I followed the directions from the homemade leaflet that I found at the bus stop to the quaint single-story house deep in the suburbs of Scarborough. There was an evergreen in the front yard and a simple wooden box garden, I noticed some tuber vegetables nestled in the back. I knocked on the lacquered door with a green trim around the doorway, as described over the phone by the soft-spoken Italian man.
The door opened and the short man shook my hand with both of his own. His hands were cold, firm, yet soft to the touch. He looked me in the eye intensely for half a minute and surveyed my hair, my stubble, and my clothing. He told me to wear something I felt conveyed my usual style. His house would be considered strangely anachronistic, his technology seemed to be luxurious from when it was made: large screen TVs that are slightly bulky, older digital clocks, Seen on TV contraptions hawked off by the late Billy Mays. The antique toys and statues as well portraits of various storefronts were what most of my attention was spent on. I had barely noticed that the elderly man had slipped off down a small stairway just a bit further into the house that seemingly led to the garage, that I didn’t have a good look at when walking up the stone path to the door. I could smell freshly aerated dust now mixing with the steady scent of wood oil and fading class. He beckoned me into the garage after the steady sound of sweeping was silenced.
“Mr. Edmore, please take a seat.” His voiced was paced, his accent light but firm in its linguistic sensibilities of how short or long a vowel would be allowed to dance on the tip of one’s tongue. The make-shift shop was cozy. The car was indeed still in the garage but was draped with some sort of tarp. I saw a well-lit mirror and a traditional barber’s pole; the chair seems to have been lovingly installed into the cement garage. A deep chocolate leather that had been maintained as well as the wood had been. I saw on the counter underneath the mirror several tools spread onto the counter and a photo in a cheap frame of a store somewhere in Yorkville. The trees are lush around the single building, I see a Mr. Sub sign, slightly out of focus, in the background. It seemed to have been the 1970s, as the younger Mr. Fanucci has a thick set of curls that are a deep black. His hair is now neatly combed back and silver, if he has gone bald it is hard to tell. He may be the first man I’ve met to properly execute a comb-over. He politely turned the seat to me and pat it, guiding my body into the one of the comfiest chairs of my life.
When I was younger I saw a man from Sicily cut people’s hair using a candle on the Discovery network. I was at my grandfather’s house, a man who had reddish-white hair and a detestable attitude on most subjects. He, surprisingly, seemed as interested in the technique as I was, which was rare since my grandfather and I seemingly didn’t connect on much other than flipping coins around our fingers. The program said that the Sicilian man in Washington, D.C, was one of the last practitioners of the Art in North America. It was said that hair singed in this way would make it softer and works perfectly to lengthen hair to its desired length as well as improve the body of the hair.
Trimming my hair as it got longer was always troublesome. I would enter Barber shops, ask for a small trim, and subsequently lose most of my hair as well as my dignity for not properly articulating that I just wanted my mane to not impede my eyesight. To this day I do not now if it’s due to the fact that the Barber felt that as a man I would not want such long and luxurious hair or they just didn’t like it. Of course, I think the real reason is that when a man in a barber shop ask for a trim, it means slightly more than a crew cut.
I had since regrown my hair and was in the area of my old school visiting a friend. I saw a leaflet carefully and considerately taped to a bust stop: “Retired professional Barber, Luca Fanucci, Sicilian-style trimming, modern styles, men and women. Please contact before 6PM, not available Sundays.” The idea of getting my haircut by a secret practitioner of a weird flame haircut almost made me scream from excitement.
“So you want me to cut your hair with the candle?” he pointed to a thin, long and wax covered candle. I would describe it as a wand of style. I told him I wanted a proper trim and to maintain the overall look, but to get the hair out my eyes and reduce the frizziness. He nodded and smiled slightly. “I have not done this in some time, I’m glad you’re willing to try it. Ahh, sfumatura a candela, what a wonderful art.”
After he deftly wrapped the cape around me he began to massage my scalp and comb my hair. He took off my glasses, as most barbers do. I wished I could have seen the process but unfortunately, I did not have my contacts so I was stuck in the default unfocused haze. Feeling the process, fortunately, is what ultimately matters. His hands were still cold as his fingers quickly pre-combed my hair.
