Tuesday, March 18, 2014

My Barber's Dead

I bet I can name every barber I’ve had back to five years old. I only remember nicknames for the first two on York Avenue because I didn’t know their real names. “Herman the German” and “Mickey Mouse” with his wife with Tourette’s syndrome. In a house dress with her wild gray hair, she sat next to you in the always empty second barber’s chair and on and off through the haircut screamed obscenities into your ear. The other barber, Herman the German fogged me in during haircuts when his cigarette smoke created clouds around my head. Sometimes, Dad tried to save a quarter and sent me to Mickey Mouse who only charged 50 cents for kids, but when I got home Dad caught crap from Mom because the haircut was always terrible. Reluctantly, Dad would spring for the extra quarter next time that meant I was going to Herman.

At 13, breaking away from crew cuts, I went to Gino
Rory & Tommy 1961
at Claremont’s Men’s Hair Stylist also on York. There, I discovered sideburns and threw away my butch stick. Then when I moved out of my parents, Antonino in Bay Ridge who played Italian Opera on Saturday morning while sipping red wine out of a coffee cup. A little wine always rested on his pencil moustache before his cat tongue took it home. After opera, there was pretty Angeline who cost too much, but I didn’t care because her face in my face for a half hour was heaven. Angeline moved to Jersey, and then it was off to Lydia on Beekman Street next to the hat store where my Dad got his hat blocked in the 50s’.  After Lydia retired, David, my Russian comrade styled me near the Trade Center until September 11th. With my work building closed, my office was exiled to Long Island City for three years where a Chinese chicken salesman cut my hair off Jackson Avenue.
In 2004 I went back to Claremont Men’s Hair Stylist in their new location on 83rd Street and First Avenue. Claremont’s owner was a Yorkville land baron and moved the store from one of his buildings to another. A couple of years ago, I plotted my next haircut tying it to a weekday to avoid waiting on a Saturday morning. When I got to the store at eleven the windows were white washed with a little hand written sign telling the postman where to leave the mail. My barber who I already lost once in my life was dead. Or moved elsewhere, leaving no forwarding address for my wild poet head. Not to be denied, I remembered somewhere between the subway stop and York Avenue there was a barber pole; I definitely remembered the swirling stripes on the pole. After a few passes, I located my barber on 84th Street right next to Doctor Higgins the Vet’s office. Not too shabby, cut my hair nice, would of made Floyd of Mayberry proud, “Real proud, Andy.” Can’t tell you his name, but I’ll try to keep him on life support.

 This piece appeared last Friday in  Ask A New Yorker

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