Every life has a pivotal moment, a single instant in time that turns upon something said or not said, done or not done, which haunts it until the end.
My moment came in the living room of my childhood home in Saint Paul, Minnesota on June 5, 1961 at precisely 5:05:25 PM.
At that instant, the CBS Evening News faded to a commercial as a much younger version of myself reached for the dial. My father who was seated to my left, rose to get a glass of lemonade.
That was my pivotal moment.
It does not seem like much – but most critical moments are like that. They seem inconsequential yet the impact is profound. If I could alter that moment, I would still do exactly what I did which was to attempt to change the channel but I would do it an instant earlier.
You see… at precisely 5:05:26 PM on that fateful evening, as my hand hovered inches from the dial, a frantic TV pitchman burst onto the screen, shrieking, “Never pay for haircuts again!”
For my father, a man with eleven children, the phrase “Never pay for” held almost mystical powers. “Don’t touch that dial!” he growled.
My father stood transfixed in the living room doorway as three smiling boys were led across the television screen toward a chair in the middle of a mock kitchen.
“With Magic Razor Comb, you can give FREE professional haircuts!!” the pitchman cried as he ran a comb across the head of the first boy, rendering him delightfully shorn.
From across the room I could hear the gears in my father’s head clicking as he went through the math.
‘Uh…. Let’s see… Five sons at a buck fifty a head every two weeks equals seven and a half bucks. Do that twice a month and it’s fifteen bucks. Take that times twelve months and Holy Moly, you got enough for a new Remington 1100 self-loading shotgun…’
Even at the tender age of ten, I knew that reality was held in position by the frailest of pins. Once they popped free, we all slid toward tragedy and the pitchman was jerking on them as hard as he could. In desperation I countered the pitch with the only line capable of deflecting the “Never pay for” come-on.
“Dad,” I asked calmly, “what the catch?”
My father stopped in his tracks.
The only thing that gave him the fortitude to resist a marketing hook – was the fear that the hook was barbed and he would be swindled out of his hard-earned cash.
“Hmmmmm,” he said. Again the gears clicked and whirled.
But the pitchman was one step ahead of me. “If within two week time,” he barked, “you are not completely satisfied with the Magic Razor Comb – just send it back for a full refund and we will pay the shipping.”
That sealed the deal.
The old man snatched up a notepad and scrawled down the order information.
Three weeks later, a small manila envelope plopped into our mailbox. It contain an unimpressive black plastic comb – with a razor embedded at the base of the teeth.
My father immediately lined his sons up in the kitchen.
The older brothers, wisely fearing anything new, had offered up the youngest first and to be fair, the comb worked well on them. Brother Five got a nifty haircut. Brother Four was pleased and dad beamed as tufts of hair swirled on to the linoleum floor.
Halfway through Brother Three’s haircut, he cried, “Ouch!” but no one paid him any mind because being a middle brother, he cried ouch a lot.
When my turn came and dad took a swipe at the back of my head, it felt as if he used an implement better suited to carpentry than grooming.
“Ouch!” I cried.
The protest made him comb harder.
My continuing protestations made him bare down even harder, ripping great swaths of hair out by the roots. Apparently there was the catch, as the razor dulled, it did not so much cut as it ripped the follicles apart.
“Send it back,” I pleaded, “We are not satisfied!!”
But he could not send it back. The fine print clearly stated that the “two week trial period” began on the day of his order. That was three weeks ago. He had been snookered which was something he would never admit and that only made him more determined to get his money’s worth.
So every other week thereafter for a year, my father hacked, ripped and rasped at our hair until he saved enough money to buy his Remington 1100 self-loading shotgun – then we were mercifully led back to the barber.
If there is any solace in this story, it is that we were not alone.
Back in our neighborhood during the 1960’s, the majority of families had at least ten kids and everywhere we went, whether it was to the baseball diamond, theater or playground – we ran into scrapped up, bleeding kids whose scalps sported the same red badges of courage.
But here’s the catch: a decade later – every one of those kids grew their hair long and shaggy.
You see, historians have it all wrong.
The counter-culture had nothing to do with music or Vietnam. Instead, it had everything to do with a TV pitchman and the painful memories of a little black magic comb.
42 thoughts on “The Magic Razor Comb”
This sounds like when I use the “furminator” to thin our shelties matted rear end hair. Sorry for both of you.
Glad I was a girl then…Four girls and two boys in my family. Ouch!
