Haircut – Intermediate Level

I’ve got another barber that comes over from Carterville and helps me out Saturdays. The rest of the time I can get along all right alone. You can see for yourself that this ain’t no New York City. Besides that, most of the boys work all day and don’t have the time to drop in here during the week.

You’re new here, ain’t you? I thought I hadn’t seen you round before. I hope you like it good enough to stay. As I say, we ain’t no New York City or Chicago, but we have pretty good times. Not as good, though, since Jim Kendall got killed. When he was alive, he and Hod Meyers used to keep this town laughing. I bet there was more laughing done here than any town its size in America.

Jim was very funny, and Hod was pretty near a match for him. Since Jim’s gone, Hod tries to hold his end up just the same as ever, but it’s hard going when you haven’t got anybody to work with.

There used to be a lot of fun in here Saturdays. This place is so full that you can’t move on Saturdays, from four o’clock on. Jim and Hod would show up right after their dinner round six o’clock. Jim would sit himself down in that big chair. Whoever had been sitting in that chair, why they’d get up when Jim came in and give it to him.

You’d have thought it was a reserved seat like they have sometimes in a theatre. Hod would generally always stand or walk up and down or some Saturdays. Of course, he’d be sitting in his chair part of the time, while I cut his hair.

Well, Jim would sit there a while without opening his mouth except to spit. Then finally he’d say to me, “Whitey,” – my right name, that is, my right first name, is Dick, but everybody round here calls me Whitey. Jim would say, “Whitey, your nose is so red tonight that you must have been drinking some of your cologne.”

So I’d say, “No, Jim, but you look like you’ve been drinking something of that kind or something worse.”

Jim would have to laugh at that, but then he’d speak up and say, “No, I haven’t had anything to drink, but that’s not saying I wouldn’t like something. I wouldn’t even mind if it was wood alcohol.”

Then Hod Meyers would say, “Neither would your wife.” That would set everybody to laughing because Jim and his wife weren’t on very good terms. She’d have divorced him only there wasn’t any chance to get any money from him to take care of herself and the kids. She could never understand Jim. He was kind of rough, but a good man at heart.

Him and Hod had all kinds of sport with Milt Sheppard. I don’t suppose you’ve seen Milt. Well, he’s got an Adam’s apple that looks more like a melon. So I’d be shaving Milt and when I’d start to shave down here on his neck, Hod would call out, “Hey, Whitey, wait a minute! Before you cut into it, let’s each put up some money and see who can guess closest to the number of seeds.”

And Jim would say, “If Milt hadn’t been so greedy, he’d have ordered a half a melon instead of a whole one and it might not have stuck in his throat.”

All the boys would laugh at this and Milt himself would force a smile, though the joke was on him. Jim certainly was a card!

There’s his shaving mug, sitting on the shelf, right next to Charley Vail’s. “Charles M. Vail.” That’s the drug store owner. He comes in regularly for his shave, three times a week. And Jim’s is the cup next to Charley’s. “James H. Kendall.” Jim won’t need a shaving mug any more, but I’ll leave it there just the same for old time’s sake. Jim certainly was a character!

Years ago, Jim used to travel for a canned goods company over in Carterville. They sold canned goods. Jim had the whole northern half of the State and was on the road five days out of every week. He’d drop in here Saturdays and tell his experiences for that week. It was rich.

I guess he paid more attention to playing jokes than making sales. Finally the company let him go. And he come right home here and told everybody he’d been fired instead of saying he’d made the decision to leave like most men would have.

It was a Saturday and the shop was full and Jim got up out of that chair and says, “Gentlemen, I’ve got an important announcement to make. I’ve been fired from my job.”

Well, they asked him if it was true. He said it was and nobody could think of anything to say till Jim finally broke the ice himself. He says, “I been selling canned goods and now I’m canned goods myself.

You see, the company he’d been working for was a factory that made canned goods. Over in Carterville. And now Jim said he was canned himself. He was certainly a card!

