This story was originally published in the Charleston Daily Mail on September 26, 2012.
U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin’s latest ad claims his wife, Gayle, has cut his hair for more than 20 years.
What the ad fails to mention is Gayle routinely receives assistance during those ear-lowering sessions.
Joe Manchin – former W.Va. governor and secretary of state, licensed pilot, Harley-Davidson rider and yacht co-owner – is a devout user of an electrically powered vacuum cleaner attachment made for cutting hair.
Yep, the senator is a fan of the Flowbee, that technological miracle and pop culture sensation.
Manchin’s campaign unveiled the ad, titled “Haircut,” in an email Sunday night to supporters. It was uploaded to YouTube on Monday and is running on television stations throughout the state.
“For more than 20 years, Joe Manchin has got his hair cut by the same barber . . . his wife, Gayle,” the announcer says.
In the commercial, Joe sits in his Charleston townhouse kitchen, a towel draped over his shoulders. Gayle snips at his graying hair with a pair of scissors and trims the back of his neck with electric clippers. He occasionally inspects her work with a hand mirror and sometimes touches his hair as if to say “a little more off the sides, please.”
“I’m Joe Manchin and I sponsor this ad because a penny saved is a penny earned,” he says at the end of the 30-second clip.
“And he’s cheap,” Gayle adds.
The Flowbee never appears.
Was the campaign worried the as-seen-on-TV device would look too hokey for a U.S. senator? Were Manchin staffers trying to avoid a backlash from fans of the Robocut, the Flowbee’s longtime rival? Was Joe just hesitant to reveal his styling tips?
In an exclusive interview with the Daily Mail, Gayle explained why she chose not to use the Flowbee on television.
“With a sweeper running, there would be a tremendous amount of noise,” she said.
Oh. That makes sense.
Joe used to go to a real barber, the kind who works in a barbershop, when he and Gale lived in Farmington. The barber cut Joe’s hair for years and even gave the future governor a pre-wedding trim before his marriage to Gayle in 1967.
But one day the barber moved to a shop in Morgantown and Joe, then a busy businessman, found it difficult to make the drive.
“He had come to me a couple of times and I said ‘Joe, I don’t cut hair,’ ” Gayle remembers.
But her husband, a born negotiator, eventually wore her down. Though her training was limited to a few suggestions from Joe and what little she learned from watching stylists cut her own hair, Gayle took scissors to his head.
It turned out quite well.
“I am a woman of many talents, what can I say?” she said.
The arrangement worked wonderfully during the summer months. Anytime Joe needed a haircut, he would pull up a chair on the porch. Gayle could just sweep away the hair when they were finished.
But the process got complicated as the weather turned colder. When it was too chilly to sit on the porch, Joe had to get his hair cut in the house. That created a mess. Gayle tried to get him to sit in a chair in the bathtub, but that did not work very well.
They faced this dilemma every winter for years until Joe found the solution to their problem in a late-night infomercial.
“My husband, a lot of times at night if he can’t sleep, he’ll turn the TV on and he’ll turn it on QVC. Which is dangerous.”
One fateful night the shopping network was hawking the Flowbee, a haircutting attachment for household vacuum cleaners. Joe called the 1-800 number and ordered one.
Gayle didn’t learn of his late-night purchase until a box appeared on the porch a few days later.
“I said, ‘I can’t believe we’re cutting your hair with a vacuum cleaner,’ ” Gayle said. “As it turns out, it’s a pretty nifty device.”
The Flowbee is a simple machine: You just attach its hose to your household vacuum cleaner and then point it at your head. The hair gets sucked into the Flowbee, where spinning blades chop it off at a prescribed length.
“The results are a refreshing vacuum haircut,” according to the company’s official website, www.Flowbee.com.
Although Gayle still uses scissors when she and Joe are on the road – it’s too difficult to lug the Flowbee and a vacuum cleaner along on trips – she much prefers the Flowbee.
“It cuts every hair exactly the same length. And I can’t guarantee that. You couldn’t ask for a more perfect haircut, if you layer your hair,” she said.
She said Joe has recommended the Flowbee to many of his friends. He also has offered to cut his friends’ hair using the device, though only his grandson has accepted the offer.
The Manchins are still using the same Flowbee that Joe purchased on QVC more than a decade ago.
When they moved into the Governor’s Mansion in 2005, they took the Flowbee along with them. It did not make the trip to Washington, D.C. when Joe became a Senator, however. Gayle said he makes it back to Charleston often enough she can just cut his hair when he’s here. If he needs a trim while in the nation’s capital, she just uses scissors.
“He definitely has got his money’s worth,” Gayle said.
She said she thinks the haircut commercial is “hysterical,” even without the Flowbee.
“It’s just who Joe is at the end of the day. He’s all about what’s most efficient, most effective and cheap,” she said.
She said the ad’s light-heartedness also provides a respite from the typical mud slinging commercials that usually hit television screens in the months before a general election.
“I think things have gotten real cynical. We need to lighten up a little bit. Maybe it is just kind of a little breath of fresh air before the nastiness comes back,” she said.