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The Melting Pot and the Barber’s Chair





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Pittsburgh

I can’t brag about much, but I have been blessed with good hair. For more than 62 years I’ve had it cut at the same location, although the shop has been sold a few times. A parade of barbers have groomed my graying head there before passing on the scissors to the next in line.

First there were Maish and Willy, two diminutive Polish Jewish immigrants who maneuvered around old-style Koken chairs built like Sherman tanks. I sat in a kiddie booster seat that spanned the arms of the larger chair. I cried.

After the barber Poles came Dave. He hailed from a different and unidentified Slavic nation. Throughout my teen years he gave me terrible haircuts, but I felt bad for this striving fellow with limited English. Later I learned that Dave was a real-estate mini-mogul who owned several properties in the city. At $5 a cut, he was a better saver than he was a barber.

The 1970s saw the arrival of George, who had Lebanese Christian roots. When he took over the shop the Kokens made way for smaller Naugahyde swivel chairs. Blow dryers replaced towels. Also, Playboy magazine showed up—a bit risky given some of the shop’s religious clientele. George was skilled but went on to higher earnings as an aluminum-siding salesman.

Moving up to first chair and ownership was Ralph, a gentle man from north of Naples. He gave an excellent trim and as the TV was tuned to stocks and sports, he became a bit of a maven on both topics. His main task was holding the line against the encroaching gray. Ralph’s skill was so admired that one generous grandfather prepaid for him to cut the hair of three generations of his family.

Once, when Ralph was booked, I tried Shana. As Ralph’s No. 2, she would generally wash before Ralph would cut. Bucking the gender and immigrant traditions of the shop, Shana was a local. She grew up blocks away. As my new main barber, she was meticulous about hunting and snipping the invading hordes of gray hairs, until the job became impossible. Now my eyebrows and ears require as much of Shana’s attention as does the top of my head.

I must confess that I occasionally two-timed Shana with Damian, a stylist. At Damian’s salon, I sat with my wife’s friends as they had their hair dyed. I couldn’t get over the sight of those ladies with aluminum foil all over their heads. It didn’t feel right. Two-timing never does.

Eventually Ralph sold the shop and the new owners brought back the old-style chairs. They gave the place a hipster vibe. I tried it out. My heavily inked and pierced barber did a nice job, but I was out of my element.

These days Shana comes to my house and cuts my hair in the kitchen. The price is 10 times what Maish and Willy charged (including tip), but it’s convenient. There is no mirror, so I can’t see the progress, but after countless cuts I know my hair will look excellent. I’ll enjoy it while I can. To quote Bugs Bunny, “Hair today, gone tomorrow.”

Mr. Weiss is a carpet salesman in Pittsburgh.

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