Wednesday, March 24, 2004

The Piling On Begins

Thanks to SR for reminding me about Veterans' Barbershop on 111th street. It was my barbershop also, for a time. The "young man" ("Frank"?) dated my aunt briefly (careful...), and thus was my barber. I seem to remember him "winning the lottery" at one point and blowing it on a giant TV? My memory plays tricks with me. I wonder what happened to that guy, he was a good barber...

But that Veterans' place was quite an experience. There was a beauty shop next door, I seem to remember, so a Man could get a Proper Haircut in Peace.

For some reason, bringing the boys out for haircuts were rarely my father's job. I'm not sure why that is. So after the free haircuts from Frank dried up, my brothers and I were subjected to cuts from various franchise-style places. (While my father went to Al-Kut's) The positive with those places is that, if you got lucky, your zaftig stylist would brush against you the duration of the haircut. And you looked pretty good walking out of the place. A week and a half later, of course, you needed another haircut, but that's the trade off.

Once I got a little more on my own, I began going over to this crazy place at 111th and Western: South Side Barbershop (or was it Southwest Barbershop?). But it was so much more than that. Antique dealer, political headquarters (*), probable pawnshop/fence and suspected bookie joint. If you needed a year-specific license plate for your classic car, he could get it for you. The old man running the place was quite a character, he rarely cut anyone's hair. Had a classic telephone answer style- he began saying hello the instant his hand touched the receiver, and by the time he was finished with his hello, the receiver was at his ear ready to listen to you. He was at least 80. About 3 years ago he retired, and I followed the guy who had become my barber, Charlie, to Barber Shop Express up Western at 109th. Charlie is damn near 80 himself, and a sweet old man. At the old place, he had a clipping of a newspaper from Cleveland I think, where his nephew had been elected the first "negro" mayor. Yet another brush with history. He cuts my hair the way he wants to, almost no matter what I tell him, and I can deal with that. My hair, enigma that it is, does what it wants to whatever I tell it, so I'm just generally happier to let them fight it out.

He's been leaving "combover strands" lately, and that might be the last straw. But, as SR notes, the new barber decision is a difficult one to make. I count my blessings that the shop I'm at doesn't even stock product, Charlie leaves me be while he's cutting, I am never thrust a petition to sign for some damn South Side 'concern', and cuts are $13. Those are comforts that I value highly, possibly more than a good haircut.

(*) Ray Wardingly was/is a professional clown, and is a perennial Chicago Republican candidate. His headquarters was always that barbershop. He was the Republican candidate for mayor in the 1995 election; he lost to Daley and Roland Burris (who ran as an independant that year). Normally he runs for the 1st Congressional Seat (currently Bobby Rush?). I remember him being the guy who hung around the barbershop and got sandwiches for the other guys. Stained, ill-fitting satin jacket, spittle at the mouth, etc. I think he was a puppet.


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