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Thursday, November 13, 2008

Getting a Whiff of the Green Stuff Again... Aaaaahhh... Heaven...

I can still remember the time when my mother would take us to the barber shop at least once a month to get our hair cut. My brother, who was still very little back then, would be made to sit on a little rectangular wooden stool placed on the barber’s chair so that his head would be higher than the backrest.

I remember seeing white face towels being boiled in a big stainless drum at the back of the barbershop. I also remember seeing the barbers sharpening their foldable razors (labaha) with leathery belts that hung on the sides of the barber’s chair.

Just as unforgettable were the sound of noisy mechanical razors, the “plopping” and “crackling” sounds of hands landing on some old fellow’s body, and the rapid snipping sounds of scissors.

And crowding on top of the long ledges built onto two opposing walls of the shop, just below the similarly long mirrors, were the bars of soap covered with bits of hair, the brushes and cups of soapy water (used for lathering up and applying the soap on the customers’ napes in preparation for shaving), the tubs of pomade, the plastic bottles of fragrant talcum powder, the huge brushes (used for brushing off hair from the customers’ necks), combs and scissors of various sizes… and several large glass bottles of green fragrant liquid…

Yep, hair tonic.

Never really knew what they were for, but I remember asking our favorite barber (suki kumbaga) Mang Pepe (who passed away many years ago) to put some on me each time he would finish cutting my hair.

I so love the smell of the stuff that I felt ecstatic when I saw it being sold at a store in Quiapo a couple of months ago. (I went back there last week and bought the smallest bottle they had, for 18 pesos, just to get to smell it again!)

It’s just a little disappointing that hair tonics nowadays (at least those that I saw at the Quiapo store, including the one I bought) are sold in plastic bottles, unlike those that I used to see in the barbershop years ago which, as I’ve already mentioned, were contained in glass bottles.

Anyway, I tried finding out what it was for and found this:
“Americans are concerned with the appearance and cleanliness of their hair. In the medicine cabinet there is a bottle of hair tonic. What is hair tonic? Its main ingredient is petroleum (much like naphtha). This product is not as popular today, having been replaced by gels, mousses, and hair sprays. Hair spray keeps the hair in place like hair tonic may, but doesn't provide the greasy look that hair tonic has.

“Our hair is dead, yet advertisers try to sell us tonics and lotions for our hair, to make it look better or "healthier." Americans spend a lot of time caring for these dead cells, not because of their protective or warming abilities, but because of fashion. Hairstyles are a major part of American fashion and are always changing. This was certainly the case in the thirties as well. In those days, men who coated their hair in thin petroleum and combed it down had the stylish and acceptable hair fashion, even though it never moved and it looked greasy for the rest of the day.

“To those who pay attention to consumer products and health claims, the word "tonic" has acquired negative medical connotations because it has absolutely no scientific meaning, yet creators of health products have used it to describe products that are supposed to restore the body's health. However, in the 1930s, few people were educated about the medical claims manufacturers made.”
Hmmm… greasy huh? Naturally, I poured some of it on my hand to find out if the hair tonic I bought is the same as the hair tonic described in the article. It’s not greasy at all, and I don’t remember it ever being greasy…


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