Joe Scalia, twice divorced, is the father of four grown children and grandfather of five grandchildren. Born and raised in Borough Park, Brooklyn, he lives in Farmingdale, Long Island, where he taught English and Creative Writing for 33 years to reluctant junior and senior high school students. He has published five books: the novels Freaks and Pearl and three short story collections, No Strings Attached, Brooklyn Family Scenes and Scalia vs. The Universe or My Life and Hard Times.
Dear Janine, Ian, Jesse and Mikki,
I never knew my father. Although we passed twenty years in the same house, eating meals, watching TV, I never really knew him.
Let me tell you what I do know. He was an old fashioned barber, my father, not a hair-stylist, as you find today. He had a two-chair shop in Brooklyn where we lived. One chair was never used for cutting hair, because business was never good enough to hire a second barber even part-time. But sometimes my father would sleep on it, between customers, or sit there with his glasses pushed up on his forehead and work on crossword puzzles, passing the time. His hands were soft and he left faint traces of lilac talc wherever he went. I’m sure if I could go back to the house where we lived and open his closet door, I’d still smell his smell, that trace of lilac talc, even today.
When I was 14, my father’s soft hands and lilac talc fragrance were an embarrassment to me. That was the year I was into cool and my head was full of James Dean movies, Marlon Brando on a motorcycle, fast cars and crushing beer cans in one hand. By those standards my father was none too cool. As fathers went, in fact, he was quite a disappointment. He had no car. He didn’t even have a license.
“No need,” he said. “My shop is just blocks from the house, and I can always take the subway or bus for longer trips.” Not that he ever went very far. He was content to spend evenings at home watching our 12-inch black-and-white Motorola TV.
The summer I was 14 would be different. He and my mother had made plans to take me away on a real vacation, for a week at a Catskill Mountain guesthouse a customer had recommended. All summer leading up to our vacation, I sneaked past his barbershop on my way to the schoolyard, or to Joe’s Candy Store for vanilla egg creams with my friends. Sometimes I could see him inside giving a shave, or if the shop was empty, counting the day’s receipts, or looking through his pocket change for the old coins he collected. Sometimes he’d be outside when I passed, and then I’d wave and rush by before he could ask me to run errands for him.
Monday morning that last week of August we loaded into Uncle Danny’s Ford station wagon to the Trailways depot for our bus ride to the Maple Lawn Farm in the far-off Catskills Mountains. When I saw the lawn chairs filled with old people, just like my parents. I just knew it was going to be a horrible vacation.
P.S. – Please see part 2 tomorrow.