An Angel By The Barber ChairWednesday, February 20, 2013
|St. Joseph Hall, February 15, 2013|
Both a dentist and a barber attempt to make it known that their service is so important to your well being. If there is one thing that barbers and dentists have in common is that they not only want to make you look good in the coffin but they also tell you about it. With your mouth open and with sharp instruments in your mouth or a pair of Solingens by your ear there is never recourse for a rebuttal to their pronouncements.
My first barber, one that I can remember was a Calabrian called Antonio who lived around the corner from our house on Melián in Buenos Aires. He talked to me in his accented Spanish and always gave me ugly, long balloons which I had to stretch for long minutes before I could inflate them. They were opaque and had coloured spots. The gift balloon never seemed to compensate for the ignominy of sitting down to get my hair cut.
By the time I was 14 I had had an operation on a large mole on the back of my right ear. Short haircuts showed a huge scar. People asked. I could have told them that the mole looked like a black jellyfish as I had been shown it in a jar by my surgeon. The mole was benign but the scar wasn’t. So the story I told was that I had been pushed through a plate glass door. Invariably the barber would ask. It was then that I began to define a good barber as one that was mute. But such a creature, as close to an angel as a human could ever be, was not to show his presence in my life until most recently.
The next barber of note was Angel, one only in name, a young man who cut my hair at Arsenal Buenos Aires, in the very room where Kapitän zur See Hans Langsdorff shot himself with a Luger on December 20, 1939. I believe this story is apocryphal as the Captain of the Graf Spee surely must have shot himself in a hotel room in Montevideo. I was a raw Argentine Naval draftee. He seriously asked me how I wanted him to cut my hair. I faced a mirror and gave him instructions. In a few rapid movements Angel had given me a “corte cero” Spanish for an extreme crew cut.
Richard Bond, he of the long hair and almost longer fingernails, I met in Wreck Beach in the late 70s. He liked to talk and only cut hair in the evenings. He tried to convince me to give up on food and live off morning fruit blends chock full of natural vitamins and protein powder.
Perhaps the only reason Bond cut my hair was my photographic (nothing more) attraction to his beautiful girl friend Lorian who became my subject for my early taste for nudes. When Lorien left Bond for a painter who had put an ad in a Victoria paper looking for a model with large breasts I decided to switch to Nancy G, she who cut hair for Vancouver’s finest alternative scene rockers of the punk kind.
Nancy G was very beautiful and slightly cross-eyed which made her strangely even more beautiful. But she had a problem with moving locations of business regularly to places further and further away. Sometimes when I would call for an appointment she would reply, “I really don’t feel like cutting your hair this week. How about next week?”
My Rosemary suggested, “Now that we live in Kerrisdale why don’t you go to Richard Jeha. Our former mayor, Art Phillips goes to him. If he is good enough for the mayor he should be good enough for you." And so it was that I have had very good haircuts all these years while listening to talk and more talk. Perhaps I might put an ad in the paper, “Wanted – A speech impaired barber.”
Three weeks ago I found out that my last living surrogate father/mentor, Brother Edwin Reggio, C.S.C. was ailing at St. Edward's University in Austin, Texas. Twice before in the last few years he had marched me to the barber chair at St. Joseph Hall where I was lucky to stay for a few days in my almost yearly school reunions.
Brother Edwin is the perfect barber. He says nothing and cuts your hair with rapid efficiency perhaps with an ever so brutal approach that had my friends ask me, “Where did you get that cut?”
Brother Edwin was ailing so I sent him an email that I would be seeing him in a few weeks. I asked him if I should get a haircut before flying to Austin. He never replied.
I did not have Richard cut my hair hoping that my unruly long hair would propel Brother Edwin from his decline to say, as he did once, “You seemed to not have had a cut since the last time I gave you one. Let’s go.”
And so I did face Brother Edwin and he did not notice my long hair and did not offer to cut it. I went into the barber chair room and longingly looked around. I knew that the silent barber would not cut anybody’s hair anymore. But I also reflected that I had finally had found an angel, a silent barber who did cut my hair twice and I feel comforted by that lucky stroke of luck. Or was it a miracle?