Though at my age I am no longer hirsutely challenged, I still long for the time in my youth I spent on the barber’s chair. Fully pneumatic and with armrests so high I had to stretch to reach.
I sat there as if I had acquired a new status, as if my wish to be tall had been instantly granted! Or even better, for I could suddenly turn into some sort of liege whose domain could oversee the entire floor in the barber shop next to the bakery. Snip-snip and sniff-sniff: hair and stomach taken care-of at the same time. And then, in a perverse manner to satisfy a young man’s whim, a copy of some ‘girlie’ magazine seemed to be always at hand.
I had to be extra cautious of course, not giving away my desire to peruse the contents reserved exclusively for the adult clientele, the likes of the current issue of Playboy… or similar issues wrapped in glossy paper in which the red warning: Adults over eighteen only felt like loading a gun at your own risk.
I was discreet, avoiding eye contact and behaving as if the angel on my shoulder was visibly taking notes. But then, since this virginal approach wouldn’t fool anyone, I had no choice but to choose the publication least to arise suspect. A six months old issue of LIFE was what I thought wouldn’t create a scandal. The outer cover presenting the reader with the cupolas of St Peter’s Square, with saints and martyrs adorning the upper perimeter. –What could be more innocent than that? I figured.
However, since the best goods remain always hidden, when I got deeper into this magazine, underwear models with curvy busts jumped at me like ripened fruit falling from a tree. Beauties beginning to crowd every other page, and then, reaching the centrefold getting inexorably stuck for best part of two minutes.
I felt a red face. I felt everyone’s eyes fixed on me, on this monster of an older child whose appetite for… I don’t know how to describe it! Was it sex? Morbid curiosity? Maybe sinful lust… or just that I was maturing into the young man my grandma preyed she was dealing with? Hormones and hair growing in places best kept in the dark.
All this happened before I was called for my turn. After waiting in the shop that smelled of French cologne and mint shaving cream; to enter and go sit casually beside the rack filled with papers and old magazines. Publications neatly displayed not only for the benefit of those seeking a haircut, but also the ones that had to know how a girdle was worn or how best to display a body within the minimum amount of wear.
So, in between whiffs of fragrance and a floor filled with clipped hair, I got seriously engrossed in this periodical. Carefully folded to disguise the pretty face smiling at me. So intimate the message I was taken aback. –What if? My thoughts infringing with my upbringing in the same manner angry waves attack the seashore, tossed about in a world in which performing to expectation is exclusive to older types…
Then, in the middle of my meditation, I heard the barber’s call –Who’s next?
It was my turn. Yet I never felt the urge to get up and patronise the pneumatic chair. Still enchanted by Michelle’s smile, her blondeness clearly showing she was natural, teeth so white to shimmer, and of course her… thin bra hardly hiding her best offer.
“Come on you… stop reading naughty papers and come sit right here!” His hand patting the silver chair headrest like he might have done to his wife, or dog if he had one. “Is it my turn?” My face turning into a ball of fire. Sprung by the barber in the same way Father Joe the priest did when I later went to confession. And this was another problem a catholic boy was confronted-with, for it had the same connotations as when grandma ordered –we will be going to mass this evening!
“Have you sinned, my son?” I heard his voice, yet confusing it for my teacher, always in a hurry to castigate while he held the birch on his hand.
“No, Sir!” Imagine calling a man of the cloth –Sir. To me, seemed I was already guilty.
“C’mon, don’t be shy; I’ve got bigger fish to fry. Tell me all about it.”
“Look here, young man, even Saints sin! So what are you trying to prove?”
By now you can imagine I was well and truly terrorised! At times I could hide the truth from grandma, often from grandpa… but Father Joe? No! Not him, he had atomic perception down to the tiniest molecule. And a definite eye for slander!
“I saw the picture of a naked lady. I’m sorry and ask for forgiveness, Father.” It was time to confess. To spill the beans and hope for the best.
“Where did you see such filth?”
“In Signor Mollica’s shop in his magazine rack.”
“Oh yeah! Just like many others of your age.” There was a threatening pause; couldn’t figure out what he was thinking, perhaps twenty lashes by means of a salted cane… maybe considering from what height he could drop me and leave me still only just alive. I couldn’t tell, but by listening to my own breathing. I knew I was scared.
“For now go to the altar and recite ten OUR FATHER and ten HOLY MARY. I will deal with the barber next time I’ll go past!” And as I recited the penance, I felt the urge of Michelle’s eyes calling me back to the barber, to go and seek her rounded parts and those teeth that had the power to devour children in the middle of the night!
“How do you want it?” Signor Mollica was forever short of time, often short of temper too, so I replied in the same manner as always. “Short back and sides.” My request taken seriously, for in the following instant with white towel secured around my neck, scissors were selected and the snipping begun. And so I now sit on this hydraulic chair, its pedestal wide enough to accommodate four pairs of feet at a time, and the lever on the side, round and shiny, revealing the magic to send the seat chest-high to Signor Mollica. Like being in a lift after pressing the button to the TOP FLOOR. Reaching the face to face position where his moustache at times will tickle my ear. Snip-snip… cut-cut… brush-brush… it’s over! The aroma from next door tantalising.
“Do you want a little spray of cologne?” He asks, confusing me further since children and cologne do not go well together, but since I’m stuck for words, I just nod.
Swish-swish. The deed is done! Even the mirror looks impressed. And then, with hands on his hips, he keeps on looking down at me in the same way Jesus on the cross does when I kneel down to pray. I deposit the coin in his hand: “Thanks.” He says, and as I leave his shop it occurs to me I have left Michelle behind, my boyish mind stuck to her breasts like chewingum does to my shoes, lucky for me I can keep it a secret, until next time when my hair will need attention. Though I doubt whether she will still be there waiting for me, for a month would have gone by and another will take her place. A brunette? Or flame-red as a late summer sunset? Or yet another blonde, her legs crossed in a way to hide and yet convey a secret message.
For all I know, since it’s the best way to put it, I’ve now reached an age when my hair is no longer growing. My soul is filled to the brim; nothing else surprises me, intrigues me or even shows abhorrence. And I’m left on wishing my hair needed trimming, and Signor Mollica wouldn’t mind me staying in his shop a little longer. The smell of cologne and Californian Poppy like a halo over my head. My face hidden between the sport pages and the centrefold: Michelle still young and not the wrinkly old starlet I now guess she’ll be.