Wealth.....

..... I drove into the tiny town nearby today for a haircut.....Eva, the ma'am who owns the shop, was found well, smiling, and deeply-into knotting some poor elderly lady's hair around about 1600 pink plastic curlers..... I took my leave when I saw the scene and headed across the street to the bank..... both out of respect for the poor lady's predicament AND the fact that I had only one lonely dollar in my wallet..... and, of course, Eva charges THREE dollars to snip my noggin into military regulation......

.... I've written about Miss Eva quite a few times here...... and a few of you have seemed to connect somewhat with the tales that I've shared of Just What It Is Like To Get A Haircut In The South For Three Dollars...... but today a bomb was dropped that I never saw coming...... and for the life of me, I still cannot truly imagine just what Eva's smile meant as she told me the story.....

.... first off, the building that her little barbershop inhabits is quite literally falling down around her.... the door is continually ajar in all weathers since it won't bolt properly.... the center of the tiny shop is alternately littered with fans, air conditioning equipment, or portable heaters..... all depending upon what the weather is like outside...... and her barber equipment is ancient by any standard..... and yet three days a week - all year long - she plies her trade on the local population of antique pensioners..... and she is in VERY high demand, I might add...... as her youngest customer, I usually have to call a week in advance to see if she can fit me into her tight schedule of musty, sweet, matronly Southern Women.... oh, and she has a 'pact' of sorts with her lady-customers...... once they finally pop their proverbial clogs and ascend towards their Baptist Heavens, she will visit their funeral home of choice and coif them one last time before their eternal rest..... and to ensure that archeologists in the far, far distant future will have excellent evidence of ancient hairspray technology....

.... be that as it may, I visit Eva loyally every three weeks..... it's not that I'm a skinflint.... far from it, actually.... hell, if anything, I'm a spendthrift of the highest order........ no, it's just that each visit to her little World offers some sort of revelation that just isn't to be missed.... every visit - just like clockwork - something happens or is heard that amazes me...... I don't always get the deeper meaning or much of the subtlety.... but I definitely leave there feeling like something unique happened... something important and profound..... something beautiful..... I don't always understand it, but I do know that it is there....

...I once inquired about an extremely elderly lady whose head was baking gently under some dome-shaped apparatus.... the reply boggled my weak little mind....

.... in a Southern accent that melts in your mouth like fresh honey, she spoke..... "Oh, her?..... ahhh.... that's Ms. Gentry..... her husband, Bob, he must have passed away ten or so years ago..... her granddaughter told her she should get her hair colored.... so, here she is.... "

..."wow... that looks like a lot of work..... how much do you charge to do that?".....

.... "oh, I charge 26 dollars...... I've charged 26 dollars since 1974...... trouble is, now that darned old coloring kit costs 23 dollars..... "

...."ok.... wait just a minute.... so the kit costs 23 dollars and you only charge 26?".....

... "..... yes, Eric..... that's right.... times certainly change, don't they?..... still, I do so enjoy chatting with Ms. Gentry when she comes in..... it takes about an hour to do the full process, but I do believe that she'll enjoy the results when her hair is finally dried and I've fixed it up nice for her.." .....

.... "so you work for an hour and get paid three dollars?"

.... "awww... I wouldn't call it work, really..... it's just what I do.... and I do enjoy seeing the ladies...." ....

..... that was two years ago.... 2006...... fast forward to today..... I get up and try to pay five dollars for my haircut... only to have Eva rummage through her purse for 10 minutes looking for two dollars in change..... she was absolutely determined that I get 17 dollars back after I handed her a twenty...... I even said that she could consider the other two dollars as a 'tip', but she was not about to budge......

.... I thanked her as I turned to leave...... but she began to speak, so I turned back around to listen..... she'd lit a cigarette and had taken a cross-legged seat in the chair that I had just risen from...... all five feet of her was delicately sat in that old Naugahyde chair as if she had been born to be sitting just so, in that seat, with a cigarette in her wrinkled hand.....

..... "Have y'all done your taxes yet?...... My husband and I, we drove into Athens last week and did ours..... which is unusual for us, actually, since we normally wait until the very last moment.... but last week, we went..... we went to that 'H&R Block' over near Ingles?...... well, I have to tell you this, Eric...... and I know that I should be embarrassed, but I'm really not..... in truth, I giggle every time that I think of it....... see, we took all of our records and such over to The Tax Man last week.... and do you know what I cleared on my business for last year?...... ha!.... forty-six hundred dollars!..... can you imagine that?..... I still giggle a little bit every time I think of it...... but, ahhh, it's not about the money, now is it, honey?".....

