Sunday, December 7, 2008

The Great Charlestown Haircut Drought

I come from a place called Charlestown. By all counts an extremely special place. I tend to scribble a lot of nostalgia on these here pages and for good reason. The town of my youth and upbringing is extraordinary and I can't imagine having grown up anywhere else. Charlestown was and will always be a place full of amazing history. It's one square mile full of magic and character. Kind of like The Shire. (We even have an obelisk.)

As a child growing up in C-town, the pillar of our community was Jack the Barber. (You'll receive no argument from anyone who knew him.) Jack's Barbershop, on the corner of Elm and Bunker Hill streets, was the hub of my childhood Universe. Presently, the town Barber is an able hairsmythe (and good friend) Pat Owens at the Bunker hill Barbershop but -way back when- most everyone got their hair cut by Jack. Jack was the best.

I got my very first hair cut at Jacks place and I'm sure a lot of other kids did too. He was the kind of guy that would have you run across the street to the liquor store for a six pack, then spray you with his water bottle and tell you dirty jokes upon you r return. He was responsible for more nicknames than anyone else in our town. Titmouse, Pickle, Sausage, Buckethead, his brother Pailhead... All classics. Kids used to go to Jack's Shop and hang out even when they didn't need a haircut. Sometimes, Jack would kick people out for conflicts or slights. This happened to me once and it was devastating for more than one reason.

I used to hang out with a ridiculous crew. The Sawyers: Marc* and Chris. Marc and I were almost inseparable, our birthdays were a week apart, and we were best friends. Marc was an extremely intelligent kid who never applied himself at school but had a great depth of knowledge on any subject. He'd often get teased by older kids but, then again, so did I. We were both dismissed as "space shots" which is why we were close. Together, we were a couple of real misfits. Add Marc's brother Chris into the mix, who was two years older than us, and what you had was a real fine mess.

Marc and Chris would get into fights, with each other, everywhere we went and never cared about causing scenes. On a street out in the open, the boys and girls club, a doctors office, McDonalds, Papa Gino's, Pharmacity:

"OH Yeah? I'm telling Dad!"
"FUCK YOU! Tell Dad, See if I give a flying fuck!"

Or. Randomly. To no one in particular:
"Ya Mother got a dick on her elbow... AND SHE FUCKS HERSELF LIKE THIS!" (Flapping one arm like a crazy human bird.)

Shit like that. The Sawyer's Dad, incidentally, is a saint named Jacky**. An all around awesome guy, with a great sense of humor, who happens to be a funeral home director. A trip to the movies ofttimes would involve a trip downstairs to the mortuary to ask Jacky for money. He'd have to take a break from embalming a body to throw Marc a couple of dollars. Sleepovers always made me a little jittery.

This one time I went to get my ears lowered, I was probably around 10, and the Sawyers wanted to join me. I got along great with Jack the Barber but I had no idea he had a blood feud with the Sawyers. When I arrived, Jack said the Sawyers weren't allowed into his Shop.

"Walshy, What're ya doing hangin out with a couple of no-good-niks like them?"

Before I knew it they were all screaming at each other. With Jack saying, "Get outta here you little bastards!" Swiping at them with his broom.

And the Sawyers yelling, "Go Fuck Yourself, JACK! "FUCK YOU!" throwing trailer trash middle fingers.

"I oughta kick your ass, you little Motherfuckers! Walshy, you get outta here too for bringing those bastards into my place!"

I was mortified. I couldn't believe it. I loved Jack but they were my friends. We were all standing outside of Jack's shop and he shut both the metal gate and door in our faces and pulled all his shades down. Meanwhile, the Sawyers were still yelling, "FUCK YOU JACK THE BARBER!" in the middle of Bunker Hill Street for longer than necessary. After a moment, I asked them what I was gonna do about my haircut.

The Sawyers told me, "Don't worry about that! We'll take you somewhere where you can get a good haircut, don't you worry."

And they took me to Umberto's. Umberto was a greasy old Italian guy who barely spoke English. He'd say things like "I make you look like good American boy..." and when he was done cutting your hair he'd say "Booshey, Booshey, Booshey." He was a little creepy.

