The barbershop set-up was basically
a mis-en-scene for old guys to sit
around and endlessly get updated.
About stuff, but about Pennsylvania
stuff, specifically. It was like 'who
else would give a hoot' about the
things they mentioned - deer head
counts, and milk-fat quotas, and if
Pingry was 'scratching' Mrs. Kobel.
Yep, 'scratchin' was the word they
used for having sex. I heard it a
hundred times if I heard it once,
and I've never heard it anywhere
else since, except in my re-telling.
Never figured that out. So, anyway,
there I was, back in Warren's '65
Ford Galaxie, which, if you've ever
seen one, was a weird year - just a
squared-off box of a car, really no
design finesse at all. A real
come-down from the softer-looking
and easier on the eyes, '64 Fords.
I never could figure out, also - all
my life, not just here, since like 1959,
why Ford used the word Galaxie for
their car and not 'Galaxy.' Or they
used both. Something about it just
always bothered me. I was in his
car and we were driving back, from
East Smithfield this was, and I'd
never really had a real, short,
regular guy's haircut since I was
like 12. All shaved now too. I see
photos of me then, working the farm,
and I look like I really AM 12 all
over again. But skinny as a runt.
All these Pennsylvania farm guys
had farming muscles, not so much
like a body-builder gets, but a
strongly formed muscle pattern
nonetheless. I, by contrast, even
doing my best Popeye, just look
like some working-worm in a tee
shirt, showing off nothing. Nobody
ever said anything, but it felt odd.
And I didn't like that haircut none
either, because you had to keep after
it. Like every three weeks or so you'd
just need another. That was a real
pain in the butt, making return trips,
and I soon just gave up on that, except
I can't remember what I did to keep
short or shorter hair. It was all against
my ethos and my principles anyway.
I wasn't growing fond or happy.
The funny thing, too, was that, every
time I sat there in this stupid dumpy
porch-fake-barber-shop, I was stewing.
And all I could ever think about was Mr.
Novak's place, back in Woodbridge, up
Hillside Avenue, on my bicycle, off
Rahway Ave., to where I'd ride myself
once or twice a week for piano lessons
in his really nice brick house up the
top of that hill. The setting was a little
bit the same. You see, all these guys
had daughters, farm daughters, young
and growing ripe. When I took piano
lessons, sometimes I'd have to be
sitting there waiting for Mr. Novak
to be done and ready for me. I was
like 10 or 11, and he had a really
attractive daughter, about maybe
16 or 17. Lots of times I'd be just
sitting there gazing out, watching
her hanging clothes outside, in the
yard, on one of those clothes-hanging
things people used to have, made of
wire and plastic cord, sort of square
- looking something like a weird
and large TV antenna stuck into
the ground. Anyway, she'd be out
there hanging clothes, and I'd just
be gazing out, at her, but just gazing
too. It was magical, but I was just
a kid and so it didn't matter much.
Well, this barber-shop guy was
like that too - a few daughters
around, doing yard things, and
I'd just be watching while I waited.
All those dead animal heads on
the wall sort of kept a person in
line. Know what I mean? Just
think, all the way to the middle
of Pennsylvania, for this? That's
what I'd be saying to myself.
The other funny thing - and this
took me some real time to realize -
was that these Pennsylvania country
people, from all of what I saw, really
did live a complete and finished life
away from all intellectual considerations.
Not a book nor a paper to be found of
anything that was not about farm work,
sports, hunting, or any of the other
usual stupid pleasantries that keep
people relegated to the plow. Maybe
a travel magazine here or there. Every
so often there'd be a family seemingly
just a notch up, above the other in
social stature, but that too meant
nothing, except maybe a travel
magazine or something just a
smidgen unordinary. I could
never figure out how a person
could live a live with no intellectual
pursuit, of any sort, even if it was
archaeological gems and minerals,
or something. Warren and I, all
we ever talked about was cars,
farm stuff, milk and cows. Never
even talked about women or stuff.
A very quiet, relegated to nothing,
world. I had a hard time to realize
how rural America, if this was any
indication at all, was such a no-place
in the head, just a big, empty room.
They never entertained doubts about
anything at all, or ever talked about it.
Here I'd spent my previous near ten
years, at least, racking my brains
into every contortion I could do,
reading, writing, trying to find things
out, and these dumbos were just talking
me downhill with them, to a fake barber
shop no less, just to keep some sort of
ephemeral happiness. Supposed to be
anyway. It all just made me shake me
head and, once again, start reappraising.
And, man, was I tired of that.
Warren had an old father in law who
sometimes stayed with them - a big,
talkative old guy, a little angry and a
little sarcastic. But nice. We'd talk,
he'd ask a few questions about me,
and then he'd go on, like I was saying,
about the old days and the road crews
and the paving and all that. The one
thing I remember best about him -
he had a real thing about the TV
being on. Just HATED it! Had a
round-out knock-down fit every
time. It wasn't that he ever watched
it either, but it was the others, and
all the kids in the house, whom he'd
go at when it was on. He'd start
ranting about the little idiot modern
people who don't know how they're
wasting good money away on crap.
Then he'd say to "Feel it, feel the TV,
see how warm it gets, anything that
makes heat is going to cost you.
Anything that can generate warmth
like that just isn't worth having."
For him the relevant and relative
factor was not content, but the HEAT
that the television produced, and the
useless cost of producing that heat.
I sometimes wanted to turn on him
and say, 'Then why'd you wire the
damned house up then, why? Why
didn't you just leave things well
enough as they were back then?'
Never did have the gumption.
Sometimes I ate with them.
They ate good, but on farm time -
see, the farmers' thing was the big
meal is in the middle of the day,
called 'Dinner', and everything
stopped for it at about 1pm. All
chores were down for that point,
all the morning work over, the
creamery truck had come and
gone, the cows were out, and
there was a good slot of time to
eat, about like 1 to 2pm, before
everything started up again for the
later afternoon and evening chores.
A lot of times, too, there was a
half-hour snooze time in there,
allotted, for a nap in a chair or
something. Afternoon TV time
went with that too. It all gave
a whole new meaning and reason
for junky daytime TV, but these
folks all reveled in it..