My father had his scalp torture device by the late 1950’s. I recall still going down to the basement, being draped in an oil cloth, and my father’s anger at my complaining about the dull blade pulling my hair out by the roots. Yes, those cheap junk, quickly dulled hair cutting implements probably played a significant role in the long hair of the late 1960’s. Great essay.
amazing memory…and absolutely the reason why people grew their hang long!
How come you get so many comments mate? We have to threaten people to get ours…and even then, people often refuse and opt to leave the country 😦
My mother bought clippers and rendered my brother and all my cousins bald as an egg. She was proud of herself.
Welcome back. I missed your humorous stories. My dad was a sucker for the pitches of salesmen at the Minnesota State Fair. No razor that I can recall. I, however, had my hair cut by a great aunt who should not have been allowed near a scissors. Chopped crooked bangs mark the few childhood images I have of myself.
Too funny! I remember my mom cutting my dad’s hair for years. Anything to save a buck back in those days!
Welcome back! And I’m glad to finally know what really caused the long-hair trend of my teenage years. It makes perfect sense….
The day before yesterday, my wife dragged me to Hamilton, Missouri, a mecca for quilters. While she shopped for fabric, I wandered the town – and found what must be the last of the small town barber shops. I had my hair cut and left a hefty tip. Oh, how I miss those places. (I have found a tap room too.)
Glad ur back. Missed ur posts.
Good to be back, though I am going to cut down on my posting and focus on a novel.
I never knew such a thing existed. Perhaps it was used only on boys. Since I had no brothers, I missed a lot. On the other hand, females have hair salon trauma to deal with. Twenty-five years ago or so, I went for a haircut, and came out looking like Sinead O’Connor. I cried for three days, and then resolved never to set foot in a salon again — and I haven’t. I cut my own hair, and no one points and giggles, so I think I’m good.
It surely is nice to have you back. You’ve been missed.
I would cry too if a barber left me looking like Sinead O’Connor – but then much of that is a guy thing. 🙂
Welcome back Greg. I havent read the piece (but Im sure its great) because I have a long standing aversion to anything related to haircuts, stemming from an early traumatic experience. I would explain, but I cant even talk about it.
I thought that after I retired from working for the police, I would let my freak flag fly…. My wife thought different. (Geez, talk about trauma.)
You made me think of Ron Popeil.
Ron was the king of the pitch. I should pick up one of his “pocket fisherman” – just in case I come across a deep clear pond.
Set it, and forget it.
Welcome back… And sorry for the bowl head trauma
It was only one trauma among many.
Welcome back. My brothers were spared this awful fate and grew their hair anyway. One had it cut when someone thought he was my twin, the other when friends started calling him Frankenstein. (I think it was the differently colored sideburns that did it.)
Or beard. In the good old days, my hair would turn bleach blond in the summer sun – but my beard would remain dark brown. It raised uncomfortable questions.
Welcome back Greg. Great story and I remember almost falling for the ad myself. I didn’t have any kids then so I pretty much ignored it. (glad I did)
I fall for products that I have no use for all the time. Some say that it doesn’t make sense but then I tell them I am paying for the pitch… that really confuses them.
Sham wow is such a product.
Welcome back Greg. We were not so tormented – it was the electric clippers for us.
There is nothing worse than dull electric clippers – but that is another story.
Glad you’re back. I’ll have to ask my dad about the comb; he sport long tresses for quite some time. (He claims it was because genetics foretold that it would all fall out sooner or later, so he might as well make the most of it, but maybe it was really the comb.)
I like his logic.
LOL! So nice to hear from you with an Almost Iowa post Greg! I think you may just have it figured out! 🙂
I told my friend, the history professor, about my theory… He told me it was my turn to buy the next round… so much for history.
Good to see you show up in my inbox again. Either you took some time off, or I’ve been missing the alerts. Anyway, it’s good to see you back. Fortunately, my dad only had two boys to deal with and he had a friend who cut hair on the side.
Hey Dan, I took a month off to work on longer form writing. I am not sure how often I will post now, maybe once a week.
Good luck with the other projects. I’m always happy to see a post from you in my inbox. At least let us know how the tractor is doing 🙂
You were lucky not to have inflicted upon you the ‘pudding basin over the head’ and blunt scissors snipping away at what hair was left exposed!
Could that be the origin of the term, Pudd’n head?
It is…such haircuts were…before my time I stress…the preferred haircut of the English working classes.
Wooh! I’m glad we didn’t have that in the UK – at least I assume we didn’t. If we did, my parents obviously never noticed it.
You’re lucky…really lucky. 🙂
Such a thing I remember only too well – but we were taken to the neighbour’s for a haircut in exchange for turkey eggs for baking! Great stuff, thanks!
Many a life in our generation was marred by this..
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