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Hometown memories

Butch Wax: Fashion statement or dangerous weapon?

Flammable, freezable Butch Wax.

Gary Newton

Flammable, freezable Butch Wax.

Geez, Dad, what was Butch Wax? Well son, it was this really keen stuff that allowed us to sport this really cool haircut in the late 1950s — a briefly modish variation on the classic crew cut or wiffle, what one might call a buzz cut today. This haircut had no name. It was definitely not a “flat top” a la Johnny Unitas or H.R. Haldeman. The barber buzzed all your hair real short but left a tuft of hair up front, maybe an inch high and 3 inches across.

This is where the Butch Wax came in. It was used to get those hairs to stand at attention all day, guarding the northern perimeter of your forehead. In today’s parlance, Butch Wax would get the hair in front to “spike.”

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Each morning, in front of the mirror, I’d paste the pomade on the line of hair in front starting at the base and applying it in an upward motion, moving from left to right until I had constructed a thatch fence at the edge of my closely cropped, rounded hilltop of a head. It gave me a startled, electrified look — like Tintin upon seeing Red Rackham’s treasure. What I was thinking, I don’t know.

Butch Wax had two properties to be aware of — it was flammable and it could freeze.

One Halloween, I removed the top of our carved pumpkin and peered down at the candle burning within. I got too close and the jack-o’-lantern candle’s flame ignited my Butch-Waxed ridge of hair. It was the first time my head had ever been on fire.

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Walking to elementary school in subzero winter temperatures, the ridge of Butch-Waxed hair would freeze. This was not necessarily bad. If a fracas flared up upon arrival at school, the frozen ridge of hair could be deployed as a weapon to slash and gore an opponent in the manner of a rhino, warthog, or sawtooth shark. When the razor-sharp ridge of hair melted and went limp, one would have to resort to simple head-butting — though a head butt wasn’t actually called a head butt back then.

The breadth of your spiked-hair fence depended on the overall size and shape of your head.

I had — and still have — a rather large noggin, so my waxed fence was pretty impressive. Years later, well after the Butch Wax era, I was told by the person who fitted us for high school graduation caps that I had the second biggest head in our class.

I am quite proud of this. In fact, I considered mentioning my salutatorian status in my resume under “Other Awards and Distinctions,” but ran out of space.

Alas, my high school SAT scores confirmed what I had long suspected, that there’s no connection between head size and IQ.

Gary Newton

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