Month: October 2016

Lou the Barber’s Story

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Little boy visiting hairstylist in barber shop


By Ronnie C., Philadelphia

Lou had a glass eye. Not the best thing for a barber. But a barber who cut kids hair? Took a lot of faith to send your sons to Lou’s Barber Shop in the mid-1960s to get their hair cut.

But every boy in grade school went there. Lou’s shop was right across the street from the school. Moms would give Lou the few bucks he charged for a haircut and then directed their sons to go to get their haircut right after school.

Lou was in his mid- 50s, with a bad comb over and a gray goatee that accentuated his jowls. His chubby belly bumped up against you while he cut your hair. When he lifted his arms to trim the top of your head, a brief waft of BO hit you. It was quickly overcome by that barber shop smell of Pinaud Clubman aftershave.

Lou called everyone a “kumquat.” To this day I never had a kumqut – don’t really know what it is.

He spoke in the semi-butchered language of South Philly pronouncing “sandwich” in a way that it sounded like “sang – witch.” He also dropped the ending “g” on many words so “running” became “runnin” or “eating” became “eatin.”

While Lou was providing his wisdom, he cut hair with his one eye alternately focused on the boy’s head and then checking out what was going on outside the window. Each haircut looked the same when he was done. 

If he was talking and you weren’t paying attention to his words he would get your attention by looking directly at you and tapping his glass eye with a scissor. To this day I’m still not sure how he didn’t snip more ears than he did.

The best part about Lou’s Barber Shop for us 10-14-year-old boys — was that we learned a lot of stuff at Lou’s. Learned about girls, learned about sports, learned about politics, learned about hard work, learned about pride in yourself, your family, your neighborhood.

Oh yes, there were some magazines to check out while you waited. Nothing objectionable, or “racy” as it was called back then. The heck with Sports Illustrated or The Sporting News. An Esquire magazine with a well-placed ad for shaving cream featuring a stunning blonde got everyone grabbing and clawing at it to get a look.

It was a great place to hang out and hear Lou talk about life, about the times, about the neighborhood. 

Lou loved the neighborhood. It meant everything to him. He always told us how great it was and that there was no place and no people like those in South Philly. He loved to sing — poorly — most of the songs of the day, especially those by the South Philly teen idols — Bobby Rydell, Frankie Avalon, James Darren, Chubby Checker, Fabian, Charlie Gracie. I remember Lou had a small black and white TV that was tuned in to the local Philly dance party show “The Discophonic Scene” with Jerry Blavat. If the TV went fuzzy or started to drift Lou would take one of the combs resting in that bizarre blue liquid and flick the watery substance at the rabbit ears – somehow it cleared up the picture.

“Now ‘dats real music and dancin'” Lou would proclaim as he broke out the straight razor and slapped it on the leather strap so he could trim the hair on the back of our necks.

“Gotta make you boys look good. Remember to comb your hair the right way. Youse don’t want to hear your mother’s complain dat da part in your hair looks like Ridge Avenue.”

I loved going to Lou’s and enjoying the time with my buddies. Hearing Lou talk and remembering what he had to say. Lou is the reason I became a barber. When I told him Lou gave me an ornament, a little straight razor which I hang on my tree every year. It’s a shame, Lou died a few years ago. Still miss him.

One day I was talking to a bunch of my buddies who used to go Lou’s and now come to my shop. As we had a few beers, we were reminiscing about some of the wisdom from Lou. Here’s some that we remembered.

“If youse guys are goin’ on a long drive always have a full tank and an empty bladder.”

“If youse kumquats spend too much time worryin’ about missin’ somethin’, youse gonna miss somethin’.”

“Always hold the door for a broad, that way you can get a good look at her keister when she walks in front of you.”

“Every day atheists should thank God he gave dem the free choice to be atheists.”

“Don’t overreact to things. Remember, youse don’t need to go turkey huntin’ with a handgun.”

“If you have daughter, remember to chaperone her dance carryin’ a ballpeen hammer.”

“Always buy the first round. People remember who bought first and you won’t have to pay the rest of the night.”

That was Lou. That’s why we loved going there to get our haircut and learn about things. Thanks Lou.