Fred & Bobbie's
series: Heart of the City
Pressing the handle to the wood framed door, I was terrified as my dad waved me in. I was just a kid, and this was my first haircut. Fred Morris, in his trademark barbers jacket, was finishing up another man's cut, and clack of the hair clippers worried me even after he placed them under the hood of his Clean Ray Ultraviolet Sanitizer. As he brushed the clipped hairs from the man's neck and shoulders, I could hear Ernie Harwell's voice on the AM radio calling the Tigers' game. "Come on over here and have a seat, son," Mr. Morris said. Covering me up to my neck in what looked like a vinyl hospital gown, Fred Morris combed my hair, and the "hummmmm" of the electric clippers passing across my unruly noggin became my favorite sound.
For about the next 15 years, almost every Saturday I would walk from our house on Marlowe over to Fred & Bobbie's Barber Shop on McNichols, and plop down in the red leather chair. The last time I visited Mr. Morris was Saturday, July 18, 1998 - the day I was getting married.
Fast forward to March 2, 2012. I am in the midst of an extended project that I'm calling "Heart of the City", and on my list of people to photograph was Fred Morris. Driving back to this side of town, I wondered, "Is the shop even open anymore?" "Is Mr. Morris still around?" "Maybe I'll just drive by to scout it out, and come back some other day." Seeing the old sign on the window and the glow of fluorescent lights inside, I was both relieved and anxious; but you know how procrastination is. If I don't go on in and do this now, I'll regret missing this chance. As I parked my car, I wondered what I was going to say, and whether Fred Morris would even be willing to have his picture taken.
Pressing the handle to the same wood frame door with 35 year old butterflies in my stomach, Mr. Morris peered over his glasses at me as he scolded the young man in the chair for the way he was caring for his hair. He didn't recognize me, but I was the only unfamiliar element in the room. Nearly everything that I remembered from my childhood was intact, down to the AM radio playing a recorded talk show, the portrait of Isiah Thomas that I used to fantasize would be me someday, scooping a layup against the Celtics, and the wooden "Fred's Wall of Fame" sign on the back wall. Two other barbers were working on this day, and the older gentleman in the second chair was carrying on an animated conversation with Fred and another waiting customer - all just the way I remembered it.
Rather than launching into my spiel, I just sat there and soaked it in, watching Fred Morris turn the young fellow's wild mane into something befitting a distinguished gentleman. Eventually, he glanced up at me again:
"How can I help you today, sir?"
"Ah, yes, I'm here to see you about a haircut. No rush, I'll wait."
The young man paid for his cut and thanked the legendary barber, and the wooden door squeaked and chimed the bell on his way out. As I stood up and removed my hat, revealing my freshly shaved head, Fred Morris gave me his usual welcoming smile, obviously wondering who I was and what I really wanted. Quick, say something.
"So, about that haircut. Mr. Morris, you don't remember me, but about 30 years ago, my dad brought me in here, and you gave me my very first haircut. You cut my hair almost every weekend right up until I got married 14 years ago. Anyway, I do a little photography now, and as a part of a project I'm working on, I wanted to come back and ask if I could take a photograph of my favorite barber. I always respected you as a part of my life growing up, and I'm glad to see that you're still passing it on."
"You know, I thought you looked familiar. Well, of course, sure," he said, brushing off his barbers jacket and straightening his sleeves. After taking a few frames and thanking him for his time, I said my goodbyes and headed for the wood framed door.
"Hey, how is your dad?"
Oh, he's doing fine, sir. I'll tell him you asked about him--"
"Wait, what's this?", he interrupted, noticing that I'd slipped the exact amount of money for a haircut onto his barbers chair when he wasn't looking. "Oh, young man, that's not necessary." "No, it's fine, I want to," I said. "It was worth it, just to come back and say thank you for being here all these years." Mr. Morris' eyes began to well up, as his voice dropped softly. "Thank you, son, that's a nice thing to say..."
The bell chimed faithfully when the old door squeaked open once again, and as I drove toward home, something occurred to me: time travel really is possible...
[I won't be posting frequently from this series, as I'm giving myself at least a year to make a coherent photographic document. But now and then a new one will pop up.]