Saturday, 8 February 2020

From "I can't remember" to Tip O'Neill's Barber

I left off by telling you about the (ahem)  "unusual" encounter with the  Whitchurch, Bristol barber. That would have been in about 1967.

I know that I had my hair cut between then and 1984, but who cut it?
I don't remember having a regular barber during my remaining years in the Westminster (later National Westminster "Nat West") Bank; at Theological College in Nottingham U.K. (1972-1976); in Fitchburg, MA (1976-1980); or in Chicopee, MA (1980-1984).

My barber memories come alive again from my Pittsfield, MA days (1984-2000).

I began with John H whose shop was on Elm St.  He was a parishioner at St. Stephen's Parish.

A good friend pointed out the obvious: that it's not a good idea for Pastors to have business relationships with parishioners.  This is because in the event of a business disagreement, would that interfere with the parishioner/pastor relationship?  Yes, even with a barber.

I went fancy for a bit at a "cool" place on North St. I think was called "The Clip Shop" on North St.  Fancy prices too!

So I went with the flow and for the rest of my time in Pittsfield used the default barber for boys and men in south east Pittsfield; the unfortunately named  "White Barber Shop"
Image result for White Barber shop, Pittsfield MA
A bit before my time, but the building looked the same.  I think that the White Barber Shop has closed.

I moved to Cambridge, MA in 2000.  There are a a couple of good universities there you know!

After a week or two I drove west from Porter Square on Mass. Ave and spotted a neighbourhood barber shop.

It was the place to go for the old boys who had lived all or most of their lives in north Cambridge.

It was also "Tip" O'Neill's barber.  "Tip" the beloved Congressman from that part of town; "Tip"  who became the Speaker of the House.  He died in 1994.  His funeral at the nearby St. John's Roman Catholic Church was Cambridge's version of a State Funeral.

Here is a bit about Speaker O'Neill from the New York Times.

It's hard to remember that there was a time when you went to your neighbourhood barber shop, and could find yourself in the next chair to the Speaker of the House.  Tip knew his roots.

I was there only twice.  On my second visit the place was like a wake.  The room was filled with some of the marvelous north Cambridge working class men, who were almost in grief.

The man who had been their barber  (and confidant?) for perhaps 40 years was retiring, and moving to Florida.

He cut Tip O'Neill's hair many times. He cut mine twice.

He recommended a barber in Ball Square, Somerville, and that's where I plonked my bum for the next six years. The barber was a great sponsor and supporter of many youth sports teams.

Goodness gracious  -   I just remembered the name of my Somerville Barber Shop!

Image result for Barber Shop,  Ball Square, Somerville MA

Thursday, 6 February 2020

More Adventures In Barberdom. (ALERT some "R" rated)

My first "real" haircut was when I was about three years old. ( I have read that we rarely preserve memories until we are three.)

Mum took me to a local barber who operated his business from the front parlour of his two up - two down home on Co-operation Rd,  in the Easton/Greenbank area of Bristol.

I take it that the Civic authorities allowed home based businesses given that because of  the WWII bombing there was a shortage of retail space.

Co-operation Rd as modernised in recent years.

The boy in line before me stamped his feet and cried as the clippers began their work.   Not I,  (the good little people-pleasing boy). I was good!

A few years later Mum took me to a grown-up Barber in the basement of the Bristol Co-operative Society Departmental Store  on Castle Street.  (One of only two buildings which had survived the Blitz in Bristol's main pre-war shopping street).

I was a big boy now!.  What I remember most is the new-to-me smell of burning hair.  Who remembers the days when the best Barbers singed hair ends at the end of the cut?

Fast forward ten years (when I was about 16) at which time my peer group and I decided that Italian Barbers were the best.

We would go to an Italian owned Barber shop at the intersection of Colston St. and Upper Maudlin St. in the centre of Bristol.

There we would get a hair-cut; then a shampoo. After the shampoo our hair would be towel dried, then slathered with hair  spray, and then blow dried.

