The Shaggy Customer
Just about everyone who goes to a barber knows Tony. He owns the Venetian Barber Shop on 95 Street. I have been going to him for cuts for years. Once I stopped for a while and ran into Tony. He asked me why he hadn’t seen me and I told him that I just couldn’t afford haircuts at that time. He said to me, “Well, if you can’t afford a cut, come see me anyway and I will give you a free cut. It is better to have a friend than to have money.”
The other day, I sat down to wait for a cut. One of the things I like about the shop is that Tony keeps maps of Italy around so he and his customers can talk about where they were from and what made their own part of “the boot” special. Ahead of me on this day was a man who was a bit shaggy. I even suspected that he didn’t have a whole lot of money. He sat down and I took out my phone to document it.
This man loved to tell stories. I learned he was from Montreal, that he once rode a motorcycle, and that he had worked for 50 years of his life in labour. As this went on, Tony was in his element, happily trimming.
As the long, greying locks of hair fell to the floor, this man’s hair told a story. It was a sad story, one of a man who only understood hard work and hard luck, but still somehow managed to do the right thing and pay his own way in the world. I couldn’t imagine anything more beautiful than what was unfolding, like a caterpillar shedding a chrysalis to show wings of bright orange.
Tony trimmed away, feeling the bliss of doing what he does well, making people new again by simply removing all the parts that didn’t make them look like a butterfly. As the last strands of hair and beard came off, a new man appeared before me. At this point, I decided I was going to pay for his cut. I didn’t know how it would help him, but to me it seemed the right thing to do for him. I kept on talking to him too, even while Tony struggled to get the last bits of hair taken off, then shave him as he kept telling stories.
Under the towel, it was obvious that this unfortunate man had at some point in his life lost the use of his left arm. I wondered how many cigarettes he smoked in a day, how much of the last months he had spent watching TV. Did he have friends? Family? For just a brief moment I realized that Tony and I right now were it for him.
Tony stepped back to admire his own handiwork. It was a lovely job, made all the more difficult by the stories and the restlessness. We needed to help the new man we hadn’t yet gotten to know to his feet. Not only was his arm disabled, so was his left leg. Stroke maybe, or spinal cord injury. I wondered if he was in pain. He sat down on a chair for a while and then I got my own hair cut and, truly (and truthfully) realizing he had made a friend, he waited until I was done and paid for my cut in return. As I walked home, I wondered who had changed more that day – the shaggy customer, or me.
Framed versions of any of these photos can be purchased for just $25 and delivered free anywhere in McCauley. Contact Leif for more information.