Monday, August 26, 1996
Hairy scene: Back-to-school blitz on barbers

BY CLIFF RADEL
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Moms and dads love it. Kids hate it. Barbers dread it.

It's the back-to-school haircut. And it's graduating from hair salons to classrooms in every school district around town.

''This madness lasts for two weeks,'' says Don Chapman, a hair stylist at Royal Hair Designers in Beechmont Mall. ''Kids come in. They don't want to be here. They don't want to go back to school. Moms fight with them. We're in the middle. If this lasted any longer, we'd all be checking into an insane asylum.''

He turns and welcomes his next customer, Christopher Bosse. He's 10 years old, going into the fifth grade Tuesday at Williams Avenue School in Norwood and suffering from a severe case of denial.

Christopher insists he is not getting a back-to-school haircut.

''I'm getting it cut to keep my forehead from sweating when I do ollies on my bike,'' he says.

Blinking his eyes while Don snips, Christopher defines an ollie as ''popping a wheelie, then if you pull back on the pedals real hard and fast, you become airborne. The highest I've ever been is 4 feet off the ground.''

Time to bring Christopher back to Earth.

School starts tomorrow.

''I hate school,'' Christopher says, making a face in the mirror as he gets his hair cut.

''The teachers. Yeeeeeeeuck. All that stupid homework. And the food is horrible. They feed us green beans that taste like you're chewing sand.''

Of the shops' six hair stylists, Mr. Chapman stands closest to the cash register and the all-important sucker drawer. He offers something from the latter to Christopher.

''I think I'll have one of each in here,'' the 10-year-old says, pointing to the cash drawer.

Mr. Chapman advises him to think again.

Say a silent prayer for Christopher's homeroom teacher.

Reluctant middleman

Across the shop, Chuck Knapmeyer is praying for a hassle-free day of cutting hair. No screaming meemies. ''Little kids who won't stop screaming. Even if you give them a sucker.''

No speechless, scowling teen-agers. ''They know summer's over and it's time to get back to business. They just squint and frown into the mirror. Nothing you say can get them to talk.''

No arguments to mediate. ''The mom will want it cut one way. The kid wants it the other. She'll turn to me and ask: 'What do you think.' ''

He thinks he'd rather just cut hair and not settle family feuds.

Scissors-phobia

Two chairs down, Howard Slater - Mr. Slater to his fifth-grade students at Mercer Elementary in Anderson Township - is getting his annual back-to-school clip job.

''I know why most guys hate this haircut,'' he says as his 5-year-old-son, Bobby, looks on. ''They've bombed out with bad barbers who cut it too short or clipped their ears. They don't trust anyone with a pair of scissors.

''The only barbers I've had in my life have been my parents, my uncle and Roy,'' he says and nods to hair stylist Roy Beasley. ''I feel safe with all of them.''

Boys' fear of haircuts makes no sense to Emily Broun. The 10-year-old fifth-grader at St. Ursula Villa is having ''an inch to an inch and a half, please,'' trimmed from her brown hair. She says a haircut ''gives you a new look. It's something exciting.''

Guys don't see it that way. We're afraid of strangers bearing scissors. Our idea of giving explicit instructions to a barber is to say, ''take a little off the top.''

Emily sighs and rolls her eyes.

''That's boys,'' she replies. ''They just don't know any better.''

Jeannie Shannon knows best. The hair stylist likes to watch the parade of kids coming in for their back-to-school haircuts.

''It reminds me of how precious summer was when I was little,'' she says.

Taking a whisk broom to her chair, she brushes off some stray clippings before closing her eyes to retrieve a memory.

''It was a special time in your life when you were free to have fun.

''Seeing them,'' she says, as she returns to her sweeping, ''makes you feel young again.''

Cliff Radel's column appears in The Enquirer Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Available to speak to groups. Tips and comments most welcome. Call 768-8379 or fax to 768-8340.