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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

Findlay Market: June 5, 2010


     A guitar strummer in a straw hat. Voice higher and sweeter than his aging, portly persona would suggest. Black boy sawing away on a violin like the child in Fitzcarraldo. The open violin case fills with dollar bills. The child is garnering more support than the old guy.

     No shopping carts, no acreage of processed and frozen food, no Muzak. Am I remembering this right? It has been so long since I’ve wandered the aisles of a corporate supermarket chain that I’m not sure. I no longer worship at the Cost Cutter alter.

     Everything that I need is here at Findlay Market. Well, almost everything. I must deal with Walgreen’s for prescriptions and toilet paper. And Findlay desperately needs a saloon, Mike Maxwell’s Market Wines with yummy tastings and the temporary Moerlein Beergarten not-with-standing. A deeper and more permanent watering hole is required where the pathos of the drinkers is a torrent rather than a trickle.

     A mechanical pony outside the soon to open Urban Feed Market (pet food store). Little blonde girls lined up with their quarters. The horse rocks and plays a jaunty tune. Neighs while one girl rides beaming and the others bounce on the sidewalk awaiting their turn. Findlay breathes, sweats and smells like something alive. People meander and talk and sit and watch. The antithesis of the zombie death march through the aisles of Kroger where dead people fill carts with dead food; sustenance for a dead, air conditioned existence. A hermetically sealed mausoleum.

     Krause’s cheese. Fresh pecorino, the most fabulous snacking cheese  known to man. Unfortunately, no idiazabal  or garrotxa, so manchego instead. Black forest salami shaped like a flower. A meat flower. Blue oven bread. If you’re not here by at least 10:00 a.m. you’re too late. A loaf of Bad Boy loaded with fennel. The Saigon Market for fresh ginger and garlic. Frank’s Fish for escolar (also known as white tuna or butter fish), super high in oil to the degree that some people can’t tolerate it. Did I mention that you must buy your toilet paper elsewhere? Ohio City lemon pepper and cilantro lime pasta from Brouchard’s. The broiled escolar will top the cilantro lime angel hair. Olives and feta on the lemon pepper.

     Market Wines is tasting beer instead of wine. I’m in the mood for wine today but beer will suffice. Troeg’s Sunshine Pils, a light but flavorful lager. Zesty and refreshing. Dark Horse Brewing Co. Boffo brown Ale, malty but also light. Fort Collins Brewery Wheat Wine Ale, a vague sweetness but not cloying. Slightly effervescent and tingly on the tongue. Brew Kettle Red Eye Pale Ale, nice fluffy head. An Amarillo hopped, grapefruit orgasm from a Cleveland brewery I need to visit. Southern Tier Mokah, bitter chocolate. My usual tasting compatriots are otherwise occupied so I talk with Cary, seated next to me. She is a transplanted Minnesotan. Dark and athletic with beautiful blue-as-the-sky eyes. Cary, on the rebound, loves wine but her new boyfriend, who lives in Fairfield with all that that entails, doesn’t. Not a chance in hell for those two I’m thinking. Cary and I compare notes. Pinot grigio for her, astringent sauvignon blanc for me, blended reds for her, assertive single varietals for me. Cary doesn’t care for the Brew Kettle or the Southern Tier. She likes the Pils best. Not a chance in hell, I think.

     German Fest or German Day or German Something. A band plays traditional polka music for a bunch of old Germans in lederhosen and dirndls in the Moelein Beergarten. Little hats with bushes sticking out of them like the Martian on Bugs Bunny. “Being disintegrated makes me soooo angry.” I’ve carried my black bean burger (I’ve considered vegetarianism but then I’d have to give up the meat flower, wouldn’t I?) from the outdoor stand at Eckart’s to be paired with a Northern Liberty India Pale Ale, the best Moerlein Beer.

     Prosit. Oy! Oy! Oy! Lots of enthusiastic German being spoken. An uncostumed dark haired beauty with exquisite wrists has settled in beside an aging matron in a dirndl with a garland of flowers crowning her grey hair. The dark beauty, long-waisted and with a small boyish behind, reminds me of a former lover and fiancée. The beauty with dark eyes and a prominent but attractive nose looks Jewish. Has the world forgiven Germany for the two world wars? I’m not sure. I’m looking over at Leader Furniture. Maybe proprietors Gary and Jerry Malin have taken refuge in the attic.

      Fabulous and nearly fabulous make their way through the crowd. Both women have sunglasses perched atop dark hair and mousy brown hair respectively. Both have great legs. Nearly fabulous is a little thick in the upper arms but she has a softer, more vulnerable and searching face. Given my druthers, I’ll take nearly fabulous.

