Now it so happened that around about
the time that Selbyville was getting back to normal following the sad episode
of the nameless stranger and his bang-up funeral that another young traveller
found his way into the Valley of the Toenail Ridge.
His name was Dwight Ellis and he had journeyed from Southern California looking for new horizons after his life-long love had jilted him for the ice-man.
Now young Dwight had recently finished his apprenticeship as a men's barber and had shown himself to be an adept cutter of hirsuite appendages but was considered un-employable in his home area because he had been revealed as having one of the worst singing voices ever afflicted on the tortured ears of his unfortunate listeners. Now a barber who couldn't sing was about as useless as it's possible to be, with the result that the day he finished his indenture his master paid off the young man and wished him all the best for the future with the admonition that the door should not strike him in the hind quarters on the way out.
Now a barber who by way of the dearth of his musical talents couldn't be part of a barbershop quartet had only one thing to fall back on life, and that was to earn a living cutting hair. And to cut hair in a small enough community that didn't need four barbers, thereby negating the usual requirement for trilling tonsils in the tonsillarium.
So Dwight, an avid reader of the popular press, imagined himself to hanker after the life of the wild frontier and with that dream in mind he bought a ticket on the next steamer to travel northward up the coast to the thriving metropolis of Portland, Oregon and there made enquiries about which direction he should stike out in his search for the untamed West.
Unfortunately, about the last bit of the West that had to be tamed was done back in his father's day and the frontier towns of his dreams and his readings had succumbed to town halls and civic centres and folks more interested in gas lights down the streets than outlaws shootin' up the saloon.
But, a chance conversation with the porter outside the Vanderbilt Hotel (no relation) brought up the mention of the Valley of the Toenail Ridge. So with no more hesitation than asking directions to the Portland & Great Eastern railroad station, Ellis hied himself eastward on the next varnish to the town of Rowell, there to transfer to the Toenail Ridge Shortline and enter the Valley of the Toenail Ridge.
Now you may have noticed, gentle reader, that Selbyville, the erstwhile capital of the Valley, had an interesting early history, part of which involved being the recreation centre for the local miners, and that recreation had taken the form of the provision of ladies of negotiable virtue to those with the wherewithal to pay and also the supply of premises where-in the selfsame ladies could demonstrate to their temporary partners their seamstress skills. As the mines had petered out and the area had succumbed to the plough those premises had stood derelict until slowly they either fell into ruin or were resurrected as business establishments, being taken over by entrepreneurs who arrived to make Selbyville their home and source of commercial income.
So when Dwight Ellis alighted from the train at the Selbyville station and had his ticket inspected by that surly station master Joe Dempsey, he found himself standing at the end of a main street that stretched intermittently for over a mile and contained a few still vacant shop fronts and cottages, a couple of which seemed to be purpose made for the dispensing of hair oils, lotions, certain discreet rubber objects asked for in a whisper and of course, haircuts and shaves.
We have seen earlier that Selbyville was a thriving little town mostly due to the energy, drive, money and knowing where the bodies were buried of one particular man, New Jersey Jack Lazyacre. Jack was in the habit when his duties allowed him time away from the Fenster Cheese Factory or his hotel of meeting the daily passenger train from Rowell, there to greet newcomers and suss out competitors to his various enterprises. And of course to keep an eye out for those gentlemen in grey suits and Homburg hats and carrying carpetbags who were almost certainly in the employ of the Federal Government and had a habit of asking un-neccessary and annoying questions regarding licences, permits, registrations, health certificates and other trivia.
So it was that as Dwight Ellis surveyed the town of Selbyville laid out before him, Jack surveyed Ellis. Jack was one of the best judges of character to ever walk the streets of the town and he immediately surmised that here was a young feller with something to offer his town and looking for a goal. So he approached him, laid a fatherly hand on his shoulder and said " Welcome to my town, young feller! Lazyacre at your service. You need any information I'm your man. What's your business in my lovely metropolis?"
"Well sir," replied Dwight, "I reckon I'm lookin' for a place to settle down and set up my business."
"And what might that be?"
"I'm a barber, sir. Finest barber to ever graduate from master Vidal Spitoon's tonsillorium in Burbank, California! And I reckon I can make some money by makin' folks appreciate a really good haircut!....... Um....you got a barber in this town?"
"Tell me your name, son, and I reckon you and me can discuss your prospects here in town at our leisure over a convivial imbibance in my hotel. Come with me." And with that, Jack picked up the young man's bag and set off down the main street to the inspiring edifice of the Selbyville Hotel.
Wasn't too long ago (but it WAS
in the last century...) that in the rural areas a man had his hair cut
by his wife, his kids had theirs cut by the application of the scissors
around the pudding basin and a woman either tied her crowing glory up in
a bun or relied on her sisters to roll it in rag-curls or help her heat
the tongs on top of the pot-belly stove. So it seemed that Dwight Ellis
had by chance wandered into virgin territory in regards to his chosen vocation.
