Tom Lavagnino



Angelo’s Barbershop still looked like what a barbershop was supposed to look like. Two black-and-chrome barber chairs, gumball machine in the corner that still gave you something for a penny, cylindrical barber pole lamp outside the door. The lamp wasn’t lit, though, and it wasn’t spinning; Angelo only switched it on in the evenings now, or when it was overcast, to save on electricity.

Alone in his shop, Angelo wore his traditional white shirt, black pants, and black tie. His delicate white hair was combed in the usual concentric, whirlpool-like wave. He sat in the barber chair furthest from the door and closest to the fan. Inspecting the sports section calmly, he tried not to look at the Supercuts ad under the Padres’ box score; he looked anyway.

Fourteen dollars. They were charging fourteen dollars a head. For an assembly-line haircut. Crazy.

Angelo considered, for the first time that day, the prospect of placing an ad of his own in the paper. Surely, with his personalized service and ten-dollar fee, a lot of people would respond. But maybe not. Angelo reminded himself that an ad in the Times cost a lot of money—more than he could afford, anyway—and he hadn’t had a customer all day. It had better wait.

When the boy stepped through the door, Angelo choked on his chewing gum and dropped the sports section; a stray page hit the fan’s airstream and flew at the kid’s feet like a tumbleweed. Angelo blinked, slapped at his glasses, and instantly calculated how much money he had in the register. Thirty-three dollars, with another twenty or so in his wallet. Not much of a haul, if that’s what the kid was here for.

"Hey," the boy said.

Angelo spun the barber chair, aligning himself to the boy directly. He considered how he might describe him to a policeman, should the need arise. The kid looked about nineteen, weighed maybe 140, and wore a leather jacket that gave him a vaguely reptilian look. His hair was a slick shade of orange calico; it looked like he had a cat sleeping atop his head. Angelo had seen a Mohawk once before, in a John Wayne movie, but that had been in black and white.

The boy reached down and snatched up the sports section page. He folded it in a surprisingly delicate manner, then looked back at Angelo. "So," he asked, "how much for a haircut?"

This must be a joke, thought Angelo. Some sort of initiation rite. Humiliate an honest barber and you get to join the club. The kid’s hoodlum friends were probably right across the street, watching this.

Videotaping this.

Angelo wordlessly pointed to the blackboard above the register.

The boy looked up impassively. At one time, the blackboard had boasted such services as hair weaves and manicures; now there were only three things listed—shave, shampoo, and haircut—with the added designation: "EXTRA CHARGE FOR LONG HAIR."

The boy turned back to Angelo, poking his thumb absently at his Mohawk. "Is this long hair?"

"It sure is." Angelo stared resolutely at the boy’s scalp, avoiding eye contact.

The boy turned away, glanced down at the newspaper in his hand. Without looking up from it, he asked, "How much is the extra charge, then?"

He’s looking at the Supercuts ad, thought Angelo. If I say anything under fourteen dollars, he’ll probably stay; anything over and he’s out the door.

"Thirteen dollars," offered Angelo. But I’m not using my good scissors on you, he thought. Don’t want to ruin them. "In advance."

The boy grimaced and went to the empty barber chair. He mounted it awkwardly—wrestling with the seat like a city boy on a horse—and curtly flipped the metal footrest with his sneaker. Ignoring Angelo, he settled into the chair, unsnapped a jacket pocket, and pulled out a crumpled ten dollar bill. "All I got, man."

I won’t do it, thought Angelo. I won’t cut a Mohawk for ten dollars.

Angelo started to tell the kid so, but stopped himself. He adjusted his glasses at the Coors clock; Angelo saw that it was almost quarter to two. If anybody was going to get their hair cut during their lunch hour, they would have stopped in by now.

Maybe it won’t be so bad.

"All right—ten dollars," said Angelo.

Angelo snapped the bill from the boy’s hand and threw the white sheet skillfully over him. He whirled the kid around, and they peered into the mirror together.

"How do you want it?"