     A dancing couple are light on their feet. Her heels never touch the pavement.

      My fish and cheese shouldn’t be spending this much time in the sun. I’m going to have another Northern Liberty anyway, as I wonder how much fun the Supermarket crowd is having.

Nicholson’s: Lecherous, Literary Libation


99 bottles of Scotch on the wall or something like that. I count 55. I’ve sampled all of the standards and then some. Islay is my game, though I enjoy a nice Speyside now and then. The list isn’t as strong as it used to be. The Laphroiag 10 is gone but you can find it just about anywhere, so no big loss. And the Longmorn is missing which is a shame since I don’t think you can find it anywhere locally. I love the Lagavulin 16. The list describes it thusly, “Highly aromatic with aromas of smoked game and charcoal, with pleasant dried fruit flavor, complimented by a bold, continuous finish.” As in, that’s a nice bold, continuous finish you have there? Christ! It’s complemented. Complemented. Not complimented.

I’m meeting my friend Mark, who has written a novel. A pretty good one. He is having trouble getting it published, so I offered some sage and humble advice from my literary criticism days. Too many unnecessary words and characters, I told him. I’m trying to coach him through to an 80 proof novel. Vigorous, muscular prose with very little fat is my prescription. Excising words is a painful process for a lot of writers. Like having to choose from among your children. He says he’s making progress. He has eliminated characters and cut scenes. He brings me 200 corrected pages, which I will read over the next several days.

 If there is any one else out there wrestling with the bear, here is my list of rules, gleaned from the advice of others much wiser than myself:

  1. Attribution: Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue and never use an adverb to modify the verb “said”. Okay, very, very rarely ever.
  2. Forbidden words: Never use the words “suddenly” or all “hell broke loose”. Never use the word “then” as a conjunction – we have “and” for that purpose.
  3. Listen: Read everything aloud especially dialogue. How it sounds is hugely important.
  4. Economize: Cut, cut and cut, like crazy, until you can cut no more, until only the essential words are left. Reread, rewrite, reread, rewrite. Minimize or eliminate metaphors and similes. Learn from the cinema. Don’t overwrite. Avoid distracting adjectives and unnecessary adverbs (try to avoid adverbs altogether). Read Cormac McCarthy.
  5. Habits: Keep a diary and always, always carry a notebook. Make it a habit to put your observations into words. Write first thing in the morning, as early as you can manage. Write 500 to 1,000 words every day. A problem often clarifies itself if you go for a long walk. Edit in the evening. Don’t drink, do drugs or have sex when you’re writing. The best sex scenes are written when you’re not getting any.
  6. Style: Style is the art of getting yourself out of the way.
  7. Read: Read widely but discriminatingly. Bad writing is contagious. In the beginning, find an author you admire and copy their plots and characters in order to tell your own story, just as people learn to draw and paint by copying the masters. Read Becoming a Writer, by Dorothea Brande.
  8. Description: Avoid detailed descriptions of characters. Description must work for its place. It can’t simply be ornamental. If description is colored by the viewpoint of the character who is doing the noticing it becomes part of character definition and part of the action. Description is hard. Remember that all description is an opinion about the world so find a place to stand.
  9. Gestation: It’s the gestation time that counts. The first draft is always shit. Probably the second too.
  10.  Characters: Don’t overcrowd the narrative. Characters should be individualized not functional. It is worth thinking about what your minor characters’ stories are, even though they may intersect only slightly with you protagonists. Make your main character want something. Desire is the engine that drives both life and narrative. Make your main character do something. When you hear someone complain that, “nothing happens” in a work of fiction, it’s often because the central character doesn’t drive the action. Have protagonists pursued (by an obsession or a villain) and pursuing (idea, object, person, mystery).
  11. Pacing: Learn from the cinema. You’ll want to move close, linger, move back, and move on, in pretty cinematic ways.
  12.  Humor: Comedy is as essential a lens on the human experience as tragedy, and it is an excellent ward against pretension.
  13. Life: Shut up and get on with it. Don’t take any shit if you can possibly help it. Tell the truth through whichever veil comes to hand – but tell it. Resign yourself to the lifelong sadness that comes from never being satisfied. There is no writer’s lifestyle. All that matters is what you leave on the page. You have to love before you can be relentless. Cheer yourself up by reading biographies of writers who went insane. Perfection is like chasing the horizon. Keep moving.

I’m told that my favorite Nicholson’s bartender, Corbett, has moved on to greener pastures, a gig with a corporate food service vendor. I wish him well. He is missed. I was one of Corbett’s early Scotch mentors but I think he has blown by me by now.

