The place I’d been going to in my neighborhood had closed for good at the beginning of the pandemic. So for my first cut in eight months – the length of my hair had gone from exploratory to worse – I went to a barbershop that’s been operating in different spots in Foggy Bottom for six decades. My dad’s long-time barber had ended up there. I couldn’t go on a day that barber was there, so I asked for whoever was available. The barber I got had been cutting hair for many decades as well, and he did a great job. The haircut made my day, and later reading this story about the shop and its history made my hour.
Of two barbershops set in a small Argentinean town, which one would you visit? The shop where the bashful barber’s beautiful wife stared at you lustfully yet scornfully, or the other one? Explain why, and tell us what you think would happen next. Nothing or something?
The amount of story packed into Guillermo Martinez’s two-and-half pages of “Vast Hell” is worth your time today (if you didn’t read the piece when it was first published two months ago) if you in any way love barbers or women or mystery. The story’s title is explained in its epigraph, “A small town is a vast hell. –Argentinean proverb.“
You hear that, 11g? I was the fifth person there before the barber arrived to open shop this morning, coming up the hill from where he lives in my apartments, and smiling at the crowd leaning against the wall and sitting on the ledges. It was 9, and I’d already been to the post office (music and ticket mailing!), CVS for a card and then the parking lot farmer’s market. Picked up a pound of pumpkin ravioli and butter croissant and ate the croissant hungry waiting for the barber.
He wasn’t the one who cut my hair today. The guy next to him did. The barber in my building is likely the owner, but I don’t know. I do know he has customers who wait for him. They even pass up other barbers there like the guy who cut my hair today (and did fine). They pass up other barbers like the third barber there today, the amazing-looking girl barber with the long dark hair and the low-cut T-shirt. Even if this blog does keep a whole category index about barbershops, I’m never going to love a barber enough to be in line and pass this girl by.
Next it was over the bridge and into the District. Again there was good light, warm rain outside, and I walked to Foggy Bottom for Turning the Page’s Carpe Librum used book sale. I used to say I was the kind of person who could spend all kinds of time in record shops but not used bookstores, but now I’ve kinda gotta admit I’m both. I spent an hour or two easy in the boxes and shelves. Came away with a decent bag. On the book side, it was Nick Hornby How to be Good; Jane Leavy Sandy Koufax; Tom Shales and James Andrew Miller Live from New York; and Steve Martin Shopgirl. On the CD side, Kings of Leon debut Youth and Young Manhood; Loretta Lynn Van Lear Rose; Pretenders The Singles; and because it was there and in sixth grade I failed to trade my older and smarter cousin Tim for the cassette, Please Hammer Don’t Hurt ‘Em.
It was good to find Shopgirl last. I’d wandered the store for maybe half an hour looking for one more book, one that felt conclusive. That did it.
The sale runs through May 15th, and all money raised supports TTP’s literacy programs with D.C. public elementary schools. The books this year are in The Shops at 2000 Penn, on the edge of GW’s campus, and my $2 coupon-toward-next-purchase is yours if that gets you to go.
From a wall near the back of the book sale space, the text reads:
James McCain III, Grade 2
Martin Luther King JR., Elementary, Ms. Awuyno-Akaba
My dad and I listen to a record player. My favorite record is Jimi Hendrix because he plays rock and roll. We just sit down. My dad teaches me how to play the guitar. I do not know all the scales but I still like playing the guitar. I wrestle when the music is on because it is fun. I do because I can’t go outside. It is fun to listen to records on the weekends.
Saw this military helicopter heading up the Potomac on the trip home.
Got a sandwich on my way, knocked off Step Brothers DVD from Netflix, Wilco’s Ashes of American Flags (post to come) from Record Store Day, a load of dishes, and four of laundry to catch up on the last few work weeks. Opened a bottle of cheap-but-friendly red wine and cooked up half the pumpkin ravioli with butter and romano good off the grater.
Fred of the Noyes Boys has died, the Daily reports. Manfred Booge of the Noyes Street Barber Shop was 74 and one of my favorite people in Evanston. He and son Manny ran an amazing shop, one that flew by word of mouth in the first weeks of freshman year and then kept you coming back by appointment for the rest of your time in the city.
