen times, and every time, finding a barber is one of the
most anxious moments of the new beginning.
When I walked into Huffman’s that first time, I carried with me memories of men named Donnie and
Billy and Buddy and Benny and Pete and Angelo, all the way back to Tommy, who gave me my first haircut,
tears rolling down my cheeks.
He works with his hands,
I also carried only a debit card, a mistake in any barbershop. I was so
using scissors and
clippers and thinners
nervous that I forgot one of the basic rules of life my dad taught me: A man
(left). But at the end of
carries cash. The three barbers who stared at me in Huffman’s that day —
a long day of cutting
Dewey, Paul, and Randy — live by that rule, too, so they told me to come back
hair and laughing with
his fellow barbers at
when I had real money. I was the new fool already.
Huffman’s Barber Shop,
But I did return. And Randy was there, ready for the next available walk-in,
sometimes all Randy
Hicks (this page) wants
with a neatly combed head of snow-colored hair and glasses, a round belly,
to do is rest his feet.
and what looked like laugh lines in his cheeks. I knew nothing about him but
what I saw. He asked the questions on that first day. He asked me what I did
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“I don’t know which he does worse, play golf or cut hair,” John A. Watkins
jokingly says of his longtime barber, Randy Hicks.
for a living, and I told him. He asked me where I came from, and I told him that I’d just
moved up here from Fayetteville, and that I had a really good barber there, and that I was
worried I’d never find anyone to trust like that again.
hair is a gender-dividing trait among humans. For many of the women I
know, hair is something to be shaped or formed or styled. For most of the men I know, it’s
something to be kept.
Men like me request regular haircuts — short on the sides, medium on top, parted one
way or the other. We do it about every three weeks, keeping it consistent, keeping it under
control, keeping it tidy and tight, until that inevitable day when parts of our hair are no
longer there. It won’t happen in one moment, and the progress
In ancient Fiji, of decline is unseen, but it is a fact of life that there are simply
the barber’s hands some things that we can watch and maintain and care for with
were sacred — he unrelenting diligence and still they will be inextricably lost.
wasn’t allowed
Regardless, to have a head with any amount of hair is to
to use them to do
have
a chance to connect with someone.
any other work.
From the years when we are guided by wonder, through the
He wasn’t even
allowed to feed years when we realize not every dream is worth chasing, through
himself. the years when we work to provide, and through the years when
we just live before we die, we need a haircut. And no matter what
we’ve been through, the barber works in closer physical proximity to us than any other professional
relationship we have, his scissors just inches from our thoughts.
104 Our State June 2012
What he extracts says more about
us than it does him. The more a man
talks to his barber, Randy tells me, the
less that man talks to others outside
of the barbershop. In other words, that man needs a friend.
Conversely, the less a man talks, the more he says outside
the barbershop. Randy cuts the hair of several doctors in
Greensboro. They don’t talk at all in his chair, he notices. Most
close their eyes. And Randy does things, a slower neck shave or
an extra clipper shaping, to prolong the haircut. He knows the
doctor needs the full 15 minutes of peace.
The barber, then, is the man we talk to when we have nobody
else, the man who keeps quiet when we have too many others, and
the man who cuts our hair even if we don’t have much to cut.
The barber is our balance.
Donnie Barefoot has
never taken a sick day.
Maybe it’s the Barbicide.
When The Beatles
came to the United
States in the 1960s,
hundreds of barbers
in North Carolina
gave up their licenses
because young boys
wanted to grow out
their hair and look
like English rockers.
106 Our State June 2012
The place where I lived before I met Randy, Fayetteville,
is a rough town on the surface. It serves as the home of Fort
Bragg, one of the largest Army posts in the country. Here, barber
poles are everywhere. On streets called Yadkin Road and Reilly
Road, just outside the main gate, soldiers have dozens of cheap
and fast options for a high and tight. On those streets, men have
little loyalty to one shop or another.
But in the heart of town, about 10 miles from that barber
alley, the only barber anyone knows is Donnie Barefoot.
Before Randy became my barber, Donnie was my barber. I
lived just down the street from his shop, the Haymount Barber
Shop, and I quickly learned that he knew more about Fayetteville
news than I did — and I was a newspaper reporter.
In a town where it seems everybody is from somewhere else,
and people come here only to leave here, Donnie’s barbershop
is the place to find people who love Fayetteville like it is family.
Doctors and lawyers and construction workers and businessmen
all sit in Donnie’s chair. Few of his clients are in the Army.