That day he gave me the second most tragic haircut I've ever received. The Sawyers insisted it looked great but my mom thought otherwise. She brought me back to Jack and to his credit, he fixed it for free.

Then, we were hit with one of the most significant disasters in Charlestown History, neck and neck with Lori-Ann's donut shop closing down, slightly worse than the Colonial troops losing The Battle of Bunker Hill.

Jack The Barber retired on September 13th, 1992, the year I was a freshman in High School, and his retirement was nothing less than catastrophic for the male hairstyles of Charlestown. When he finally called it quits, people didn't know what to do with themselves. It wouldn't be for another three years and three months that we'd have a competent Barber to call our own again. Pat Owens opened his shop, not a block away from Jack's old place, with Jack's blessing and Jack's license on December 15th, 1995. In those three years the male population of Charlestown was sent scrambling for solutions to what would become the worst haircut drought since the town was settled in 1629.

There are horror stories that people tell: about where they went to get their haircuts and the terrible experiences they had. My best friends, brothers, even my dad tells bad haircut stories from that time. It wasn't uncommon to hear,

"I went to Nick, Tony's nephew, in the Post Office building and he eviscerated my head..."

Things were getting so bad, people were consulting their Thesaurus for new adjectives to describe the atrocities committed on their noggins. I even went back to Umberto, at one point, and he made up for my last visit by bestowing on me the NUMBER ONE worst haircut I've ever received. He made me look like a Hitler Youth. Replete with an Adolf stash. And I hadn't even had facial hair when I walked in. I still can't figure out how that happened.

Some haircuts were bad and some were terrible but you can't always blame the Barber. I made some bad decisions myself. For example: the idea to get a shamrock, a V, and the word "IRISH" cut into my head for the first day of Freshman year in High School. Then there was "Fantastic Sams" which was probably the best of the worst but still far from decent. Their version of a Barber was a flamboyant guy, he looked like a poor man's Fabio, who cared more about socializing than cutting hair. One day I was heading down to "Fantastic Sams" and asked my dad for some money to get a cut. He said, "where ya goin?"

I said, "'Fantastic Sams'."

My dad paused a moment then said, "Oh, YEAH? When you see Sam. You tell him, I'm gonna kill him..."

And I nearly fell to the ground laughing because I knew that he was talking about the social flamboyant guy who had been ruining every one's hair. And my dad, without previously having mentioned it, had gotten a terrible cut from the guy. Luckily, Charlestown would be saved by a young upstart who had risen through the ranks to open his own Barbershop just in the nick of time. (Pardon the pun.)

Pat Owens had been cutting Townie hair since he was a kid. I got a haircut from him at the Bunker Hill Park when I was little. He'd bring his rechargeable clippers up and give everyone haircuts for free. I remember he had to stop in the middle of cutting my head to go and recharge the batteries. Now, he's got his own shop and he's even got some memorabilia from Jack's. He's got Jack's old sign and the poster of the monkey "taking a dump" that used to be in Jack's bathroom. Pat's shop has since moved to where Rosie's Convenience store used to be, across from the Training Field. (But that's another story for another time.) The reason I bring up his shop and the paraphernalia is because one of the last times I was in his place I saw something rather great.

It was a flyer for the Grand Re-opening of "Fantastic Sams" Pat had been given in his travels. On the flyer it said,

"Come to the Grand Re-opening of 'Fantastic Sams' and receive a FREE HAIRCUT!"

Underneath it Pat had written in magic marker: "And we'll fix it for just 15 dollars!"


(* One of my favorite Marc stories involves one of the kids that Jack had given a nickname to and I mentioned in the story above: Pickle. Pickle was an older kid, my oldest brother's age, about six years older than us. About 17 when we were 11. One day Marc was walking up the stairs in-front of my house and about to enter when he spotted Pickle walking down the street. With the front door barely open I heard Marc yell, "Yo, Pickle... Dill out man!" To this day, one of the funniest things I've heard anyone say unprovoked.)
(** Jacky was also the first person I remember telling, before I reached double digits, that I was going to be a comedian when I grew up. He responded by saying, "That's Great.")

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