The Haircut
                                                                                                by Michael Devonshire

In those days, as a kid growing up in Carney’s Point, you went to the barbershop that your dad took you to. To this day I don’t know why they were
called “barbers” and maybe will never know. I once asked my dad and he just said, “Ask your mom.” I don’t think I ever went to the barbershop with
my mom, and after the time that I had to be taken at all and went on my own, I just kept going to the same barber. My barber was Vic Ferzetti. I was
allowed to call him Vic, for some reason, rather than Mr. Ferzetti, one of the few adults for which there was tacit permission to do so, and I did so
without fear of retribution. Vic was, even to a kid, a slight man, much shorter than my dad, and slim – like he was hungry. He always wore a kind of
white smock sort-of thing like the ladies who worked at Woolworth’s, over his regular shirt. My dad told me that Vic came from Italy, and he had an
accent that was musical and I thought that that’s what everybody from Italy wore. It actually didn’t mean that much to me that he was from Italy but
later, when there was the “other guy” with whom he shared the shop sometimes, they’d talk about football, which was the sport of kings in that town,
and they’d sometimes begin to talk together in a language I didn’t understand, which I took to be Italian. Vic wore an impressive, big wrist watch with
numbers that glowed blue-green that said “TIMEX” on the dial, and I thought that was some Italian name, too, because it didn’t make any sense in
English. His hair was always perfectly combed, and he would comb it sometimes before seating a new customer. He smoked constantly, but never, to
my knowledge, even when he was talking and that cigarette was bobbing up and down between his lips like a float on a fishline (and I watched it in
the big mirror) did he drop an ash on my head or down the back of my shirt. I must have had my hair cut by that man about 600 times in my life, and I
believe I never saw him sit down, not once. Even when I’d just be walking by, or walk in and there was nobody else in the shop, he’d be standing
there, looking out the window.

Like I said, before there were girls to impress and the fear of being hounded to death by your buddies and you didn’t care about “style” you just went
where your dad took you. Years later, when I realized that there were actually other barbers up in Penn’s Grove where kids got dragged by their
dads, I was particularly relieved that I’d not been taken to the other one that I heard about, Baldini’s. In my mind, how could you possibly come out
alive, or not looking like a stray cat behind the Community Store, after getting your hair cut by a guy named Baldini?

Vic’s first barbershop was in a wooden building, now long since gone, replaced by a gas station at Georgetown and Shell Roads. This place had an
actual front porch with fancy woodwork on it like a building “out west”. Waiting for my dad, who always took some time for a “football talk” with Vic
after our haircuts, I’d go out to the porch, which looked just like those in the “wild west” TV shows, and carry out numerous gunfights with imaginary
foes. His next shop, set in a newer anonymous brick pile that replaced the first (which also included my favorite store, Slugger’s), never achieved the
creaky floorboard, dust-floating-in-the-warm-afternoon-sunlight character of that first grand palace. When you walked in the place there was a row of
monster chairs all shiny white and chrome on huge pedestals that looked like space ship surplus. Along one wall was a great long marble counter
over which was a huge mirror that seemed to stretch back to nowhere. On the counter were any number of contraptions for handling and sanitizing
the tools and some electric clippers hanging on wires and wooden drawers at the front of it that seemed to hold no end of odd devices. On top of the
counter Vic had a number of tall glass vessels filled with colored liquids, with names printed on them like “BARBASOL” and “WILDROOT”. The first
thing that hit you when you walked in there was the smells. Not that “you’re in for trouble” alcohol smell like at Doc Prigger’s office, that warned you
of pain to come, or the too-sweet girly smells of Dougherty’s Drug Store with soaps and stuff that smelled like your mom, but smells that said “men
reside here.”


While I only vaguely recall my first haircuts, I do remember that I had to first wait and watch my dad get his cut, and rather than sit I’d likely roam the
shop, wonder at the barber paraphernalia, which looked the same as a lot of the stuff at Doc. Prigger’s office. I’d sneak a sidelong glance at the girly
magazines that were under a table at the end of the room away from the front window and then make my way onto one of the empty barber chairs
and pretend I was in the seat of a space ship taking off for unknown places. The chairs were a mass of white porcelain and chrome plated something
or other that looked like silver, with leather covered padded backs and seats. Big seats. At the front of the chairs down below was a fancy shiny
metal contraption that had “KOKEN” stamped in it that was for the adults a footrest, but for me a handle that you could use to spin the chair around
and then jump on trying to ride for a few spins or at least until you got “the look” from an adult. Vic had some comic books, but they were never, to
my knowledge, updated, and besides, Archie and Veronica were a bit too cerebral for me at the time.