Donnie is 72, and he was born into a farming family in Sampson County, married
a farm girl from Sampson County, and never lived outside of Sampson County, except
for the year he went to barber school in Durham in 1959 and the six months when he
went to training for the National Guard in 1962. He has driven 22 miles to work from
his home in the country since the beginning of his career. On July 5, he will start his
54th year at the Haymount Barber Shop. He remembers when the shop was the only
air-conditioned shop in Fayetteville. One of the other barbers who worked here when
Donnie started was George Richardson, whose son is Jerry Richardson, who is now 75
years old and the majority owner of the Carolina Panthers.
Donnie has never missed a day of scheduled work. His regular days off are Sundays
and Thursdays. About eight years ago, when he had prostate cancer, Donnie worked
on a Wednesday, went into the hospital and had surgery that night, took his regular
day off, and was back at work on Friday morning.
He’s cut four generations of hair for some Fayetteville families. At least a couple
of days a month now, Donnie leaves the barbershop at 6 p.m. and goes to the funeral
home to cut an old friend’s hair for the last time.
He uses the same comb, a Wahl USA black comb, he used when he started in 1959. Its
Consider this: When Donnie Barefoot cut his first head of hair in 1959, that comb wasn’t curved.
teeth have a curve in the middle from wear. The chairs he uses are original to the shop, and yet only
one has a tear in the upholstery. Mirrors are on both walls, in front of the chairs and behind them,
perfectly slanted so that you can see what’s happening outside by looking ahead and following three
or four reflections bouncing off of each other. Donnie sees who’s coming by looking in the mirror.
Parked outside is Donnie’s Ford Ranger pickup truck, which for 12 years has taken him those
22 miles to and from work. It now has 318,000 miles on it. “Pay $7.10 a year in county taxes on
it,” he says. He talks like rural southeastern North Carolina talks
The barber pole — a voice that sounds like stones rubbing together, an accent that
dates to when makes $7.10 sound like sebumten, and a smile that takes an awful
barbers were also lot to unlock.
surgeons — red is
I drove to Fayetteville to visit Donnie this spring, and I told him
for blood, white is I wanted
to write about him. He told me that the newspaper had
for bandages, blue
done
a
story
on him a couple of years ago, and I could just use that.
is for veins.
I insisted, though, and he let me in. When I walked into the shop,
Donnie was cutting hair. He looked at me through the mirror.
“So, you’re up in Greensboro now, huh?” he said. “How much they charge for a haircut
up there?”
The barber is fading. Not all barbers. But the kind of barber I trust.
Great Clips has about 25 shops in the Triad, nine in Greensboro alone. You can find the store
location, see the estimated wait time, and check in all online. They advertise $3.99 haircuts or “free
108 Our State June 2012
haircuts for a year!” and people hustle in and out,
taking whichever chair is available next, without
any sense of loyalty.
Hundreds of years ago, the death of the
neighborhood barber would have seemed
impossible. After all, he was also a surgeon.
During the Middle Ages, barbers treated
diseases through bloodletting. The barber pole
we know today dates to that time — red for
blood, white for bandages, blue for veins. When
someone eventually determined that a man
who could cut hair wasn’t necessarily qualified
to perform surgery, the two groups split. The
barbers kept the pole.
After the Civil War, many of the barbershops
in the United States were run by freed blacks.
They brought an art and personality to the
business. They dressed up the barbershop,
turned it into a profession. They were savvy and
ahead of their time in realizing the importance
of image in business, and they played to
stereotypes whites placed on them in order to
keep the customers happy.
Cutting hair is not surgery; it is a service.
When The Beatles came to the United States
in the 1960s, hundreds of barbers in North
Carolina gave up their licenses because young
boys and men wanted their hair to grow out.
When those customers eventually came back for
a trim, the barber had a decision to make: give
the boys the haircut they wanted, or give them
the haircut he thought they should have.
Dewey Misenheimer, a co-owner at Huffman’s, once worked with a barber who gave standard haircuts to
boys who would’ve preferred to look like English rockers.
“He told them, ‘I’m going to give you your money’s worth,’” Dewey says. “He was out of business that year.
You can’t give the customer his money’s worth; you have to give the customer the haircut he wants.”
A few years later, a scraggly man with long hair came into Huffman’s and nervously told Dewey, “Please,
don’t cut too much off.” Dewey combed down on the man’s hair and went around the back, chopping the
scissors in the air to make a sound, never cutting a single lock. And the man left happy.
“Sixteen dollars,” I told Donnie.
“Hmm,” he said as I sat in his chair one more time, for old-time’s sake. “I just went up to elebum.”
The barber knows two things better than anyone: prices and weather.
Fayetteville residents
When Donnie began cutting hair, he charged $1.25. Parents dropped their
read up on the dated
kids off at the shop and went to catch a movie for 10 cents. The Haymount Grill,
news from Donnie
Barefoot’s newsstand
a legendary local place, was already open across the street. The small building
rack (above left). They
next door to the grill has been any number of things — it was a coffee shop when
find the latest news
I lived here, and now sheets cover the windows and a local man broadcasts church
simply by talking
to Donnie (right).
services over the Internet.
