Pound for Pound, It Was a Costly Cut

The three worst experiences for me are attending funerals, buying clothes and getting haircuts, usually in that order.

But there are times I'd actually rather attend a funeral than sit in a barber's chair, depending on who dies.

I never get a good haircut, and it's not the fault of the barbers. I have a big head and the hair sticks up in weird places. I've learned to live with it.

But my wife hasn't.

"You haven't had a decent bloody haircut since I've known you!" Kim said to me the other day.

We were in London, her home turf, so I knew she was working up to something big, as big as the tumbleweeds of hair sticking out from the top and sides of my head.

"Please," she implored, "let me take you to a proper barber. It won't cost much."

At the word "cost," I trembled all the way to the tiniest tendrils of my Italian-American roots.

Italian males feel a certain way about haircuts, which is to say they should be cheap at worst, free at best.

My haircuts have been free for most of my life, thanks to my scissor-wielding father. He's actually an art director, not a barber, but with a name like "Tony" all the males in the Carillo family -- including dozens of cousins -- figured he was qualified to cut our hair.

"Hey, Tony, not too much off the top!"

Since the haircuts are free, we aren't actually customers, so my father doesn't feel obligated to heed our requests.

Besides, he only has two styles -- Short, and Even Shorter.

You're not allowed to look in a mirror until the haircut is over, and if you let out a gasp of horror he always says the same thing (while giving you an admonishing tap on the head with the dull edge of the comb):

"Ahhh, it grows back."

He'll bring his scissors to family picnics and do a dozen heads, and when we all sit down to eat it looks like a scene from "Full Metal Jacket."

Anyway, that's my concept of a good haircut, except for the tap with the comb. And here was my wife, attempting to change a lifelong attitude toward haircuts in one fell snip.

What the hell, you have to bend once in a while. After all, she's the one who has to look at my head.

"Okay, baby, whatever you say."

And off we went to a "proper barber" in England, 3500 miles and a million light years away from my father's barber chair.

This barber was an Armenian-born guy who looked like a cut-rate Antonio Banderas, only unlike Antonio I doubt he would have been aroused by the sight of Melanie Griffith. His eyes twinkled as he regarded my unruly mop.

"Fehrs, we wush," he announced. I turned to my wife for a translation.

She rolled her eyes. "He said he wants to wash your hair first. He can't give you a proper cut if your hair is dry."

I was stunned by the idea of someone else washing my hair. A man, no less!

Even worse, I'd have to lean my head back in a sink and turn my back on the barber. Italian-Americans are not good at turning their backs on strangers -- or on people they've known all their lives, for that matter.

"Just cut it dry," I said to the barber.

He rolled his eyes. "Doan be soosh a bah-bee," he giggled.

I didn't need Kim's help to translate that one. So, putting my baby-like tendencies aside, I leaned back and let him wash my hair.

He wanted to use a special shampoo to make the gray blend in better with the dark hair. I told him I'd kill him if he did anything to hide my hard-earned gray hairs, and he giggled again.

"Soosh a tough guy!"

Soon I was in the barber chair, damp and clean. The barber stood ready for action, scissor and comb in hand. Kim told him not to take too much off the top, then left to do some shopping.

He turned to me, eyes ablaze with delight. "Now that she go away, we gonna have-a some fun!"


The haircut went by in a blur. As he snipped and combed he kept talking, faster and faster. His accent got thicker and I had no idea of what he was saying. I just kept nodding in agreement. For all I know, I accepted a marriage proposal. I'm hoping his parents will like me.

When he was through he blow-dried my head and shoulders clean and stood back to admire his work with my wife, who by this time had returned.

"Beautiful," he said.

"Very nice," Kim said.

"How much?" I said.

It was seventeen pounds and fifty pence, which works out to $27.50, or enough money to buy ten cans of crushed tomatoes for marinara sauce. (I'll never get the crushed tomato currency conversion out of my head, but that's a whole other story.)

Kim was happy with my haircut, and that's the main thing. But when my hair grows out again, I think I'll give my Dad a shout. One chair, no waiting. And as long as I don't fidget while he cuts, he won't hit my head with the dull edge of the comb.

Charlie Carillo's first two published novels, Shepherd Avenue and My Ride With Gus are now available on Amazon Kindle for just 99 cents, roughly 1/27th the price of the haircut you just read about. His website is www.charliecarillo.com. He's a producer for the TV show Inside Edition.