‘Haircut’ by Ring Lardner

Haircut by Ring Lardner, 1925

The magic trick:

Using local color to make a point about a small-town mentality

I got a haircut today. So that’s a fun coincidence. Not particularly helpful to the magic tricks. But it’s a pretty nice haircut.

Now then, the barber narrating this story isn’t maybe the smartest guy in the world. He’s being used for local color and comedy. Ah, but it turns out to be more than just jokes. He finishes telling the story, and we see that he never did understand the truth about Jim Kendall. So is he still just the butt of a joke? No. His failure to judge Jim becomes half the story. “Haircut” becomes as much a critique of small-town ignorance as it is a comedy. And that’s quite a trick on Lardner’s part.

The selection:

You’re a newcomer, ain’t you? I thought I hadn’t seen you round before. I hope you like it good enough to stay. As I say, we ain’t no New York City or Chicago, but we have pretty good times. Not as good, though, since Jim Kendall got killed. When he was alive, him and Hod Meyers used to keep this town in an uproar. I bet they was more laughin’ done here than any town its size in America.

Jim was comical, and Hod was pretty near a match for him. Since Jim’s gone, Hod tries to hold his end up just the same as ever, but it’s tough goin’ when you ain’t got nobody to kind of work with.

They used to be plenty fun in here Saturdays. This place is jam-packed Saturdays, from four o’clock on. Jim and Hod would show up right after their supper, round six o’clock. Jim would set himself down in that big chair, nearest the blue spit- toon. Whoever had been settin’ in that chair, why they’d get up when Jim come in and give it to him.

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