“Inner yearning:” The Barbershop
Last week, The NY Times had an article on a rebirth of barbershops that the city’s experiencing, as young men try to look sharp and feel sharp, a la Mad Men’s Don Draper. Or try to reach back to a kinder, gentler time - kinder and gentler if you weren’t getting shot at by black-pajama’d Viet Cong, hit by fire hoses and ripped by police dogs in Selma Alabama, or conked on the head by a billy-club at Stonewall, that is. One young guy interviewed in the article said that with his trip to a Brooklyn barber shop, he “felt this deep, inner yearning.”
I suspect that, if I were to step into a barber shop, I’d feel a deep, inner something. But maybe not a yearning.
Anything to do with hair was, well, pretty hair raising when I was a child.
Sometimes hair meant my sister Kath and I sitting in the kitchen, wrapped in towels and choking on fumes, as my mother applied smelly Tonette home permanent chemicals to our heads, which were encased in plastic curlers that were so tight it felt as if your skull was being pulled apart. And whoever started using the word “permanent” hadn’t met the resistance of the Rogers’ girls hair.
My mother would later claim that Kath and I “insisted” on permanents.
I find this hard to believe, given that there was scant evidence in our childhood to correlate the word “insisted” with the words “actually getting.”
Maybe we did. For just as I find this “insisted” scenario unlikely, I find it equally unlikely that my mother gave in to any ‘fad of the day’ about curly hair for her daughters.
Ah, the answer is now lost to the ages – other than for those ghastly pictures in which Kath and I, otherwise cute kids, have these ghastly, unnatural looking, half grown out, frizz-heads.
In other pictures, however, we’re sporting naturally straight, but unevenly cut hair. The bangs, you will note, are especially uneven, the result of my mother having sent me across Main Street, to Vic the Blind Barber’s in the first floor of a three decker on the corner of Henshaw Street. The establishment wasn’t actually called Vic the Blind Barber’s. It was called Vic’s Barber Shop. But Vic was the Mister Magoo of barbers, so nearsighted that he couldn’t see a darned thing.
Not a good attribute for a barber. (Or for a driver, I might add. I remember seeing Vic in his old 1940’s car, hands gripped at 10-2, eyes squinting, peering over the steering wheel as he navigated his way home. He didn’t live in Main South; we didn’t have many Italians. He must have lived off of Shrewsbury Street somewhere. Amazing he never killed anyone during his commute. He did drive pretty slowly.)
Kath and I did eventually managed to graduate to the splendors of the Paree Beauty Salon, just down Main Street from Vic’s, in a sprawling wooden tenement building that also housed Morris Market, where we did our grocery shopping. Now, I believe, there’s a tattoo parlor there. Or we went to Mrs. Leary’s no doubt unlicensed basement beauty salon, where I was once given a “pixie cut” that made me look like anything but. A 12 year old with a size 10 foot is never going to look like a pixie. If I looked like anything, it was like a boy. Fortunately (or not) I had started to develop breasts. God knows what I looked like.
But Kath and I still got to go to Vic’s with our brothers until they were old enough to go on their own.
I remember sitting there, leafing through the incredibly boring magazines: Argosy, Field and Stream, absorbing the bracing odors: Barbicide, talc (was it called Gentlemen’s Club?), and Brylcreem, butch wax.
My brothers actually had it worse than Kath and I did.
If Vic was brutal with bangs, he was doubly brutal with the area over the boys’ ears. Talk about whitewalls! Vic took off almost all the hair up to the crown of the head.
Tom and Rick begged to go to Larry’s Barber Shop, down near Bennett Field, where they could get a regular old crewcut, not a scalp job. But my mother felt bad for Vic, so off to Vic’s they went, until my mother finally relented.
My father, who was bald, wouldn’t go to Vic’s, by the way. He patronized Jim’s Barber Shop up on Heard Street. What little hair he had wasn’t going to be sacrificed onto Vic’s linoleum floor.
One of the barber shops mentioned in the Times article, by the way, is called the Blind Barber. It doubles as a bar.
Perhaps suffering the haircuts at Vic’s wouldn’t have been quite so terrible if we’d been served a nip on the side, instead of a limp and sticky lollipop, smelling of hair oil.
Labels: growing up