Showing posts with label Uncle Joe. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Uncle Joe. Show all posts

Sunday, September 4, 2011

The More Things Change….

Perhaps it is merely wishful thinking that certain values such as loyalty, conscientiousness and dedication can persevere. There is anecdotal evidence to the contrary in today’s world, perhaps exacerbated by the computer chip which has effected all forms of communication, even changing how we think and write (140 character tweets is the modern attention span LOL). No longer are there jobs that last for decades (when there are jobs at all) and popular culture has supplanted most of the fine arts. There is not even a pretense of courtesy or refinement and all one has to do is get on an airplane – as we are about to do -- to observe that point. So in this oasis we now call the modern world, I went back in time to get ready for an overseas trip. More on that trip when we return in a few weeks, during which time this blog will be silent.

My time travel took me to the barber shop I used to frequent when we lived in the Westport area. I went there for more than 30 years and my sons as well when they were children. I normally now buzz cut my own hair and as we live at our marina nearby Westport only in the summers, I see them but once a year, usually before a trip such as the upcoming one. Tommy has been the proprietor of Westport’s Compo Barber Shop since 1959. I always had my hair cut by his sidekick Felici who is from Italy and still speaks in a broken accent.

On Friday morning I walked into the shop. Tommy was sweeping the floor and Felici was getting ready for his next appointment, mine. How often does one embrace his barber? Hugging both Tommy and Felici seemed to be the appropriate thing to acknowledge my kaleidoscopic visit. It also was mutual acknowledgement that we are survivors, not only in the corporal sense, but as sojourners from another era.

Tommy proudly displays photographs from the Westport Historical Society in his shop as well as ones of himself cutting the hair of multiple generations of the same family. I looked up and down the Post Road where his shop has been all this time and noted that the neighboring stores are all different. The stores come and go but Compo Barber Shop has been a bulwark in the community. It is a throwback to small town America, one that Richard Russo often chronicles in his novels.

I obviously have some special feeling for the camaraderie between a barber and his customer, a unique male bonding that I’ve written about before, particularly as my childhood barber, Joe, literally became my Uncle Joe.

So after I settled in the chair we covered the checklist of typical barbershop banter: our respective health, how the “kids” are doing, the weather and the recently departed storm, Irene, what the country coming to, the tragic shape of the economy, and the sadness I feel having seen my publishing business in town finally come to an end. With my now perfect haircut I went to the cash register to pay but they would not accept payment. I protested, but understood that some things are more important than money. Just seeing me was enough for them and that feeling was reciprocated as I said “see you next year,” and hopefully the next, and many more after that.
Photograph courtesy of WestportNow.Com

Monday, March 15, 2010

Joe The Barber

My sister called to tell me she had some family news: Joe the Barber died.

This takes some explaining. Although I don’t remember it, family history is that Joe gave me my very first haircut. Not only that, he was the barber for my grandfather and father and gave my older son his very first haircut as well. That’s four generations of us.

His shop was almost directly across the street from PS 90 where I spent my grammar school years from kindergarten to 8th grade, the Jamaica Avenue elevator line rumbling overhead nearby. My Uncle Phil lived in the same house where my father grew up, directly across from the school and a leisurely stroll to Joe’s shop. Joe cut Uncle Phil's hair as well.

When I was old enough to take my Schwin to school, I’d park the bike in Uncle Phil’s garage. Every few weeks or so I’d show up at Joe’s for my regular haircut, a buzz cut by the time I was biking to school.

Joe had a couple of chairs in his shop, but he was the only barber and there would usually be a wait, so I was able to get my hands on a few adult magazines while I waited and he chatted with the customer in the chair.

I looked forward to my turn as he always treated me like a kindly uncle would, knowing everyone in our family, asking me about family news, how things were in school, talking about my Dad which gave me perspective on him I would not otherwise have seen. He’d also talk about my grandfather, who by then was deceased, so Joe the Barber was an endless source of family history and gossip and advice.

Joe was Italian and proud of it. He was also a handsome man, always smiling while working, frequently humming a song, often joking that he could become the next Perry Como!

When I was in high school, preparing to go off to college, his own son was going through a rebellious stage, racing his Impala around, getting into a little trouble and naturally Joe was concerned. Unknown to Joe, I was doing the same kind of adolescent stuff and it was my turn to comfort him, telling him not to worry.

Once I went off to college and got married, I had to find my own barber in Brooklyn, although when I visited my parents in the home where I grew up, I still managed to stop in for a quick haircut with Joe the Barber in the same shop he had been in for decades.

As usual, he talked about my family and in particular about my Aunt Lillian, who would later leave her husband, Uncle Lou. After Joe’s wife died, Joe the Barber married Aunt Lillian, but even my Aunt did not refer to him as our “Uncle” Joe, signing Xmas cards, “Aunt Lillian and Joe.” But, to me, the man who just died, nearing the age of 99, was my dear Uncle Joe, who was part of the family all my life.

Here we are with my Aunt Ruth, Uncle Joe, and Aunt Lillian more than twenty years ago.