About Campus: A little off the bottom

BY SARA LYNNE THELEN

Published October 6, 2008

If your coif is getting shaggy, you might head over to any one of Ann Arbor's ubiquitous beauty salons.
Or, if you're willing to skip the hand massage, scalp oil and everything else remotely luxurious, you can stroll through the swinging screen door of Coach & Four Barber Shop on State Street, where they offer custom haircuts for men, women and children.
To be fair, though, the womanliest thing you'll find there is a pants-less beauty queen giving a coy stare from a Michigan hockey poster.
I walked in for the first time last Friday. But from the ambience, I thought I had walked into a bar. Besides the sexy poster, there were the walls plastered with sports cards, jerseys and taxidermy animals, including a roaring, hat-wearing black bear holding a can of Labatt Blue in its claws.
On the ceiling, fox pelts were draped over a rusty trombone and an old maize javelin.
With his wire-rimmed glasses, tall, stocky build, trim white beard and casual button-up shirt, owner Jerry Erickson perfectly fits the atmosphere of his shop.
Swiveling in the chair toward where I sat waiting in the park-style bench of his shop, he asked, "Are you waiting for someone, ma’am?"
No, I said, I was there for a haircut.
"All right, then," he said, with a chivalrous gesture toward the chair. "Let's get you over here."
With 35 years of idle chat under his belt, Jerry’s conversation was a welcome change from the forced small talk at the Aveda Institute. He seemed to actually enjoy talking, so I asked him to tell me about his patrons.
He said he owes his livelihood to local professors, lawyers and doctors, "bread and butter customers" who have come to his shop since they were children.
Student customers come and go but are "dynamite," he said, some so loyal that they abstain from haircuts all summer until they can come and see him again in the fall.
"When they come back they say 'Hey, I saved my hair for you, you know?' " he said.
Erickson's celebrity clientele include Michigan basketball coach John Beilein and revered former football coach Bo Schembechler, whose signature adorns the poster on the back wall, a black-and-white aerial view of the Big House in the 1950s.
"I get kids coming in here and saying, 'You cut my dad's hair in the 70s,' " Erickson said. "And I say, 'Well, I bet he had long hair then, eh?' "
I told him my dad had an afro in the 70s.
"Yeah," he laughed. He seems amused by memories. "But they'd be coming in with hair as long as yours."
'Did they take care of it?' I asked.
"Oh, yeah," he said. "We'd just trim it."
I reassured myself that hippie wool would have been more of a challenge than what laid before him now – my shoulder-length yellow mop I hadn't bothered styling. Unnerved by my feminine locks, Erickson began to squirt liberally with a spray bottle.
"Do you have a lot of girls come in here?" I asked.
"Oh, a fair amount," he said, pulling and picking through my hair with a fine-tooth comb. "Not a lot. You know, 'cause we don't do perms, we don't use a curling iron. We do basic cuts, trims like yours."
The shop was otherwise filled with men. Three, who looked to be over 50, bantered and laughed among themselves, making plans to go out drinking that weekend. A male student read a magazine while he waited on the bench.
I asked Erickson if he befriends many of his customers.
"Oh yeah," he said. "That's the only way to be in business. When it comes to politics you might be a little different… but politics and religion are something you usually don't talk a lot about."
“Especially when you're holding the scissors,” I replied.
He didn't laugh, and continued making seemingly random snips at the ends of my hair.
We talked about where we’re from. He grew up in Iron River, Wisconsin, a small mining town about 300 miles west of the Mackinaw Bridge. Every fall, he said, he “gets a kick” out of watching students on Hill Street waiting for their sports cars to be delivered on huge flat-bed trucks from their upscale hometowns.
Looking out the window toward Hill Street, my eyes caught the postcards, photographs, tennis rackets and construction helmets on the wall. "Do you decorate this place yourself?" I wondered aloud.
"Yeah," he laughed. "It's just, when somebody brings me something… Hey, Bill!"
Bill, a heavyset sixty-something, walked through the door to chat with Jerry about printing team sweaters for their beer league.
"I've been on the team for quite a while. I'm the old guy out there," Jerry finally explained. "Those kids get schooled."
A couple of minutes later, he hands me a mirror.
"Well, I tell you what," he said, fluffing my hair politely, "This gave it a bit more body."
The first glimpse of my new look was anti-climactic, but in a good way. It was bluntly trimmed a couple of inches all the way around, with proportionate bangs and distinguishable layers. I thanked him and went to get my wallet.
"Now I got all you ugly guys," Erickson said to the men who had accumulated on the benches. "She came in here, and now I gotta work with you scruffy guys. She made my day."
I don't know if he made a regular out of me, but I tipped him 25 percent before I left.

Allison Ghaman