Wednesday, May 23, 2018
Human Interest

Barber's final cut severs ties with a half century of St. Pete history


He unlocked his shop just after 8 a.m., clicked on the neon "Open" sign in the window facing Fourth Street.

To his right, just outside the door, the barber pole was still spinning.

In 46 years, he had never turned it off.

"Cold out there this morning," he said to his partner on Wednesday. "Don't know that we'll get many today."

The shop was small. Three chairs lined the northern wall, but his was separate. They all had cushioned footrests — with ashtrays carved into the right arm. The black seats sagged with the weight of four generations.

As soon as he picked up his coffee, the phone rang. He has had the same number since 1968. "Pyramid Barber Shop," he said. "No, you don't need an appointment. Just walk on in any time."

Then he shook his head. "No," he said. "We won't be here tomorrow. Today's our last day."

• • •

Customers call him Carl the Butcher, from back when they were boys. They are fathers and grandfathers now, doctors and lawyers, policemen and politicians.

"Heck," said Carl Troup, 69. "I've been cutting Charlie Crist's hair since he was 7, back when it was still black."

He coiffed Crist for his wedding, for his gubernatorial inauguration. When presidential hopeful John Edwards was getting $400 hair cuts, Troup was shearing the Florida governor for $9. "Plus tip."

Troup, 69, went to barber school in Largo "because I didn't know what else to do." He thought it sounded like a steady way to make a living. He spent his whole career within a few blocks of Fourth Street.

He started cutting hair during the summer of love, when teenagers wanted to wear their hair long. The boys' parents would drag them into that same chair, which was then at the Northeast Pyramid Shopping Center. The boys would beg him, please, leave it long. "Who's paying?" Carl always asked. Personally, he didn't see why anyone cared if their kid's hair was long. "But you have to please whoever is paying."

Troup didn't shampoo his customers. "Why would you pay me $10 to do that?" He didn't do dyes. "Who are you fooling?" Or hair plugs. "Just let me shave it all off."

In recent years, the tufts of hair floating across the floor were mostly white. His customers didn't want fragrant pomades or fancy blow-dryers. They wanted what Troup gave them: sharp scissors slicing dry hair, warm shaving cream on a soft brush, someone to trim their eyebrows, beards and moustaches; a real razor sliding across the back of their necks.

Mostly, customers said, they kept coming for Troup's conversation about politics, Gator football and family.

"We want someone who has known us forever," said David Williams, 62, a former Pinellas County auditor. "Someone who knows what we want without even asking."

His youngest customer was 8 months old; his oldest, 102. All men. "Women never know what they want." On slow days, he did a dozen heads; on busy ones he could shear four times that. He estimates that, in almost half a century, he gave 350,000 haircuts.

When Troup had a heart attack in August and sank into a coma, customers filled eight posters with well wishes. Four months later, he was back behind his throne.

"I couldn't keep away from all these guys," he said. "I could've kept going."

But the landlord sold the little house next to the Ringside Cafe to make way for a Trader Joe's. And Carl the Butcher decided to hang up his scissors.

• • •

He finished his coffee just before noon. By then it was cold.

All morning, customers had been coming in to wish him well. No one wanted a haircut. But he insisted that each man climb into his chair for one last trim. He wouldn't take their money, not even a tip.

"You've been letting me torture you for 40 years," he kept saying. "Just give me a hug."

None of his customers had chosen a new barber. No one knew where they were going to go next month.

Crist said he'll probably follow Troup's partner, Simon Cogley, to the Uppercut Barber Shop beside El Cap Restaurant on Fourth Street N.

"Carl is just such a great barber. He has been a very important part of my life pretty much all my life,'' said Crist, who added if he is re-elected as governor, he hopes to coax Troup out of retirement to come to Tallahassee to cut his hair again.

The shop smelled like sanitizer and Febreze and old men. Plastic combs sat soaking in jars of turquoise Barbicide. A bucket of blue Dum-Dums flanked the cash register.

"Ted! Hey, Ted!" he called as a thin man shuffled in, wearing a white ball cap. "You come in for a cut?"

Ted Dahlem, 82, shook his head. Troup had been cutting his hair since he was in barber school, when a cut cost 25 cents. "I just came to say good-bye," said Dahlem.

"No, no, no," the barber insisted. "One last time."

He draped the yellow cape around the man's shoulders, folded a paper collar around his neck, sprayed his sparse hair with water. He was parting it when a slender woman wearing glasses walked in. "Hey, Ted! This is my wife," said Troup. "In all these years, you've never met my wife."

Linda Troup had come to watch her husband's final cut. To see if he needed help packing his Rolodex and shears. And what was he going to do with that old barber pole? "I can't stay," she said, kissing him on the cheek. "I have to go get my hair done."

Wait, someone said. Did your husband ever cut your hair? Troup's wife looked at him and laughed. "Yes," she said. "Once."

Then she set off for Sears.

Lane DeGregory can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8825.

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