Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Shave and a Haircut, Two Bits

Well, it's more like $20 with tip nowadays. My barber Tony, who's been in the neighborhood cutting heads for longer than I've been alive, is on vacation. He gives a nice no-nonsense haircut, but he works alone and the line gets long. I went down into Belleville to the newly opened White Oak Barbers, run by two gals named Pia and Gina. They're veteran hairdressers in their 40's and opened this place after leaving another institution, Lou's at five corners, who retired a few years back.

We know the economy is on a downturn now that the ARM mortgage schemes have finally come home to roost. Instead of an internet boom, this time we had a housing boom, with million-dollar McMansions being picked up by working couples who weren't doctors and lawyers. It was a dream come true, except this was the kind where you dream about eating a big marshmallow and wake up to find your pillow missing. And now you've got to pass that goosedown through your lower intestine.

So while Pia chattered and cut my hair, I noticed she had a lot of antique barber paraphernalia around the place. Straight razors, strops, safety razors and badger brushes. The old gag, "Shave and a haircut, two bits!" popped into my head. The haircut has outpaced inflation quite a bit, actually. If you go to The Inflation Calculator, a quarter in 1915 would buy you about five bucks worth today. You might be able to get a $5 haircut someplace, but you probably would look like you dove headfirst into a blender. Maybe you could put a down payment on a Flowbee.

The Flowbee is your time traveling ticket to the world of 70's porn.

This is not to begrudge the ladies their money, $20 is a bargain for a shave and a haircut nowadays. At least I'm not getting butchered at a Supercuts by some nervous kid with a trimmer running rampant over my skull like a runaway lawnmower. Or worse yet, the barber I left a few months ago. This place has a sordid history, as told to me by Gina. Originally it was Lou's, but when Lou retired, this guy who we'll call "Carlito" took over. He ran the place for the owner, and made a lot of trips to Puerto Rico. We talked a lot about cars, and travel. He seemed a nice enough guy, but these fellows usually do. It turns out Carlito has now fled to Puerto Rico and his partner from a few stores over is in jail. Why? I am not privy to such gossip, but I imagine a barber shop is a good place to distribute items of an illegal nature.

The guy running the place now is afraid to touch people. The last haircut I got there was done at arm's length. And I don't mean he was standoffish and didn't want to talk, I mean he stood at arm's length and cut my hair from that distance. I felt like I was stuck in a Tim Conway skit. He moved with deliberate slowness, lifting the trimmer's cord over my head like a dead snake as he stepped gingerly through the growing mass of shorn hair. The ladies at White Oak told me they knew the guy, and that he used to wear rubber gloves while cutting hair. Now I've heard some tales of skeevy1 heads from my mother, who was a hairdresser at one point. But it's not the line of work to get into if you are revolted by human contact. You're cutting hair. It's not like you're a mechanic, or a pharmacist where you can just avoid handshakes. Maybe he should have used a Flowbee.


1 dirty, from the Italian schifoso.

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