ARCHIVE LIBRARY

EARL DUGAS: OVER FIVE DECADES OF CUTTING THE HEADS OF NATCHITOCHES!

by Doug Ireland

Who’s your barber? Ladies, your hairdresser?

Chances are you’re in a long-term relationship. It’s not just the vanity of having your hair look good, but also, having a good visit while you’re there. Haircuts take time.

Sitting in that other chair, conversation is very one-sided with your dentist (not counting “uh huh” and “YELP!” or a squeal). Your doctor visits are polite, but typically there’s just small talk while another 3-4 patients are waiting to be seen. Besides, you want your doctor to be focused on the situation at hand. You NEED your doctor to be focused on the situation at hand.

When you’re getting that haircut, now, there’s nothing tense about it, unless you’re a rambunctious child. There’s nothing rushed. There’s plenty of time to visit. In pre-pandemic days, there might be a few others sitting around just being social, or waiting for their turn.

So the person who trims you up is at least a pal. Probably a friend. Maybe a confidante, a sounding board. We talk about a doctor’s bedside manner, but the doc is not spending 20-30-40 minutes or more tending to you (if you are in a conscious state!). If doc is reassuring, that’s wonderful. If your barber isn’t engaging, that’s usually cause for a change.

Not everybody wants to chat while getting a cut. So the maestro of manes in Natchitoches, the venerable Earl Dugas, long ago put a TV in his shop for everyone’s entertainment, and for quite a while, so he could keep an eye on the stock market.

There’s plenty of reading material if you’re waiting, or if you’re a companion for a kid or an elder. The clientele at A Cut Above on South Drive, across the street from another Natchitoches institution, Maggio’s Drive-Thru Liquor Store, ranges from preschool to retired for years, and includes the occasional lady.

Everybody leaves happy. Most leave with their next appointment scheduled. Some have a standing visit, like every third Thursday at 8 a.m. Walk-ins are welcome but usually, due to Earl’s fully scheduled slate, are passed off to his colleague, Kate Miller, if she has room on her schedule.

That’s why when a small group of friends wanted to commemorate Earl’s 50-plus years of cutting hair in Louisiana’s oldest city, one made an appointment and didn’t dare risk telling Earl that it wasn’t going to be for a haircut.

The others gathered outside, quietly in the dark, and marched in promptly at 8:30 on a Thursday night for a surprise party.

It’s fairly standard that Dugas is working at 8:30 p.m., although every weekday, he’s in the shop at 7:30 a.m. and only cancelled appointments provide a break. At times, he’s cut hair after midnight to accommodate his clients/friends.

It’s a work ethic and a discipline that makes his love of distance running absolutely understandable. Earl is, to his customers, as ubiquitous as fireworks over Cane River.

For quite a few middle-aged men, he’s the only barber they’ve known. Corwyn Aldredge Jr., owner of the popular Mama’s Oyster House and Papa’s Bar & Grill downtown, is among that number.

Dugas arrived in Natchitoches in 1970, fresh out of barber’s school in Shreveport, born and raised in Duson and, until he chose his vocation, anchored in Acadiana. He’d never been north of Alexandria before, but the only other licensed barber’s school was in New Orleans, and between cost and lifetstyle, that wasn’t a good idea.

Turns out moving to Natchitoches was.

Most of Earl’s career was spent alongside his dear, departed friend Terry Scott. Their shop was the hot corner – actually, just off the hot corner of Church and Front, in the location where Papa’s Grill operates today. Many of Natchitoches’ movers and shakers came through, most, but not all, for haircuts, and hijinks.

When Terry passed 15 years ago, Earl absorbed as many of those customers as he could. Monday through Friday, Dugas was there not long after dawn and long after sundown. That hasn’t changed.

Neither has his love for his profession, and most of all, for the friends who sit in his chair for up to an hour, engaged, entertained, informed, and always, walking out precisely manicured.

None of us can imagine it any other way. There are quite a few other fine choices for a haircut, and even to those pros, Earl Dugas is iconic.

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