Jim McMillen's Blog


It’s always an adventure to sit in Seamus “Cootie” O’Brien’s barber chair. Cootie’s shop is an old-fashioned one—a throwback to the 1940s like those I remember as a boy. Shelves are lined with old hair tonics so seldom used that years of dust has collected on the bottles. Cootie has several straight-edge razors and a razor strap attached to the chair. I doubt if he can remember the last time he gave someone a shave. The seat on the shoeshine stand is covered with old magazines and hasn’t been used in 25 years.

“Why in hell’s name do we keep sending money to all those foreign countries where they hate us?” Cootie vented, soon after I was an audience in his chair.

“I don’t know, maybe we’re trying to help down-and-out people and hope they like us better,” I said.

“That’s a bunch of crap.” he responded. “The money doesn’t help the people. It just enriches their bloody leaders so they can keep the people under their rule,” he bellowed, his electric trimmer nicking my ear.

I nodded as he dabbed my ear with alcohol-soaked cotton. “Perhaps we hope the world will be more friendly toward us,” I replied, my ear stinging.

“Huh!” he grunted. “You think you can buy friendship?”

I remembered when I tried to make friends with an older kid who was bullying me. I bought and gave him a 45 rpm record of his favorite singer, hoping he’d leave me alone. It just made the bullying worse. I was a sap.

Before I could answer, Cootie continued, “Why do you think all those people hate us? It’s because they’re living impoverished lives at the expense of the greedy dictators that we keep in power with our money,” he answered his own question before I could give mine.

I felt of my ear to see if it was bleeding. It wasn’t.

“That’s my money. I worked damn hard for it,” he continued. “I pay taxes so a bunch of pointy-headed politicians can use it to try to buy friendship from people who want to kill us. And to top that off, our government borrows more money from China, whose leaders don’t like us either.”

“I think I see your point,” I said. “But maybe the politicians think they’re doing good.”

“If they think that, they’re nothing but dim-wit suckers,” he said, his scissors snapping as he put the finishing trim on my thinning hair. “And we’re suckers for keeping them in office.”

After Cootie removed the cover from my shoulders, I paid him. I put on my glasses as he was swept my white hair away from the chair.

“Sorry, I got so high on my soapbox, Jim,” he said. “It just gets me down to see what our elected officials are doing to our country.”

“It’s okay, Cootie,” I said. “You have a right to your opinion.”

He cracked a little smile and nodded as he dumped my hair into a trash container.

“See you next month,” I said, closing the door behind me.

---“Cootie O’Brien will be on his soapbox from time to time. JMc---

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