I got a haircut in Iraq once, just after the first Gulf War, and wondered if it was smart to offer up my head to a stranger with a razor.
I briefly had the same feeling Tuesday at a barbershop in Orange County, but I made it out alive to tell this story.
Fair guy that I am, I asked for a little help on Sunday in my column. I'd written about the rabid support for Barack Obama at Tolliver's Barber Shop in South Los Angeles, and I wanted a recommendation for a barbershop where I'd hear different views.
One reader had suggested I try a joint in Seal Beach, another nominated one in Newport Beach. But I liked the sounds of the third choice, recommended by reader Greg Martin, because it was near Rick Warren's megachurch and not far from the now-closed El Toro Marine Corps Air Station in a Lake Forest strip mall.
I was not disappointed. I traveled from a blue state to a red state, and it only took me an hour.
Inside Haircuts $6, pillars were wrapped in the colors of Old Glory, the flags of the four branches of military service hung on the walls, customers waited in wooden church pews, retired veterans cut the hair of other retired vets, and the TV was tuned to Fox News, which was broadcasting from the GOP convention in Minnesota to the delight of barbers and clients alike.
Jim Gilchrist, the Minutemen's chief musketeer, gets his hair cut here. You can buy a Minuteman cap in the shop, as well as a Special Forces hat that says: "Mess with the best. Die like the rest."
Paul Blake, the ex-Marine who owns the shop, stated the obvious when I told him why I'd come: "You won't find too many votes for Obama in here."
As Fox anchors did their thing from St. Paul, white-haired Al Ott stepped out of a barber chair with a fresh trim and a God Bless America T-shirt.
"I like the choice of Palin for vice president," Ott said. "I think she's an assertive-type person, and she's a good-looking woman, which doesn't hurt."
I tried to play devil's advocate.
Sure, Palin's knowledge of Alaska might make her well-equipped to lead the charge if we decide to invade Canada or run a brigade into Russia from across the Bering Sea. But isn't it a little troubling, I asked, to know that if a President McCain were to keel over, we'd have a president with wet ink on her passport?
Not a problem, I was told by one and all. She's a smart gal who'll learn fast, and being in a state so far from D.C. is a huge plus. Could Sen. Joe Biden bring down a caribou?
Well then, what about the matter of Palin's pregnant 17-year-old? Isn't that a bit awkward for the party of family values? And what kind of mom subjects her entire brood to such upheaval and scrutiny?
Family business is personal business, came the chorus. To hear them tell it, the 17-year-old's decision to have the baby and become a married teen is an affirmation of conservative, pro-life values.
I was reminded, once more, of the genius of Republican Party marketing. Though it has its own fractures and divisions, the GOP since Reagan has done a better job of deciding what it pretends to stand for, a far better job than the clueless leaders of the mush-mouthed Democratic Party.
Family values -- good.
Beltway politics -- bad.
Personal responsibility -- good.
Taxes -- bad.
Big military budget -- good.
Big education budget -- bad.
I could argue that the GOP has sold out many of the men in Haircuts $6 with economic policies that favor the super wealthy at the expense of the middle class, or that an unnecessary war and irresponsible spending will mean higher taxes for the children and grandchildren of the barber shop's antitax clients.
But the GOP's marketing of its vision has been effective enough that most of the guys in the barbershop have bought in completely. Though not all of them.
"McCain is the lesser of two evils," said John Flynn, 87, who was shot in both legs in World War II while marching for Gen. Patton. Flynn still hobbles from those injuries, but he's a healthy cynic. He doesn't buy McCain's claims of a new day in Washington, and he didn't support the war in Iraq. But he still believes Obama's scant experience makes him a colossal risk.
Bill Guerra, a four-tour Vietnam vet and self-described independent voter, has even bigger problems with the Democrats this year. He told me he can't vote for Barack Obama because the presidential candidate was raised Muslim and could be part of an Islamic plot to take over the country.
And what is the evidence of that?
"I've seen photos, and when he was being raised, everyone around him was Muslim. And they say Muslims will take over this country and it will happen from within."
As Guerra spoke to me, a security guard was parked outside the shop in a Jeep. He told me he was on the lookout for illegal immigrants.
Fortunately, I had my papers.