I’d try to describe how Fred ran the shop, but Justin Conroy did so just fine for the Daily in ’99. The brief’s stuck with me because Manny later e-mailed for the text. Sparing you my fanboy reply, here’s Conroy:
Entering the establishment at 916 Noyes St. is like entering a whole new world: the multi-colored barber’s pole, old-fashioned barber chairs, the smell of fresh after-shave, the sounds of 1930s music. Not to mention the barbers, who sport classic Johnny Unitas crew cuts and practice their art with detailed and cautious movements. For 20 minutes you step out of the hectic world of classes and into the calm confines of an old-style barber shop… And for $11, you can get the smoothest haircut you’ve ever had.
Yes, the greatest haircut in Chicagoland was $11. You felt good after.
You always came back from the shop with a story, about the greatness of the straight-edge razor, about old times in the neighborhood, about the conversation that jumped off the radio. Just looking through old e-mail, there was the time Nate waited for Fred to get back from surgery, the time Manny and I talked about Halloween laws and sod for half an hour, the times Amit came home with stock tips, the time the barbers remembered him when someone mentioned him to them a year after graduation, the later time he dreamed about Fred, Manny and a third barber singing, the time Fred and I talked about grubs and it took me forever to realize they were a lawn problem and not a heart condition.
Fred had a gentle manner but a professional touch with the scissors and razors, and the shop’s appointment book in a way channeled who he was and how he ran his business. You felt you had a place there.
Evanston’s fortunate Manny has so many of his dad’s great qualities and has added his own style to the mix. I link Sara Peck’s Daily story again and quote the lede because I want you to read it that much.
On the last Saturday of his life, Fred Booge did what he had done for the past 55 years: He went to work at the Noyes Street Barber Shop.
Though he had retired six years earlier and passed the shop’s ownership to his son, Manny, the German-American barber continued to work every Friday and Saturday, even when a broken pelvis confined him to a walker. The last haircut he gave that day was to a Northwestern alumnus — one of the regulars — who brought his young son along. While Fred snipped and shaved, Manny cut the little boy’s hair on his final day of work with his father.
Barbershops! I saw the Noyes one on Sunday, and it looked like it was still rolling along. It was closed at the time, but I got the vibe. It also made me happy to see an article in the Los Angeles Times, full of bloggable things today, about a Pakistani barber named Mohammed Fazal. Last month’s earthquake left him without a roof or walls, but he has begun cutting hair amid the rubble.
Are coming to the aid of the area’s Katrina evacuees.
Another testament to the greatness of barbers.
A splash of wintergreen after-shave and a cool dusting of talc can make a man feel whole again. The guys from the Dailey Brothers barbershop in San Antonio seemed to know this. They had watched the hurricane coverage on TV, their anger rising, their hearts breaking. When they learned San Antonio would receive 7,000 refugees, they went to work.
More on their visit to the ex-Montomgery Ward shelter.
“Barber & Hair Stylist,” that is.
“Man Hair Cut $13
Woman Hair Cut $18
“¢ Flat Top
“¢ Skin Fade
There’s apparently this barbershop in Chicago named Fannie’s. Started in 1961, the son of the original owner is now changing the place, adding big-screen TVs and putting the barbers in hot pants. Women barbers, I assume. The Chicago Tribune has a story on this move, but the story’s behind the site’s paid-archive wall.
Anyway, I’m not sure what to make of this concept. I don’t think it’s my style. But I do support barbershops in general, so maybe even this place falls under that umbrella. To each his own, as long as it’s a barbershop. As far as Chicagoland goes, I stand by the Noyes Boyz.
Amit e-mails about Evanston’s greatest barber shop:
“i had this ridiculous dream last night. i walked into the Noyes barber shop, and there was some popular song playing (i can’t remember which one.. maybe a britney spears one). I then I see Manny, Fred and the 3rd barber singing along with a song, trading off different parts like a medley or something…. ridiculous!”