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[whitespace] Lizzy Smith
Shear Delight: Lizzy Smith applies the finishing touches to Warren Lawson at Wayne's College of Beauty.

Get Cropped

A good haircut is worth more than two bits

By Bruce Willey

I DO HAVE ETERNALLY TOUSLED and messy hair, a result of years of butchering by well-meaning friends, relatives and the occasional self-destruction in front of a mirror. Licks of my misguided hair defy gravity like a badly built bird's-nest, and on occasion, bosses and girlfriends have even made not-so-subtle (or else) hints.

So, a million or so hairs on bathroom and kitchen floors later, when the editors asked me to get a tidy story about getting a haircut, I knew exactly what they were asking for. The assignment: Two haircuts from two of Santa Cruz's most eminent institutions of hair design. Given the state of my last mutilation, they must have thought I needed two.

First, I made an appointment at Wayne's College of Beauty. Though quite a bit less stuffy than most colleges, Wayne's is nevertheless a place of higher learning and heady stuff. Young women sit on barber's chairs giving perms, weaves, waves to mannequin heads, or "dollies," as they are affectionately called.

Lizzy Smith (18) takes me back to her station after washing my hair in one of the sinks in the back room. There, among the dollies, are real people getting their hair done, but with all the fake heads it is difficult to tell who is who. The real people have the same expression as the dollies-- that sensuous, blank expression of being lovingly touched on the head.

I tell Lizzy that I need to save enough hair for my next assignment and thus just need a little trim. As she methodically snips at my hair, she tells me about the course work. Wayne's requires strict attendance and 1,600 hours of hands-on training that consists of everything from pedicures to the chemistry on the top of the head. I'm her 51st haircut. She is doing a wonderful job.

I'm not, though. I am supposed to be asking her questions, and I am being lulled to sleep by her scissors. She talks about the program, my difficult hair, her life--she hopes she can get a job as a beautician while working her way through college. "Some of the older clients actually do fall asleep," she says.

One of the requirements of all haircuts at Wayne's is that the instructor check the work and make any adjustments necessary. Linda Rogers looks at my head and asks Lizzy about the hole by my temple. "That's my fault," I say. "A desperate late-night homemade haircut." Smith has done a fine job, and outside, in the late August sunlight, I send my regards to Wayne. Although Wayne, who has passed away, might not recognize this city anymore, he could still feel at home at his namesake.

Russo's Barber Shop is right across the street from Wayne's College of Beauty. Not that I am experienced in these things, but Russo's is one high-class joint. Framed jazz records wrap the walls; the floors and mirrors are shiny and spotless; and of course jazz is always on the speakers. Owner Jerry Russo (53) is cutting a gentleman's (as they are called here) hair, a man who is talking about replacing the rotting beams in his basement. I grab an Elle off the top of the eclectic magazine rack and wait for my 2:30.

I know I'm in good hands when Russo expertly puts the bib over me with all the grace of a bullfighter. He asks me how I want my hair cut, and I tell him it is up to him. The mere idea that I have an opinion about such matters seems disrespectful in the presence of this barber. His scissors slither through my hair with speed and precision. Like the jazz in the air, Russo is a well-oiled talent.

But it is Russo's easygoing personality that makes him so popular. As I recline in the barber chair, I cannot help but notice Russo's admirers pop in the door just to say hi or drop off a jazz record.

"You name it," Russo says. "All walks of life come in here. That's what I like most about this work and makes it far more than just a job."

Russo's Barber Shop carries on a vanishing tradition with a mixture of straight-razor sense of today and foamy nostalgia for the past. Russo's also reminds me of the Raymond Carver story "The Calm": "I was thinking today about the calm I felt when I closed my eyes and let the barber's fingers move through my hair, the sweetness of those fingers, the hair already starting to grow."

(Music writer Bruce Willey used to have enough hair to make Samson jealous.)

Russo's Barber Shop
625 Center St., SC, 423.6114

Wayne's College of Beauty
189 Walnut Ave., SC, 423.5806

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From the September 13-20, 2000 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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