As some fans [?] have pointed out, I have been derelict in my duty towards this blog.
But I have a fabulous excuse: I’m very lazy. Also, I forgot about it.
It was, thankfully, a fecund absence, providing me with ample examples of Arkansas society and oddities that I’ll be able to scrutinize and then mock unfairly for years to come.
But in the meantime, I’d like to talk about Missouri.
Recently, we had to go to Illinois and decided that, since we were driving, we should make the road trip as memorable as possible. To that end, we made the commitment to stop at every single road-side attraction that was on our route. And our route took us through Missouri.
Our first stop was Charleston, Missouri, a sleepy southern town near the Illinois border. Little did we know that this pleasant, dying village secretly hid a dark underbelly of Americana. It was here, in the town’s decrepit barber shop, that we were stunned to discover a barber named Henry Coffer had taken it upon himself to collect all his customers’ hair and create the world’s biggest hairball.
Which isn’t as disgusting as it seems.
And he reached his goal, saving his hair cuttings every week until it weighed in at over 170 lbs! Surprisingly, neither Ripley’s Believe It or Not [–is that still in even in existence?] nor the Guinness Book of World Records had any documented record for World’s Biggest Ball of Hair.
That changed in late 2008, when Coffer officially submitted the weight to both organizations. Ripley’s was so impressed they purchased the hairball for a cool $5,000 and a lifetime pass to any of their museums [–seriously, how can they still be in business?]. Now, thanks to these records, ol’ Henry is known throughout Charleston as “the Hairball Man”.
Oh yes, it’s easy to mock the man’s determination. But let he who has never thought about collecting human offal cast the first stone. Scoff if you will, Clarice, but this was clearly a man with a dream. A creepy, horribly disturbing dream that he made a reality.
And do not call him a sellout, just because he profited from his bizarre collection. You cannot but have respect for this giant among men, this modern-day Icarus whose only infraction was that he flew too close to the sun–that he loved his hairball too much. For Henry subscribes to the theory that if you love something, you should set it free. And according to news reports, Henry said despite his free lifetime pass to the Ripley’s museum, he wouldn’t visit his hairball. He’s had enough. “I don’t know why I would,” he is quoted as saying. “I’ve done lived with it, slept with it…”
Of course, none of this was known to us as we turned off Main Street and into the driveway that led to Henry’s Barber Shop. We only knew we were coming to meet a legend.
At first, we were afraid that our information was bad–that Henry’s Barber Shop had closed its doors long ago.
Thankfully, we were brave enough to venture to the front window, where we saw the man himself sitting in his crowded one-seat shop, staring thoughtfully into space. I entered the establishment, noticing that the walls were adorned with novelties and crap, making it look like a dilapidated TGIF’s.
“This may seem like a strange question,” I said to the hero sitting before me, “but do you happen to have a gigantic ball of hair?”
“Well,” he drawled, getting up from his chair, “I useta.”
And so began our discussion with Henry. He explained that unfortunately, he had recently sold the hairball to Ripley’s, but was able to show us many photos of the glorious artifact. He regaled us with tales of hairball fame and fortune as he told us that he had given an interview to the National Examiner. He said he was going to have autographed photographs of himself standing next to the hairball to distribute, but they hadn’t come in yet.
He also shared with us his method for collecting the hair. It seems that once a week[!], he’d sweep the floor of his shop, collecting the hair in a plastic bag. After about two weeks, the bag’s contents would be added to the hairball and he’d start all over again.
We were far from his first hairball visitors, but he was glad we had stopped. He liked talking with people, and he enjoyed the fact that his barber shop had become a destination on road-trips. The fact that the hairball was no longer on the premises was bittersweet for him, but at least he had his memories. And, he said with a wink as he pointed out a plastic bag filled with hair, he may try to break his own record.
And then he let me hold his bag of hair.
It was here that things got a little strange.
We had spent about 45 fun-filled minutes with this modern-day PT Barnum, but it was time to continue on the road. As we tried to make our goodbyes, however, the barber tried harder and harder to get us to stay. He talked about the joke-book he had authored (and he had some copies for sale if we wanted to purchase one.) He even shared some of his jokes with us. One of the more politically correct jokes he told was about Mexicans being lazy.
And so we left. But I like to think that we all learned a little something from our visit.