There's a barbershop in my neighborhood called Joe's Barbershop. I usually go to a salon in Midtown, but I had to try this place at least once.
It's on St. John, near a pentecostal church -- a little place with two chairs, paneled walls and a TV in the corner tuned to a baseball game. When I came in, Joe, the owner, was practicing golf swings with an older guy who grew up in the neighborhood but now lives in the Northland.
Haircuts cost 15 bucks there, but I only had 12 on me, and Joe doesn't take checks. But he quickly agreed to give me a trim and trust me to bring the rest of the money by later.
We got to talking, and quickly determined that we're both Italian. He'd lived in the neighborhood his entire life, operating his shop for 40 years. He was pleased to learn that I'd settled in the Northeast. "I like new blood," he said.
He told me the neighborhood had gone from really good to really bad to "maybe it's not so bad." He owns a house near the Colonade, where there's a plaza with a nice fountain. Early this summer it had become a popular hang out spot for Hispanics, especially on Sundays, when the place was as packed as a zocolo in a Mexican village, tamale vendors and all. I knew this ticked off the white folks who own undervalued mansions near the colonade, so I asked Joe his opinion.
"Well, we got that problem taken care of," he said. He explained, but he didn't have to: I'd read in the Northeast News about the sting that had taken place there a few weeks back, where several dozen immigrants were deported.
Then Joe and his old friend just started going off on "the Mexicans," complaining about how they come up here looking for work and they don't even speak the language and they collect social security and they drink and they're all ex-cons and they I can't remember what else but it was pretty long bash session.
And I said, "Well, you know, our people were just like them back in the 20s. My great grandfolks came here with nothing, not speaking the language, and folks said the same stuff about them you're saying about these people."
They tried to tell me how it's different now. "There was a lot less people here back then," the old man said. "We came here to be Americans." I didn't really understand the distinction.
Then a man came in with two young daughters. His English wasn't perfect, but he could understand and pretty much be understood. Joe was very accomodating. He switched the TV to cartoons, gave the girls bubblegum (that same hard, cheap kind my barber gave out when I was a kid), and tried to strike up a conversation with the dad.
Joe's a nice guy. When I returned later to pay the rest of my bill plus a tip, he gave me a card so I could make an appointment the next time. But I won't be going back.