The Forgotten Haircut                                        

            Johnny the barber used to cut my father’s hair
            On Saturday afternoons, twice a month
            When I was overbushy dad would drag me along
            This didn’t happen much
            But it was much more often than I liked
            We were always last
            A good way, my father said repeatedly,
            To start a Saturday night
            I kept my mouth shut
            It wasn’t worth arguing with dad
            About things like that

            Johnny must have been pretty good
            At what he did – for adults at least –
            Because my father always looked the same
            After he came out, only neater
            That’s the trick, dad told me more than once,
            Of a good haircut
            For me, however, it was cut rate all the way:
            I went from lots to little in the time it took
            For Johnny to clip one of his cigars
            Which he used to smoke all day long
            So that the barber shop from the outside
            Looked like a Turkish bath
            And inside smelled like a forest fire
            (At least what I imagined them to be –
            I hadn’t been to Turkey ever, and a forest only once,
            Which wasn’t burning)
            Sometimes we came a little early
            Because Johnny liked to talk –
            Politics, religion, sports, you name it,
            Which handicapped a two-way conversation
            No matter who was in the chair
            You see, Johnny was always
            Nudging a patron’s head this way and that
            With his knuckles so his comb and scissors
            Had the angle right to buzz and fly around
            Once I saw him nudge a little extra hard
            When someone tried to disagree with him
            About FDR, his hero
            He never had to worry about my father, though           
            Dad liked listening, especially when Johnny
            Talked Big Bands, and grunted a lot
            Because nodding would have interfered
            And it was hard to speak while
            Johnny had the razor out
            To trim the back and sides
            For some reason Johnny always puffed his chest up
            When they got to Harry James
            And no matter how excited he became
            He always kept an eye on me
            So that I never made it past the covers
            Of the magazines
            One grey afternoon he tapped my father’s shoulder
            With the comb, the signal he was done
            And then the puffs and voices started flurrying while they stood –
            Tommy Dorsey, Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw and
            Harry too, of course, until they came to Bunny Berrigan
            That’s where things got weirder
            Johnny turned the ‘Open’ sign around to ‘Closed’
            Pulled down the blinds
            And disappeared into a backroom without bothering to
            Sweep up all the hair
            When he returned he had a trumpet
            And began to blow our ears off with things like
            ‘The Song of India’ and ‘Ciribiribin’
            (which I can’t hardly pronounce even now)
            My dad grinned and they started in again
            On Berrigan, and when Johnny paused
            After the intro to ‘I Can’t Get Started’
            I discovered that my father had a voice
            They must have sung and played the song
            A hundred times
            Outside it grew dark
            It was too late for my haircut when they stopped
            Too late for me to join my friends
            At the James Bond movie I’d been dying to see
            But didn’t seem so big a deal to miss
            When we got back home
            My mom was fuming over cold spaghetti
            While my father sacrificed his appetite
            To dust his records off
            In the to and fro between the two of them
            I helped myself to thirds and fourths
            Happy that I’d kept my hair for one more week at least
            And wondering what happens to a person
            Who grows up


            Emanuel E. García, Sinking In, One Hundred Poems2013

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