“Should I call you Luca, or Mr. Fanucci?” I asked him tentatively, feeling it would be a bit rude to just sit in silence.
“Luca.” He said, then after thinking a bit he spoke again “If I still had my store, perhaps Mr.Fanucci, as I am the old man, now, I am, I think, I don’t need the titles.” His wording was confident but still always sounding unsure grammatically. “I work from my home and you have come as a guest and a friend. You may call me Luca.”
“You can call me Daniel, so what happened to the shop?” I said, slightly nodding towards the picture.
Luca pointed to the match, “It burned down” he said gravely.
I had felt a slight surge of guilt and before I could say anything Luca had burst out into a slightly crackling laughter, the kind of hoarse cackle expected of men his age. “It went out of business, of course it would, why would the hippies of Yorkville want a hair cut?”.
He finally finished combing my hair after ten minutes, we discussed few things after that. Silence, is something I learned in my teens, is always a better substitute for bad conversation than chattering away is a chance at a good talk. Luca seemed to live alone, perhaps the conversation would be something savoured, I could learn something, I could bond with a man in solitude with a wonderful house of well maintained bric-a-brac. My tongue held still, as my thoughts raced, but everything silenced when I saw him finally reach for the long candle.
When he lit the match, I felt myself shake a bit. He held it up to the candle and let it lit. Quickly putting out the match, he did not waste time. I saw the focus through the haze of my defective retina, his careful combs and the sizzling of the hair, and the sharp brush then taking the singed keratin strands into the air.
I’ve had my hair set on fire by accident only twice in my life, by gesticulating too much with a flaming marshmallow, and by fire spinning at a camp. This, however, was seeing such an accident turned into an art form.
There was a sharp difference between the man I saw in the video and Luca, either the man in the video was a master or an amateur. He talked while he singed the hairs, it was his speciality, he marketed it for the rich politicians of D.C to maintain the body of their hair. Luca was quick and completely focused. He was burning my hair in longer arcs, trimming with flames and combs. The hair once in front of my eyes fell back down to my forehead shorter and shorter, I could feel a faint sense of heat on my forehead. The tingling sensation of a regular Barber’s visit is tripled as I was in one of the deepest trances I have ever been in.
Before I knew it, Luca is finished. He combs my hair again and stuck to his instructions, my hair looks the same but neater, I can actually see without having to constantly paw my hair to one side. I shook his hand and gave him a $20. He shook his head at me.
“I said only $10, no need for this.” He said motioning to grab some change while we walked upstairs. He left the lights on, most likely preparing to sweep as soon as I left.
“I think you have earned it, Luca, please I insist.” I pushed the $20 forward.
“You’re young, Daniel, you need to save this kind of money.”
“Consider it a payment for the next time as well.” I said firmly, eventually breaking a smile while looking at the serious old man. I put the bill on the kitchen table as he was digging in a change jar.
I took in more of his home as I stood there for the few moments, I saw letters and drawings on the fridge of possible young relatives and family photos. Luca seemed to care about his home and his life while living alone. A firm, refreshing cold of solitude and bravery against time. The small and large workings of caring for a home.
“I’ll see you again, Luca.” I reached out and shook his hand, it retained its chill, but the feeling is not as firm or as gracious, but softer like the relaxed handshake of a friend.
“Be good, Danny, stay out of trouble.” He curtly tapped my face with his left hand and smiled. “Maybe one day you’ll let me properly style that mop.”
We both laughed as I left the cool house into the warm sun.
I never saw Luca Fanucci after that, as I moved in the coming weeks to Hong Kong to work as a junior executive through the connections of an acquaintance in College. I still cannot grasp the professional intimacy of the Barber. The strange calm I gained from the touch of that older gentleman. I don’t know if it was due to my lack of a father-figure, or if this is a shared experience by many, one felt when seeing doctors or tailors. But I feel like I will never forget that garage or that sense of intimacy. I will never forget the refreshing touch of a Barber’s hands.