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New Age Haircut

Gino’s closed. I’d gotten my hair cut there for thirty years. It was a real barber shop, with that rotating red-and-white pole out front that if you looked at long enough you became hypnotized, and if you wanted your hair washed before it was cut you had to wash it at home.

I always got my hair cut on a Saturday morning. I was one of three or four Saturday guys left, and Gino’s wife always had coffee and homemade cookies for us. If you were out of smokes, you could always bum a Pall Mall from her. She’d even light it for you with her Zippo.

Gino was one of those enlightened types who knew the power of simplicity. He offered two cuts: men’s regular and men’s crew cut, but he also trimmed nose hair and ear hair. Many men let their ear and nose hair flourish for weeks just to experience Gino’s artistry on yet another hairy part of their bodies. The most pleasant part was the shave, with hot lather and a straight razor and a hot towel afterward. All for eleven bucks.

On this morning I stood outside of Gino’s with Phil and Russ, two of the other Saturday guys. Those weren’t their real names, although they might have been. Those were the names I gave them. None of us had ever tried to start a conversation. We sat and read the paper and smoked. Maybe in a small village or hamlet guys gather at the barber shop to kibitz, but in the city they go to the barber shop to get a haircut as quickly as possible and then go home to do what’s important, even if it’s just to watch football.

A sign was taped to the window. “Out of business. Couldn’t keep up with the competition. Thanks for your support,” Russ said, speaking the only words I’d ever heard from him.

“There’s that new place up the block,” I said.

Change is difficult for men of a certain age, especially after decades of comfortable routine, but it’s miraculous how adversity unites people. We walked together to that new place.

It was a franchised hair-cutting salon. The place was packed, as crowded as Immaculate Conception Parish Hall on Friday night for the Lenten fish-fry, and we had to register first. The nice woman at the counter took our names and gave us plastic customer ID cards “to facilitate your ongoing relationship with us.”

None of us knew what that meant, but we needed haircuts.

A woman called my name after only two hours and I sat down in the chair. She wrapped a black cape around me and in the process hit me in the nose.

“So what can we do for you today?” she asked.

If that was a joke I didn’t get it. Well, I need an oil change, 5W30 please. Check my tires while you’re at it. And the kitchen drawer where we keep the knives is broken. A little glue should do the trick. I’d also like coffee and homemade cookies.

“I need a haircut,” is what I ended up saying.

Across the room, I could barely make out Phil settling into his chair and swiping away his black cape. I saw Russ walk out the door. I can’t be sure, but he might have been crying. I never saw him again.

“And how would you like that cut?” she asked.

“I’ll have a men’s regular.”

She laughed, probably thinking I was making a joke now. “Scissors or clippers?

“Scissors are fine,” I said.

“What number?”

I didn’t know scissors had numbers. I would have settled for a gadget I once saw called something like the Amazing Hair Sucker-Outer. It looked like a miniature vacuum cleaner, and you used the nozzle to give yourself a haircut at home.

“Any number is OK with me,” I said.

“How about a Number 2?”

“That’s my favorite number.”

“And how much do you want cut off?” she asked.

“I like a haircut that doesn’t make me look like I just got my hair cut.”

Until this morning I never knew how complicated it was to get a haircut. I just wanted to fall asleep as I usually did and have her wake me when it was over.

“Take a look at this,” she said, handing me a foldout brochure that showed at least a dozen different haircut styles. Not one of them looked like a men’s regular.

Then someone screamed, and the salon grew silent.

“Sir! You cannot smoke in here!”

It was Phil, trying to light a Chesterfield. His stylist grabbed the pack and tossed it on her equipment cart.

“Some people,” my stylist huffed as she led me to the sink, where I would have my hair washed for the second time that morning. I tilted my head back and heard a slap — the distinct sound of skin slapping another piece of skin. That can’t be good.

As she was cutting my hair with Number 2 scissors my stylist asked, “Got big plans for the weekend?”

I thought that was kind of personal — Gino never would have asked that; he never asked anything — so I answered as best I could: “Mmm.”

“So who’s your favorite singer?” she continued, and I knew then I wouldn’t enjoy the luxury of a catnap. During the next twenty minutes I was prodded into revealing that my favorite meal was ham steak with raisin sauce and a side of yams, I had never heard of a TV star named Snooki, and when you analyze it objectively, snoring counts as exercise. “And now that I think about it,” I said, “it’s Tennessee Ernie Ford.”

My haircut finished, the stylist asked if I’d liked any “product” in my hair. I declined, knowing that “product” could mean anything and I didn’t want her massaging a Big Mac into my scalp. I paid the bargain price of twenty-five dollars and walked home, with an unshaved beard and a sparrow snatching one of my ear hairs to add to its nest.

I did see Phil again, in a newspaper photo the next day. He was handcuffed and being led away by the cops. “Man charged with assault after striking hair salon employee,” the headline read.

What a shame. Some people simply can’t adapt because they’re too afraid.

Not me, though. After all those years of getting my hair cut at Gino’s I was more than happy to forsake the old days and enter the new age.

I went to the hardware store and bought one of those Amazing Hair Sucker-Outers and never had to go to a hair salon again.




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