Certainly those men of means who regularly took themselves on the Toenail
Ridge Shortline to bigger towns like Rowel or vast metropoli like Portland
took advantage of the sophisticated attributes that these large centres
of population warranted, in fact New Jersey Jack Lazyacre travelled to
Rowell weekly to have his hair cut, his nails polished, his boots shined
and his whiskers professionally trimmed but the average working man in
the Valley didn't have that kind of access to the finer things in life
and it didn't take too many weeks before just every one of the menfolk
within a days ride was sporting a neat short-back-and-sides, sideburns
level and knife-sharp and the lingering aroma of fine facial embrocations,
not to mention the bright red faces of those just released from the wrap
of the hot towel. And men who had never stood too close to the razor found
that the ladies in their lives sure appreciated the lack of whisker burns
on their cheeks and other bits when their partners bestowed amorous attentions
of them. And to boot young Dwight was a fairly good looking young fella
so the daughters of them self-same clean-shaven men and unscratched women
took to casting coy glances in the window of his barber shop as they passed
by on their way to work at thecheese factory or wended their way home from
their senior year at Mrs MaCalla's (nee Daykey) school.
After not too long a time the Reverend Jeremiah Little graced the new business with his presence, sitting down in the ornate barber's chair and requesting a shave ("and mind you don't take them side-whiskers up too high...") and a haircut ("and I don't want one of them fancy modern type haircuts, you leave plenty of hair over my collar, sir....") and perhaps a splash of lotion ("but nothin' too expensive, the Good Lord frowns on a man puttin' on airs....") and proceeded to engage the newcomer in conversation.
"So ,son, tell me where you hail from, what your folks do, and what religion are ya? Ya do have religion, don't ya, son?"
One of the primary subjects of study (ouside of four-part harmony ) for a barber's apprentice is conversation, and particularly which conversations to avoid, evade or just plain skirt around. Top of this list is politics, followed by any comments in opposition to the local (football, baseball, cricket, basketball, soccer, boche, petang, ping-pong, hockey, hurley, etc etc etc) team, and certainly in the top ten is.....religion.
Now young Dwight had been brought up with two strong philosophical credos, the first being that a man was entitled to any superstition that happened to take his fancy, and second, that no-one had the right to inflict their particular system of belief on him. So when Rev. Little brought up the 'R' word the alarm bells rang and barber Ellis slipped into stealth mode, which is defined in the Barbers apprentice handbook as:
Whatever your customer says, agree with it and don't meet his eyes in the mirror.
Now just about then (fortunately!)
Sheriff Dillon Matthews walked into the tonsillorium, seeking to have his
flowing locks curtailed and his exuberant whiskers tamed. The sheriff was
what has been defined as 'a man's man'. Within another couple of generations
that expression would take on an entirely diifferent connotation but in
that day and age it pretty much meant that Dillon was a hard drinkin',
heavy smokin', honest, reliable coot with the hide of a rhinoceros and
the humour of a broken leg. And he didn't hold with no new-fangled ideas,
like short haircuts and clean-shaven faces (although he did make an exception
on this latter point with most women...) so it was with certain fixed ideas
he approached the new denizen of the Valley of the Toenail Ridge to receive
the administrations of Dwight's expertise. 'Course, since the good Reverend
was currently ensconced in the chair it pretty much meant that Matthews
had to bide his time until the tress-trimmer was ready for him, and that
meant that he entered the conversation.
"So Little," said Dillon " How you and fine filly of a wife gettin' on now? Sure miss that woman's victuals since ya married her and took her away from her diner. And I reckon I'm seein' a bit of yourself hangin' over your belt, her cooking makin' an impression on ya, huh?"
It may be recalled that Reverend
Jeremiah Little was a very staid and serious man, stern in his demeanour
and carraige, parsimonious in his approach to life. But his recent
marraige to Mary-Jo Pears of the Diner had mellowed his sombre outlook
somewhat and when Dillon enquired Little launched into a gushing soliloquy
of what a wonderful person his helpmeet was, what a fine housekeeper, a
lady, a permanent delight to his life! With a sigh of relief at the change
of subject, young Dwight Ellis got on with the job of shearing the locks
of the parson, listening with half an ear to the sky-pilot's utterances
and gaining a picture of life in the Valley.
Dwight finished with Little's head and after applying a whiff of lotion and a mere hint of pomade he whipped back the sheet protecting the parson's clothes and said "There you go, Reverend. That'll be 25 cents".
