Wednesday, September 17, 2003

The Barber of Sicily Blog.

Today our regional publisher was in town, and I went with him and one of our salesmen to the Civic Opera Barber Shop on the 15th floor of our building late in the morning. The last time he was in town, he wanted to know where he could get his shoes shined, and I told him that was the place, though he didn't have time for it then.

The shoeshine man shined us one at a time, naturally, and while we waited, we had a talk with Sam, my barber. Sam is of medium height and build, clearly in his 50s but not graying much yet, and speaks not so much with an accent, but an Italian flavoring. He's a fixture in the building, barbering there for the last 30 years. Time enough to built a loyal clientele. I know of one older gentlemen, a renowned real estate executive as it happens, who has Sam shave him every business-day morning that they're both near enough to the Civic Opera Building to make it practical. I get Sam's haircutting treatment about once every two months. He does a fine job of making me look respectable.

I asked Sam where he had been this summer -- I'd wanted a haircut in July and called a number of times, only to be told he was still on vacation. (I eventually went to another barber I used to frequent, over in the Wrigley Building.)

"I was in Italy for three weeks," he said. "My mother and brother still live there." Italy; Sicily in particular. He went on to tell us that he had left Sicily when he was 15, which I would put at about 40 years ago. Sam, on the whole, isn't chatty, which I admire in a barber, and that's more information about him than I've gotten in the last three years. He was between haircuts at that moment, and suddenly became interested in talking about Sicily. Even more so when our regional publisher told him that his mother’s family was from central Italy.

Sam had been to -- or heard about, I didn't quite catch it -- an Elton John concert at a Greek theater during his visit, mentioning that the pop singer had come by helicopter to do his show, all dressed in gaudy red. "Did you know," he continued, "that there are more Greek temples in Sicily than in Greece? In Greece, they show you a spot, and say, 'This temple used to be here.' In Sicily, the temple is still there."

At which point he showed us a coffee-table book about Greek ruins in Sicily, an impressive publication that shares the waiting-area table with the likes of Outside magazine, Penthouse and the daily papers. A barber shop is nothing if not a masculine institution.


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