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Columbus Day Visit Home by Deke Cutter
I knew I had to get a haircut before I got home. Even though I had finished my higher education and lived on my own, "home" was still the house I grew up in. It was 1978 and my dad was an old-fashioned Italian immigrant. He was salt of the earth, but he absolutely hated long hair. I was coming home to help dad and mom get the house ready for fall and winter, wrap the fig tree, and, of course, to march with dad in the Columbus Day Parade. Our town had a big Italian American population and there was a parade and a big Italian Heritage festival at the Catholic Church. I hadn’t been home since Christmas (I could see mom biting her hand in the gesture of anger Italians use) and so, my hair was nice and long. I’d been busy at work and didn’t make time for a cut. Now I was desperate. It was getting late and the few unisex places I knew were booked. Most of the old barbershops that used to dot the town’s streets were long gone. Finally, I saw a barber pole and a brightly lit shop. This was my last chance. I couldn’t let dad see me like this after 10 months.
I parked and went in to find a neat two chair shop, with only one barber, about mid 50s sitting in his chair. In somewhat broken English he asked "You wanna you haircut hippy?"
(I thought, ‘oh boy, maybe if I answer in Italian, I’ll get some points’) I replied "Sì, signore, ma solo un pareggio" (Yes sir, but just a trim).
Well, that was the wrong thing to say! He replied, "I’m no lady’s beautician, you sit in my chair, I give you a haircut." I knew what I was in for, but I knew I was out of options. So, I sat down in in the chair. He caped me up and ran a comb through my straight dark brown hair. It was parted on the left side and completely covered my ears and fell down to my collar. My long forelock fell down to my chin if not combed over to the side, a pretty typical style for the time. I told him that I would like to keep my hair covering my ears and to just off the collar. He replied, "we’ll see. Adesso stai zitto" (now shut up).
The first thing he did was to cut the hair that hung below my ears and collar off. He then combed bangs down and cut them straight across at my eyebrow level. I had a pretty good idea that I was going to be leaving the shop with a fairly short haircut, but figured I’d "stai zitto" and hope for the best. Next he started going scissor over comb, tapering the sides and back. I saw him slowly uncover about half of my left ear and then spend alot of time on the back, before going around to the right. Before going on to the top, he got out the clippers and surprisingly gently went over the sides and back and blocked the bottom of the back, rather than skinning me half way up like I thought he would. Then he removed my sideburns which had reach below the bottom of my ears and took them up to just where to opening in my ear started. Next, he wet down the top and took off some length and bulk angled the remaining bangs slightly and brushed my hair over into what was sort of a 70s conservative "bankers" look. The barber said "there-that is as long as an Italian boy gets to have his hair if he comes to me. I bet your papa thinks this is too long too. Next time I give you a proper haircut!" I thought, "yeah fat chance," paid him and gave him a tip and thanked him and headed for home.
Mom was thrilled to see me although she had to abuse me for being away for so long and still not bringing a nice Italian girl home. Dad gave me a hug and said, "so, I see the little hairs on your collar, you waited until the last minute! I bet you looked like a hippy."
"Oh pops, I’m glad to see you too!"
It was great being home and I was glad to be a help around the house and burn some of the carlories I was taking in with mom’s delicious home cooking (and Aunt Mary’s, and Aunt Connie’s, and Aunt Josie’s, and Aunt Rose’s). We marched in the parade and it was great to be reminded of how many ways Italian immigrants and Italian Americans had made a difference to our country. The Italian festival was great. As we were entering, we came face to face with the barber and he was running the zeppoli stand. He recognized me and called us over. He asked if this was my father and they started talking. My dad told him he was glad the barber had got my hair "this short" and that this "wasn’t as short as he would like it, but was better than those beauty parlors he goes to." With that, I pulled dad away and we went off to look around and take our turns helping out at the family sausage and pepper stall. I was glad I was there because I let dad sneak away for a break. I thought he was sitting down with some of Uncle Jimmy’s homemade wine. Little did I know.
I was leaving on Saturday to drive back home so I’d have a day before returning to work on Monday. On Friday morning, a week after I arrived, dad asked me, to go for a ride with him. I got in the car with him, figuring he wanted to pick something for mom at the deli. But, the route we were taking was not one I remembered any of their usual shopping places to be in. As we turned the corner, the dime dropped. "Dad what’s going on?"
"Vito, (as we found out, the barber’s name was) has something to show us."
"Dad, what is this about?"
Suddenly the brbershop door opens and Vito the barber comes out with a smile. "Ciao Mario, so you have brought your son back". "Michael", he said to me, "I was right, when your pappa came back to my zeppoli stand he told me he wished a barber could give you a good short Italian haircut. So, I told him, if he brings you back, I will give you one."
"I don’t need another haircut. You chopped off most of my hair one week ago."
"Embeh!" If I already cut most of it off, what difference does it make. A good son like you will want to make his father happy...no?"
One look over at my dad and I knew these two wily old guys had me where they wanted me. I was back in the chair caped and taped in seconds. No preliminaries this time, Vito had his clippers out preparing the sides and back of my head for an old fashioned skinning. This wasn’t known as fade or a tight taper in the late 70s, friends-- this was an old school scalping. I saw a couple of inches of hair rolling down on the cape. He used clipper over comb on the top to take the top down to a severely short style. The hair layed down flat across my head, maybe an inch and a half on top with maybe another inch towards the front. Sideburns were completely gone, just a little bit of stubble above the arches he’d carved around my ears. The little length up front was brushed up into a very short sort of half moon over my forehead.
"So, Mario, you like?"
"Perfect Vito, I’ll make sure he comes here every time he comes home."
Boy, did I take some razzing when I got back to work. ("Did you join while you were on vacation?" "Going to court?") But, folks got used to it and luckily, my hair grows fast. In a few years, shorter hair started to become less unusual. I was back in Vito’s as often as 3 times a year until dad died unexpectedly and mom moved to a retirement community nearer to where my sister and I had settled. Now, I look at my sons, and grandsons ands think how funny life is they have pony tails, crewcuts, and everything in between. And me, I’m the coolest grandad with the high fade, just like Vito used to give me.