..... I laughed with her and shook my head...... "no, ma'am, it isn't...... but I honestly don't see why you do it.... and thank you for fitting me in, Eva...... you're a one of a kind...... I'll see you in three weeks, ok?.."

.... she laughed again and smudged out the smoking end of her cigarette against the sides of a Rock Top Market ashtray.....

.... "I'll be right here, honey...... just remember to bring ones next time, please...that twenty made me nervous..... I hate looking for quarters.." ....

.... I walked my way out to where I had parked the car and simply could not get "$4,600" off of my mind.....

.... Eva isn't a wealthy woman.... far from it...... sure, her husband is living on a very nice retirement, but they are a long, long way from being wealthy...... and yet she laughs and smiles and says "forty-six hundred dollars" as if it is a great cosmic joke on The Taxman..... and then she charges me three dollars for a 1/2 hour haircut..... I just don't get it........ I really don't....

.... having pondered this story a few times whilst sipping a Scotch, I wonder if Eva is the last of a dying breed of Original Community Service Volunteers.....perhaps she just enjoys providing those old ladies with a friendly face to chat with, a new hairdo, and a few hours out of their houses..... god knows that she certainly isn't running the business to make money....... $4,600....... I swear...

.... perhaps she has more Love of Community.... or Love of Humanity, perhaps..... than anyone I have ever met.....

.... perhaps she is happier at work than she is at home.....

.... perhaps her work there in her squalid little shop is much more rewarding than I can imagine......

.... perhaps she is afraid of NOT working.... afraid of being idle...... does her work define her somehow?......

..... I don't really know what to think...... but I do know what I would LIKE to think..... and that is that she is doing what she is doing because she loves seeing people walk in her door in need of a haircut.... and watching them walk out with zero need for a haircut..... a haircut, a smile, some mild chitchat about the lottery, places you've been, what's on Oprah, etc......

.... either way, I don't know for sure why it is that she does what she does...... but one thing is for certain...... three weeks from today, I'll be seeing her again...... and believe it or not, that idea makes me happy..... three dollars more or less really doesn't factor into it all that much......

by Eric on April 09, 2008 | Bullshit (20) | TrackBack (0) | Thinking
Bullshit So Far

Wow. Great story, and beautifully told, as always.

Bullshitted by Freddie on April 9, 2008 08:06 PM

I think what you'd like to think is just what Ms. Eva is all about...'tis a difficult concept, but there remain those who reap far more than from their chosen profession than a profit.

Sometimes the bottom line ain't a line at all

Bullshitted by Pam on April 9, 2008 09:07 PM

She sounds like a great lady. And I think all of your assumptions are right.

When I was running my antique store full time, there were times when, at the end of the day, I'd trudge down to my friend's shop down the street and lament that I'd only made 5 cents an hour that day. That's how little I'd sold that day compared to how long I was open. We'd laugh. There were ups and downs like that. Many $1/hour or less days. But you do what you love.

Bullshitted by DogsDontPurr on April 9, 2008 09:48 PM

I could have made a snarky comment about how there's barely $3 worth of hair on your noggin to begin with, but that just wouldn't be right, now, would it?

Oops.

Bullshitted by Elisson on April 9, 2008 10:17 PM

Like Freddy said...WOW! Wonderfully told!

Bullshitted by jihadgene on April 10, 2008 12:22 AM

I think that in two or three years of stopping by here nearly every day, that's the best story of yours I've read yet. Which is high praise indeed.

Bullshitted by Mark on April 10, 2008 02:22 AM

yep, you really captured the heart of it, eric. i'm always in awe of a humble heart and servant attitude, so rare these days. methinks mrs eva is a breathing example of love on this earth. how lucky you are.

Bullshitted by supergurl on April 10, 2008 06:15 AM

Yup, another great yarn expertly told...

She did explain all you need to know about why she does what she does for $4600 per year: "...it's what I do..." It is wonderfully comforting to know that there are still people, real people, like that that we share oxygen with. Unfortunately, when the current generation is gone, that will probably wrap it up. Then you'll be paying $20 or more for a haircut just like the rest of us.

Until that time, cherish what you've got...