The charge for the
Donnie knows just about every local business in Fayetteville. The publisher
conversation and
information — $11.
of The Fayetteville Observer, Charles Broadwell, has had his hair cut in Donnie’s
110 Our State June 2012
ourstate.com 111
His grandfather came to Randy Hicks for his regular haircuts. His father came to Randy Hicks for his
regular haircuts. And now, 6-year-old Banks Rogers comes to Randy Hicks for his regular haircuts.
shop since he was a boy, so when I started going there, I had a connection with the man who
signed my paycheck, simply because of my choice in barber. Going to Donnie’s shop made
professional sense for me, but it was more than that.
As a business, the haircut will never be outsourced. Even during the recent recession, people
who have jobs want to look good to keep those jobs, and people who don’t have jobs want to look
good to get one.
In the barber’s chair, work defines the man. Donnie introduces people by their names first and
what they do second.
Bob owned several fast-food joints and now lives in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, but still
drives to Fayetteville for a haircut. Steve is a doctor who does head and neck surgery, and he’s
been coming here for nearly 50 years. Harold is 90 years old and a retired dentist who pulled
“buckets of teeth” in his career, Donnie says. Donnie cut the hair of two men — Jack Britt and
the late F.D. Byrd — who have high schools named after them.
Glenn Jernigan Jr. is a home builder. He’s in his 40s, and his dad is a lawyer and a lobbyist.
Glenn Jr. grew up down the street, and he’s never had
From the minute another barber. When I asked him what the men who
we’re born and bring a come here — the sons of Fayetteville — will do when
smile to our mother’s Donnie’s no longer here, Glenn Jr. said, “That’s a dilemma
face, we live in the
space between doing we haven’t had to ponder yet.”
It’s difficult to imagine life without your barber.
for others and doing for
Aside from the conversations and news, what I recall
ourselves. The haircut
most
about Donnie’s haircuts is the last step.
is at the front of this
Donnie
uses Campbell’s liquid shaving cream. He
internal debate.
112 Our State June 2012
mixes one eight-ounce bottle of it with two gallons of water and pours it into a lather
machine with a motor. He presses the top of the machine, and it makes a buzzing
sound, and he takes two fingers of cream and paints it first around the front of my
right ear, feathers it out around the back and down to my neck, then back up around
the left side. Then he unfolds the straight razor.
“They still shave behind your ears up there in Greensboro?” Donnie asked me
that day.
When he finishes shaving, he sprinkles a brush and slaps my neck with something
called Man’s Pinaud Clubman Powder, and when the dust reaches my nose, I’m
struck by how much this man’s powder smells like baby powder.
When I was young, after my nightly bath, I stood on the sink with my back
to the mirror and faced my mom. She dressed me and dried my head with a
towel, fast and fun so that we both laughed. She brushed my hair, parted on the
left and flowing to the right. When she finished, she grabbed my shoulders and
leaned back to take a look. Then she spun me around to the mirror.
“So handsome!” she’d say.
“So handsome!” I’d say back.
Despite our appearances sometimes, men like to look good and be told they
look good. At Huffman’s, several customers request haircuts before business
hours because they want what hair they have trimmed, so they can put on their
toupees and leave unseen. Others ask that the barber not spin them around to
the mirror after the haircut.
Stereotypes may say otherwise, and tough exteriors may never allow this
admission: Throughout time, men have been more vain than women.
According to the book The History of Hair, in the 1920s, artificial-looking
waves became popular in men’s fashion, and one expert waver in Boston,
Massachusetts, reported that men used hot curlers and “In their anxiety to
beautify themselves, they risk burning without a thought.”
In ancient Fiji, men dressed their hair with such fancy that the barber’s hands
were deemed sacred — he wasn’t allowed to
use them to do any other work; he wasn’t even Stereotypes may say
otherwise, and tough
allowed to feed himself.
From the minute we’re born and bring exteriors may never
a smile to our mother’s face, we live in the allow this admission:
space between doing for others and doing Throughout time,
men have been more
for ourselves, fiercely protective of our
vain than women.
own identities but ever aware of outside
perceptions. The haircut stands at the front of
this internal debate. How we shape our hair is an independent choice, sure, but
mostly it is a way for others to identify us.
So the barber remains one of life’s most important investments. Because you’ll
keep needing him. When I left Donnie three years ago and walked into Huffman’s
Barber Shop, of course I trembled a bit. My next barber, I knew, must have it all
— he must be good, and he must be friendly, and he must be honest, and he must
be trustworthy. He must be the kind of guy who’d be God’s barber.
