lookslikemeI went to get my usual haircut and shave at Italia Barbers two weeks ago, but the “open” neon sign was turned off, with a note in the window saying the shop was closed for Ron’s funeral, and a little later down “Barber Wanted.”

Ron the Barber cut hair for over 40 years, his last decade in an authentic original two chair shop on the main floor of the Clarendon Hotel next to Yuki Sushi. (don’t let the name put you off, yuki is Japanese for snow). The photo  is a download from the web. Apparently I have a doppelganger. It’s the hands that give it away. Not Ron’s.

Ron was my barber for about the last five or six years, and I’d order the “Number One, Number one,” the beard shaved in, with a straight razor for which he’d charge $12 and $12. When he tilted me back in the chair and started the hot lather he would say “Now, go to sleep.” I rested just a bit more easily after his successful double cataract surgery a couple of years ago.

Ron wasn’t a character but had enough to survive residential school, best as I could make out, as an abandoned Ukrainian boy, being one of the few white boys taken into those awful schools. We talked about hearing aids (which he was about to get from Manitoba Health) and compensation (which he was not going to get, even if his hearing loss was due to the abuse in the schools), the smack upside the head a staple of discipline at the time.

 My parents had clippers at home and it wasn’t until I complained in grade school that they sent me to Sid’s, the barbershop in Gretna.  Sid Lesperance (“Getting my hair cut,” boy, p.53) also used clippers, but had Prince Valiant and an occasional funny comic book mixed up with the illustrated bible stories.. Picture Bibles were ok at home, but comic books not so much. And the radio was tuned to CJOB not CFAM. Pretty Norman Rockwell, but with less colour except the blue Barbicide.

 Gretna was never a completely Mennonite community but in the 1960s the Catholics, francophone and Metis especially were noticed by the Menno majority. Chances are Sid was all three, had a tattoo and fought in WWII. His shop was next to Dr. Boreski’s office’s (See “Doctor Boreskie gives me a needle in the ass,”p.37, boy) whose son Michael is a prominent Winnipeg architect.

University had its own barber-shop home base for CJUM-FM DJ Larry the Funky Barber, who may also have been Métis. He related to the newly cool black popular culture of the times. I did not have Larry cut my hair very often, the best barber in the shop being Jim, and most of my friends had Jim cut their hair whether it was down to the shoulders and they were having him just get rid of the split ends and tidy it up, or when needed something more substantial for a job interview. It was handy, right close to the Manitoban offices in University Centre. Jim was nearly bald and had a very tiny tidy beard and a stutter, which did not hold him back. His cuts took longer, but were worth it.

In Regina I, like our boys, went to the Italian Barbers close to Ionnone’s Shoe Store which I believe is still there. Gianni, I think it was though there were two staying busy in their two chair on 13th Avenue in the Cathedral district. I cheated sometimes and went to the Hotel Sask, especially when I wanted the straight razor shave and/or the shoe-shine. That’s gone now I think, as is the wonderful old hotel newsstand, smoke shop and confectionery. It was were you could get city papers from across the country and the weekend New York Times on Monday.

Back in Winnipeg, in the early nineties, I was steadily losing my hair, but still had enough that it needed looking after.  Sheila Curran looked after me in the only hairdresser’s I ever used to get my hair cut.

Just before my surgery,  Ron no longer an option,  I went to see Tony at the Italian Barbers on Sherbrook Street right next to Thom Bargen Coffee. The shop  and Tony have been there a long time, though it’s not clear who came first, the furniture featuring walnut paneling and mid-century modern chairs in a waiting room still big enough for the days Tony tells me when this barber shop supported four barbers. Nowadays Tony works 8:30 to 12:30 weekdays, in the shop on his own. He’s had 11 surgeries, one more than me, and three hip  replacements to  my two. I relax in the chair and am delighted his straight razor is sharper than Ron’s was. Fine, is this, I think,  relaxing as if I was listening to Jon Kabat-Zinn.


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