Monday, September 11, 2006

The Importance of a Haircut

To all who frequent Supercuts, here's what you're missing:

Six years ago, we moved to San Francisco, where we lived in a very small, very expensive apartment in North Beach, which is a neighborhood you move into when you haven't lived in San Francisco for awhile and forget that it's 2000, not 1964, and that instead of cool poets, North Beach is actually populated by very small Chinese women carrying pink plastic shopping bags and German tourists. Except on the weekend, when it is overrun by drunken 20- and 30-somethings from Walnut Creek, who take up all the parking spots and then stumble by your bedroom window at 2:30 a.m., singing.

We forgot all that, but were slapped with a quick dose of reality the weekend that Sandra Bullock and the Jawa arrived (3 months after I had), which also happened to be the weekend of the North Beach Street Fair. The North Beach Street Fair, less now than it was then, is basically a large, open-air beer garden with some awful blues music and very nice sidewalk chalk drawings mixed in. Plus several booths that sell pictures of San Francisco.

All of these elements combined to doom our residence in North Beach. Six months in, we lost our parking spot -- which had been a very urban two blocks from our apartment -- and the bells we began hearing were not the church bells of St. Peter and Paul but rather the death knell for our life as a completely urban family. Four months later we landed in Glen Park.

There are still some great things about North Beach. There is the bakery where you can get a muffin as big as Mark's head, and the foccacia place that stays open until it runs out of bread. There are still some old Italian guys hidden among the tourists, and there is the Parkview hair salon.

Tony cuts hair at the Parkview. Even though Sal left a few years ago, and Joe sold the store to Christine, Tony remains, the only guy left in a place trying desperately to become the salon it calls itself. Christine, who, though a grandmother, still wears tight black dresses and three-inch heels (and wears them well), has renovated the place with Pergo floors and mirrors, and sells high-end hair care products in a glass case by the front door.

Over in Tony's corner, however, little has changed. The sign on the window still boasts "Tony is Here!" and old guys come in speaking Italian several times a day. And in fact, despite Christine's best efforts, the shop is usually populated by elderly Italian women who sit around under hair dryers, wearing big plastic aprons. With Sal and Joe gone, Tony has no one to check out tourist babes with, which is sad, so when we're there, he usually points them out to me.

On Tony's wall is a picture of him, in his own shop, circa 1964. In it Tony is slim and slick, a black-haired sharpie. He wears an ascot, a white shirt and pointy black shoes. Today, Tony has a white beard, glasses and wears white New Balance tennis shoes. He lives in a two-family in the Marina, which we bought with his brother-in-law in the 70s. He also has a place in Lake County, where he goes on weekends to fish and garden.

Tony has been cutting the Jawa's hair since we first moved to San Francisco, when the Jawa was barely 3 years old and had to sit in my lap to get his hair cut. And he will continue to cut the Jawa's hair until he retires, though there were several times, when the child was 4 or 5, that we were certain Tony would request that we go elsewhere to get his hair cut. The Jawa squirmed, made faces, giggled, scrunched down his neck, while Tony sweated it out, trying to get a good line with the clippers.

People still point when they see the Jawa getting his hair cut in the window of the Parkview, but not as many as once did. Now, says Christine, he is "handsome," not cute. On Saturday, when we went to get the Jawa's gigantic mop of hair cut, Tony, for the first time, messed with my child a little bit. He brushed his hair straight back, a la the teenage Henry Hill in "Goodfellas."

"Ladies!" he announced grandly, "What do you think of the boy's hair?" Christine came sweeping over on her 3-inch heels. "Oh, that face. He looks so handsome," she purred. From behind her, the group of old Italian ladies blanched. "He looks like a mafioso!" one shouted. Tony laughed. The Jawa angrily patted down his hair.

As the Jawa's dad, my Parkview job is to talk to Tony and look proud. On Saturday, we talked about dogs, our small new one and his gigantic old one. We talked a little about real estate, and I made sure to blush proudly everytime Christine said the Jawa was "handsome." And when the haircut is complete, I remember to give the money to the Jawa so he can pay Tony himself, like a grown-up. At this point, that's more for Tony than for my son, but it sure was cute when the Jawa was 3.

When we left, Tony said "caio!" and it didn't sound annoying or affected. And then we went to the store where they have barrels full of candy that you buy in bulk. The Jawa always gets chewy, fruity stuff and I get caramels. Then we dodged the European tourists all the way back to the Subaru, set our internal clocks back to 2006, and returned home.

I wonder, in our little progressive city where all cultures are more valid than our own, if taking the Jawa to get his hair cut at the Parkview counts as diversity. After all, by entering this place I am exposing him to a culture very different from his own.

In fact, I'm exposing him to a time different than his own. In the Parkview, despite the tireless efforts of Christine, it is always 1964. Tony is always wearing black pointy shoes, or maybe he's working in his vegetable garden in the country, or bringing a crate of wine from the back for a customer who was in North Beach and stopped by.

That would be a bonus. It's enough to know that we're getting something great from the North Beach that spewed us out toward Glen Park five years ago, that something as simple as getting a haircut has become a father-son tradition for us, and, most importantly, that every haircut ends with candy.


Anonymous flush puppy said...

good god. it's not like glen park is mountlake terrace. you do NOT live in the burbs. yet.

12:01 PM  
Blogger Hypno Bedhead said...

As a Supercuts survivor, I know how hard it is to find a good person to cut your hair. At least one that doesn't go all creepy on you like my last one.

Good piece.

4:29 PM  
Blogger Bud and/or Marsi said...

i go to supercuts. every 8th haircut is free. i've had 1 free one in 4 years.

10:41 PM  
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