3 yellow sheets of note paper containing handwritten notes for my next Pulitzer Prize winning article are haphazardly laying scattered around the keyboard. They’ll have to wait along with 8 or 9 other candidates sitting in my Word file named “Drafts”. The reason being; I just got my hair cut.
Step back in time with me —easier said than done — I know. Imagine that it’s August 1971 and Cooper’s first customer takes a seat in the classic style swiveling barber’s chair. I just returned home from having my hair cut by Cagle Wilson Cooper, who in August of this year reached his 50th year as a professional barber. He has the certificates to prove it. This is my 5th year of patronizing what is probably the best example of what makes “Downtown” Pittsboro, NC so charming and such a refreshing experience vs. the Mall. I first tried out Cooper’s service when we relocated from Chapel Hill to Pittsboro. The move made that monthly trip to the mall just too much of a ride.
I call him “Cooper” in the same way that a stadium full of football fans will affectionately chant “Coop, Coop, Coop ….“ for a player named Cooper. It’s a term of endearment.
As you enter the shop, in the event you didn’t notice the twirling red, white, and blue barber pole mounted outside, you see across the top of the far wall an eight by 2-foot-wide neon sign letting you know that you are in a “Barber Shop” and that it is “Air Conditioned”. I recently interviewed Cooper to get more background on his story.
He told me that the monster sign has been there since 1964 when he first opened. All of the furnishings, — chairs, shelves, clocks, mirrors, and barber’s supplies appear to be all of 50 years old, all of it comprising a true collection of Americana.
Cooper is the only Barber. There are no numbers to take to tell you who’s next. The phone seldom rings for customers making appointments. In fact, now that I think about it, there may not be a business phone in the shop. His listing on the internet does not include a phone number. Customers know who’s next, and if there’s ever a question about it, Cooper knows, and makes that decision.
The most memorable visits I’ve had are the ones where there’s 4 or 5 guys in front of me. Just listening to the conversation while I wait is an “Audible” history lesson. I’ll always remember one of those conversations between Cooper and Gene Brooks, a retired history teacher, Cooper’s high school history teacher. I listened for about 20 minutes and heard about the old gold mine located in what is now Briar Chapel and, the Coal Mine which ran 600 feet deep under, fittingly, the Deep River along with a long list of local topics, past and present.
Cooper’s constituency is fluent in all Global, National, State and local issues. Pick any topic — Politics, Sports, Medicine, Finance, you’ll hear “expert” commentary on just about everything. It’s also a lesson in how people can politely disagree. Cooper tends to agree with whomever is sitting in the chair in front of him at the time. When there’s no one else in the shop, Cooper and I have expressed our diametrically opposed political views to each other. His temperament, demeanor, and tone of voice never changes during the exchange.
In our recent conversation, I learned that Cooper has belonged to both major political parties and has run for local public office under both banners. Now, in his own words, “I’m for myself!” He’s an independent with a deep distrust of the motives and behavior of most politicians. Aren’t we all?
Among the memorabilia you’ll find is a picture of Floyd, the barber character on the Andy Griffith show. You’ll also find a picture of one of his customers who maintained that he came all the way from New Zealand just to have Cooper cut his hair.
Cooper and I are the same age. We both married once. He graduated from the Institute of Barbering in 1971 which makes this year, officially, his 50th year as a professional barber. In addition to serving on the local school board, Cooper has shared his skills by cutting the hair of prisoners and working with morticians to color the hair of their “clients”.
During the entire length of my interview with Cooper, no customers came in. However, 2 of the local residents did come to socialize —- Ralph and Forrest. I never did get Ralph’s last name. He was more of a listener than a talker. Forrest was the talker sounding a lot like Tom Hanks playing the Gump character. Along with sharing the same last name (no relation) he and Cooper shared details of the major reconstruction of the town’s central roundabout which surrounds the recently renovated Chatham County Courthouse. Other issues Included the modernization of Main Street —– angle vs. parallel parking.
Of the few “followers” I do have, most do not live in North Carolinas so I’ll suggest this, guys. Find the nearest small town and look for the oldest barber shop. I hope you find Cooper’s kindred spirit.
Leave a Reply