We young blades would step out proudly with never a hair out of place  -- until the next rainstorm which would restore our pates to dis-array.  It rains in England you know!

Seven or so years later when I was 23:  the R rated part:

I was working at the Knowle, Bristol branch of the (former) Westminster Bank.

One of our customers was handsome a young married barber, maybe two or three years older than I.

I went to his barber shop in Whitchurch, a couple of miles south of my workplace.

As he cut my hair he "came on to me".

I was intrigued, fascinated, scared, and sexually aroused.

But he was married, and a bank customer.  So I never again went to his barber shop.

My body said "more, more, more".

My mind said " no, no, no"

My mind won.


More tomorrow about Barbers in Pittsfield MA, and Cambridge MA, 

He calls me Father Flanaghan , and I don't mind!

When I moved to Sarasota, FL in 2006 I alighted on my local Barber "Patrick".

I have been faithful to him (with one exception) since then. For you see, he is a local business man, with a self-owned Barber Shop.

He gives me as good a haircut and beard shave as any "fancy-dancy" downtown and expensive business could do, and at half  the price of their their fancy-dancy prices.

Patrick  is  Venezuelan born, and  Oklahoman raised. He has a wicked sense of humour, and greets one and all with a cheery smile.
I love it that he teases me by calling me Fr, Flanaghan. 

 I will support his local business for as long as I can.  There are precious few locally owned businesses in my neighbourhood, with the exception of restaurants and cafes of which we have an abundance.  Their food beats the pants of the Florida or National chains.

Tuesday, 4 February 2020

The Best Bar Mitzvah Ever

Stock photo' not one from my story.

It was twenty years or more ago that I was in Atlanta, GA for the Bat Mitzvah of the grand-daughter of my friends Don and Barbara.

These events are always tender and loving.

A boy, his name was Ben, was  having his Bar Mitzvah.  

As part of the ceremony the children read a passage from the Torah in Hebrew, and then tell us what it means.

The boy's passage was from Exodus, the part when the Israelites were instructed to gather Manna each morning, but only enough for one day.  If they gathered more than they could eat it would go bad overnight.  (Yes, there was an exception for Fridays on which they could gather enough for two days, so as not to have to work on Shabbat) , but that's another story.

The boy explained the passage by saying that "too much of even a good thing can be bad for you".  BRILLIANT.


"Too much of even a good thing can be bad for you".

For dogs "treats are a good thing".  Prince Zion has worked this to the extreme. He knows how to sit down, look cute, and extend his paw if there is half a chance of getting a treat.

AND he got sick.  Partly because of his addiction to treats, and partly because I have been feeding him a diet which was too rich in fibre (e.g. too much brown rice -  which I thought was good for him)

He copiously fertilised  my bathroom floor during the night between Thursday and Friday (Jan 30/31); and on Friday,  Saturday and Sunday he had a lot of rear-end squirts, and a bit of vomiting.

I was fortunate enough to get a short notice appointment at the Veterinary Clinic on Monday morning.  His fecal tests showed no signs of infections or parasites. PHEW!

The vet explained that my response to Zion's malady had good intentions but bad results  (too much brown rice and scrambled eggs).

As for the treats, it's not because of their good or bad quality, it's because they are a new kind of food. 

Too much of a good thing can be bad for you  -  thank you Ben for this  insight at your Bar Mitzvah.

As for Zion  -  the vet ordered a "presciption" wet food; plus antibiotics and probiotics.

Within 24 hours Z. was bouncing back to his normal cheerful self,

As for the treats  -  I have told Zion's friends not to give him their many and variegated treats.  Instead I will carry with me his healthy treat  (the Paul Newman brand), then give them 1/2  of each treat so that he can be rewarded for his charm offensive.

Too much of a good thing can be bad for you.  Thank you Ben for your powerful understanding.

Monday, 3 February 2020

Good Grief, My Fail, And The wisdom Of A Rabbi.

It was about twenty five years ago that I sat in my office on a Saturday morning to have a conversation with S.

