Table of Contents - Vol. VIII, No. 3
I’d been in the chair five minutes before he started in mid sentence––as if I’d been listening all along to what had been playing in his head.
...so he did his own thing, starts a record label. Went to court and sued the big guys, the Columbias, the RCAs, the Deccas. “High Fidelity” was bullshit, he said, just an advertising gimmick. They stamped it on records recorded in the thirties for chrisake. Yeah, quite a guy...took’um all on for being phony.
Won a bundle I bet, says I, to humor him.
No... no actually, he had to pay, but they changed the definition after that. Means “new sound” now, thanks to him. Have to admire a guy like him. Real musician. (Pause.) You’re talkin’ to an aficionado here. Bought records up the kazoo. But I didn’t own a player till I was fourteen. Had to take my records to a friend’s to hear’em. Had hundreds of 45’s. See that wall. Filled it all...and then some, when I had money. (He squares me with a touch.) My ex-wife got most of’um. (Pause for a change of clippers.) Been to Crockett? Little town. Up by the Carquinez Strait, like going back to the nineteen-hundreds. Has a lot of antique stores, you know...antiquarian. Was there with my son once. Lookin’ through old sheet music. I found this hand-written manuscript. Asked the guy, how much? Seven bucks, he says. Well...I couldn’t get my money out fast enough. You probably never heard of this guy...Vy Crescent. He wrote some good tunes. Late nineteen-hundreds up to the teens. That manuscript could be worth something, I mean to a music collector. He wrote “Nola”...da de daa...de da...de daa de da...
Sounds familiar, guy in the next chair says.
...but that manuscript wasn’t “Nola”! There’s a story about Crescent. First guy to break the color barrier. Hired him some real talented darkies. He was a white guy. Went to jail for it. Can you beat that?
Yeah? Other barber interjects.
Way back before Benny Goodman, Vy Crescent he had black musicians. And they put him in jail. Damnedest thing. Weird times. The twenties...naw, wouldn’t like to live then. The thirties...who’d want to live in that depression? The forties, now that’s the time. I was born in thirty-six, but I’d like to‘uv been older in the forties. Great music––gone down hill since then (he starts clipping hair in my ears, so his voice blurs with the buzz) ...nowadays, this rap... it’s crap.…Oh...it’s got rhythm. I like the rhythm. Just real...negative, you know? Listen to it. Real downer. Negative messages. These kids nowadays...
Listen to crap! Guy waiting yells, and looks around him, glowering.
...and this kid in our neighborhood plays that crap. Other night I come home late. He plays it real loud. So I goes over, he’s havin’ a party with his friends. I say, Josh, people have to get up and go to work, you know? He says, was it loud? I say, shit! I live three houses down from you! Would I be here if it wasn’t? So he turns it down.
Yeah? All join in.
Yeah, then you know what? A fight breaks out. A fight breaks out after he turns it down! You wanta taper or squared? (Taper it.) Some kid clobbered another kid.
Nuthin’ to do with the rap? Waving scissors, the other barber steps close, drops his arms at his sides, looks quizzically––my barber mutters, slowly...
Shit! Got a lot of negativity that rap, says the other, raising his arms as if readying a pitch. Resumes clipping.
I see a picture of a little girl taped above his barber’s license. That your daughter?
He doesn’t pause, but motions with a cock of his head. My granddaughter.
Cute girl. How old is she? I ask, thinking I’d never seen such buck teeth.
Seven. Just seven. Took her to the zoo on the weekend for her birthday. She got SOME education, I tell you.
He stops clipping, spins me around to face him. She was havin’ a good time, seein’ all the animals, you know? Then we got to the camels! He takes my head between his hands, sights over the top of my head. I see he has a cauliflower ear.
Stink, don’t they, says the next barber.
Naw, they’re clean. Arabs sleep withum, you know. Grins around the shop. You know what I mean, they don’t stink. But they can hump for thirty minutes.
