Thursday, June 24, 2010

Hair on the floor, end of an era



Long-time North Idahoan Bill Fournier gets a clip at Mike's Barbershop on Sandpoint's main street. Owner Mike Winslow calls his customer "Swivelneck," for once craning his neck at a pretty passer-by. "I just wanted to see what kind of Bible she was carrying," Fournier said. "I was a lot younger then."
—Photo by Ralph Bartholdt



SANDPOINT — I'm in Mike's shop and Larry Barton is in the chair and Clarence Davis is waiting for a cut and the rain is on the big window that faces the street and reflects everything like a mirror.
Larry in the chair with the apron around his neck and Clarence on the old sofa sitting under the cougar mount are mirrored in the glass, mixed with traffic and people walking outside.
Above Clarence, just below the cougar that seems to grimace from its perch on the limb of a yellow pine is a black and white picture from back in the day of a doctor and her fishing party with their string of oversize Gerrard rainbow trout.
Cars and trucks rumble past outside. You can feel it in the floor. Then a man wearing a ball cap walks in and says, "How's it going?"
Larry in the chair, and Mike Winslow, whose shop this is, standing with a comb and scissors, talk about the rain and Clarence chimes in that rain is like sex, because it is easy to get behind, but doesn't take long to catch up, when the man with the ball cap nods the greeting.
The door goes bump.
Mike is still clipping, and Clarence's comment is still in the air, when Mike retorts "Old and ugly, how about you?"
The man with the ball cap chuckles and digs in his pockets for a reply and Mike follows up like a right hand behind a jab when the glove is in your face.
"Didn't expect me to tell you the truth, did you?" Winslow says and keeps clipping.
Only on Sunday, I say to myself as I sit in one of the sofas paging a magazine.
And this ain't Sunday.
I've heard this banter repeat itself, but don't lift my nose from the pages of the Field and Stream I'm reading.
In this shop on Sandpoint's main drag where fishing plugs, 100 or more, and fishing spoons, 100 or more, hang from spear gigs, along with photographs from days past in Bonner and Boundary counties, and pike, bass, perch and trout mounts, the men who stop to sit in the two sofas and place their feet on the scraps of carpet that act as rugs, tell history like it was lived.
Oral history.
Not all of them wait for haircuts.
Passers through are treated to the accounts gratis, without knowing.
Sit back, look and listen.
The wooden plugs that were used to troll for the once-plentiful and record size Girard rainbow trout each bear the name of the person brought it to Mike to hang on the wall in the 1960s and 70s.
One of the plugs is large as an unpeeled banana and painted white.
Rick Topp's name is on it.
Whoever carved it did a fine job, Winslow says.
“He thought the bigger the fish, the bigger the plug,” he says.
When he trolled it for Lake Pend Oreille’s rainbows, “It was ripping line off so fast, he had to put both thumbs on the reel to keep it from taking all the line out,” Winslow says.
Bill Garvey’s plug is red and white.
“We could tell Bill Garvey stories all day,” he says.
Clarence pipes up.
“You could even print some of them,” Davis says.
Davis, 79, once a local boxing coach who sent several youngsters to national tournaments has been coming to this shop for a haircut so many years he can't strike up a number.
“I remember when you didn’t have gray hair and a lot of it,” Winslow says.
Davis laughs.
“That must have been a while ago,” he says.
The man with the ball cap asks Mike is it true?
I heard you were selling out.
After 50 years on Sandpoint's main street, Winslow doesn't like to admit it, but quitting is not something he wants to do.
“Anybody want to buy a barbershop?” he asks between clips.
He is not seriously looking for a seller, he adds, in part because anyone buying must have the proper credentials.
“You got to be uglier than me, and cut hair as bad as me,” he says.
Barton remarks that Winslow's tenure is noteworthy.
"They ought to put you on display," he says.
Winslow answers as easily as tossing a card.
“Shows you how long you have to work if you invest in booze and broads instead of stocks and bonds,” he says.
Winslow, who in the summer when he is not golfing on weekends likes to drive an antique T-Bird that someone said was hot pink, is as much a reflection of Sandpoint's past as the faces who come in for clips.
Winslow’s shop is a museum of stories and artifacts from a seemingly lost generation of North Idaho sportsmen and women, as it is a barber shop. The local historical society has asked for some of the relics, but the stories likely will not be passed along. Not as prolifically as they are here, day in and day out, in this room as they have been for more than 40 years — he barbered at Vern's down the street for 9 years in the 1960s — by the people who lived them as the clippers buzzed and the scissors snipped.
“There is a lot of history on that wall,” Winslow says.
This week he is in the process of taking down the barber pole outside.
"That glass is thick," he says.
Once a while back, some kids busted it with a beer bottle.
He had to replace it at a cost of several hundred dollars.
The only solace, he says, "there was a lot of blood mixed with the glass" on the sidewalk.
He'll probably take it home. Maybe sell it.
He has contacted the men and women who dropped off the relics over the years that grace his walls, or their surviving relatives, so they can retrieve them.
Many cannot be returned.
“A lot of good friends aren’t fishing anymore,” he says.
An unusual silence follows.
He keeps clipping.

Ralph Bartholdt

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