Jim had a great trick that he used to play while he was traveling. He’d be riding on a train and they’d come to some little town like, well, like, well, like, we’ll say, like Benton. Jim would look out the train window and read the signs of the stores.

There’d be a sign like “Henry Smith, Dry Goods.” Well, Jim would write down the name and the name of the town. Then, when he got to wherever he was going, he’d mail back a postal card to Henry Smith at Benton and not sign a name to it. He’d write on the card, well something like, “Ask your wife about that book agent that spent the afternoon last week.” Or “Ask your Missus who kept her from getting lonely the last time you were in Carterville.” And he’d sign the card, “A Friend.”

Of course, he never knew what really came of any of these jokes, but he could picture what probably happened and that was enough.

Jim didn’t work very regularly after he lost his position with the Carterville people. He spent almost all that he earned, doing odd jobs round town, on drink. His family might have starved if the stores hadn’t carried them along. Jim’s wife tried her hand at dress-making, but nobody is going to get rich making dresses in this town.

As I say, she’d have divorced Jim, only she saw that she couldn’t support herself and the kids. She was always hoping that some day Jim would cut out his habits and give her more than two or three dollars a week.

There was a time when she would go to whoever he was working for and ask them to give her his wages. But after she did this once or twice, he beat her to it by borrowing most of his pay in advance. He talked about it all round town, how he had got the better of his Missus. He certainly was funny!

But he wasn’t satisfied with just outsmarting her. He was angry the way she had acted, trying to get his pay before he did. And he made up his mind he’d get even. Well, he waited till Evans’s Circus was advertised to come to town. Then he told his wife and two children that he was going to take them to the circus. The day of the circus, he told them he would get the tickets and meet them outside the entrance to the main tent.

Well, he wasn’t planning to be there or buy tickets or anything. He got drunk and laid round Wright’s pool room all day. His wife and the kids waited and waited and of course he didn’t show up. His wife had no money with her, or anywhere else, I guess. So she finally had to tell the kids it was all off and they cried like they were never going to stop.

Well, it seems, while they were crying, Doc Stair came along and he asked what was the matter. Mrs Kendall wouldn’t tell him, but the kids did and he paid for them and their mother to see the show. Jim found this out afterwards and it was one reason why he had it in for Doc Stair.

Doc Stair came here about a year and a half ago. He’s a very handsome young man and his clothes always look like he has them made to order. He goes to Detroit two or three times a year. While he’s there he must have a tailor take his measurements and make him a suit to order. They cost pretty near twice as much, but they fit a whole lot better than if you just bought them in a store.

For a while everybody was wondering why a young doctor like Doc Stair should come to a town like this. We already had old Doc Gamble and Doc Foote who have both been here for years. All the practice in town has always been divided between the two of them.

Then a story got round that Doc Stair’s girl up North somewhere had played games with him. She had had many boyfriends without telling him and the reason he came here was to hide himself away and forget it.

He said himself that he thought there was nothing like being a family doctor in a place like ours to make a man a good all round doctor. And that’s why he’d came.

Anyway, it wasn’t long before he was making enough to live on, though they tell me that he never bothered people for what they owed him. And the people here certainly have got the owing habit, even in my business. If I had all that was coming to me for just shaves alone, I could go to Carterville and put up at the hotel for a week and see a different picture every night. For example, there’s old George Purdy – but I guess I shouldn’t be talking about people behind their back.

Well, last year, our coroner died. He died of the flu. Ken Beatty, that was his name. He was the coroner. So they had to choose another man to be coroner in his place and they picked Doc Stair. He laughed at first and said he didn’t want it, but they made him take it. It isn’t a job that anybody would fight for and what a man makes out of it in a year would just about buy seeds for their garden. Doc’s the kind of man, though, that can’t say no if you keep at him long enough.

