Monday, November 14, 2016

"Haircutters Throughout (My) History"

When I was a kid growing up in Toronto, every haircutter was named Tony.  (And every “Popcorn Man” was named Georgie.  Tangible evidence of “Appellational Determininism.”)

The barbershop at nearby Lawrence Plaza was long and narrow, boasting, from front to back, eight identical barber chairs.  But there was a definite hierarchy.

The most senior Tony commanded the first barber chair.  What then followed was a progressive decline in “Tony” experience and capability until you reached the eighth and final Tony – old and shaky or just beginning his career.  

As a no-status youngster, I was inevitably assigned the lowliest practitioner.   Every visit to the barber’s, I snailed my way nervously down the “Tony Continuum”, surrendering my vulnerable hair to a guy who was literally a step away from being the “Shoeshine Boy” (and barbershop cleanup attendant) and was not even named Tony.  According to the Tonys, his name was apparently, “Hey, Idiot, come sweep up the hair!”            

Once, I brought in a picture I had cut out of TV Guide of Craig Stevens, star of the detective show Peter Gunn – remember the cool Henry Mancini theme song – “But-da da-da da-da da-da…”?  I wanted my new haircut to look exactly like that. 

The eight Tonys gathered around, examining the picture.  The first-chair Tony pronounced, “Hey, its-a Perry Como!”, the others immediately agreeing, it being unwise for “Tony Advancement” to contradict the “Head Tony.” 

Though I insisted it was Craig Stevens, they ignoringly shooed me down to the eighth Tony, instructing him to give me a “Perry Como.”  Which was fine, since they were virtually identical, except one of them solved murder mysteries and the other sang “Papa Loves Mambo.”

I do not recall my haircuts being of any meaningful consequence.  To me, it’s a good haircut if I do not have to wear a hat to “conceal the evidence.”  What I used to enjoy most was the electronic “Neck Relaxer”, but they don’t do that anymore.  (I may have seriously “dated” myself.  “I liked when they delivered milk to the house in horse-drawn wagons.”  Maybe a click above that.  Which, by the way, I also remember.)         

The haircut has always been less meaningful to me than the hair cutter.  Which is why when I get one I like, I follow them wherever they go.  To get haircuts.  I am not, like, a stalker.  I somehow felt I needed to clarify that.  Followed them, just for haircuts.

Cathy cut hair not far from Universal Studios where I then worked.  (Note:  The first two lots I worked at – Studio City and Paramount – the actual “Studio Barbers” cut my hair, the Studio City barber giving me bags of oranges from his tree to take home, the haircutter from Paramount confiding scandalous stories about Desi Arnaz.)

Cathy was a cross between Ann-Margret in her prime and Jennifer Aniston (no “look-alike”, as Friends had not yet hit the airwaves.)  Beyond the lively conversation and her scissorial skillfulness – full disclosure but keep it under your hat – my spirits were elevated simply by the proximity.   

Here’s how devoted I remained to Cathy.  When she relocated to Beverly Hills, working at Christophe – the guy who gave Bill Clinton the four hundred-dollar haircut on the L.A. Airport tarmac – I followed her there, even though… it was Christophe in Beverly Hills, okay?  They tipped the hairdressers a car!  (Or a husband, if they were finished with them.)

Sometimes, Cathy came to my house, and we spread newspapers out on the floor (to catch the precious curlicues of falling hair.)  Sometimes, I went to her place and we spread newspapers out on her floor.  Ultimately, as they inevitably must, things changed.  A marriage, two children, a job at a Manhattan Beach salon – I am talking about her – and after more than a decade, “Cathy and Earl Meet for a Haircut” gradually amicably phased itself out.


And then I met Matthew.  (Demonstrating I am unashamedly “bi-haircutteral.”)

Matthew is English, and works five minutes from my house, although he too did some Beverly Hills time, and I gritted my teeth, taking my lengthening follicles for a ride.  (Our ability to make each other laugh justifying the augmented inconvenience and vehicular endangerment.)

Central to our longtime relationship are my traditional, pre-haircut instructions, where I explain to him precisely what I want:

“I am going to Indiana.  I need this luxurious haircut to look like I got it a ‘Supercuts.’”

“I am traveling to Toronto.  I want this haircut to say I have not changed a bit.”

“I just turned seventy.  Give me a haircut that makes me look sixty-eight.”

(PRE-YOM KIPPER HAIRCUT)  “I need a haircut that will get my name inscribed in the celestial ‘Book of Life.’  The tricky part is, if it doesn’t work out, the haircutter goes too.”

The most recent instruction, prior to Matthew’s imminent departure to a non-denominational Meditation Center in India:

“In baseball, the last game before the team’s scheduled to travel is called the “Getaway Day” game, where, not infrequently, the ballplayers’ minds have already moved on.  I do not want a ‘Getaway Day’ haircut.”

Matthew listens attentively, always replying the same thing:

“I actually have one of those left.”

He then proceeds to give me exactly the same haircut every time.  But I never complain because the cut is followed by an energizing, eyes closed, hands-laid-on-the-top-of-the-head spiritual blessing.

You know, it just occurred to me.  Two haircutters in twenty-five years.  The same accountant for thirty.  The same housekeeper for almost thirty-five.

I must be incredibly loyal.

Or congenitally unwilling to change.

I think I’ll say "loyal."


JED said...

I like going to the barber for the stories. Last time, he said he was late getting to work because during breakfast, he looked at the orange juice container and it said, "Concentrate!"

Stephen Marks said...

As much as I loved the "Tony continuum" part, I wouldn't mind hearing those Desi stories. Desi had great hair, so did Burt Lancaster and Tony Curtis. All the Kennedy's were blessed with great hair. Ted's looked great with that wet look during repeated attempts to dive down to his car to save his girlfriend. Bobby had that Hawaii-50 wave at the front that Marilyn Monroe loved to run her fingers through 45 minutes before she was found dead. And J.F.K., wonderful head of hair that was ruined by a hair-trigger. So Earl, did guys like Burt Reynolds and Chuck Heston send their hair out to be groomed or would that Cathy girl you mentioned go to their homes. Kind of like a bald person's version of Warren Beatty's "Shampoo."

Jahn Ghalt said...

When I was a kid the barbershops had, along with Saga (which my dad liked), Field and Stream, and Car and Driver, PLAYBOY. I never minded a long wait so long as one of those thick issues, tucked inside another magazine, was available with lovely, unadorned, pulchritude.

It occurs to me now that the other magazine was entirely un-needed, except for when mom was due to walk in.