HAIRCUTS AND FIREMEN
Mom, not Dad or the boys, took me for my haircuts to Mike Pinto's, where there were three barber chairs, each with a basin in front and a mirror with shelves for bottles of witch hazel and different colored, scented tonics, and a hook for electric clippers as well as for various combs and scissors. A row of waiting chairs, with comic books and magazines, stood opposite, beneath a wall‑length mirror that I would see reflected in the barber chair mirror reflecting the barber chair mirror and my own reflected image, down a receding corridor of reflections, on and on, out of sight‑‑an effect I found disturbing. Clumps of hair cluttered the floor, stirred by the breeze of overhead fans, and from time to time Mike or another barber swept them into a heap big enough to stuff a pillow. After their haircuts, some men got tilted back with the aprons on; their faces would be swathed in steaming towels drawn with tongs from a shiny container near the sinks; the barber would pull out the leather strap that hung from each chair and start sharpening a razor. Then off came the towels, on went shaving cream, and like a surgeon, the barber would swatch it off. Other men had shampoos, turned in their chairs with heads tilted backwards over the sinks. When my turn came, Mom led me to the chair and I climbed up on the metal foot rest. Mike had a contraption for kids that fit over the adult chair arms and had a round seat in the middle, so my feet rested on the real seat, finally. Then he'd shake out his striped apron, swish it around like a matador's cape, and fasten it under my chin. Mom stood beside me and told him each cut, supervising, and he would say: "Hey, this‑a good kid. This‑a brava boy, doesn't cry. You know some kids, they can't standa have a haircut. Come in and cry and cry and I say, it'sa not so bad, this is Mike, huh? I'ma here make you look all pretty. I'ma not gonna hurt ya." But sometimes he would. His scissors would pinch and tear and once he even nicked my ear, so it bled; then he apologized over and over, more upset than I was. Finished, my hair wet or tonicked, parted, combed, and snipped with the last perfectionist touches, neck dusted, cape off and clothes whisked, I would climb down to get my lollypop, as Mom paid, on the way out. Sometimes, while we were there, the fire siren at the station half a block away would go off, ear‑ splittingly, and Mike's assistant would throw off his barber's coat and run out, regardless of his patron, to pull on his fireman's coat and hat at the fire station, and pretty soon an engine or two would come roaring up the street, picking up speed, fireman hanging on, siren howling.