But I was going to tell you about a poor boy we got here in town – Paul Dickson. He fell out of a tree when he was about ten years old. Hit on his head and it did something to him and he has never been right. No harm in him, but just silly. Jim Kendall used to call him cuckoo. That’s a name Jim had for anybody that was off their head, only he called people’s head their bean. That was another of his jokes, calling head bean and calling crazy people cuckoo. Only poor Paul ain’t crazy, but just silly.

You can imagine that Jim used to have all kinds of fun with Paul. He’d send him to the White Front Garage for left-handed tools. Of course there ain’t any such thing as left-handed tools.

There wasn’t anything in the way of jokes that Jim couldn’t think up, when he put his mind to it.

Poor Paul never fully trusted people, maybe because of how Jim had kept fooling him. Paul wouldn’t have much to do with anybody. Only his own mother and Doc Stair and a girl here in town named Julie Gregg. That is, she ain’t a girl no more, but pretty near thirty or over.

When Doc first come to town, Paul seemed to feel like here was a real friend and he hung round Doc’s office most of the time. The only time he wasn’t there was when he’d go home to eat or sleep or when he saw Julie Gregg doing her shopping.

When he looked out Doc’s window and saw her, he’d run downstairs and join her and go with her to the different stores. The poor boy was crazy about Julie and she always treated him very nicely and made him feel like he was welcome. Though of course it was nothing more than feeling sorry for him on her side.

Doc did all he could to improve Paul’s mind and he told me once that he really thought the boy was getting better. He said that there were times when Paul was as bright and sensible as anybody else.

But I was going to tell you about Julie Gregg. Old man Gregg was in the lumber business, but got to drinking and lost most of his money. When he died, all he left was the house and just enough insurance for the girl to live on.

Her mother was a kind of partly disabled and hardly ever left the house. Julie wanted to sell the place and move somewhere else after the old man died, but the mother said she was born here and would die here. It was hard on Julie because the young people round this town… well, she’s too good for them.

She’d been away to school and Chicago and New York and different places and can about any subject. If you were to talk to the rest of the young people here about anything other than Gloria Swanson or Tommy Meighan they would think you were mad. Did you see Gloria in “Wages of Virtue”? You missed a great movie!

Well, Doc Stair hadn’t been here more than a week when he came in one day to get shaved. I recognized who he was, as he had been pointed out to me, so I told him about my old lady. She’s been sick for a couple years and neither Doc Gamble or Doc Foote seemed to be helping her. He said he would come out and see her if necessary. However, if she was able to get out herself, it would be better to bring her to his office where he could make a fuller examination.

So I took her to his office and while I was in the waiting room, in came Julie Gregg. When somebody comes in Doc Stair’s office, there’s a bell that rings in his inside office so he can tell there’s somebody to see him.

So he left my old lady inside and come out to the front office and that’s the first time he and Julie met. I guess it was what they call love at first sight for her. This young doctor was the best looking man she’d ever seen in this town and she went wild over him. But it wasn’t the same with him. To him she was just a young lady that wanted to see the doctor.

She’d come on the same business I had. Her mother had been going to see Doc Gamble and Doc Foote for years without any results. So she’d heard there was a new doctor in town and decided to give him a try. He promised to call and see her mother that same day.

I said a minute ago that it was love at first sight on her part. I’m not only judging by how she acted afterwards but how she looked at him that first day in his office. I am no mind reader, but it was written all over her face that she was gone.

Now Jim Kendall, besides playing jokes and being a pretty good drinker, well Jim was quite a ladies’ man. I guess he ran pretty wild during the time he was on the road for those Carterville people. Besides that, he’d had a couple of little love affairs right here in town. As I say, his wife would have divorced him, only she couldn’t.

But Jim was like the majority of men, and women, too, I guess. He wanted what he couldn’t get. He wanted Julie Gregg and worked his head off trying to land her. Only he’d have said bean instead of head.

Well, Julie didn’t like Jim’s habits and jokes, and of course he was a married man. So he didn’t have any more chance than, well, than a rabbit. That’s an expression of Jim’s himself. When somebody didn’t have a chance to get elected or something, Jim would always say they didn’t have any more chance than a rabbit.