Getting a haircut was not a task as odious as putting on a suit and clip-on bowtie for some event, which could call for a full out tantrum or a run for
Justice’s Woods, but one of those occasional annoyances, like having your mom clean your finger nails with that thing that looked like a miniature
version of the lances used by the Sheriff of Nottingham’s men on Robin Hood, or even a toothpick, or like having your ears augered out with a Q-Tip.
Worst of all meant having to sit still for what seemed like an eternity. The earliest haircuts involved not only sitting still, but doing so one a padded
board spanning between the arms of the monster chair. Vic, for some reason, didn’t have a pony or racecar that I later learned were standard fare
for kids at other barber shops, but just “the board”. It was most certainly a rite of passage for me when I got to sit in the chair on that great padded
seat, even though my feet didn’t reach the fancy footrest.  It was probably at this time that I was required to “go for a haircut” by myself, stopping on
the way home from school. Still, for a kid there were 100 other things that were much more fun and required less still time so that the admonishments
that “You look like the shaggy dog”, or “something the cat dragged in” went unheeded until the ultimate, “Get a haircut or I’m going to do for you this
weekend” struck enough dread that I’d drag myself to Vic’s shop one day on the walk from my school, named after Mons. De Lafayette.

Once you sat up in that big chair, Vic would first dust around your neck with a beautiful wood and hair brush that he’d dipped in nice smelling
powder, then wrap your neck in what looked and felt like crepe paper and pin it with a safety pin in the back. His touch was soft, alarmingly non-
masculine, and I was always surprised that it was so, like when my dad would take my brother and me clothes shopping and he’d make us try on
clothes and he’d ever so gently adjust a jacket or shirt on our shoulders with a touch that belied his huge hands and muscled body. He’d then
ceremoniously snap this big sheet like thing in the air and with much fanfare launch it into the air so it came to rest over you and he fastened that on,
too. Then, kaplunk-kaplunk-kaplunk he pushed a big handle on the side of the chair that raised you up to working height. The haircuts themselves
required, as I mentioned, hours. The earlier cuts, which were period appropriate “gooches” or “butches” required mostly being worked over with a
set of electrical clippers. Every haircut involved at least several spins back and forth in the chair so that sometimes you could see what was being
done, and other times it was a mystery known only to him.  Vic would on occasion, have to give you a good push on the side of the head, sometimes
forcing you to hold your head in an unnatural position not unlike that of the RCA dog, so he could get a better shot at some errant hairs. I think he
even gave me a head flick once or twice when I was being a bit restless and moving myhead. There was not much conversation.

At one time I was enamored of the cut worn by Cubby O’Brien, Mousketeer/drummer extraordinaire. His haircut had a deft upsweep to it in front that
was held in place by what appeared from the ads that Vic had hanging from the humongous mirror, to be a material called “Butch Wax.” If I couldn’t
be Cubby, maybe I could look like Cubby. Whether there was a conspiracy against such a “hood” looking cut between my dad and Vic, I don’t know,
but the one time I asked for him to make me look like the guy in the ad (certain that he didn’t know who Cubby was), he pronounced, “Your hair, she’
sa no-good for disa, you gotta da cowlicka.” Sure enough, right where the upsweep should have started on one side of my head, he pointed to the
cowlick, sticking up and spinning like a dust devil in Oklahoma, keeping anything uniform from happening on my head, Butch Wax or not.

The highlight of any haircut was the razor. Again with great fanfare, at the end of the game, Vic would go to the long marble counter under the mirror
and pull from one of the colored liquid jars a long single bladed straight razor, and place it on the counter. After swabbing my neck and around my
ears with deliciously warm shaving cream that came out of what looked like a custard dispenser and felt like warm whipped cream, he’d finish the cut
off like a tailor on a new suit. But first the blade was ceremoniously stropped a couple of times on a large leather belt that hung off the chair, first one
side of the belt, then the other, making a sweet whining sound, until you could practically smell the melted metal of the blade edge. He went after the
back of my head real quick, and then with a motion that was unbelievably deft considering he was generally holding a cigarette in the hand with the
razor, cut a no-man’s land of skin around each ear that we generally referred to as “white walls”. I considered then as now that Vic, if he was famous
for anything, was famous for his whitewalls. The last act of any cut was the reversal of the placement of the sheet, which involved a fling in the air,
toreador-like, so that none of the hair on the sheet found its way onto me, the chair, or him and the removal of the crepe paper, with simultaneous re-
brushing of the neck with the good smelling powder, as if there were ten hands at work. The grand finale was a flourish of his hands on a bottle of
one of the colored liquids, and a quick swab on my neck, which, if there was any derma missing as a result of the razor, would sting like a wasp.  Out
of the chair and out the door, every new haircut felt like I was sticking my head out the car window at 50 mile and hour.

An unfortunate part of growing older, and especially in the late 1960’s, was that I stylistically grew into an era in which my need for self expression
included lots of hair, and not a lot of haircut. By the time I’d finally come back around and realized that hair was not necessarily an expression of
what was going on in anyone’s head, old Vic was in has waning years, and I had moved away from the place that I still think of as home. The “other
guy” was gone. The last time I had him cut my hair, he was nearly blind, and at some point in that last cut I felt his full weight come to rest upon on
my shoulder. A glance in the mirror confirmed that he’d fallen asleep, standing, with the scissors in his hands.