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Callaloo 24.4 (2001) 1015-1020
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fromThe Man Who Whipped Children
Ernest J. Gaines
Lucas Felix's barbershop is a small square building, maybe twenty feet by twenty. Lucas has the first chair as you come in, and Sam Hebert has the second. Both Lucas and Sam are in their seventies, and the chairs seem just as old. The chairs are covered with dark green vinyl, but now all the worn places on the seat, the back, and the arm-rest have been patched with black duct tape. The clients don't mind, because they are as old as Lucas and Sam and the chairs. There are red, green, and black plastic chairs against the wall for the clients to sit in. There is a television and a radio on a shelf in one of the corners, and underneath the t.v. and the radio is a drinking fountain. There are pictures everywhere. Pictures of Lucas and Sam when they were young men and had all their hair. There are pictures of famous athletes like Joe Louis, Jackie Robinson, Muhammed Ali, and Bill Russell. Then there are pictures of Martin Luther King and the Kennedy brothers, Jack and Bobby. And one of Mahalia Jackson singing, and one of Malcolm X preaching, and one of Duke Ellington at the piano. There is also a poster on the wall with the price of haircuts, but the poster is so old that the white paper has turned yellow, and the price of a haircut probably has not changed too much since the poster was first put up there.
Most of Lucas Felix's clients are old men, hardly ever any women, and no one younger than me, and I'm twenty-two. I come there mostly to listen to the old men talk, but I feel it would be unfair if I did not get my hair cut sometimes, so I let Lucas Felix give me an edge every now and then. Other times I go to Jack Bouie who is about my age and gives more modern cuts. But for just an edge around the neck, I let Lucas Felix do it. They all call me "Youngster" there, and sometimes I sit there all day listening to them talk about the past. There are always five or six of them in the place from the time Lucas Felix opens at nine in the morning until he closes at nine at night. Sometimes they are there to get a haircut, but most times just to have a place to come and talk.
I should mention another person who is always there, and that is Sweet Sidney, the shoeshine man, who is also in his seventies--or maybe even eighties. His name is Sidney Green, but everybody calls him Sweet Sidney, or Sweet; and if you're my age you call him Mr. Sweet. Sweet Sidney is a reader of the Bayonne Journal. He knows everything that has been printed in the Journal the past thirty-five, forty years. The [End Page 1015] Journal is only a weekly, but Sweet Sidney reads it over and over daily. Whenever you come into the barbershop and he is not shining shoes, you'll find him sitting in the client's chair reading the Journal. He reads the super market ads, he reads the obituary column, he reads the column on Bass and Trout fishing. Whenever the other old men need back information, they call on Sweet Sidney. Though he knows the answer, sometimes he lets them wait a while before answering them. He knows that he is the intellectual of the barbershop, and they can't get their information any faster anywhere else.
There must have been a half dozen of them in the place when I came in. Sweet Sidney was sitting in his client's chair reading the Journal. Lucas Felix had a client in his chair, and Sam Hebert had just finished with one.
"Well, Youngster, I heard that Antoine shot up the courthouse," Sam Hebert said to me, and grinned.
Sam Hebert was...