You mean...go at it...for thirty minutes?
Yeah, I saw’um do it. So did my little Suzy. We was at the zoo, just walkin’ by where they keep camels, and this big one makes a groaning noise and takes off chasin’ this other one. You can’t tell male from female. Anyways, I thought there was goin’ to be a camel fight, so I put little Suzy up on my shoulders to see. Well, I soon saw it wasn’t no fight. This big one gets up on the other one and goes at it, and the female lets out these godawful groans...AAAAGH....AAAAGH...AAAAGH! An the male he’s quiet but his neck all stretched out and he starts foamin’ at the mouth. For thirty damn minutes!
You stood and watched for thirty minutes?
Hey, I was part of a crowd. These black women by me started gigglin’, sayin’ things. I was sorta spellbound by the whole thing, you know? Couldn’t believe it. Suzy started jumpin’ on my shoulders like the male was doin’. That and laughin’. She said, Look at them camels wraslin’, grampa!
Hey––and I look at us both in the mirror, my head sitting on a shroud, his eyes consuming my nape––you ever watch wraslin’, ‘member Gorgeous Gerald?
Had purple hair, yeah. Threw gold coins to the crowd, said the other barber.
They was wood painted gold. And how’d you know it was purple? TV was black n’ white.
Cause they SAID it was, one of those announcers. Jeesus.
It was GEORGE wasn’t it? Gorgeous George? the guy in other chair says.
Naw, that’s another guy. But anyway, Gorgeous Gerald...lots of people don’t know this...he got in trouble for paintin’ a picture. I know cause I was around down in L.A then. Used to hang around a lot at the Olympic. Did promotions for guys that run the thing. Anyways, Gerald...his real name was Lester...know that? A Jew guy.
No shit, says the other barber, same as you, huh.
Yeah, a lot of Jews wrassled. Comes from Jacob back in the Old Testament. So he gets this idea as a publicity stunt. Just a big show, you know, that wraslin’...
You better believe it. Those guys are primadonners, says an old man in suspenders who has just come into the shop and found a seat beside a stack of magazines. He’s crosses his legs, showing different colored socks below shiny white shins.
Better believe it. That’s the business, a big circus. Just have to know the moves, and the script. I should know. But you had to be in shape, you know what I mean. Have a body. Which I ain’t got anymore. Anyways...that short enough on the sides?
I nod and he grabs my head to quiet it.
Anyways, Gerald...Gorgeous, decides he wants a classy look, you know. Cultured. Sort of Frenchy. He hires an artist in Hollywood to paint this big banner that he’d have carried out each time he enters the ring...sort of announce his comin’. He’d seen some old movie about ancient Rome. The emperor had these guys blowin’ long trumpets an a banner....
Talk about hokey, says the old man.
So Gerald has a guy paint this banner, wants it real classy. So what’s the guy do, he copies this famous painting. Has a naked lady standing on a big sea shell, hidin’ her crotch with the end of her hair. An there’s this other couple of people hangin’ on to one another...they’re naked too...blowin’ on her, blowin’ so hard her hairs flyin’ around and there’s leaves an flowers flyin’ all over. An then he paints Gerald....on the other side...in his shorts...holdin’ his cape open...like he’s wantin’ to wrap it around this naked lady...or show her somethin’...
Other barber stops clipping. All the men in the shop are staring.
I ain’t shittin’ ya. When they comes into the arena wavin’ that banner all hell breaks loose. They climb up in the ring with it, Gerald standin’ in front of it strutin’ around like they had him do. It was the end of him. They cut the TV off, began to show a car commercial, that guy poundin’ on a hood...you want hair spray?
I shake my head. No, I’m gorgeous enough I say, being clever. I turn around to see if he gets it, to look him in the face. But he swings to hang his clippers. That’s when I really see him, aglow in the mirror, busting his buttons. Gorgeous Gerald Shapiro, flexing to beat the band.
© Robert Eastwood