Summer was our furlough after ten months of tyrannical rule by the nuns at St. Agnes. It was the 1970s and every boy in South Newburg had two goals in common: play baseball as much as possible and grow our hair as long as our favorite players. John Lowenstein. Lee Mazzilli. John “The Count” Montefusco to name a few. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, look at the baseball cards from 1975. You may agree that 1 out of every 2 players back then looked like Ted Nugent.
Trying to rival Samson late in August never ended well for at least one group of boys in town. Bobby’s father always looked forward to sending his sons back to school. He marked the occasion by dragging them to Stan’s Barber Shop for “conventional” haircuts. These were the six boys in the neighborhood who gave Stan a brief spike in sales for one day every August. If you were lucky, like most of us, you went to Carlo’s shop, an actual stylist who emigrated from Rome and had never heard of conventional haircuts.
Bobby’s old man never sat down in the chair and ordered a conventional haircut for himself. He got to keep his sideburns and crop of slick, black hair. He earned them by pulling latrine duty in the Marines and by raising six boys who are supposed to do what he says and not what he does. One by one the boys went to the chair like death row prisoners receiving their last rites. The sound of each brother’s cries was heard coming from the reading corner…if you wish to call a stack of magazines dating back to the Lyndon Johnson era sitting on a table below some dusty combs that sold for 39 cents a reading corner. Bobby prayed, even as he drew nearer to the chair where his hair would meet its ultimate demise, for a last minute pardon from the governor. He hoped that a passerby would see what was happening and call the cops on Stan the Butcher for the atrocities he was committing. They wailed on. Their sobs were muffled by the hum of electric clippers and an unseen bugler playing Taps while their hairs landed on the floor and were swept into bags and taken out back. Ten months of growing magnificent manes down the drain!
Looking back, we wanted to help Bobby and his brothers but we stood by, helpless, nothing to do but watch. We lived under parochial rule and Bobby’s father was bishop. The St. Agnes Student Handbook page 193, rule 47, paragraph 3, line 18 clearly stated that under no circumstances (short of a dispensation from the Pope) could a boy from St. Agnes have one strand of hair touch his collar. Should a family be able to afford a fashionable cut at Carlo’s (the Roman Catholic proprietor who left his home by the Vatican to come to South Newburg to bless our heads with Brylcreem and miracle styles) they are free to do so. Just ask for the Ted Kennedy. Problem was, Bobby’s family couldn’t afford the Ted Kennedy. Besides, Bobby’s father got his haircuts at Stan’s when he was a boy. If it was good enough for him, it was good enough for them! So we didn’t stick our noses where they didn’t belong. We just tried very hard to be extra nice to them that first day back at school when they no longer looked like big league ballplayers.
Illustrated by Joyce Sajovie