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  • There’s a fence between the street and the Ambler Barbershop now. Low, wrought iron and sturdy. Back in 1988 I cut across the street after work and walked straight in. Three chairs, one barber, a row of older guys along the wall flipping pages in their magazines. A grey fedora, a black scarf, and two checked caps hung above the army jacket, plaid wool jackets, and one leather coat on the wooden tree in the corner. Someone must have just finished a joke as I came in because one of them was choking with laughter and another slapped his knee. The oldest guy beat the end of his cane on the floor. The guy in the chair was stretched out with his feet up and a folded towel over his eyes. His face was white with lather. Franky never cracked a smile, just swiped the straight razor from cheek to chin in one smooth stroke then wiped the blade on the cloth on the counter.

    I took off my coat, hung it on a free hook and settled down on the last empty seat. It was raining. We’d been surveying a disputed property line out in the woods all day and it was another mile walk home. I was in no hurry.

    Franky finished the shave, wiped the guy’s face down, cranked up the chair and got out his scissors. “You want a magazine or something?” he asked.

    I glanced at the well worn selection of sports, hunting, and a couple Highlights for Kids. “I’m OK,” I said.

    “You don’t see anything you want, I got more right here,” he pulled out a drawer in the counter. “You know what I mean?”

    “I’m OK,” I said.

    The old guys laughed.

    It was dark and the street lights had been on for a while by the time he got to me. “All I do is short, short, or flat tops," he said. "No funny cuts. Short OK?” he asked.

    I nodded.

    The phone rang. “Your shitting me right? Yeah, yeah. I’ll take care of it.” He reached under the counter and pulled out a White Pages. “Hey, kid,” he said. “Look up some numbers for me, willya?”

    He put the phone and the White Pages in my lap and clamped the receiver in place with his shoulder as he snipped and trimmed. He had me find Donny Delvecchio over in Cherry Hill.

    I ran my finger down the list of Dons and Donalds. “He’s the one on Willowbump Road,” said Franky.

    “Willowbend?”

    “Yeah, yeah, that’s the one.”

    I dialed.

    “Donny don’t know nothing,” he said and had me find Ralph in Germantown. Ralph was no help either. By the time he had me find Tony up in Chestnut Hill he had the straight razor out and had put the hot lather to the back of my neck.

    “Tony’ll take care of things,” he said. “No problem.”

    He took the phone away tipped back the chair and pumped out another handful of hot lather and smoothed it on my cheeks and neck. I heard him open a cupboard door and smelled the steam and the cologne before I saw the hot towel. He laid it over my forehead and eyes. I heard the snick of the razor opening again.

    “No one takes no pride in how they look nowadays. You ain’t got no pride in how you look, how you gonna have any pride in what you do, how you gonna get any respect. You know what I mean kid?”

    I felt the soft pressure of the razor on my jaw and decided nodding wasn’t very prudent.

    He finished the shave, rubbed a dash of cologne on his hands and slapped it on my cheeks then cranked up the chair and held up the mirror for me to check the back. “You’re looking good kid,” he said. I felt the smooth of my neck and the prickle of the short hairs, smelled the after shave and cologne and grinned.

    “You’re all right kid, just don’t wait so long next time,” he said. “Used to be, fellas got a cut once a month. You know what I mean? Now look at ‘em six weeks, three months, it’s like no one cares anymore kid. Everyone wants to know what’s wrong with the country, youse ask me, we need to have a little pride, like we use to. I tell you kid, it ain’t like it used to be.”

    The next day as I loaded gear in the van the party chief, Gene, eyed me over his coffee cup. “You got a haircut.” He whistled through his two missing front teeth. In his ripped overalls and ragged blonde hair sticking out from under his orange watch cap he looked like a kindergarten troll child. “We’ll let you go up in people’s yard and look for property markers. They’ll probably invite you in for coffee instead of calling the cops like when they see me. ”

    I eyed the machete in his work belt but didn't say anything.

    Maybe it wasn’t all the haircut but I got a great smile with my coffee from the girl behind the counter at the WaWa and when people stopped to find out what was being surveyed and why, they walked right past Gene like he wasn’t there to ask me and not one of them yelled.

    Even with a tip, a four-dollar haircut seemed a small price for admission to this new level.


    *

    “Didn’t you just get a haircut,” asked Claire.

    “I thought I was getting a bit shaggy,” I said.

    “I thought you guys were out in the woods all day,” she said.

    “Yeah, well, the office wants us to look good in the community.”

    *

    In the spring I was offered a job in Vermont. I went in for my last hair cut and explained I was moving north as I waited my turn in the chair.

    “Christ kid, you mean they flew you up there for the interview?” asked Franky. “What the hell you want to go all the way up there for, nothing but cows and a lot of country. I tell you….”

    I never got to hear what Frankie had to say on the matter. At that moment a car drove through the plate glass window and stopped just short of the first chair. Once the glass settled and the engine died there was silence.

    “Fuck’s sake Frankie,” said the guy in the chair. “Now I seen everything.”

    Frankie handed me the phone and gave me a name. I started leafing through the white pages.

    “You calling the cops Frankie?” asked the guy in the chair.

    “What the hell for?” said Frankie. “I’m calling my nephew, the lawyer. Bobby, what the hell, you’re never gonna believe what the hell just happened, car drove through the fucking window….. Yeah, that’s right….. Right into the shop…. Say, kid,”

    I looked up.

    “Bobby wants to know what kind of car is it? Take a look for me will ya kid.”

    I peered through the steam. “BMW,” I said.

    “BMW, the kid says…..yeah, ya don’t say.” Frankie winked at us. “Bobby says I got a case.”

    “A case,” said the old guy. “A case? Christ Frankie, you got a car in your god damned shop. Now, am I gonna get my hair cut today or what?”
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