Of Barbershops and Boston Loyalty

By Phineas J. Stone

I recently lost my “guy.”

That, of course, could mean a whole host of different things, but in Boston-speak, we can translate it to mean that someone important who did critical favors, allowed access to unrestricted areas, got good deals on expensive things – some how, don’t ask how – or provided a necessary service like cutting hair, no longer is able to serve in that capacity.

It’s important in this city, if you’ve been around for a while, to have a person or persons in your life who can unlock a locked door, metaphorically speaking of course. And for men, this interesting Boston relationship translates to getting a haircut. It’s almost like there’s something wrong with you, or you’re an out-of-towner, if you don’t have a regular barber whose been around for decades.

We’re loyal in Boston, and that’s a fact. Right down to getting a haircut and a straight-razor shave, men in Boston like to find a barber they “fit” with and then stick with their guy as long as possible. A barber around here learns about you, knowns all the important sports happenings, and is ready to make the right comment about life in general as you sit in the chair. After awhile, it’s a very cordial relationship; you each know enough about each other to be very comfortable, but you’re not close enough to be eating Thanksgiving dinner together.

For years, friends with overgrown mops of hair on their heads would ask me, “You gotta guy for hair? My guy closed up shop. I’ve got nowhere to go.”

I always had the suggestion ready. “Oh yea, I gotta guy. The best. Been going to him for years. He’ll even give you a shave.”

There is almost a ‘Cheers’ aspect to the barber shop situation – as you can always expect a warm greeting, an update on the world/family and a chair at the ready. The haircut was always grade A, and you could expect talcum powder at the end applied with a brush in the most traditional way.

Now, however, my “guy” has hung up his scissors.

I’ve been going to him since the early 1990s. Before that, I’m not sure who I went to, but it was an older guy who had the same barber’s charisma. All that said, my barber has been steady for a long time, and I’ve had nothing to worry about…because men actually do worry about it when things like their regular barber or long-time dentist go missing from their lives.

So it is, I went wandering aimlessly for about six months. My hair got shaggy, and people started making comments.

I checked out one of the mall places, because I figured everything was changing in the world to become more anonymous and maybe getting a haircut was the same deal.

No way. It’s a hodge-podge of people, and you never get the same guy. It’s whoever is available and sometimes you might even get a woman barber. No offense to female barbers; I’ve seen some good ones. But only men know where all the hair is, how to get rid of it the right way. That’s not some social justice situation or a brewing fight for equity, but just the way it is. Conversely, you don’t see too many ladies trying to get a perm from an old Italian guy with scissors and a jar of Barbicide.

Lucky for me, one day about a year ago when my guy wasn’t feeling so hot, he gave me an address and said if he wasn’t there at his shop, to go to that address instead. I held the piece of paper in my wallet, hoping against hope I’d never need it.

But the time came a few weeks ago when I drove by the old shop and it was some sort of new flavored coffee bar, and so I gave up and pulled the paper address out of my wallet.

I drove there and parked. It was bizarre, as there was the same 7/11 on the corner as my guy’s place. There was even a Dunks about five doors down, and a pharmacy too. The front of the shop looked comfortingly similar too. Inside, it was the same Red Sox World Series memorabilia – signed World Series ticket stubs and all. His stop was a little heavier on Patriots gear and a little lighter on the Bruins than my guy – but they both had shrines to the Italian soccer team that drew some level of familiarity, even though I could care less about soccer.

The new barber looked up and he was eerily similar to my guy.

In fact, it was his brother.

“Come on over young man,” he said, just like my guy had said to me for the past 20-plus years, even though I’m no young man.

I let out a sigh of relief.

My new guy was basically exactly the same as my old guy.

Now I’m back on track; I’ve got a guy, and this weekend, I think it’s time for another trim.

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