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A Haircut Aboard the Titanic


Ferrari’s Barber shop on Garfield Place, the narrow strip of urban park that runs between Vine St. and Elm St. A short walk from the public library. Three barber chairs. Two barbers. Old, Italian brothers who came to America after the war. W.W.II. The big one.

I prefer Fausto. Most of the regular customers will wait for Fausto, while his brother Emilio’s chair remains empty. Emilio gets the newbies. Guys who wander in for the first time and wonder why a chair is available while others wait and read the newspaper or glance through old magazines. The novices soon find out.

Emilio rushes through his work. What Emilio really wants to do is go outside and smoke and get a cup of coffee from Cafe de Paris a few doors down. Emilio does this about every twenty minutes. He mutely gives fast haircuts without all of the flourishes and extras provided by his older brother. He charges the same amount non-the-less. Emilio is good for business. Not his business, but the haircutting business in general. After an Emilio haircut you’re ready for another haircut. Maybe tomorrow. Emilio only knows how to cut hair one way. You leave the chair looking a lot like Emilio. Sort of a Moe Howard thing.

There are pictures and framed news clippings on the barbershop wall. The clippings are short, human-interest write-ups about the barbershop and the brothers over the decades.  They are yellowed with age and pretty much unreadable. There’s a picture of George Washington. The one from your grade school classroom where George looks like a stern grandmother. The brothers, like a lot of immigrants of their era, are fiercely patriotic about their adopted country. There’s a picture of a Pope. I couldn’t tell you which one but I’m sure he isn’t a recent one. I’m not up on my Popes. There’s also a photo of the Titanic, a big, beautiful, stately ship floating serenely at sea. I want to ask if there’s a story behind the picture but I never do.

Fausto doesn’t like to talk about the past. At least not to me. I try to talk to him about Italy, which I have visited numerous times. Apparently the brothers haven’t been back to their home country since they arrived on the boat. Our conversations don’t go very far. Fausto would rather be here than in Italy. I’d rather be in Italy than here. That’s how it goes.

Fausto must be in his late seventies to early eighties. His brother somewhat younger. Fausto still delivers a credible haircut despite his age but he’s a little unsteady. He grasps my shoulder and holds on as he moves around to get a better angle on my head. The scissors clack without pause even when not engaged with my hair.

Fausto is easily distracted. If the phone rings and Emilio is out (he usually is), Fausto will shuffle to the back of the shop to answer it. It rings until he gets there. There is no answering machine. He speaks Italian on the phone and sounds irritated. I imagine that his wife is on the other end of the line. His barber chair is at the front of the shop, right in front of the plate glass window. Garfield Place is a busy pedestrian street and Fausto acknowledges passersby. Sometimes he goes to the door to say a word or two. You need to make sure you fill your meter before you go in, even if there is no wait. Fausto’s dalliances have led to some pretty expensive haircuts. You don’t want to be in the chair when the mail arrives. It’s an important and diverting event.

A haircut costs $12.00. It used to be $10. Be sure you have exact change. If I hand him a twenty he’ll tell me that he can’t break it and send me to the quickie mart around the corner. He’ll say this even if the guy ahead of me paid him with all one’s. Maybe it’s just me. Maybe it’s payback for prying about his history, about Italy.

Fausto finishes my haircut by dabbing my neck and hairline with a lime scented concoction from a bottle. He massages my scalp and shoulders with a vibrating device strapped to his hand. I need this calming treatment after he shaves my hairline with a straight razor. I always tense up when I hear the razor slapping against the strop. Fausto’s hands are steady but there’s something unnerving about an eighty-year old man scraping a razor across my jugulars. I can’t take my eyes off the Titanic.

 Mick

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