Bullshitted by Winston on April 10, 2008 07:43 AM

Your Eva was my Adelaide. Addy did my Granny's hair for years. She held court in a little modular next to the old bank. When I smell perm solution I still think of her. She also had an old chest type pop machine to buy your Coke in a bottle out of. That used to fascinate me.

She's gone now, but that memory rings like a bell.

Bullshitted by Sugar Britches on April 10, 2008 10:40 AM

WOW, not BS to me.. being an original NY'er.. I love NY though I haven't lived there for 19 years come this July. I have traveled many a mile in service to my country to meet & catch up with new friends and old. I find though I have blood family in NY, that my other family lives in the south in my friends. Your EVA reminds me of MY MR. Jimmy.

He died shortly after "his" goose was found dead at the friend's pond it called home from early spring to late fall every year for countless years in a small community miles outside of Augusta, GA.

I find my heart cherishes the people I know there so much that I find it hard to "write" about them.... I use to think how selfish of me, but I talk about them routinely without realizing I am... a great homage to them I think.. but to meet them in person is the ony way to do them justice... yet the way you have written about Eva real or imagined is very beautiful... you patience and delicate strength in your writing is enthralling.. it brought me back home to GEORGIA... though I am in VA right now.. Semper Fidelis my Leatherneck brother.... a sister Lady Leatherneck, Sabrina

Bullshitted by Sabrina on April 10, 2008 03:29 PM

You know - my hubby's grandmother declared some years ago that she would no longer go to "any more Yankee beauty operators" and that she was going to teach me to backcomb like a pro. I have been doing her hair when she comes to visit ever since... God love her.

And you know I *am* a yankee. Go figure... ; ) God love Eva...

Bullshitted by Richmond on April 10, 2008 05:39 PM

That is a beautiful story, beautifully told. Eva sounds like a treasure.

I still get my hair cut by Kim Novak.

Bullshitted by Cappy on April 10, 2008 06:05 PM

Eva sounds like she is not only one of a kind, but an amazing woman. It's difficult for people to find something to do that they love - she must love this very much indeed. When that's the case, the money doesn't matter, it's the pleasure of doing the job that counts. Bless her.

Bullshitted by Teresa on April 10, 2008 10:08 PM

Your Eva was my Adelaide. Addy did my Granny's hair for years. She held court in a little modular next to the old bank. When I smell perm solution I still think of her. She also had an old chest type pop machine to buy your Coke(in a bottle)out of. That used to fascinate me.

She's gone now, but that memory rings like a bell.

Bullshitted by Sugar Britches on April 10, 2008 11:30 PM

Eric,
Elisson's comment was just plain mean. You've got lots of hair to cut. But I did wonder where Miss Eva found the bowl that just fits your head.

Bullshitted by Jerry on April 11, 2008 12:11 AM

Great story. That's the stuff I love about travelin' south.

Me? I get my hair cut at a place with a French name, and it costs 27 bucks, including tip. No southern drawls to be found there. I get to hear stuff, spoken in pure Jersey, like, "You read about that guy they found dead in the trunk of his car parked behind that diner near you? I knew that guy. Yeah, shot in the head. He was supposed to be a witness or some shit."

Bullshitted by Jim - PRS on April 11, 2008 02:59 AM

I pay The Collective, that much to pick up sticks.....

Bullshitted by awtm on April 11, 2008 07:05 AM

i always find it amusing that the rest of the country has such a good time making fun of us backwoods, uneddicated, inbred, Southern Pines. I consider it a great privilege to be southern born and southern bred. Miss Eva is our Mama Belle, and as that generation fades like a warm summer sunset, i wonder...what will become of us when they're gone? In the words of George Jones...
"Who's gonna fill their shoes? Who's gonna walk that walk? Who's gonna play the Opry an sing the Wabash Cannonball..."
Continue to hold the standard high, good sir.

Bullshitted by Jay- the friendly neighborhood piper on April 11, 2008 08:24 AM

What a lovely story...beautifully told as usual.

Bullshitted by Sharon on April 11, 2008 09:44 AM

Ricks mom cut hair. I never met her but I bet she he would still be doing if she was still here.

Now on the other hand I get my hair done once a year by Barbara who works in special needs. She cuts about two to three inches when I show up in her classroom. Charges me nothing but we do take turns buying the beer at home.

Bullshitted by ga on April 12, 2008 11:14 AM