Jim the Barber

“You’re getting shaggy!” said Jen as she ran her fingers through my hair. She was right. I was overdue to get my now flowing mane chopped back to a manageable and respectable level.

For years now, I have loathed this drill. I have drifted aimlessly from retail chain chop shops to mega-mart style shacks. None has ever impressed me, so my choice usually depends on which direction I am heading that particular day. When I arrive, I get to see which stylist I get–will it be the silent one with hands as gentle as Hulk Hogan? Maybe the twenty-something that feels she must spend the whole time bringing me up-to-date on how her love life has been for the past month? I try to pick regulars, for there are very good ones, but by the time I come back they have either changed shifts or moved on. I have even tried some old-fashioned, high-quality barbers, but something just doesn’t click. When it comes down to it, the shell still needs sheared, and so I numbly spin the wheel.

However, it wasn’t always this way. No, for the first phase of my life, I was completely spoiled by a man known as Jim the Barber.

I was reminded a few weeks ago of what brought me to this state of eternal ‘do dissatisfaction. As I flipped through the paper, a familiar name caught my eye. It was an obituary. Jim Herdman had passed. I hadn’t heard that name in years, and while reading the brief synopsis of his life, the memories came flowing back.

According to friends, he came to Middlefield in the late 1950s. Back then, he was the ‘new guy’ with the latest-style haircuts. One of his longtime customers recalled a cut called the New Yorker, with a flat top, long sides, and grease. His first shop was right downtown, an upstairs room in the vicinity of what is now the Middlefield Bank Plaza.

I first graced Jim’s comfy barber chair as a toddler. By that time, he had a shop connected right to his house. I enjoyed everything about the monthly visits–those awesome chairs, the television that played anything from golf to music videos to WWF Wrestling, and that aroma–a blend of talcum powder, hair gels and sprays, shaving creams and shampoos. The way the back of my neck felt after being shaved with his straight razor–what a rarity that is today! And what adolescent boy could ever forget his Freightliner calendars full of big trucks and scantily-clad models of the female persuasion. All that, and when you were finished, you got a Tootsie Pop!

Jim the Barber

But the best part was that Jim was more than just a barber. He cared. He asked about your life, listened, and gave advice…..sometimes not the advice of which Mom and Dad would have quite approved. I will never forget the visit in which he spent the whole time drilling me to answer with a ‘yes’ instead of ‘yeah’. His reasoning was that you never hear ‘rich guys’ say ‘yeah’. To this day, every time I slip into my loose hometown vernacular, his voice bellows in my head.

Not to say we didn’t have our rough patches. In fifth grade, he took it upon himself to give this creature of habit a new style–with a part up the center. After two weeks of non-stop ridicule, I was back in the chair, and back to my old stand-by. In sixth grade, spiked hair was the rage, and I wanted it bad. To this day I am not sure whether it was Jim growing out of touch with the trends or trying to work with the shape of my big noggin, but after that stunt, I never changed styles again.

When college came, I found myself away from home for stints longer than I could wait for a trim. No worries, I thought. Big deal. It’s just a haircut. From the second I stepped into that Buckeye Town buzz hut, I regretted my indifference. I have sat on wooden stools more comfortable than that rickety, old, second-hand seat. The floor was covered in the hair of random strangers. Jim would have never let that happen. When I sat down, the stylist asked me something I had never heard; ”How do you have it cut?”

I froze. I had absolutely no clue what to say. I think I eventually bumbled out, “Just like this, only shorter.” I was totally embarrassed. No words were spoken as those foreign female hands jerked my head back and forth like some cheap bobble-head doll. I felt guilty and confused. I didn’t like it at all.

So I saved the cutting for the guy who knew my ‘do best. But before long, he had fallen on some hard times, and eventually moved to be closer to family. And as happens while this world continues to turn, he has now gone.

What I would give to once again park my rusty Suburban next to the twin Fieros, walk past that classic barber pole, through the waiting area, jump up in that chair, and hear his voice say, “Same ol’ crappy cut?” My hair care experiences will never be the same. For there will never be another quite like the man they called Jim the Barber.


Ty Pilarczyk
Author: Ty Pilarczyk

Ty is the president of the Huntsburg Historical Society, and has lived in Huntsburg most of his life. When he is not designing, installing, and maintaining landscapes for the family construction business, Ty enjoys vegetable gardening, restoring and collecting old pressure lanterns, and spending time with his family.