The boy smiled. "You ever cut a Mohawk before?"

"Never had the pleasure." Angelo went to the counter, pulled open a drawer, and—avoiding the new scissors he’d gotten himself for Christmas—selected a pair of ancient, rust-spotted ones. "And you never got it for ten bucks before."

"Yeah." The boy stuck his tongue out, making a quick face in the mirror. "This is a good deal. Don’t think I don’t appreciate it."

I know you do, thought Angelo.

He grabbed the spray bottle and re-positioned himself behind the boy.

"So," he said, pumping the scissors in his hand, "how have your other barbers . . . gone about it?"

"Haven’t had any real barbers," explained the boy. "Just my little sister. Just starts clipping away."

"Uh-huh." Angelo looked down, examining the Mohawk in close-up. What a disgusting haircut, he thought. The concept alone was repellent, but Sister hadn’t done such a good job executing it, either. The hair had been hacked at like an ornery hedge; the Mohawk was merely a series of rough orange tufts. The shaved portion of the scalp was an unhealthy, mottled blue. Angelo imagined he could see the kid’s brain through the skin. "Does your sister shave you, too?"

"No." The kid flashed a proud, surprisingly child-like grin at the mirror. "I do that myself."

"Good for you." Angelo sprayed the Mohawk lightly with water, produced a comb from his pocket, and rain it through the calico.

I’m not gonna talk baseball to this one, he thought.

"Where’s your sister today?"

"Moved away," said the boy. "Went to go live with my Mom."


"Yeah. In Delaware." The kid closed his eyes; Angelo clipped a few wet strands of hair. "She was supposed to give me one last cut before she left. She owed me it."


"She really owed me it. She’s got a lot more hair than me. I have to do twice the work."

"You mean, you cut each other’s hair?"

"Yeah, till last week." The boy smiled a soft grin. "Man, I hope she finds a ten-dollar haircut in Delaware."

You hope she finds a sap like me, thought Angelo.

He examined the kid in the mirror. Orange snippets of hair were strewn across his smock like the petals of a desert flower. Angelo pushed the boy’s head forward, starting in on the aft of the Mohawk.

"You like cutting hair?" asked the boy.

"Yeah," said Angelo. He thought about saying "it’s a living," but decided against it. "It makes people look better."

"Yeah, man," said the kid, smiling. "My sister, she looks great. She looks like Reese Witherspoon."

"She’s blonde?"

"Yeah. Long blonde hair. She wanted a Mohawk like me but I wouldn’t do it."

How strange, thought Angelo. "How come?"

"She looks better with regular hair."

Angelo clipped at the apex of the Mohawk, smoothing it; pinpricks of hair littered the shaved areas of the kid’s scalp. "But she wanted one, huh?"

"Yeah, she wanted one." The boy shook his head imperceptibly; clumps of hair slipped from his shoulder and skidded down the smock. "She’s young, though. She doesn’t know what you have to put up with."


"Yeah." The boy rolled his eyes up, trying to catch a glimpse of Angelo’s scissors. "It’s not worth it unless you’re already used to it."

Admirable, thought Angelo. A kid looking out for his little sister. Talking her out of a silly haircut. "What if she gets a Mohawk in Delaware, though?"

"She won’t, man," said the boy knowingly. "I told her if she does, I’m not coming to visit her." He blinked a severed hair from his face. "I don’t think they know about Mohawks out there, anyway."

Angelo smiled, straightening himself to inspect the boy in the mirror. The haircut was much cleaner-looking and more streamlined now. I’m ten minutes away, Angelo thought. I’m ten minutes away from finishing my first Mohawk.

He brought the scissors to his face—to wipe off a tuft of stubborn hair—but saw it was only a spot of rust.

My old pair of scissors, thought Angelo. They’re harder to work with than the new pair. And it makes the job so much tougher.

Angelo smiled at himself in the mirror, went to the drawer, opened it, and withdrew his Christmas scissors.

Copyright © 2003 Tom Lavagnino.  All Rights Reserved.

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