How Do You Want It?



Astor Pl & Broadway, New York, NY 10003

Neighborhood: East Village

Once a month, I take the downtown number 6 train to Astor Place for an $11 buzz cut. Near the corner of Broadway, a red and white awning urges me to Beware of Imitators as dozens of celebrity snapshots are exhibited in the storefront window — Judd Nelson, Susan Sarandon, Rosie O’Donnell, Yannick Noah . . .

Inside, a man sits in a high throne adjacent to the cash register and, as always, fails to notice my arrival. He is the doorkeeper; I am the man from the country seeking admission to the haircutter’s chair. Can I get a haircut? I ask. The doorkeeper tells me that he cannot grant me admission now, possibly later, but not now. I sit myself down on the vinyl benchseat that feels like the backseat of a VW Bug. I pick up the tattered New York Post that lies next to me — usually there is at least some ink spilt on the antics of baseball hurler Johnny Rocker.

At some point, the doorkeeper tells me to follow one of the painted lines that snake their way through the three-story labyrinth of swiveling metal barber chairs as émigré haircutters buzz and snip away at loose ends, split-ends and tight ends.

Not this time. There is no waiting. The doorkeeper points to his left and asks me to take a seat in the Number 1 Chair — the chair of Mr. Don Fifi.

Mr. Fifi takes a sip from a paper cup of coffee; he sports thick, severe, black-rimmed glasses and a salt-and-pepper Lucifer’s goatee that comes to a point at his chin. Mr. Fifi slowly turns the chair until I face a baroque bronze-framed mirror with his name inscribed on a brass plate. To the left of the mirror, there is a photograph of actor John Malkovich and Mr. Fifi — taken only moments after Malkovich had his head completely shaved. To the right of the mirror, there is a signed photograph of WWF wrestler “Stone Cold” Steve Austin who scribbled Don Fifi Rules in black magic marker.

“How do you want it?” Mr. Fifi asks with an Italian accent.

The way it is, only shorter.

Mr. Fifi loads the buzz clipper with the requisite #2 shearing attachment and proceeds to shave the side of my skull. As my hair drops to the tiled floor, I float back and forth between Being John Malkovich and Being “Stone Cold” Steve Austin — and I must say, the latter is the more psychologically harrowing.

“How d’ya want it in the back, square?”

Yeah, straight across.

“I left it a little longer in the front so you can get some lift.”

Some lift? I laugh at his suggestion that I wear a Squiggy at the top of my forehead. As soon as I get home, I’m combing it straight down, my friend.

He holds up a mirror to the back of my head so that I can approve the symmetry. Excellent, I say. And it is. It always is at Astor Place.

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