He didn’t try to hide how he felt. Right in here, more than once, in front of the whole crowd, he said he was stuck on Julie. He even said anybody that could get her for him was welcome to his house with his wife and kids included. But she would have nothing to do with him. She wouldn’t even speak to him on the street. He finally saw that he wasn’t getting anywhere with his usual line so he decided to try the rough stuff. He went right up to her house one evening and when she opened the door he forced his way in and put his arms around her. But she broke loose and before he could stop her, she ran into the next room and locked the door and phoned to Joe Barnes. Joe’s the Police Chief. Jim could hear who she was phoning and he beat it before Joe got there.

Joe was an old friend of Julie’s father. Joe went to Jim the next day and told him what would happen if he ever did it again.

I don’t know how the news of this got out. Chances are that Joe Barnes told his wife and she told somebody else’s wife and they told their husband. Anyway, it did get out and Hod Meyers had the nerve to joke with Jim about it, right here in this shop. Jim didn’t try to say that nothing happened and kind of laughed it off. He told us all to wait. He said that lots of people had tried to make a fool of him, but he always got even.

Everybody in town was wise to Julie’s being wild mad over the Doc. I don’t suppose she had any idea how her face changed when they were together. She couldn’t have, or she’d have kept away from him. And she didn’t know that we were all noticing how many times she made excuses to go up to his office. Or to pass it on the other side of the street and look up into his window to see if he was there. I felt sorry for her and so did most other people.

Hod Meyers kept joking with Jim about how the Doc had cut him out. Jim didn’t pay attention to the jokes and you could see he was planning one of his own.

One trick Jim had was the way he could change his voice. He could make you think he was a girl talking and he could copy any man’s voice. To show you how good he was along this line, I’ll tell you the joke he played on me once.

You know, in most towns of any size, when a man is dead and needs a shave, the barber that shaves him charges him five dollars for the job. That is, he doesn’t charge him, but whoever ordered the shave. I just charge three dollars because personally I don’t mind much shaving a dead person. They lay a whole lot stiller than live customers. The only thing is that you don’t feel like talking to them and you get kind of lonely.

Well, about the coldest day we ever had here, two years ago last winter, the phone rung at the house while I was home eating dinner. I answered the phone and it was a woman’s voice. She said she was Mrs. John Scott and her husband was dead and would I come out and shave him.

Old John had always been a good customer of mine. But they live seven miles out in the country, on the Streeter road. Still I didn’t see how I could say no. So I said I would be there, but would have to come in a taxi and it might cost three or four dollars besides the price of the shave. So she, or the voice, said that was all right. I got Frank Abbott to drive me out to the place and when I got there, who should open the door but old John himself! He wasn’t any more dead than, well, than a rabbit.

It didn’t take a private detective to figure out who had played this little joke on me. Nobody could have thought it up but Jim Kendall. He certainly was a card!

I’m telling you about this to show you how he could change his voice and make you believe it was somebody else talking. I was sure that it was Mrs. Scott who had had called me. Anyway, some woman.

Well, Jim waited till he could copy Doc Stair’s voice perfectly; then he went after revenge.

He called Julie up on a night when he knew Doc was over in Carterville. She never questioned but what it was Doc’s voice. Jim said he must see her that night; he couldn’t wait any longer to tell her something. She was all excited and told him to come to the house. But he said he was expecting an important long distance phone call and would she please forget her manners for once and come to his office. He said that she would be quite safe and nobody would see her. He just had to talk to her a little while. Well, poor Julie fell for it.

Doc always keeps a night light in his office, so it looked to Julie like there was somebody there.

After the call Jim had gone to Wright’s pool room, where a lot of his friends were enjoying themselves. Most of them were drunk, and they were a rough lot even when they weren’t drinking. They were always strong for Jim’s jokes. When he told them to come with him and see some fun they gave up their card games and pool games and followed along.

