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Monday, November 5, 2012

THE BARBER SHOP - a Cranky re-run

Sent from the parking lot of Lowes East Brunswick 
The neighborhood barber shop seems to be disappearing.  When I was a child the local barber shop was always busy.  On Saturdays there was an hour wait for a haircut, and the barber shop had six chairs.  There are still barber shops today, but they have two active chairs at most, and there is often no waiting.

Where have all the customers gone?  The population has grown since I was a child, I am sure hair has continued to also grow.  Who is cutting it?  Many men have given up the comb-overs and the trim in favor of the shaved head look.  Other men have taken to the ladies hair salon for a fancy wash trim, style and blow dry.  Children get their trims or buzz cuts at home, or at “Kid Cut” specialty salons.  Those that still opt for the traditional barber shop go less often.  I used to get a cut every two to three weeks.  I now go once every two months.

I can remember going to the barber and watching men get a shave.  This shave involved a steaming hot towel, hot lather, and a very sharp very scary straight edge razor.  I have not seen anyone get a traditional barber shop shave in thirty years.  I cannot remember when I last saw a “traditional” barber who was under the age of fifty.

The local barber shop used to be so popular, and the haircut/shave combination so common that the famous seven note musical couplet often inserted comically at the end of a song, “Dump diddly dum dum….dum dum” was sung, “Shave and haircut…two bits.” 

I still go to a traditional local barber shop, “Luigi’s” in Metuchen New Jersey.  Luigi has a two chair shop.  The shop is generally busy, especially on Saturdays, but there is never a long wait.  Luigi’s customers are mostly old farts like me,  customers who don’t want the total bald look, and refuse to get a cut at a fancy “Women’s Hair Salon.”  My sister-in-law operates the best salon in town, and gives an excellent male haircut or trim; at no charge to family, and still I prefer Luigi’s.

Luigi’s has a certain charm.  It has a special barber shop smell, a unique atmosphere and of course it has Luigi.  Luigi is a bull of a man.  He has worked his chair for over forty years.  His opinions are as full and thick as his hair and his Italian accent.  Luigi has an opinion on everything, and it takes very little prodding for him to voice his opinion.  There are never any arguments at Luigi’s.  Whenever an opinion is offered it is immediately agreed upon by all present.  I think that is an unwritten Luigi rule.  “That’s right”, and “attsa right” are the most common responses to any opinion no matter how farfetched. 

On Saturdays some people come to Luigi’s just to kill time.  They come to chat with Luigi and I half expect them to pull up a chair and play checkers.  People stop by with free food, sandwiches from the deli across the street which Luigi claims, “They maka the besta sandwich in town.  The mutsarell is a fresh in a watt (water).”  Locals stop by to share a pizza pie, and Luigi always has fresh donuts for all and lollypops for the kids.

On the second chair is Luigi’s cousin, Mia.  Mia is a short lady with very big hair.  She wears shoes which add at least six inches to her stature. If pirates allowed women on their ships, they would have looked like Mia. 

Mia is my barber.  I am not sure how I was assigned to Mia, but Luigi will not cut my hair.  I am Mia’s customer.  I thought I was special because Mia calls me Guy.  “You a nex, Guy.”  Turns out she calls every one Guy.  Mia makes ninety-seven percent of the conversation in her chair, usually an interpretation of a dream.  I understand about fifty percent of her ninety-seven.

When Spencer, my youngest went for his first haircut, one of the local kibitzers was calling him a sissy because he was afraid of the scissors.  Mia turned to this clown and pointing the scissors at him menacingly said, “He no sissy a boy!  How you like I poke a you eye out eh?” The kibitzer shut up, grabbed a donut, and quietly left the shop.  

I chose to write this blog as today when I went in for a trim, Luigi was absent.  I learned from Mia that he has been in the hospital for two months with, 

“A bile thing that had a be a drain.  He should a go in a soon, but he a stub.” 

It seems he is on the mend, and will be back.  Luigi will return, but he is over seventy years old.  His shop cannot go on forever. 

It will be irreplaceable.   


  1. You paint a vivid picture of what was once an icon of American life. For all that we gain, something is always lost.

  2. Great story. And you're right...where have all the old-time barber shops gone? The barber I go to offers all those fancy things, but I just get a cut, that's it. My barber and I save our best jokes for each other...that's our thing. No politics, or religion, just jokes. We both have a warped sense of humor, so we both part smiling. Thanks for the memories.


  3. Sob........lovely post Joe.

    And to Stephen.....GAIN, GAIN????.....Please tell me what the hell we have gained. Texting??

  4. we have never experienced a barber shop. my husband cuts everyones hair, including mine and his and the girls...even while they were in college...we really have never experienced anything even like a barber shop!