On the corner closest to our house a struggling barber shop owned by a king named Tony reopened for business. He looked like Frankie Avalon in Grease. I first saw his new white placard with gold glittering letters in the window as I walked home from school:
Open for Business.
As it was convenient, I had my poker straight Irish hair cut there. Once.
Tony tried to cut and coax my head into what all the men and boys in my neighbor had—a pompadour. I’m not certain if he noticed that I was a pre-pubescent Irish boy or if it didn’t matter either way. He knew what he knew and I sat in his kingdom.
I can still feel the backs of his fingers caressing the freshly soaked sides of my head. When he leaned back in a half crouch and admired the perfect lines formed by comb and hand, he swayed his hips and studied his proud work silently.
Tony slipped peppermints into my chubby fingers and set to work again.
And throughout his scissor and comb assault he hummed the same thing over and over: “Cheek-eh-di-dee, Cheek-eh-di-dee, Italian Festival” And then he’d bellow the second line each time like our business transaction concluded a rousing moment in an opera, “Cheek-eh-di-dee, Cheek-eh-di-dee eh-Mangia Festival!”
Tony was happy and bejeweled and sang loudly—he was like a king.
His pinky ring tapped cold against my jawline and ear as he coaxed stray hairs back into military order. In the corner, a black and white television with poor reception hissed and exhaled a Bob Hope film.
He smiled and hummed and clipped. Throughout the hour, my smock squeezed my throat uncomfortably.
I only ever used water and a comb or brush to shove my hair to slide left or right. Never up and over and back. Now, Tony fit me with a hair crown on my head. He finished a can of hair spray on me and started another. By the end, I think water beaded up on it.
Italians from my neighborhood knew one way and that was it.
Tony simultaneously stomped a foot and winked at me when he was done, proudly rapping the black comb twice on the counter. The Italian matador-king stood before me in triumph. His gold jewelry glittered and framed his very pleased smile as he guided a hand mirror around my new head.
"Itsa gotta be good, right?"