Outside of my family, I have had only one relationship that has been continuous for the last 35 years. That person is Larry Cobb, my barber. In fact, I have known him for five years longer than I've known my wife, Dianne.
I walked into the College Barber Shop on State Street in the fall of 1979, my first year at UW-Madison, simply because it was the first barbershop I saw. Since then, I have not had my hair cut anywhere else. By my accounting, that's something like 400 haircuts.
The place has changed hardly at all in three-and-a-half decades, which is one of its many charms. I did notice that the magazines with the scantily clad women went from the coffee table in front of the waiting chairs to a closed wooden holder on the wall to gone entirely. And Larry has steadily added to his "Andy of Mayberry" memorabilia over time, but that's about it.
I was there when owner Don Fine celebrated his 50th year in the business and, since I was mayor at the time, I even declared it "One Fine Day" in Madison. And when Don sold the business to Larry a year or two later, I was there to move with him up to Don's coveted first chair in the window.
Larry and I talk sports, mostly. He’s a huge UW basketball fan and keeps up pretty well with everything else. Sometimes we'd talk about what was happening on State Street or some other city issue of the moment. We'd recount our favorite Andy Griffith episodes. He was very proud of a used Mercury Marquis he had purchased, and so we talked cars a little (not my strong suit).
But for a year or so I listened as Larry described his wife's battles with cancer. Her name was Dianne with two n's, just as my wife's name is spelled. I heard about their last trip together to the Outer Banks of North Carolina. I heard him talk with optimism about their future together, but the facts of her illness that he recounted didn't seem to convey reason for optimism. On a hot day in 2010, I went with my friend and another loyal customer Bill Clingan to a celebration of Dianne's life. The event was packed, but Larry reminds me that Bill and I showed up every time I'm in the shop as if it was a big deal that we were there, which it wasn't. It was the least we could do.
Look, guys don't talk much about what's going on in their lives or about their feelings. We just don't. We talk about sports and we chide one another about this and that. I have always told Larry that I kept coming back to him for all these years in the hope that someday he'd get it right, and when he did I'd move on to a new place.
The College Barber Shop will close in about a month. I need a haircut. My guess is that this one will be perfect.