Why My Father the Baker Never Paid for a Haircut

This is no because-he-was-bald joke. The man knew how to swing a deal. It took a Dumpster-diving bum to solve the mystery for me.

by Bakery Boy

My well-coiffed dad

Next door to my family’s original bakery in Charleston, West Virginia, was a small barbershop run by a good-natured man called Doc Baker. Despite the name, he was neither a doctor nor a baker, just an old-fashioned no-frills hair cutter. As a small child I often tagged along to play in the rarely used second barber chair while my father got his hair cut, like clockwork, every other week.

Doc Baker, the Barber

Other than the requisite buzz cut of his Army days during WWII, my dad kept a thick, handsome wave of dark hair (later a brilliant shade of shiny gray) until he died at age 79. Every time he got up from that chair, he’d glance in the mirror and tell the barber, “Pretty good job, Doc. If you ever get it right, I’ll pay you.” They’d both chuckle and we’d walk out.

I always wondered why no money changed hands. It took a homeless man (less-charitably called bums or winos back then) to clear up the matter for me.

From about the age of 10, one of my tasks as a Bakery Boy was to drag flour sacks, emptied of flour and filled with trash and with damaged or stale baked goods, out to the back alley and pitch them into a big Dumpster. I’d been doing this for years without incident, until one day I heard muffled complaints coming from inside the big bin.

“Hey, watch out,” yelled a scraggly man who poked up from the hinged top door, his long hair a tangled greasy mess and his hands filthy claws.

“What are you doing in there?” I asked naively.

“Looking for lunch, of course,” he answered. “It’s Monday!”

“What’s Monday got to do with it?” I said, confused.

“No hair on the cakes and donuts, on account of the barbershop is closed on Sunday,” he growled, jerking a thumb toward the Doc’s back door.

“Huh?” I said, but he disappeared from sight and continued his rummaging.

Later that day, as I disposed of one last flour sack full of trash, old Doc the barber meandered out carrying a single paper grocery bag, tossed it up and over, and clapped his hands to brush off stray strands of hair.

“What gives?” I asked.

“Oh, it’s a deal I’ve had with your dad and his dad before him for many years,” Doc explained. “I don’t have but maybe a small bag of hair to get rid of every day, so instead of paying for garbage service I just piggyback on your trash bin and give your father free haircuts in exchange. Works out well for both of us.”

So that was it. They bartered haircuts for trash disposal. Worked out well for everyone but the hungry homeless people, I guess. Except on Mondays, when enterprising Dumpster-divers feasted on a sweet and hair-free buffet.


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2 responses to “Why My Father the Baker Never Paid for a Haircut

  1. Didn’t realize how much I missed reading your words. Lovely post. Great blog.

  2. Great thinking about your Dad, Charleston, and a part of your past I never knew. I love personal blogs..they truly are windows to another world.

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