There’s a barbershop on a corner in Forest Park, and it’s for sale.
It’s the kind of place that hasn’t been updated in 30 years, if ever. Sinatra and Harry Caray are given their due on the faded walls and there’s always a fresh Trib on the counter. Not everyone there is waiting for a cut; some are just hanging out, passing the time.
Shear Style was once populated by Three Old Italians. Between and during the plying of their trade, the Three Old Italians would sometimes use colorful language in their monographs on life, so the place was jocosely dubbed, by some of its patrons, the “blanker-blankers.” Gradually the Three Old Italians became One Old Italian and The Kid. John, the last Italian, calls everybody “young man,” even those who are well past fitting that description. If you were of working age, you’d be referred to as George Clooney.
It’s the kind of place where, if you prompt John, he’ll tell you how he emigrated from Italy or talk of the old days on Taylor Street before urban renewal tore asunder a neighborhood. While the hours on the door might be 9-5, if you went on a really nice spring day in mid-afternoon, the kind that happens about twice a year in these parts, John might take off early to go hit a round of nine at Columbus Park. You’d smile, and wait another day to get your cut. Gradually, the actual golfing became just talk of golfing — a flight of imagination — as time took its toll on the mobile arms and legs required for the sport.
It’s the kind of place where if you if you realized you didn’t have cash to pay the bill, you could run out to the bank and come back later, no problem. It’s the kind of place that if you were waiting for a cut, you’d willingly go across the street to McDonald’s and get the old man a coffee. Mind you, it was a two-way deal. If you brought your dog in, John would break off a piece of his turkey sandwich to assuage the most hungry of hounds.
It’s the kind of place where Frank, The Kid, was a self-proclaimed expert in three things: hair, food, and the mob. He was well-versed in the various family trees of local Outfit figures, and wouldn’t hold back in telling your kids how JFK was really killed by La Cosa Nostra. He would lament that a certain beef joint on North Avenue isn’t as good as it used to be since most of the guys there decamped for Arlington Heights. If you mentioned you were going to a place for lunch that day, he’d cajole you into bringing him back a sandwich or a slice.
Eventually, though, Frank looked across the empty middle chair at John the octogenarian and realized he didn’t want to advance into his senescence without a pension. So Frank left. One day he was just gone. And while Frank will be missed, one can’t help but smile, knowing he’s finally thinking beyond the next cut.
There’s still a barbershop on a corner in Forest Park. It’s the kind of place that doesn’t have an app. Or a website. And there’s certainly no WiFi. You just go. And if you do, bring John a coffee from the McDonald’s across the street. One cream. And if you bring your dog, be prepared for it to get some human food.
But go soon, because it’s the kind of place that won’t be around for long.
Andrew Lennie is a resident of River Forest.