Doc’s office is on the second floor. Right outside his door there’s some stairs leading to the floor above. Jim and his friends hid in the dark behind these stairs.

Well, Julie came up to Doc’s door and rang the bell and nothing happened. She rang it again and she rang it seven or eight times. Then she tried the door and found it locked. Then Jim made some kind of a noise and she heard it and waited a minute, and then she said, “Is that you, Ralph?” Ralph is Doc’s first name.

There was no answer and it must have come to her all of a sudden that she’d been tricked. She almost fell downstairs and the men ran after her. They chased her all the way home, shouting, “Is that you, Ralph?” and “Oh, Ralphie, dear, is that you?” Jim says he couldn’t shout it himself, as he was laughing too hard.

Poor Julie! She didn’t show up here on Main Street for a long, long time afterward.

And of course Jim and his friends told everybody in town, everybody but Doc Stair. They were scared to tell him, and he might never have known only for Paul Dickson. The poor cuckoo, as Jim called him, was here in the shop one night when Jim was still laughing about what he’d done to Julie. Paul took in as much of it as he could understand, then ran to Doc with the story.

As you would expect, Doc was very angry and promised that he’d make Jim suffer. But he had to be careful, because if it got out that he had beat Jim up, Julie was sure to hear of it. Then she’d know that Doc knew and of course knowing that he knew would make it worse for her than ever. He was going to do something, but it took a lot of thinking.

Well, a couple days later Jim was here in the shop again, and so was the cuckoo. Jim was going duck shooting the next day and had come in looking for Hod Meyers to go with him. I happened to know that Hod had gone over to Carterville and wouldn’t be home till the end of the week. So Jim said he hated to go alone and he guessed he would call it off. Then poor Paul spoke up and said if Jim would take him he would go along. Jim thought a while and then he said, well, he guessed a cuckoo was better than nothing.

I suppose he was planning to get Paul out in the boat and play some kind of joke on him, like pushing him in the water. Anyway, he said Paul could go. He asked him if he had he ever shot a duck and Paul said no, he’d never even had a gun in his hands. So Jim said he could sit in the boat and watch him and if he behaved himself, he might lend him his gun for a couple of shots. They made a date to meet in the morning and that’s the last I saw of Jim alive.

Next morning, I hadn’t been open more than ten minutes when Doc Stair came in. He looked kind of nervous. He asked me if I had seen Paul Dickson. I said no, but I knew where he was, out duck shooting with Jim Kendall. Doc said that’s what he had heard but couldn’t understand. He said Paul had told him he would never have anything more to do with Jim as long as he lived.

He said Paul had told him about the joke Jim had played on Julie. He said Paul had asked him what he thought of the joke. The Doc told him that anybody who would do a thing like that ought not to be let live. I said it might sound like a mean thing to do, but Jim just couldn’t resist any kind of a joke, no matter how mean. I said I thought that he had a kind heart, but just liked to have fun with people. Doc turned and walked out.

At around twelve o’clock he got a phone call from old John Scott. The lake where Jim and Paul had went shooting is on John’s place. Paul had came running up to the house a few minutes before and said there had been an accident. Jim had shot a few ducks and then given the gun to Paul and told him to try his luck. Paul hadn’t ever handled a gun and he was nervous. He was shaking so hard that he couldn’t control the gun. He let fire and Jim sank back in the boat, dead.

Doc Stair, being the coroner, jumped in Frank Abbott’s car and rushed out to Scott’s farm. Paul and old John were down on the shore of the lake. Paul had rowed the boat to shore, but they’d left the body in it, waiting for Doc to come.

Doc examined the body and said it was a plain case of accidental shooting.

Personally I wouldn’t ever let a person shoot a gun in the same boat I was in unless I was sure they knew something about guns. Jim was silly to let a new beginner have his gun, let alone a fool. It probably served Jim right, what he got. But still we miss him round here. He certainly was a card! Comb it wet or dry?