BELOW THE WATER LINE
When I was kid, on the Abbe Lumber side of Route One
there were three barber shops. Each of them offered such
a different ambience (no, didn't know that word then) that
the difference was obvious though the service could be
pretty much the same. I forget what a haircut cost, but
maybe 80 cents, later a dollar. No idea. In fact, I never
did then understand even the attraction - close-cropped
hair at the back of one's neck, or a military brush-cut or
a crew cut, all that. Never made a cow-lick of sense to
me. Odell's Hair Trainer is about all I remember. Goop.
I remember one time, Barbara Fehring commented - after
a haircut that I'd gotten (at Tom the Barber's, next to
Murray and Martha's). something really dumb, like
'oh what a difference, now, look at that, that's more
like it.' It seemed like the dumbest thing for anyone ever
to say. A haircut, for goodness sake, on a constantly
growing head of hair - unstoppable, and why bother.
And what the hell was she thinking anyway? Girl stuff?
No, 'fraid not. Not her. The cool thing about barber
shops was those ridiculous 'style guide' posters they'd
have hanging. Ten or fifteen different heads, each
showing some really slurpy, different style of haircut
that you could get there. Like picking fruit or something.
'Hmmm, what should I be today? I think I'll try the flame-
sided barrel-cut with side-part trim and a 2-inch top.'
They had the combs in blue water routine. Some fungicided,
anti-bacterial stuff for the cooties in your previous seat's
hair. The powder, the brush, the big sheet they'd throw
around you. The crazy chair, like a dentist's chair sorta',
but presenting no threat. The footrest. The waiting area
chairs. Mostly old cadgers sitting around for hours, reading
newspapers or talking their empty heads off, over and over,
about something. And, yeah, of course, talking about
every female that walked past the window - pert, fat,
hot or slovenly, she got the once-over twice and some
crack about her crack, or something. It never failed that
these guys knew 'something' as well about everyone. Old-
men's club for hair. Weirder still, they'd go in there to have
their nose-hairs trimmed, and, even weirder, their ear hairs!
A regular kid could get thrown for a loop in a place like that.
Why's all that shit growing - there? We were ten years old,
for pity's sake, and we had to mix it up with people old enough
to have known Noah. Tom's always had the news radio going -
Africa this or that, Congolese uprising, Katanga province,
Patrice Lumumba, Dag Hammerskjold's plane crash, In
America it was race riots, Kennedy, Malcolm X. We'd
hear about Thalidomide kids, Mantle and Maris, Marilyn
Monroe. In England it was Profumo and Christine Keeler, and
Christine Jorgenson - America's first successful trans-comic,
or something. We didn't have a clue. And then just down
Avenel Street some, under the underpass and behind it, sort
of hidden, was Louie Gallo's barber shop. All the 'stuff'
was the same, yeah, but it was all old-line Italian immigrant.
Like an old-world barber shop, where no one much talked,
or did anything really. There was this really large model,
under glass or plexi or something, on a case, a pedestal in
the middle of the room's side, of this big Cunard liner which,
I guess, this Gallo guy came over on. He came across as
grumpy, or scary at least to little kids. He just went about
his business, snipping endlessly with those barber scissors
with the cool finger loop. I guess he had the power tools too,
but for him my mind doesn't remember them. He hardly ever
had anything to say - and when he did talk he had one of those
too-high, and too sing-songy Italian guy voices you sometimes
hear. Like Marlon Brando, a little, in the Godfather. Just strange
and odd and distant. Another place - nothing there to attract.
Not a kid's place, too perplexing. At least at Tom's, amid all the
other crap, you could watch Avenel Street, or hear him fight
with his son, in-training too, to become a really bad barber.
Some people just don't have talent, I guess. There used to be
a baseball player, or announcer, or something, named Red
Barber. Back then. I used to joke that would be Tom's kid,
if he was a Communist spy. But, if you had your bicycle and
you really wanted to go nutso over a haircut, you could go
down towards the end of Avenel street, across from the
corner of Oak, after Cameo's - set back a little from the
street was this tiny little place called 'Eddie's Barber Shop.'
