I've only seen this twice in the last year. The barber shops on 14th Street devoid of the twirling candy cane, I had glimpsed one a couple of months ago as the M15, going too fast to get a picture, barreled down Madison Street.
Then of all places, there was this one, in a mall on Staten Island. Mounted between two doors of a huge room divided by a wall, the men's barbers on one side, the women's hairdressers on the other.
I only peeked into the women's side as I followed the Mariner to his usual guy. There were a lot of heads wearing ferocious colors demanding their youth back.
The men's side was quieter, both in color and resignation. There were careful cuts and subtle bracelets. One or two rings that stated pride and virility, and chains that maintained devotion and prayer. Even the guy with the blondish pompadour napping in his chair seemed perfectly understated in his style.
The men's side had their version of a radio playing familiar music - Roy Rogers on the TV. A man, maybe facing 60, with thinning dark hair and a proud, impeccably groomed 1980's mustache stood transfixed. For a second he looked like a six year old but with serious facial hair.
The Mariner had been going to his barber for almost twenty years. One day, he needed a haircut, the chair was free, his hair looked neat after and that was that. Every couple of weeks for twenty years. He was very glad his barber was a Met fan.
Today, as hair got trimmed and cut and buzzed, between murmurs of the season beginning and the dreaded roller coaster the Mets took everyone on, the merits of Staten Island were considered.
Maybe it was the cocoon men step into when they sit down in a barber's chair. Or perhaps it was the space and privacy of their own vanity that was allowed to unfold. Or maybe because today a woman was there, one not sweeping up small mountains of hair. But unexpectedly, the Mariner's guy said almost too softly that he didn't care for Staten Island.
He grew up, he lived, he loved in Brooklyn. But after the wife's funeral, the memories were too painful. He had to move. No memories in Staten Island. But he still didn't like it.
Later, the Mariner said he never knew that. Twenty years of every couple of weeks, he never knew that about the man who cut his hair.
I wondered about my father. His face brutalized by adolescent acne, he had gone frequently to the barber on Grand Street to have his face steamed and his pimples attacked. I wondered what quiet secrets he might have heard, what wishes he might have risked.
MY PRIVATE CONEY presents IT WAS HER NEW YORK, the short stories that accompany the work-in-progress video and photo collection of the same name (myprivateconey.com - media link - IT WAS HER NEW YORK). The stories and the media explore the tender rubble that holds both my mother, Florence's and New York's soul as one disappears into old age and the other into gentrification. All are real observations and/or experiences with very little tall-tale telling.
Except when it makes the story better.
Please visit myprivateconey.com for additional information and sample works.