Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Barber Shops

Lawrence – My Hometown

Barber Shops

By Richard E. Noble

A lot of Italians owned barbershops in Lawrence. And it seemed that all the owners were named Guido. If the owner wasn’t named Guido somebody working there was. Guido must mean something in Italian. Not something bad like ming-ya but something generic like “man who cuts hair” or bookie or some such thing.

I still don’t know what ming-ya means, but, ming-ya, what does it matter. I called an old friend from Lawrence the other day and he said, “Ming-ya, Nobes, I haven’t heard from you for forever. Ming-ya, this is great! What have you been up to?”

Nevertheless barbershops were muli-cultural in the Lawrence I grew up in.

I got my first hair cut up on Center St. The barber was a friend of my Uncle Ray’s. He was either Irish or English. I can’t remember his last name but I can see him in my memory’s eye quite clearly. I think his shop may have been called John’s – John’s Barbershop. It had the red, white and blue barber pole outside and everything. I remember being frightened to death and crying through the whole ordeal.

John had a special kid’s seat that he placed onto the barber’s chair. I cried and everybody else in the shop laughed, including my uncle. I didn’t get it.

I don’t know why barbers scare little boys but I witnessed the same scene over and over as my life continued. Young men were always bringing in their little boys for the frightening experience. The kids always cried. I don’t ever remember seeing a happy little boy sitting in a barber’s chair his first time out.

Before this guy, my mother would put a soup bowl on the top of my head and cut around it. I was never overly concerned with appearances but the barber on Center St. made me look a lot better than my mother and her soup bowl.

I went to John until I went into business for myself as an Eagle Tribune delivery boy. The first stop on my route was Joe Blazavitch’s Barbershop on Park St. It was across the street from King Tut’s drugstore.

Joe had two twin daughters, as I remember. They were very pretty and had extra long, shiny, brown hair. They were both in my class at St. Rita’s but that fact did not intimidate me. I made the big decision to switch barbers and start going to Joe.

Changing barbers is a big decision. I think it has something to do with the nature of human bonding. I don’t know the details but I can tell you it was difficult to walk past John’s Barbershop after I switched to Joe.

I decided to go to Joe Blazavitch’s Barbershop not because he had two pretty daughters who were in the same class as me but because, I was now a businessman as was Joe. I felt that us local businessmen had to stick together. Joe bought my newspapers, so Joe was the man to cut my hair. It was a business decision. It was nothing against you John – if you are still out there. You were good John and did a great job, but business is business. I hope you understand.

I went to Joe Blazavitch’s barbershop from age eleven and a half until I was twenty-seven ... and a half. Joe was my main haircut man from then on.

Joe was a very nice man and he liked me. He kept asking me to join his barbershop quartet. I resisted on the flimsy grounds that I wasn’t a barber. Joe said that being a barber was not a real requirement for being a member of a barbershop quartet. I didn’t see how that could be possible. “But I can’t sing,” I told him. He made me sing the scale while I was sitting in his barber chair.

“Doe, rae, me, fa, so, la, tee, doe.” My voice cracked on the second doe. “See, I told you I can’t sing.”

“Whataya talkin’ about! That was great. You’re a tenor. You’ll be perfect.”

I never joined. I wish I did. I’ll bet it would have been fun.

As time went on Joe’s barbershop went downhill. I don’t know what happened to Joe’s business. It might have been the Beatles and the long hair craze. Eventually, he only cut hair by “appointment” and he moved his shop off Park St. He went from a 3 or 4 seater to a 2 seater.

Me and Jack Greco were two of his regular appointments. We meet Joe at his new shop to get our hair cut for Jack’s wedding. Joe wouldn’t take any money and he gave us both a hot shave for free. That was my first and my last hot save.

Joe would never take a tip either. I think a hair cut at the end of Joe’s career was $2.00. When I first started at age 11, I think it was a quarter – but that seems impossible.

I couldn’t figure why Joe would interrupt his evening to run down to his barbershop and cut my hair for a lousy two bucks. It seemed crazy. But he liked doing it, I could tell. I guess since he had been cutting my hair since I was eleven years old, he figured that it was his responsibility.

I think he got a good job working at Raytheon or Western Electric or Avco or something. It wasn’t that he needed my two bucks. It could have been that barbering was his love and Avco was his job. No one has ever heard of an “Avco Quartet” after all.

When Joe finally hung up the old clippers, I had a hell of a time finding a new barber. I started going to this Italian guy … Guido, of course. But a haircut at Guido’s took too long. The phone kept ringing and Guido would rush off to the back room. People kept running in and giving him quarters after which he had to write their number down on a piece of scratch paper. He had the racing program in his back pocket. Guys would come into the shop, Guido would hand them the program and they would sit and make their picks. Then he was constantly pulling out that big roll and making change for his non-haircut customers. Guido had a very good business but it wasn’t cutting hair.

The next barber I found was good – but he was very, very old. His shop was up on Lawrence St. His hands shook like crazy. He would have to rush the clippers to my head to get his hand to stop shaking. When he got to the shaving cream and the razor part it got real scary.

At first I thought the old buck was just nervous, but he wasn’t. He just had the shakes. I felt sorry for him. But when the conflict in a relationship comes to frightened or sorry, frightened always wins.

I read about a brain surgeon recently who developed a case of the shakes. His insurance company denied his claim that having the shakes was bad for his type business. As far as I know the insurance company won their case. I think if I were that surgeon, I would be appealing that decision.

I bounced from one problematic barber to another for a number of years. Then at long last I met Carol. I kept moaning and groaning about my 10 and 12 dollar haircuts and finally she volunteered. I asked if she used a bowl. She said no bowl. Carol has been my barber for about 35 years now. I owe her a lot of money. I feel bad about that fact. But, when it comes to a choice between money and feeling bad, I usually opt for feeling bad.

Richard E. Noble was raised in Lawrence, Mass and is now a freelance writer. He has published nine books. They are all on Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

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