When I went to get my hair cut yesterday, I brought along a bottle of Prosecco in a glittery gold bag. Enclosed was a card congratulating my hair guy Mario and his husband Tom on their 35th anniversary.
In the five or six years since Mario started cutting my hair, we have talked a lot about marriage. Also parents and politics, food and religion, travel and health, hairdressing and writing. And Mario has told me great stories about life in our little village, where he has been cutting hair for more than 30 years.
Yesterday, we didn’t discuss any of that. I didn’t even getting around to asking how he and Tom planned to celebrate their milestone. Instead, Mario discussed an even bigger milestone. At the end of this month, he’s putting down his scissors.
Hairdressing can take a toll on the body. All that standing can get to your feet or your legs. The leaning forward can kill your back. Or, as in Mario’s case, the repetitive snipping motion can a number on your hands. After multiple surgeries, Mario’s doctor has told him to stop. And Mario is listening. But it wasn’t an easy decision.
“I love my job,” he told me yesterday. “I love hair, and I love my customers. I have been to bar and bat mitzvahs, weddings, funerals. This year I went to three 90th birthday parties, for women whose hair I’ve been cutting since they were 60.”
In the relatively short time that I have been going to Mario, I’ve gotten glimpses of that history. The shop itself, which Mario shares with his business partner, Joel, doesn’t seem to have changed much since it opened, with its wood-panel walls and paintings of clowns and landscapes. I’m not their youngest customer, but just about. And I get the feeling that the younger customers have been coming since they were children. Conversation is constant and intimate, full of references no one has to explain.
Mario and I have had our own understanding. We were thrilled to run into each other at a Marriage Equality rally at the Statehouse a few years back, and I was thrilled to see Mario wearing his Marriage Equality button on his apron until the law finally passed. We no longer have to talk about my hair, because Mario knows how I want it (naturally gray and as easy as possible to deal with). But he has taught me a thing or two about how to be a woman who goes to a hairdresser.
For example, appointments. For years, getting one with Mario felt as hard as gaining admission to a private club. The sign outside the shop doesn’t indicate what sort of business it is. It just says Bucarr, a combination of Mario and Joel’s last names. They’re not open every day, and they have no answering machine (“Why should we?” Joel once said, when I complained. “That would just mean we’d have to return all those calls.”).
Flummoxed, I improvised my own solution. When my hair got so long that it irritated me, I would start strolling past the shop, hoping to find it open. If it was, and if Mario was there, he would put down his scissors and open his appointment book. If it was open but Mario wasn’t there, Joel would tell me when to try next.
Last May, I finally thought to ask, “Do most of your customers schedule their next appointment before they leave?”
Mario smiled. “I think I have two who don’t.”
“But how can I tell when I’ll need my next hair cut?” I asked.
“You get your hair cut every three months,” Mario said.
“I do?” I said.
“You do,” he said. And he opened his book to show me.
That’s when we made my August 7 appointment, and he told me it was his anniversary. At the time, neither of us knew that it would be our last appointment.
It was a sweet half hour. Joel wasn’t working, so we had the place to ourselves, and the conversation flowed more freely than ever. Mario, who is usually such a great listener, did most of the talking.
“I have never dreaded coming in here,” he said. “Not once. Even after a vacation, I have always been glad to be back. I love what I do.”
“You’ll surprise yourself,” I said. “You’ll love the freedom.”
“Oh, I know I will,” he said. “But this month is so hard. Every day, it’s like going to a funeral.”
“Who will cut my hair now?” I finally got around to asking. “Joel?”
“Joel is moving to Florida,” Mario said. “You didn’t know?”
Our 9:00 was over. My hair was done — exactly the way I like it. But Mario didn’t seem to have a 9:30, and we weren’t done talking. So I stayed a while longer. When at last I did get up to go, I wanted to say, “Keep in touch.” But I knew we wouldn’t.
Never mind who will cut my hair now. I will miss Mario. And I will miss being a part of that secret slice of my adopted village. Mostly, though, I will miss Mario.