S. was having a tough time.  Her marriage had ended. Her husband was a brilliant medical professional who had lost his practice due to chronic alcoholism.  He was one of those who never got sober.  They had lost their home. They had two children.

S. began to tell her tale.  I slipped into my male fixit mode, and I began to proffer advice.

S. drew herself up in her chair.  She said  "Michael Povey, I have not come here to get advice.  I am here for you to listen to me."  


Point well taken, but too often forgotten.

It's with that in mind that I encourage you to read the following, (all about grief and listening)  from a wise New York City Rabbi. 

Tamid is the name of his congregation.

Thanks good NYC  friend Kathy for the  H-T  on the Rabbi's wisdom

Dear Tamid,

On Friday, we said our final farewell and put Xana Antunes to her eternal resting place. Psalms were recited, words were spoken, and tears were shed. She was a loving wife to Scott and a devoted mother to her 13 year-old daughter, Elisabeth. In a thousand ways and more, it’s heartbreaking for a child to lose a parent at such a young age. 

This is now the second time in two years that Tamid families have lost young parents to disease. Since their spouses and children continue to participate fully in our school and community gatherings, I hope you will take to heart the words in this letter that could be titled, “mistakes adults make when speaking to young people that have lost a parent.” 

In Jewish practice, there are two immediate stages following a death. Stage one is to “escort the deceased” to their final resting place. Stage two is to “comfort the mourner.” What is the Jewish way to comfort a mourner, especially when the mourner is a child? Our instinct is to care, emote, and to express our feelings of grief and our words of sadness. But that is not the Jewish way.

In the Jewish house of mourning, visitors enter quietly and with humility. Our presence signals our love and concern, and the custom is to wait to speak until after the mourner greets you. The rule is to “speak second” rather than “speak first.” This allows the mourner to lead with their feelings and for you, the sensitive listener, it’s your cue on how to respond in order to “comfort the mourner” with compassion on their terms. 

Something I tell kids in grief is that “some adults are going to say unusual things to you about your mom, and they are going to treat you in surprising ways. Some will get it right but others may not. Try not to let it bother you if they say things like, “Oh, honey, you must miss your mom terribly.” Or, “Your mother loved you so much. She would have loved to be here to see you.” Or, “This must be so hard on you and your dad. You’re so brave.” 

Like a kid does not already know this? Like they need you to

remind them or to make this the topic of conversation? 

You’re thinking, “I want that child to know that I know about her mom and that I care.” She’s thinking, “I’m just on my way to get a cookie with my friend from the dessert table before we text message our camp friend.” 

Or, if you do get talking, maybe the child just wants to tell you that she got an “A” on a science test, won the volleyball game, or competed last week at debate club, rather than speaking about mom. This is why Jewish tradition teaches us to “speak second.”

“Speaking second” is not easy, and I’m not trying to direct how you behave. Rather, I’m trying to protect our children so that Tamid is always a safe place for them, on their terms. My suggestion is to say something like, “It’s nice to see you.” And then follow their lead, let them guide you. 

Some of you know that when we socialize at Tamid gatherings, I often interrupt conversations I’m having with adults to introduce a young person. Kids feel important when adults recognize them and say “it's nice to see you.” I ask that you show up at Tamid in a similar way. And please continue to show up--the power of real community is one of the most important elements of our lives.

Sunday, 2 February 2020

The Dachshund Who Wasn't.

On Saturday evening 1st Feb 2020 I was with my friends Jack and Donna C, and Ashley L.

I told them one of my stories.

It was about  my godson Stephen G.    He was about three years old and had just learned the alphabet; and to use the toilet unaided.

His parents were entertaining guests when Stephen took himself to the bathroom. He returned, and with great glee announced  "I just made a "C"!  (The shape of his poop).

Ha indeed! A sweet story.

'Tis a sweet story which went right over Donna's head.   She hadn't clearly heard the word "godson", and thought that I had said "dachshund".

"How in the world", she was thinking, "can you teach a Dachshund to know the alphabet, and  to use a commode?"