Shave and a haircut
Saturday mornings have become my favorite time of the week. Saturday mornings are for me and AJ. We leave Mr. Spy in peace and meet Cranky and Toddler J on the corner where their street meets the park and then all walk to the farmer’s market together to buy our food for the week. Toddler J always gets tomatoes and a doughnut. AJ picks a cookie or a doughnut or a caramel apple to eat while we stroll around, talking to the people who make or grow and sell us our bread, our cheese, our apples and broccoli.
This morning, we all walked to a coffee shop together where we looked at fancy winter hats, none of which was quite right to replace the one I lost at the end of last winter. Cranky and Toddler J went off to their Saturday morning music class and AJ and I wandered home, stopping at our favorite independent bookstore to buy him something new to read and to say hello to the white-footed grey cat. We peer out the glass door at the back shop at the garden, now closed for the winter. It looks cold. AJ plays a few notes on the small red piano in the corner and stops, embarrassed when one of the shop owners walks in. “Oh don’t stop,” she says to him. “You might be the next Beethoven or Mozart.” He smiles, but he stops anyway and we buy his book and head on our way. We stop at the flea market on the playground of the elementary school so AJ could look at art for his room (He liked two framed modern prints, but rejected them as not quite right). We look in the window of the fish store where the fishmonger was laying out oysters in a bed of crushed ice. And then we stop at the barber shop.
The barber shop is really a time machine. I imagine that it’s looked more or less the same for the last 60 years. Maybe more. Many barber shops cultivate the vintage look by decorating with antiques. The difference here is that none of the antiques are merely for decoration. Everything is used for its original purpose, as it has been for decades. Only the shoe-shine station seems to have been retired. Today it is piled with boxes of half-unpacked Christmas decorations.
The left side of the shop is lined with mismatched wooden benches, at least one of which looks like a church pew. The right side holds three old-fashioned chrome chairs with red vinyl sheets facing wood-framed mirrors flanked with drawers and shelves. at each chair is a barber, all about the same grandfatherly age. The one by the window, in the Yankees jersey, may be a little younger. On a Saturday morning, the shop is full of fathers and sons. All the sons but AJ have thick dark hair and look as though they could be brothers, although there are three different fathers waiting for them. They are all within a year or two of AJ. The barbers treat them like little men and the boys respond, sitting taller and talking politely to the barbers. One finishes and the father pays the barber, the one with the neatly trimmed white mustache, who rings up the sale in the old-fashioned brass cash register.
“Have a good holiday, if I don’t see you before then, ” says the father.
“Oh, we’ll see you before then,” says the barber. “The kids will be back. And you should come have a drink.”
Another father looks up from his paper. “When’s the drinking start?”
“Yeah,” says the third father. “I mean, it’s a pretty cold day out there.”
The barbers laughed and returned to their work. The radio is tuned to an oldies station, which, combined with the silver and green and gold tinsel twisted across the mirrors, makes the place feel festive. Wilbert Harrison is singing “Kansas City, Here I come.” The white mustached barber starts singing along, more to himself than anyone else.
It is AJ’s turn in the chair and the barber ribs him about the Celtics T-shirt he’s wearing. “You mean you’re not a Nets fan?” Now that we have a home team, it’s all anyone can talk about. “It’s okay. The Celtics are a pretty good team too.” AJ confessed that he just liked the shirt, that he was going to the Nets game next week.
The song changes to the great Irma Thomas singing “You can have my husband, but don’t mess with my man.” The barber in the red plaid shirt is humming and the one in the Yankees jersey sings a phrase now and then. “That’s right,” says the barber with the white mustache. “That’s the way it is.”
AJ’s hair is trimmed and it is our turn to be rung up at the cash register. Its bell rings musically as the drawer opens with a satisfying thud, a sound from my childhood that I didn’t even realize I’d missed. I hand over a twenty and he counts out five ones in change. I press a tip into his palm. “Thank you, my dear,” he says as he hands AJ a Tootsie Roll pop. The bell jingles behind us, as we find ourselves back on the sidewalk, feeling a little warmer. We hear a sound at the window and look back to see what it was. One of the barbers is setting up a model train in the window, its tracks surrounded by tiny handmade Christmas trees.