Monday, April 12, 2010

Lessons from Dad: trust no one and don't smile so much

In short: The world is full of gutless cocksuckers who will smile and shake your hand in one moment and put a knife in your back the next.

Early 70's Barbershop with my Dad, a mixture of scents in the heavy air- hanging with the smoke, Brylcreem, cigar, pipe tobacco and cigarette, hairy muscular forearms with archaic faded tattoos, black, immaculately polished shoes, gruff voices, gruffer laughter, jazz and wistful crooners crackling in the background from the am dial of an old single-speaker radio, lined faces, deep intense eyes, stacks of yellowing magazines with a mysterious 'special' pile on the distant table that young eyes such as mine weren't meant to see, an L-shaped red bench with massive curved, seamless padding and curved chrome armrests.

It seemed like a gritty place for a soft kid like me, yet even then I could feel that this place and its inhabitants were fading from the world just as the war-time tattoos were fading from the tanned arms of the men around me.

The wait seemed to last forever, and as each person left the barber chair, everyone moved a spot down on the bench. I didn't mind waiting, this place was a palace of detail, full of rich smells, sounds, colors and stories. My Father always went first and always seemed a little aggravated by the end of his cut despite the cheerful nature of the barber.

I was next, and other than the horrible smell of the barber's breath, I could never see what was so annoying about the experience. It was cool to be in The Chair and be the focus, for even a second, of the men in the shop, "Fine boy you have there Carl," they would say to my dad and which he would acknowledge with only a nod of his head and a polite if stern, "Thank you".

One day we went to the barbershop and as my dad stepped in the door he looked at the barber, paused for a second, and violently kicked over one of the end-tables, magazines and an old hat went flying across the floor with the table which ended up on its side against the barber chair, and my father said, "The prick wanted a haircut, you bastard!".

The place fell silent and all eyes were on my father who I was sure had gone insane. I had seen my father do violence before when doing so stood to reason, and there he was with the same rage on his blood-red face, but this time to no apparent reason at all. "Well!?" said my father in expectation of some rebuttal, some form of counter-attack, but getting only the confused fearful gaze of the barber. His murderous gaze swept slowly over the silent L-shaped row of men, and when he still was met with silence, he said "Lets go" and we left.

I knew better than to even speak at that moment so I held my tongue and put my mind to wonder where we would go next. Some years later, I asked him what happened and this is what he said:

"For years I go Rusty the barber and sit in that chair and get the same haircut, and for years, each time the door opened, Rusty would lean down and whisper in my ear, 'What does this prick want?'. Then Rusty would act like the person was his best friend, 'How ya doin, good to see ya! Have a seat and I'll be right with ya', flashing that big stupid grin.

"Well I had enough of it, because every time I walked in the door I could see him lean over and whisper something in the ear of the guy in the chair, and I knew what he was whispering. So I finally told him what I thought. I shoulda done it long before that. Let me tell you son, if they do it with you, they probably do it to you also. And don't smile so much kid, you can't trust people who always are smiling because they are either simple-minded or are ready to put a knife in your back."

So goes the timeless wisdom of a bye-gone era. Over the years it makes more and more sense why my dad was always such a pissed off prick, and sometimes I wonder if I am not becoming more and more like that. To this day I wonder if there is any humanity left in him, old as stone and just as hard. I wonder until I see him with his grand-kids, my kids, and I see a man so gentle and kind (yet strict!) with a softness in his eyes and soul that the many hard years could not extinguish.

It's very simple- be soft with the soft ones and hard with the hard ones, your wifes arms, your children's trust, home is the only place for even a little vulnerability and softness. The other moral is that the ones who, in your company, do wrong by others, will certainly do wrong by you while in the company of others.

No comments:

Post a Comment