The Lobster Macaroni and Cheese is too rich to be an entree, I decide. It should be a smaller portion and offered as a side dish.

English and Scottish and Irish beers are vastly inferior to American Craft Beer. I drink a Dogfish 60 and a little Ardbeg.

Mark and I don’t talk much about his book. We talk a bit of politics. He leans a little right and I lean a little left but we agree that the charade called the government of the U.S. rarely serves anyone’s interests but their own and their benefactors, whether they dress left or right. We talk about the death rattle of newspapers and lament how few people are reading fiction these days. A quarter of the U.S. population hasn’t read a book of any variety in the past year. A lot of what is being read includes self-help bullshit and “buy low, sell high” business crap. And we talk about women. Our favorite topic.

Erin, the Hostess/Front-of-the-House-Manager or whatever she is called, is squeezed into a pair of red pants. As delectable a derriere as you’re going to find in these parts.

I’m trying to talk Mark into letting me have a go at the screenplay once his novel is polished and placed with an agent. There is enough action and violence and sex to make for good cinema. He appreciates my faith in his work and readily accepts both my criticisms and compliments. The screenplay would be a nice complement to the novel.

Categories: Haunts

The Coffee Emporium @ The Emery on Central Parkway


I call it my Branch Office. I join the mutitude with laptops taking advantage of the ample work space, numerous electrical outlets and the free WiFi.

The Emery Coffee Emporium is an enormous industrial style space with concrete floors and exposed ductwork. They even have room for their own coffee bean roastery (is that what it’s called?). Plenty of windows and natural light. Eclectic music (a refuge from classic rock) competes with the thump and hiss of the cappucino-espresso process. There is a single uni-sex bathroom accessible with a key attached to a giant spoon hanging on the wall next to the serving station. Don’t let yourself get caught with a full bladder before you go for the spoon.

I lived upstairs in the newly renovated Emery apartments for a couple of years before the Emporium moved in downstairs. Had I know they were coming I would never have moved.

The coffee is much better than Starbuck’s, which I find too acidic. I’m limited to mostly decaf these days (Doctor’s orders) but I’ll cheat on occasion, even going so far as a Doppia Espresso if I feel like rolling the dice.

Coffee House staff, unless they are of the artificially cheerful, Employee Handbook driven, chain store variety can be dark and brooding  but the Emporium staff are universally pleasant and accomodating. The Baristas are, of course, very young and I’ve witnessed some turnover over the months. It comes naturally with a restless young workforce.

The morning crowd is a mixture of stop-overs on their way to work, policemen, self-employed entrepreneurs  having meetings, writers and other creatives. Roxanne Qualls is a regular, one of the in and out in a flash group. Lunch is busy with local office workers. The Emporium has a full lunch menu with delicious sandwiches and a really terrific Central Parkway salad of field greens, raisins, apples, walnuts, feta and balsamic vinaigrette dressing. My friend Janice hikes all the way over from Directions Research in the flat iron building for the salad.

The Emporium closes at 6:oo p.m. A travesty. They have plenty of space for acoustic music or even a jazz combo. All they need is a liquor license and late night hours. Ah. Nirvana, that would be.

Arnold’s

November 16, 2009 1 comment

Arnold’s Bar and Grill has been at 210 E. 8th St. between Main and Sycamore since 1861. Jack, the bartender who works Friday nights and only Friday nights has been here almost that long. Jack gets my award for most pleasant human being in Cincinnati. Anyone who is this consistently amiable can’t be quite right in the head. This is meant to be a compliment, Jack. I want a little of whatever Jack’s smoking to re-set my attitude.

 In a landscape increasingly dominated by cookie cutter corporate chains, Arnold’s is refreshingly unique and stubbornly old fashioned. Arnold’s might be the last place in America without air-conditioning and despite Cincinnati’s notoriously hot and humid summers the dimly lit bar and restaurant is never uncomfortable. A welcome departure from the “sealed-box-meat-locker” climate you endure in the pre-fabricated, formulaic chains. The bathrooms are not handicap accessible, unfortunate for handicapped customers, and another example of Arnold’s dated quirkiness. You couldn’t get a wheel chair into the men’s room (I can’t speak for the ladies) if you took it apart and threw it in piece by piece. I’ve been in bigger showers. The linoleum tile floor is worn and grungy where it isn’t absent altogether. The walls are lined with old photos, advertising signs and objects like a vintage radio and an oar. Everything looks like it belongs exactly where it is. It looks like Friday’s consulted this place for their décor but couldn’t quite pull it off. There are no televisions mounted on the walls with the sound turned off and that stupid indecipherable scrolling across the bottom of the screen. You’d think that to be an American requires a daily bath in the cold blue flickering light of the boob tube.

