Tony Imperial gets a trim

There’s a bar I’ve hit up with Mardi Gras on many occasions. It sits on main street in downtown Utica. “Main street” and “downtown” are misleading as it’s a quiet street with old businesses – some fairly rundown. Every time we’ve patronized that watering hole I’ve noticed this building just down the street, a barbershop. Cement blocks that were painted white many years ago are now dingy, crumbling, and comprise the structure. Plants overrun the window space inside. Outside a barber pole sits unspinning. I’ve always wanted to walk in and get a cut. So much so that I have concocted elaborated fantasies as to how the whole affair would play out. Yesterday I grew up and replaced those fantasies with a tangible reality.

It had an underlying odor, none too pleasant. Indeed, the glass door gave way to dinginess. The plants were overrunning the bay area by the long street side window. That ledge undeniably belonged to the flora. Old bottles of hair tonic and the like (and I mean real old) were scattered here and there on the counter. Old tools like hand held driers, combs with faded plastic, scissors, massive electric razors and the like gently littered the work area. Three absolutely ancient barber chairs ran the length of the floor. Carl would turn out to be from Poland and have 77 years under his belt. Forty of which were spent in this little shop turning mortal men into Adonises. He was working on a Macedonian, maybe five years his junior.

I sat in a crappy chair and leafed through the day’s Free Press, but only half interested. I basically took in the place and listened to the old guys talk about the stuff old guys talk about: the “old country”, the weather, the crazy people the Macedonian rented apartments to – you get the idea. When my turn came I was really excited to sit in this gigantic old barber chair. It had this ridiculously big wrought iron foot rest. As Carl spun the smock around me I could smell him. Slightly more than faint, but not completely overpowering, he didn’t appear to favor deodorant or an anti-perspirant. I told him to take about half an inch to three quarters off. He pulled out his electric clippers.

As he began to take a generous amount of hair off the top of my head, he began to make outrageous claims. He told me that people get fat because of the ice in their drinks. He related a detailed itinerary of how the ice methodically deterred the body from properly digesting food. He also asserted that eating different foods in one sitting was extremely bad for people. In his words, if you were to “eat fish, then you get the clam chowder. Not a vegetable or a beef soup.” He continued to hypothesize that the mixing of animals or plants was a culinary and gastro-intestinal no-no. He continued to fashion my hair in a manner I was sure I had just
seen on the Macedonian, filled his brush with talc, and administered a sound brushing. Next came the hot foam. My one disappoint arrived with the absence of a long thick cut of leather upon which the blade would be sharpened, but he did produce a straight razor and proceed to shave me, including around the ears and the back of my neck. While this may be the piéce de resistance of the barbershop excursion, as I sat there I sincerely believe that he was shaving me with the exact same blade he had just worked on the Macedonian with, sans sanitization of any kind. I could be wrong here, but I doubt it and that bothers me a bit. The shave was sequentially followed by a soothing tonic applied by 77 year old polish hands, another talc-infused brushing, and the proclamation that I would now be “the most
handsome young man out on the street”. I told him that was why I was there, and paid the man nine dollars for the cut and an extra two for his sage advice.


a footnote from Mardi Gras Dave...

This account of one mans barbering experience has brought a tear to my eye for a couple of reasons. One, I just got home from getting my hair cut. I paid way more than $9, and the lady working over the mop ontop of my head had quite the runny nose. The tissue she used to absorb the mucus leaking from her nose was kept in her smock. This very same tissue traveled from her smock to her nose via her hand...with no washings in between. The second reason is that I have been lucky enough to see said barber shop, and heard the dreams of T. Imperial about one day...oh, one day, getting his hair sculpted in that building. I'm happy this day has come to fruition my friend. And the last reason I was so happy to read this story is that last night, on my way home from a nice brisk evening walk with Mac I stopped by Mr. Imperials abode. We chatted, he had a beer...there was a pipe. I noticed, altough I decided not to mention, someone had gotten a haircut....and it looked good!! My friends, and fellow hairy guys alike, this was no $9 haircut. Congratulations Mr. Imperial, on one hell of a haircut...as well as another checkmark off the list of things to do before your time here on earth has expired.


1 comment:

fAtHanD said...

For someone who regularly cuts his own hair this story has made me stop and think. I have come to the realization that the act of getting ones haircut by a professional barber is more then just one man taking a pair of metal blades to another man's head. It is a ritual in which white power, tonic, hair-clippings, and BO converge to highlight the basic human need for fellowship. Like MGD, a tear has come to my eye.