Thursday, May 29, 2008

Camels and Coffee

The bell chimes as the door opens. After placing my jacket on a hook I claim an empty seat nearby. Scanning the magazines, I choose today's edition of the Boston Herald. Channel 7 news blares from the tiny color TV that sits in front of the window. Three men are working their chairs while three customers wait for their turn in each. The first is a high school senior who is attending his prom tonight. The second is an Asian man who does not speak English easily. I am the third.
I quietly look around the shop. Old photos are everywhere. American flags are, too. There are news clippings, banners and police department patches from around the country. There are old posters, new advertisements and stale memories. The lighting is harsh and it is reflected in the mirror that runs the length of the three chairs. I smile to myself as I open the Herald. The scent of talcum powder fills my nose. I read absentmindedly; my mind is elsewhere.
Specifically, Paul's Barber Shop.
This shop was located two doors down from the M&R Food store, located in a dilapidated building in Bryantville Center. Next door was a diner (when it was open, which was sporadic at best) and thirty yards from that was the Bryantville Post Office and Lang's Liquor Store.
This is where Paul Gilmartin gave me my first (of many, many) haircut. It was a small store, with tan walls and a white ceiling. As you walked in the front door a black and white 13" television was mounted on a corner shelf diagonally from where you entered and at the far end of the shop. Next to the TV was a duck pin that Paul had acquired, although I have long since forgotten how or when. On the back wall Paul had black wooden silhouettes of Charlie Brown, Lucy and Snoopy. Lucy was yelling at Charlie Brown while gesturing towards Snoopy, who sat quietly behind her. On the right wall of the shop there was a row of red vinyl chairs where patrons would wait patiently for their turn in the chair. Paul always had a good collection of comic books to read so I was never bored while I waited here. There were two barber chairs across from this row of waiting men. Paul worked in only one chair. He had a partner once but soon in my young life he had moved onto another shop. Paul was the lone barber in Bryantville. Everyone came here and he knew everyone.
Paul himself was a tall, very thin man, who seemingly lived on unfiltered camels and coffee (cream and one sugar). His black hair was always combed back off his forehead, he had an easy smile and a very genteel way about him. He always smelled good; like he used his own products when he got ready for work. He was a jack of all conversations. He knew when to ask a question and just sit back and listen to the response. I loved going to Paul's.
When I was eleven or so Paul moved to another shopped across the street. I hate change. Yet, the new shop was now located next to Billy Kidd's Sub Shop - my favorite sandwich place in the whole world. It was a bit smaller, but the walls were painted white to make it seem bigger. The front door was located to the left of the store front; to the right of the door was a huge picture window. In the right corner was the same black and white 13" television and next to it was to bowling pin. On the left wall as you entered were 5 chairs (3 up the wall, 2 along the 45 degree angle) with a mirror over these. The Peanuts gang were mounted on the right wall that ran to the back of the shop. The more things change... However, Paul was still here. That made it okay.
Sometimes, when I was a kid, Paul would give me a quarter if I would run next door to get him coffee and cigarettes. When I hit my tweens Paul offered me a job as his permanent gopher. For 75 cents a week (to start) I would walk to his shop every day after school to get him coffee and cigarettes. Some days I would also go to the post office to get his mail from the postmaster, Everett G. Reed. Some days, when the shop was quiet, Paul and I would just sit and talk. We did that a lot. On Saturday's I would come up in the morning, get his coffee and cigarettes, and do any odd jobs that Paul needed done. Windexing the front windows or sweeping the front sidewalk were popular choices. Paul was closed on Sunday's and Monday's but I was there every other day, schedule permitting. This kept up until I started to work at Stop & Shop in 1982 and my real job kept me from being a gopher. Finally, I had no more free time. My last week's pay from Paul was $1.50. Not much compared to my pay at the supermarket but worth so much more to me.
Every chance I got, I would still walk up to Paul's Barber Shop, fetch him a coffee and cigarettes and just sit back and enjoy his company.
I got my hair cut at Paul's right up until I went to my first hairstylist at 19 years old. My new hairstyle got me immediate attention from my female co-workers and for the next 23 years I went to many different stylists - never a barber.
Today was the day that I decided that I pay stupid money to go to a stylist for a haircut that has stayed nearly the same for the last decade. Yet I am sitting in a Barber shop that is not Paul's. He retired years ago, not long after he was diagnosed with emphysema. Stupid Camels. Yet, as I sit among these men, I am wholly reminded of a simpler time:
When 75 cents a week bought me two comic books and a candy bar.
When getting the mail for Paul included a thirty minute chat with Mr. Reed.
When all a man needed was his camels, a coffee and good conversation to help him make a living.
When the smell of talcum powder meant a haircut at Paul's.
A simpler time, indeed.
My reverie is broken. A short, stocky man with a shock of thick gray hair gestures to me. Its my turn. I thank him and get into his barber's chair. As Siggy starts to cut, the familiar clack-clack of long scissors fills my ears. The smell of his aftershave wafts through the air as he deftly moves around the chair. He starts to make small talk. Soon, we're talking easily.
And I remember Paul the Barber.


Blogger Bridget said...

I love this post. Ahh, the simpler times...

9:04 AM, May 29, 2008  
Blogger Letera said...

Ohhhhhhhhh, memories. How cool. Amazing how simple is so awesome!

5:40 PM, May 29, 2008  
Blogger Fox In Detox said...

Very nice post friend. My father used to take me to this barber shop with him when he would get a hair cut. Then we'd go buy me a pair of Chuck Taylors... black was always my color of choice.

9:28 AM, May 30, 2008  

Post a Comment

<< Home