Monday, May 28, 2007

Perspective: Haircut, and a haven

Oak Creek, Wis. — EVER since Lyndon B. Johnson sent the first large waves of troops to Vietnam, retired Army Sgt. Jim Stollberg has been providing soldiers with the height of military style here at the Tri-City Barber Shop.

Want a burr cut? How about a traditional flattop? Or a high-and-tight that even the pickiest drill sergeant will approve?

Come inside. Sit down. Chat awhile. Stollberg is ready to listen.

He starts his day as he has for more than 45 years — resting one hip against a worn, black-leather barber's chair, a trio of combs stuffed into his front shirt pocket. With a military crispness that demands an immediate answer, Stollberg asks each customer, "What can I do for you, sir?"

Don Olsen, a senior master sergeant with the Air Force Reserves, runs a hand through his crew cut.

"I am pretty shaggy and it's inspection time this weekend," says Olsen, 43. "Can you clean me up?"

Over the decades, Stollberg and the other barbers at Tri-City have done more than cut hair: They've established a haven for military manhood — a retreat where soldiers can swap jokes, gripe about sports and quietly share worries about the future.

Wives? Girlfriends? They either stay at home or wait outside in the car.

"We barbers are a cross between a bartender and a chaplain," says Stollberg, 67. "It's tough to really get things off your chest if your girl is hovering over your shoulder, complaining about how much I'm taking off the top."

The wars being fought have changed, Stollberg said, but the conversations with the guys in his chair have stayed the same.

Read the rest at the LA Times