Barbers’ Retirement Scheme

March 4th, 2011 by Harrumpher Leave a reply »

Is it profession, class or culture that links tonsorial parlor operators and gambling? Yesterday I saw it again twice and had to wonder.

Way back before state governments scammed citizens with lotteries, I’d grown up noticing that barbers were often also the numbers folk. Alternately there was one barber shop in a Southern state capital a couple of blocks from the capitol with a non-shoeshiner. A middle-aged man in a well pressed suit with tie sat in the tall shine chair all the time. He was not there to pick up small bucks buffing brogans and bluchers. Instead, he had a huge roll of cash. He’s take numbers bets or make usurious loans.

In a more modern Boston, my barbers have tended toward 1) scratch tickets and 2) trips to nearby casinos. For many years, my sons and I have gone to Sebastian’s in Roslindale Square. There, the main row of barbers frequently chat up their last and their next trip to a casino. Just yesterday, the main conversation was one-way from the barber going on about his and other folk’s scratch winnings. He would plow his $40 back into more scratch tickets. He knew of a friend in Winthrop who got a $1,000,000 winning tickets, but found only a little over $300,000 net. Was that fair?

I didn’t interrupt the flow of the man with scissors by my ear how much he invested between his last hit and the $40 winner.

Later yesterday, walking East on River as it turns into Fairmount, I strode past Elvis. That would be the barber from the Logan Square shop. I haven’t had my hair cut there, but should. None of us on the hill knows his name, but we discovered recently that we all call him Elvis, from his appearance.

Just as a Pat Boone or a Cyndi Lauper has an unmistakable look, this barber is shtick. With his pompadour wig, open necked shirts, tight pants and gold chains, he’s lounge ready. In decent weather, he spends between-clipping times standing where River turns to River in Logan Square. I’ve never heard him sing though — another reason for a visit to the shop.

Regardless, yesterday as I passed, he shuffled, his chain dangling toward his busy hands worrying the scratch ticket. I didn’t hear whoops of triumph. I suspect his retirement was postponed yet again.

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