Randy Hicks was born in Randolph County, raised in Randolph County, and
still lives in Randolph County. He moved away a few times — first when he joined
the Navy, then when he went to barber college in Durham, and then when he went
114 Our State June 2012
to barber training in England — but
home is here. He finished his barber
degree in 1960, one year after Donnie
finished his at the same school.
In the 1960s and ’70s, Randy did
some competitive barbering. He took
models — real people of his choosing
from North Carolina — and he
traveled around the country to give
the models haircuts for judging. The
judges chose a cut — the continental,
the Roffler Sculpture — and Randy
had to perform it in 40 minutes. In
1970, he beat 300 other competitors
from all over the world to win the
David Cup as the world haircutting
champion. For one year, Randy was
the best barber on the planet.
That’s when Humbard heard about
Randy and began flying him all over
the country as his personal barber.
In 1975, Randy entered local
qualifying to be part of the U.S.
Olympic haircut team. The top
four barbers at each stage of the
competition advanced to the next
stage. In the state competition,
Randy qualified alongside Tommy
Johnson of Asheboro, Grady
Parham of Asheville, and Robert
Hayes of Gastonia. In the regional
competition, Randy and Tommy
and Grady and Robert were the top
four again, and they advanced to the
national competition. In the national
competition, against barbers from all
over the country, Randy and Tommy
and Grady and Robert were the top
four again. The United States barber
team, consisting only of men from
central and western North Carolina,
flew to New York to compete in the
1976 Haircut Olympics. They finished
13th among 70 countries.
Randy’s job has taken him
everywhere. His second love is golf,
and one of the men whose hair he cuts
took him to Pebble Beach, California,
to play once. Another put him on a
private jet and flew him down for the
Masters Golf Tournament. Randy
was there on Sunday in 1986 when
ourstate.com 115
Randy Hicks shows his hambone skills. He taught his son, who went on to become a YouTube sensation with the dance.
Jack Nicklaus, at 46 years old, won his final Masters. It’s a
classic moment in sports history — the aging Nicklaus, his
hair white and floppy, beating out a field of younger men,
holding off time.
Randy lives with his wife, Lois, a retired librarian, in Ramseur.
They have four children. The oldest, a daughter named Kim,
died of Lou Gehrig’s disease 20 years ago. The second, Randall,
lives at home after being paralyzed in a car accident. The third,
Daniel, is a lawyer in Jamestown, and the youngest, Samuel, is a
minister in Asheboro.
Randy drives 40 miles to work every day and 40 miles
home, and he’s 71 years old. How I wound up with another
116 Our State June 2012
barber who is the same age as Donnie and came from the
same barber school as Donnie and drives into the city from a
country home like Donnie does, I do not know. But I do know
that they’re the two best barbers I’ve ever had, and they seem
to be balanced by being both in touch and out of touch. And a
balanced barber is a good barber. Steadier hands.
Randy thinks about the future of his profession, but at his
age, he doesn’t concern himself too much with it. He’s the life
of Huffman’s Barber Shop. He and Jack Vaughan, who left a
career as an accountant to become a barber, make bets every
week on professional golf. The total purse each week: $1. Often,
they just pass the bill back and forth. Randy’s laugh lines are
Writer Michael Graff’s first visit to a barber, 1981.
always stretched. He’ll show you how he can do the hambone, a wild,
knee-slapping dance that he taught his youngest son. A video of that
son doing the hambone wound up on YouTube and, subsequently,
“The Ellen Degeneres Show.”
Randy lives the kind of life that will make you wonder what
you’ve been doing with yours, in between all those haircuts.
When I walked into Huffman’s Barber Shop that first time, I
didn’t know anything about him but what I saw. All I knew was
that Donnie had been my barber, and I wondered if there was
anyone I’d ever trust like that again.
We didn’t talk that much the first time, Randy and me.
But I remember the end of that haircut. Randy pressed down on a
machine with a motor that made a buzzing sound, and he took two fingers of shaving cream
and painted it first around the front of my right ear, feathered it out around the back and down to my neck, and then
back up around the left side.
And each time he swiped the razor, I felt the warmth of that
shaving cream giving way to the cold of a smooth and naked Haymount Barber Shop
neck, and I felt at once the sensation of being handsome again 1224 Fort Bragg Road
Greensboro
Fayetteville, N.C. 28305
and the nip of knowing that it was only temporary.
(910) 483-6522
Michael Graff is the senior editor of Our State magazine. His most
recent stories were “Dahlia King” and “Nuts, Bolts, Washers, & Roses”
(April 2012).
118 Our State June 2012
Huffman’s Barber Shop
1728 Battleground Avenue
Greensboro, N.C. 27408
(336) 274-4879
Fayetteville

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