Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Angelo

“Howard I can take you now but I don’t have time to do your kid,” said Big Jim. At least that’s what they called him even though he was lucky to top 5 feet. Jim had been the family barber as long as I could remember and now that I was a teenager I hated every visit to his shop. “How about I let my new guy cut him? He’s a dumb Dago but he’ll do a nice job.”

As I plopped in his chair with a Popular Mechanics Magazine, as was the custom at Jim’s, the “Dumb Dago” slipped a copy of Playboy inside its pages. “Now you got something to read” he said, “And let’s see if we can fix this porcupine hand job that the boss did on your hair the last time you were in.” Thus was my formal introduction to Angelo, a 19 year-old who would become my barber, friend, and the guy who helped mentor me into adulthood, not always in the best of ways.

It turns out that there is list of rules out there that I have never seen but I know it must exist. Every time I would sit in his chair Angelo would recite part of it for my benefit. Perhaps it was an earlier version of Man Laws but he didn’t call it that.

“They're all freakin' nuts you know”, he said one day.

“Who I asked?”

“Women” he returned with a snort. “They are all certifiably 100% Looney Tunes. All but my mother of course although I am sure my father would beg to differ. That, my friend is rule #1.”

“What is rule #2?” I asked.

“Easy" he said, "Rule #2 states that when in doubt about the sanity of a woman refer to rule #1."Capiche?”

Over the years I learned a lot about the life of an Italian barber. I found out that somehow a guy can cut hair for a living at a modest price and yet vacation in Mexico every year and trade for a brand new Cadillac every two years. I learned that more often than not the guy sitting in the chair in his shop was carrying one or more guns on his person, big guns. I learned that for all his good points Angelo was pathologically unable to remain faithful to one woman. It just wasn’t part of his nature I decided. It was as if it were the most natural thing in the world to believe that if one woman was good then more would be better.

The downside of this attitude was driven home one evening when I was sitting in his chair. I had been working a lot so I made an evening appointment in order to avoid any conflicts. I noticed that Angelo seemed nervous, distracted. He kept glancing out through the plate glass window in the front end of his shop. Every time a car would pull into the lot of the little strip mall where he was located he would deftly move around the chair so that I was between him and the window.

“What the hell is the matter with you?” I asked.

He avoided that question until he was nearly finished before finally admitting the truth. It seems that he had been fooling around with one too many prezzemoline (Italian meaning garnish girls) and her husband found out. The woman told Angelo that he had a gun and was going to come looking for him.

“SO YOU KEPT ME BETWEEN YOU AND THE FREAKIN' WINDOW EVERY TIME A CAR PULLED IN?” I screamed.

“Of course. He would never shoot at me with a customer in the way. That’s not the way it’s done,”

Angelo responded with a look of innocence plastered across his face. “We’re not crazy.”

Now that I live in the Midwest I get my hair cut by a woman. In Angelo’s Eyes that is about the equivalent of disconnecting your sac and depositing it in your wife’s purse, but at least her clients don’t have names like Vinnie the Chin or Bobby Bag ‘o Donuts.

Getting a haircut has returned to being one of those boring little tasks that I do once every five weeks. The funny thing is that I often think about Angelo during these times and I finally realize that Rule #1, “They are all freakin' nuts” probably applies to Italian barbers as well as women and this thought gives me great comfort.

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