The draft beer line up is good. One tap is devoted to Barrel House beer (usually the Cumberland Pale Ale), another to Guinness, two Moerlein’s O.T.R. and Lager House Helles, one for Great Lakes (currently the Ed Fitz Porter), one for Smithwick’s (pronounced Smiddicks) and one for Stella (Euro-Bud we call it). I’ve petitioned for a revolving tap that features a wide range of great American craft beer offerings from the likes of Bell’s, Stone, Victory, Rogue, etc. So far my pleas have been ignored. So far. I’ll wear ‘em down, I swear. The bottled selections have too many industrial lagers eating up too much precious shelf space but you can find Dogfish Head’s 60 Minute and the Great Lakes Commodore Perry. If you want to go nostalgic, drink a Burger in the can, which tastes just as crappy in its reincarnation as it did in the olden days. Moerlein is resurrecting the old Schoenling-Hudepohl labels (Burger, Little Kings, Hudy 14K) though I can’t for the life of me figure out why.

The food is usually good and occasionally exceptional. The menu is extensive, maybe a little too extensive. I’d like a little more focus on fresh, locally produced ingredients, what I’d really like is to graft Mullane’s old menu onto my Arnold’s favorites, but I’ll take it for what it is. Owner and Chef Ronda Androski is prone to experimentation causing her to offer an occasional dish that is a little too haute cuisine for her regular clientele (I have on one occasion been a co-conspirator). The staples: spaghetti and meatballs, lasagna, TAB salad, etc. are affordable and date back to the Jim Tarbell days. Thursday lunch features the Turkey Feast, a Thanksgiving like plate of roast turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, green beans and gravy. It’s my favorite lunch in all of Cincinnati.

For years, back during the Tarbell era, I pretty much had my own little two-top table back by the door in the small dining area behind the bar, across from the old upright piano. Fred would often tickle the ivories, occasionaly accompanied by Dottie’s vocals. The door by my table was thrown open with the screen door locked in warmer weather, frustrating novice customers who sometimes took it for the main entrance. The little table, my table, shoved up against the steam heat radiator was especially cozy and toasty during the winter months. Jim Tarbell, a born impresario if ever there was one, would work the crowd like the politician he was about to become without so much as a whiff of the obligatory or manipulative. I was always there in my spot for my Friday lunch of fried cod and macaroni and cheese. The cod, I’m afraid to say, isn’t quite the same these days but neither am I.

The second floor dining room (I haven’t been up there in years) was originally living quarters for the Elmer Arnold household. During the Depression when the bar became a restaurant, the Arnold family moved to the third floor. The bathtub was left in the second floor space, legend holds, for the making of illegal gin. The bathtub is now motorized and parked out front and immortalized on Arnold’s t-shirts. The outdoor courtyard, the most pleasant dining space in Arnold’s, is open air in summer and closed and heated in the winter. There is a small stage for music and sometimes they will roll Fred’s old piano outside. The perfect way to while away an evening is in Arnold’s courtyard sipping a drink and listening to the Flying Pigs, a jug band comprised of Arnold’s regulars, or a Blue Grass band.

Laura, a cute little blonde (she can barely reach the top liquor shelf) with glasses tends bar Tuesday or Wednesday through Saturday. I remember her from her waitress days at Mullane’s on Race Street. She remembers me as the customer who usually ordered the KC salad. Laura has become a good friend. She’s well read and we talk books and movies, usually but not always agreeing, while I have one more Cumberland than I had planned. On any given night I’ll run into Keith Baker, a carpenter and a member of the Flying Pigs, Mark the lawyer who is somehow attached to the O.T.R. Brewery District crowd, the girl from Transylvania with her Eva Gabor accent or John Schneider who owns the apartment building across the street and is an activist for bringing streetcars to Cincinnati. Tarbell still shows up on occasion. Among many others. It’s a bar of regulars.

Arnold’s is a special place, in part because it reminds me of how much I, we, all of Cincinnati, have lost over the years. Gone is Mullane’s. Gone is the Reel Movies. Gone is the Barrel House Brew Pub. Gone are Kaldi’s and 1207 and Flanagan’s and Caddy’s and, in fact, the entire Main Street (because of the 2001 riots) and 2nd Street (because of Mike Brown’s unfettered greed) entertainment districts. But Arnold’s persists. It’s an institution and at least a couple of nights a week I find myself happily institutionalized.

Mick

November 2009

Categories: Haunts