It seems that it's an unspoken eleventh commandment that police officers and soul-herders don't expect to pay for some services and products, especially in small towns.....this has become so entrenched in some cultures that it's a standing joke that coffee and donuts are free to men in blue uniforms. Everyone knows that ministers of religion are the richest men in the world in terms of spiritual accoutrements but tend to be on the bottom end of the scale when it comes to bank balances and loose change about their persons. And here was this newcomer to the Valley standing with his hand out expecting a hand-out from the very person whose responsibility is was to shepherd him into the greater glory! And the only other person present was also one of those folks commonly on the receiving end of "....don't worry 'bout it, sheriff, that one's on me!....".
Young Dwight wasn't born in a small town, he didn't grow up in a small town, and he wasn't aware of the gaffe that his utterance had perpetuated on the thunder-struck parson or officer of the law. So he said again "25 cents, sir. 20 cents for the haircut and a nickel for the lotion and whiskers trim. I got change."
About then New Jersey Jack Lazyacre,
on his way from his abode in the hotel to his office at the Fenster Cheese
Factory decided to stop in to see how the new arrival was settling in to
the Valley of the Toenail Ridge. He walked in to the barber's shop and
was greeted with the sight of the good Reverend Jeremiah Little with his
face the colour of ripe plums and Sheriff Dillon Matthews with a visage
like fresh-starched white sheets and his jaw hanging around his belt buckle.
"Mornin' gents!" said Lazyacre. "What's happenin'?"
Now a person who has been the recipient of largesse may consider that it's his due but even the most brazen of freeloaders wouldn't demand his rights in front of an audience or if it was pretty obvious that the person involved was acting in all innocence. So with ill-concealed poor grace, Little reached for his coin purse to pay the barber. When New Jersey Jack saw this most uncommon act of the preacher he immediately understood the situation and said "Little, you put that money away, this here haircut is my treat, just remind that fine woman of yours that I'd be mighty partial to some of her blueberry muffins next time she's bakin' 'em." He then turned on the sheriff and said "I hear that Grant Alexander down at the engine yards been asking after you, reckon he might need to talk to ya. Why don't ya go see what he wants and I'll keep this young feller busy on my hair until you get back."
And with the innocence of the young, Dwight Ellis had not noticed one thing amiss, not sensed the shock of the Parson or the astonishment of the peacekeeper. Not understood the undercurrents or the rescue he had received from Selbyville's leading character.
"Good day to you, gentlemen," he bade the sheriff and sky-pilot as they ushered each other out the door. "Stop back in again soon! Nice feller that preacher, Mr Lazyacre. Didn't get to talk to that lawman yet though...."
"Son,... " started New Jersey Jack.... and then proceeded to educate the new barber about some of the facts of life he needed to know living in a small town in a small community, especially those facts of life that avoided putting stress on his neighbours, especially those neighbours who were in a position to put business and friendship his way. Things like, the preacher don't pay, the lawman don't pay, the store-owners would expect credit, the railway workers would expect discretion in their purchase of certain rubber products, the miners would expect instant service between the times that they marched into town with pokes full of gold dust and when they staggered out again, stoney, motherless broke and with hangovers that would last three weeks.
"I'll let the word around to Little that you just plain didn't understand his esteemed position in the community, you comin' from California an' all, he'll understand. He'd be a nice feller if he wasn't such a pain in the rear-end. Least that fine wife of his has mellowed him a tad, he don't go drivin' us near as crazy as he used to. Man couldn't have a beer once upon a time without the preacher promisin' him seventeen kinds of Hell-fire and damnation. But since he got hitched I reckon he found out that some sins of the flesh have a pretty big attraction if ya see what I mean, and now he leaves a man to his own devices without as much breast-beatin' and naggin'."
So Dwight settled into Selbyville and the Valley of the Toenail Ridge. Within a few weeks it was like he'd lived there all his life. The old men who'd retired from the mines and the brewery and the cheese factory and the Toenail Ridge Shortline took to sitting around in his barber shop or on the old chairs on the front porch, reminiscing about the old days. The kids would flood in after they'd been released from the school-marm's care to get their ears lowered, the railway men would stop in to get their whiskers trimmed and bring the barber and his old men up to date on the latest gossip and what was happening in the town of Rowell, just outside the valley. Dwight started to keep company with the daughter of one of the railway gandydancers and pretty soon was a regular face at the church and socials and picnics. Because he was a barber Reverend Little invited him to try out for the church choir but Dwight, having learnt that discretion is the better part of valour, politely begged off the invitation, claiming a slight sore throat. 'Cos he knew that if ever it came out that he had a singing voice like a pregnant moose his validity as a tonsillorial practitioner would be at an end.
And so another life settled into contentment in the Valley of the Toenail Ridge. Eventually Ellis married one of the shopkeeper's daughters and before too long the kids started to come along one by one until Dwight and his bride had enough to field their own basketball team, then he started to use those discreet little rubber items he stocked under the counter and they lived happily ever after.