I hated to get my hair cut. I also hated my hair in general because most of the time it never did what I wanted it to do no matter how it was cut or how much pomade I used.
When I was in high school, I thought my persona resided entirely within my hair. Occasionally when I got it just right, I would not want to wash it, would sleep on it in only one position, or walk around stiff legged like I had crapped my pants, so that none of it would move out of place. Windy days could be catastrophic for a perfect coif.
At the time I entered high school in 1962, the haircut rage was the Elvis Presley slicked back pompadour, otherwise known as the D.A. (Ducks Ass) style. One needed a lot of hair to get this effect both on the top as well as on the sides. One also needed a lot of Posner’s Hair Pomade a product that was popular with black men before Elvis came along, as they used it to straighten out their curls so that they could look more like “whities.”
Louie, a handsome Italian boy with jet-black hair, a swagger to his walk and a cocky attitude wore this style. Because it seemed to make all the girls swoon, the rest of the boys mistook the hairstyle as being the key to his success. But it was more than that. What we had missed was that his persona resided in his overall attitude; but not in his hair. He was quite debonair being classified by what we referred to as being a “Rock,” as opposed to being a “Punk” like the rest of us. He wore taps on his shoes, raised his shirt collar and rolled up his sleeves so that he projected the James Dean image.
He was also an athletic star on both the wrestling team as well as the A-team in Little League Baseball where he usually marched in the opening day parade at the front like a homecoming king. Louie never worried about how his hair looked, but combed it incessantly like the T.V. star Kookie. Whenever it got messed up, it always combed itself right back into perfect place, as if every single strand knew where to find its home. It wasn’t fair because with a combination of my brains and his hair, I might have been able to rule the universe.
It was not that I could ever be that cool or that my hair would ever actually be the type that would hold the style, but I never even got the chance to know for sure. As soon as one hair got the least bit long or out of control or over the ears, my parents sent my brother and me to the barbershop; but not just any barbershop. We had to travel the five miles south to White Plains to use my father’s barber, Nunzio, because it was some kind of Italian paisano thing between the two of them.
- Hey Nunzio. You cut all the hair and I fix all the teeth. O.K?”
- O.K., Sally boy.
Nunzio had the classically popular 1940’s David Niven mustache, wore a slick, starched white four button tunic, and had a three-chair shop with an unruly pile of magazines on the back table. He also had long silver hair that he slicked back with Italian hair gel, the older version of Louie, and ran a tight ship that had virtually no waiting time. This was because the haircuts took about fifteen minutes at a cost of $1.25 with a 25-cent tip. The reason that the waiting times were so short was because every time Nuzio laid scissors to my scalp, or for that matter anyone else’s under the age of eighteen, the result was always the same. Short on the side but too long on the top like a plate of pasta plopped on an upside down ceramic Italian serving bowl.
He called it a “regular” but I think it was a “singular” style of young boy’s haircut that he had learned in the old world and imported from Italy when he emigrated. Personally, I always thought that Mussolini must have invented it at about the same time he made all the trains on time, such that in a pitch for national unity and conformity, people like Nunzio simply capitulated by going along for the conforming fascist ride. At the end of the cut, Nunzio would sharpen his straight razor on a strop to do the final trim while always predictably stating the few words that commanded absolute immediate obedience:
- Now keep-a your head still so I don’t slice off-a your neck.
I would complain so much to my father about the results that he finally said:
- OK, OK then. Next time, just tell Nunzio to “shape it.”
Hope against hope that this might do the trick, the next time I went in, I asked for a “shape it” instead of a “regular” and came out looking the same, just as scalped and just as intimidated by the final razor touches. So much for that stupid idea.
My mother said I could never get a D.A. haircut anyway, so I just had to live with the fact that I would never be cool like Louie, but invested in some pomade anyway which I used to slick back the top part as much as I could. She always wanted my brother and me to get a crew cut like our cousin Byron, but she had failed to realize that Byron lived in another culture known as Virginia, and that a crew cut in New York would have been equivalent to committing social suicide.
She had also forced my hair to part on the right side since it had first sprouted, while always seeming to take great personal pleasure in the fact that this was so different from the norm of the majority of males who always have left hand parts. She said it made me more unique, but I was not clever enough then to point out to her that the only men of any notoriety I know who had right hand hair parts were Stalin and Hitler, a trivial historical fact that might have made her change her mind.
My brother and I would have suffered with Nunzio until we were emancipated had it not been for the fact that we eventually discovered some magazines at the bottom of the big pile in the back of the shop featuring pictures of nude women; a treasure trove that made the haircut trips much more interesting and tolerable. At some point when we were old enough to take the bus we would make it a point to arrive at Nunzio’s as early as possible so that we could catch furtive peeks at the pictures while pretending to look for regular news or such. Meanwhile back at home my mother was only left to ponder why we had such a sudden change of heart about what used to be such an ordeal. She chalked it up to “maturity.”
I think that Nunzio, in realizing what was good for business, never seemed too interested in what we were doing in the back and never bothered to scold us. As opposed to my mother’s view of maturity, Nunzio probably thought we were turning out to be real men after all, despite the fact that the haircuts, in our minds, truly belied the fact.
In the long run it didn’t matter too much anyway because everything about hair changed for good the day the Beatles came to town.
As for Louie, he dropped out of high school and went to work as a truck delivery assistant distributing wholesale potato chips for a local food company. He was making what seemed like quite a lot of money at the time, which aside from the hair, his looks or by being an icon of virility also helped him attract a few extra girlfriends. This unfortunately made leaving school early also look like it might be the very thing to do. But even if that subject came up once, it was never heard again and banned from discussion forever in our household.
Dropping out was strictly forbidden and considered a social anathema on a par with impregnating one’s girlfriend, then being forced to marry her. Good boys who wanted to succeed in life didn’t do either; and so the subject would be dropped after one simple warning:
- Drop out of school and you can move out of the house and support yourself. Same thing if you get someone pregnant.
Now as an adult when it really doesn’t matter at all anymore because the follicles on top of my scalp are fairly sparse, people will sometimes notice and remark:
- Hey, did you just get your hair cut?
To which I will usually respond by saying:
- No. This time I just set the barber loose and let him cut all three of them.
Thy name is humanity