I’m in hair crisis…which is not unusual.
I’ve been having some sort of hair crisis for years now, ever since my hair and I started having a falling out a long, long time ago.
In fact, I think my hair, what’s left of it, actually steps out on me at night, and not all of it comes back.
Which is why it’s important to have someone around who knows exactly how my hair is numbered and where it’s all supposed to be at any given time.
Which brings me to the current crisis at hand.
It’s time for my annual spring haircut, and I can’t find my hair guy…my barber…the only barber I’ve known for the last 37 years.
Sal, from Avanti on Westchester Avenue…he’s missing.
If you’re familiar with Sal, you know he used to be in the various incarnations of the Korvette's/Caldor's/Kohl's shopping center for a million years, before he moved.
Which makes sense because if he was at the shopping center after he moved he would’ve just been standing on the sidewalk drinking coffee… you know, because he moved all his stuff.
See, I’m not a big fan of haircuts, which is why I don’t go all that often.
Never have been, ever since I was a kid.
Maybe because of that weird side wall tire look barbers back in the 60’s used to carve around my ears that made me look decidedly like Dumbo’s less intelligent cousin.
And I’m reminded of this because it was right around this time of year, back when I was just a wee tot, that my dad first took me to Sammy Passero’s Barber shop—located, then, just before the railroad bridge on North Main—to get my overgrown little blonde curls sheared, for the first time; I guess so people would stop referring to me as that cute little…so and so…despite the baseball glove he had glued to my left hand and the football surgically attached to my right.
He had talked it up as this big exciting adventure, and it was, at first, as a collection of interesting characters occupied all the chairs in varying stages of “shorn-ness”.
Sammy also had an interesting collection of old baseballs on display, which he happily showed off, pointing out the fading signatures of long ago ballplayers.
All very cool to a little boy, curls or no, until I was hoisted onto the booster seat, had a big white sheet thrown over my shoulders and a very tight piece of tissue paper wrapped around my neck.
Then this little clipper like buzzy thing came out, and I was immediately spun around in the chair, away from the mirror, which I thought was great…“Wow…rides too!”…and soon, the little blonde curls started dropping onto my lap.
Now that’s odd, I thought.
After about 10 minutes, Sammy, again, spun the chair around to face the big mirror and to my surprise, an odd looking little boy sat directly in front of me…a mini version of Curly from the 3 Stooges.
Once the police cleared out after responding to a report of high pitched wails emanating from a storefront on North Main, Sammy poured me a scotch to calm my nerves—nah…I’m just kidding. Actually Sammy and my dad had the scotch to calm their nerves. I had a grape lollipop, which had the same effect—and to tell you the truth, the Curly look was starting to grow on me…but coitanly not fast enough.
I stuck with Sammy for years, after that, and my hair eventually grew a little bit longer, at least on the top, with the same wide sidewall tire look around the ears. Not that it was always Sammy who did the cutting. Back then, on any given day, you walked into the shop, grabbed a seat and waited your turn until the next barber opened up. You just hoped you didn’t draw the guy with the stumpy thumbs.
As I grew older, I became more particular and would go into great detail, complete with hand drawn diagrams, as to exactly how I wanted my hair cut…meaning, no sidewalls and perhaps that little Superman curl in front.
Sammy would listen intently, nod his head in agreement, spin me away the mirror…and in the end…the same ol’ same ol’.
Turns out my mom had been calling ahead all those years and telling Sammy, “Don’t listen to him…just cut it short.”
Of course Sammy eventually retired and I went off to college where, I’m a little ashamed to say, I did some experimenting…with the barbers up there.
And if you remember anything about college in the 70’s—and to be honest who among us really do—it was a time when hairstyles were at best, ambiguous…and the style you left the shop with was often dependent on whatever aroma happened to be emanating from the back room, that day.
After school, in the late 70’s, I eventually stumbled onto Sal while I was wandering around the Shopping Center perusing the back of the new “Starship” album I’d just picked up at Korvettes’ very prodigious record department.
Hey, I need someone to cut my hair, I thought. And I think Mike uses this guy. Mike even got a job, so it can’t be too bad.
So in I went, and I’ve been going in ever since, even after Sal stopped being a “Barber” and became a “Stylist”, which basically meant I had to make an appointment and sit in a booth to get my haircut, which I actually liked better…until the booths were gone again and I was back on display in the front window.
But that’s the thing with barbers and mechanics; while styles change and techniques evolve… once you find a good one, you make sure you keep them.
And such was the case for me with Sal…at least as far as my hair was concerned—I wouldn’t let Sal anywhere near my brakes.
Until I went in for my quarterly haircut the other day and Sal and Avanti were gone…empty…closed, not a trace in sight…not even a note.
My first thought was…I have to get my haircut more often…I’m missing a lot…and then my second…maybe I’ll just let it grow for the next 40 years.
So, filled with melancholy as one is wont to be filled after losing a relationship of enduring years, I found myself back at the now Kohl’s shopping center, where it all began, passing by Sal’s old place.
And it really took me back, because my mind started playing tricks on me as I heard a voice— Sal’s voice—saying, “Hello, Brian, looks like it’s time for your spring haircut.”
I smiled, remembering all the good hair days, and even the bad.
“Come on…I have an opening…I can get you in now.”
“Sal!” I exclaimed, as I jumped up into his arms, which was awkward, mostly because he was drinking coffee at the time.
“Sal…you’re not gone…you’re here!”
‘Right back where I started…or in the shop right next door to where I started. Those on again off again new parking pay stations were killing me, downtown.”
At least that’s what I think he said. All I knew was, I wasn’t going to have to grow my hair for the next 40 years, and luckily I had brought a whole new set of hair diagrams with me.
“So I was thinking if we try this, we might be able to solve that tricky situation with numbers 277 thru 842….”
And with that, Sal sat me in the chair and spun me away from the mirror to await the wailing that was sure to follow. .
Some things it seems never change.
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