Now this guy knew how to throw a party. Same services:
haircuts, stupid posters, blue water, snips of hair on the
floor, whisk brooms and brushes and perfumes and all
that junk, but - but - this guy would have, on the
radio, either WMCA OR WINS, which had just
switched somehow from teen-age music stuff to
all-news radio, 'you give us ten minutes, we give
you the world.' That was their stupid motto, with like
news teletype noises in the background. Pretty boring
stuff, but, whatever - WMCA still played pop music, the
early stuff - Bobby Rydell and Elvis and Pat Boone and
Bobby Darin. Hard to pin down what it was, but it had the
WMCA Good Guys, and all pre-Beatle kind of stuff.
The 'Good Guys' were these pretty insipid DJ's who
just always ended up talking too much and wisecracking
junk all the time. Harry Harrison, Murray the K., a real
bunch of creeps, really. But the real killer here was - and
probably the most germane factor in having men come to
this hole in the wall place, was the girly magazines. We
were kids, and no one ever stopped us from flipping
open any number of naked-babe girlie mags. It ran
from the usual Playboy stuff to the more rampant and
wilder porno-detective-picture mags which would
manage, no matter what the story or the article situation,
to illustrate it with an unclothed beauty. There'd be men
in there flipping centerfolds out, twisting their heads all
around in these weird contortions to see, flipping the
magazines backwards, the whole bit - God-almighty
let alone the bathroom! Let's just say, in this joint NO one
minded waiting a really long time for a haircut. I can't
remember if anyone ever talked in that place, as
pre-occupied as everyone was. No one ever even
LOOKED in the mirror to see what their haircut looked
like. It was never empty, that little dumpy place.
As busy as a crime scene, kids included.
So that was that. The farther you went down Avenel Street,
towards Rahway Avenue, the seedier things got - it was
as if you were descending to some other level of a Dantean
Hell. Once you got to Rahway Avenue, you'd pretty much be
left to your own devices. Junkyard swamplands, prison,
train tracks, another trailer park - all depending on what
direction you took. You were left alone, and no one ever
offered any assistance.
There would sometimes be caravans of weird stuff, cars
from Dafchik's junk yard, or Rhodes' gas station, on the
corner. Tow trucks dragging hulks, gigantic trucks rumbling
over from the Avenel Coal and Oil yard at the tracks. Trains
and stuff rumbling through from Port Reading and Sewaren,
crossing Rahway Ave., (just like the train that hit me). That
train that hit me, by the way, it was being 'driven' that day
by William Pasterak of 27 Hamilton Avenue, in Fords.
I'd always wished I could have met that guy before he
died, just to tell him I was OK. Later too, I used to think
how weird would it be, in a Twilight Zone way, if one day
I took a fancy to some girl in high school there and she turned
out to be his daughter or something, and she takes me home to
her house and this guy realizes it's me, the little kid that got
creamed by his train in 1958 (he was 49 then) - could have
had all sorts of really neat plot repercussions. Would have
been fun. If he had a daughter, I never met her.
Avenel was never 'preposterous', like some places are - I
mean vacation towns and such. Like Spring Lake, where
one of my mother's cousins, (that makes him like a
second uncle or something, to me) lived - he was the
groundskeeper at the Spring Lake Country Club Golf
Course. A pretty ritzy place, the job gave him and his
family a really nice house on the grounds there. They lived
pretty well, just for him being like a groundsman, a grass-
janitor, as it were. Now that was a preposterous place.
Spring Lake, New Jersey. Avenel, in any sort of contrast,
was just a slum-town, shanty-ville by comparison. Most
people here were just lucky to be getting by. There at least
was no pretension. Nobody cared about things, or at least
the kind of things that kept those upper-crust people so busy:
lawns and gardens and outings and dinners and all that.
When we were kids, a baloney sandwich was like hitting
the big time for lunch. Add a pickle or something, and we
were in Heaven. In my house, a really big time, you knew,
had arrived when olives came out. Black olives, mostly, the
bigger the better. Spanish olives, those green ones with the
red pimiento or whatever it is in the middle, they didn't
much count, but they counted, just not as much. So, I mean,
go figure, what kind of a de-classe place is it, or upbringing,
when you end up gauging high times by whether or not there
were black olives brought out. Figure that one out.