Friday, June 18, 2010

Haircut, Part Two of Two

The Story of One Man's Quest for A Decent Haircut
Part Two: Two Average Joes and, Finally, a Ralph

To read part one first, go here.

My previous and recent experience getting my haircut had by now convinced me that I needed a Barber. No more stylists, no more First Choice chicks, but a real, good old fashioned barber. 

This is roughly the same time I moved from Toronto's Entertainment District to Little Italy, so I had a feeling I'd be able to find what I was looking for, and I was right - almost. 

There were, in fact, two barbers quite close to my house. There was Enzo and, virtually directly across the street from Enzo, there was Joe. I started at Enzo, assuming that the Italian name and the soccer posters that plastered the shop windows were good indications that this was the kind of barbershop I was looking for. 

On the day I finally went in there though, the place was just weird. Aside from the soccer posters I had seen on the window, there was virtually nothing in the place. The total items inside this barbershop included:
  1. Enzo,
  2. A plant,
  3. A barber's chair, and 
  4. A TV turned up so loudly I had to shout to tell Enzo how to cut my hair. 
It was literally just tile floors, painted drywall and the sound of an Italian soap opera bouncing off the walls so loudly I had a headache when I left. I don't even remember what my haircut looked like. I just wanted to get the hell out of there. 

So Enzo was out. 

By the time my hair grew back, I was more than ready to try Joe out. 

And he was virtually exactly what I was looking for. This Joe, the first of two Joes, was a good guy. Joe was my idea of a barber. He was a cool old Italian guy, he was personable, he said things like, "Don'a worry. I'ma take care a you," - he even inexplicably gave me one of those little hotel-sized bottles of booze one time when I was getting my hair cut. 

The problem was, it seemed like Joe would have been the ideal barber, had I been looking for a barber 15 years ago. By the time I found Joe, he didn't even have his own place any more. Joe was regulated to just keeping a chair at the back of his daughter's salon. He was basically this little Italian guy, cutting the hair of mostly other older, Italian guys, but stuck in the back corner of a ladies' salon. And you could just tell, Joe's heart wasn't in it any more. He didn't even squirt water on my hair before he cut it so I always had dry hair clippings in my eyes and all over me when I left. He faced my chair away from the mirror when he cut my hair - which I always found a little unnerving, you know? I like to monitor the progress of my haircut. Weird stuff, that just seemed a little off. And Joe didn't do the straight razor shave. For whatever reason, my ideal barber experience includes getting a straight razor shave. I asked Joe, and he said, "Not no more," and gestured to his hands. 

I didn't know what he meant, but if he was trying to indicate that his hands were no longer limber enough to be up to the task, I wasn't going to push the issue of him holding a straight razor to my throat.

I kept going to Joe though. Until, that is, the day that he dropped dead while cutting my hair.

I'm just kidding.

I moved again and it wasn't convenient. Joe's still kicking. I saw him last weekend when I went to Little Italy for a fish sandwich

After having to leave a pretty good barber because I was moving, I thought I'd attempt to find a barber near my work. This way, if I finally found a guy I liked, I didn't have to change barbers. Not to mention the fact that getting your haircut on your lunch break is kind of a relaxing reason to get out of the office. 

Amazingly, I found an old Italian guy named Joe very close to my work. I was so happy, thinking he'd be just like the last Joe, that I pretended not to notice that I was now having my haircut by a man who styled his own hair into one of the most obvious, five-strand combovers I have ever seen. 

I thought his first haircut was pretty decent, too, so I gave him another shot. 

Alas, it wasn't to last. After the initial joy at having possibly discovered the new Joe, I started to realize things were a little off.

The second haircut wasn't great. 

I actually had to do a little trimming myself when I got home.

But he was close to work, so I came back; continuing to ignore some signs that indicated this wasn't the best place for a hair cut. For example, each haircut was topped off with a heaping handful of Dep gel. But, hey, I thought, I can just rinse my head when I get back to the office, right? And Joe didn't really make any attempt to make conversation. Haircuts were conducted in virtual silence. But, hey, I thought, maybe Joe doesn't like to talk. I'm not here to chat, right? Besides, I thought, an older guy like this...maybe, just maybe...

"Say Joe, do you the straight razor shave?" I asked him one day.

"No," he said. "Becuzza da AIDS."


I think maybe...yep...strike two Joe. 

The last time I went in, I was paying close attention. It was a make or break situation for Joe.

And he did not bring his A game.  For some reason, despite the fact that the first three times I had been in, I had requested virtually the same cut as every haircut every man had ever got since the beginning of hair (short on the sides and back, a little off the top), Joe somehow managed to cut my hair so that it was actually longer on the sides than it was on the top. 

I even tried to get him to fix it after it was done, but he said, "Try this way. If you no like, next time we go back the old way."

Strike three Joe. 

I actually had to have my fiancĂ©e attempt to fix my hair for me when I got home that night. That was fun. 

Then, after a few weeks of my hair getting increasingly shaggy because I now had an anxiety disorder about haircuts, I spotted it. Tucked into a government building across the street from my work where I occasionally get tea, a little unassuming barber shop called Ralph's. 

It almost seemed too good to be true. Not only did it look like exactly what I was looking for, but it was virtually directly across the street from my my work. There were only two chairs inside, and two old guys were reading the paper in there, listening to Classical 96.3, waiting for a customer.

As it turns out, Ralph's is pretty much exactly what I've been looking for. Ralph's been at his current location for 30 years and has apparently been working in barber shops since he was a kid in Italy. And my haircut was good too.

There was a second when I thought it might not be perfect, so I said, "Can we take a little more off the top?"

But Ralph just said. "It's your haircut. We gotta make sure you're happy."

Then, to finish the job, Ralph dispensed hot shaving cream and did my neck, sideburns and around my ears with a straight razor.

"Hey," I said. "Do you do straight razor shaves too?"

"Of course!" Ralph said.

Hello new barber.

Want to join me at Ralph's? Here's where it is. 
Did you actually read this entire rambling old-mannish story? I might even pay for your shave and haircut. 

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