I jumped into the relic of a seat, and the white-coated proprietor fitted the barber cloth around my neck and shoulders. Aside from an even older gentleman sweeping in the back, we were the sole inhabitants of the shop. He took a quick look at the tufts of hair on my head, taking note that the sweat had made them curl. As he adjusted the back of the chair by pushing the pedals underneath, he gave me an inquisitive glance via our reflection in the mirror.
“Well, I can see that you ran over here. Must be hot outside…So, how’s it going in that third-world place that you call New Jersey? But I guess that it’s more civilized than where you grew up. Where was that again? Kentucky?” It was always amusing to listen to Yanis while he pronounced polysyllabic American names. Even though his English was nearly perfect, he always became more cautious in such cases, slowly enunciating each part in order to not make a mistake.
“West Virginia. But you never remember that…it’s okay, though: Yankees never distinguish one Southern state from the other. As for my current home…you’re talking trash about the sixth borough, I’ll have you know,” I answered. “One of these days, Yanis, you and all of your elitist peers in this town are gonna recognize that fact. In fact, you should trade us for Staten Island.”
“Eh, so you say…you want the usual?” asked Yanis, patting the top and sides of my hair. As I nodded, he picked up his water spray bottle and some nearby scissors, and he started to soak my already damp head. “You said something about advice? You sure that you don’t want to hear a good story instead?”
I chuckled at the suggestion. “I’ve heard all of your stories, Yanis. From the Merv Griffith Show to your most recent bowel movement…I’ve heard them all.”
Yanis had been a professional stylist within this section of New York City for almost five decades, and he had cut the hair of everyone, from construction workers to celebrities. He had a million stories notched onto his belt, and I was familiar with each and every one of them. In the mirror’s reflection, I could see him bristle at my suggestion, just like the many combs laid out on the counter before us. “Well, you’ve probably heard some of them…but I highly doubt all of them. How about the one with the network executive?”
“Come on, Yanis. You’ve told that one at least a dozen times. An old guy died in your chair, the morgue couldn’t pick him up, you put shades and a hat on him, and the network executive watched as you fooled customers into believing that he was still alive,” I recalled with a smile. “And the network executive took the idea and made Weekend at Bernie’s, but he didn’t give you a cent of it.”
Yanis’ brow furrowed at the precision of my recollection as he started to shear my curls. “Okay, smart guy with pubes for hair…what about the rock band manager who asked me to give him a cut in his office?”
I nodded slightly, so as not to disturb his work of cutting near my ears. “You showed up at his office with your gear in a suitcase, and he made you wait in a nearby chair. After a few minutes of watching him make funny faces, a hot blonde came out from under his desk and asked him if you were next in line.”
After another few moments that were silent except for the snipping of scissors, he paused long enough to squint at me in the mirror. “So…you’ve heard a few. How about this one…in the mid 70s, a guy in a leather hat and leather pants showed up in my shop. And then, he pulls out a gun and starts waving it around. Heard that one before…asshole?”
“Hmmm…I can’t remember,” I audibly pondered, as Yanis broadly smiled in expectant victory. “Hmmm…so when the plug in the handle of the fake gun fell out, what dripped out? Was it water or Tabasco sauce?”
As his radiant visage turned into a scowl, he gave his response as a deflated grumble. “It was Tabasco, wiseass. Okay, okay…I give up. You’ve heard them all.”
Much like an executioner orders prisoners to line up against a wall, he pressed and cut some strands against my forehead. I spoke next with closed eyes, in an effort to protect them from any falling wisps. “So, instead of a story, how about some advice instead?”
With much less enthusiasm than before, Yanis begrudgingly acknowledged my request. “About what?”
“Don’t buy one,” answered Yanis curtly.
I grimaced at advice that came too late. “Well, too late for that…and I’ve made it worse: I’m now on the board for my building.” In response, Yanis laughed. “What’s so funny, old man?”
“Well, for a guy who hates dealing with people,” began Yanis, “you’ve picked to do the one job that’s the worst version of it. You deal with assholes all day, nothing is ever good enough, and you don’t get paid for any of it.”
The sad truth behind his assessment added yet more weight onto me, and I could already feel its burden grind into my shoulderblades. I groaned. “Uhhgghhh…when you put it that way…well, have any words of wisdom for me?”
“Sure. If anyone bitches about anything, avoid catching any lip by throwing your property manager under the bus. That’s what he’s there for. Where’d you buy a condo, anyway?”
“Little Peru. Ever heard of it?”
Yanis stopped working. “Really?” he asked, raising the caterpillars above his eyes that supposedly were eyebrows.
I didn’t like the particular way that he posed the question. I could discern it as an awful combination of both schadenfreude and genuine concern. “What? What about it?”
“Lots of people come into my shop,” began Yanis, starting his work on my locks once again. “Wall Street guys, advertising guys, and sometimes, big real estate guys. They talk about lots of places to do business. What’s a hot spot, what’s not so hot anymore…sometimes it’s in the city, sometimes it’s in your ‘sixth borough’. But they always laugh about Little Peru. I can’t remember exactly what they say, but it’s something like ‘…you might as well ask me to break some ground in Little Peru’. It’s like they know something bad is happening there, and they wouldn’t go near it if you begged them.” He shrugged. “They never say anything out loud…but their tone makes it seem like the place is jinxed. My cousin in Cyprus talks about this abandoned town Varosha in the same way…like it’s haunted or something. Does that make any sense to you?”
I nodded slightly. “Actually, yeah, I get it. I can’t explain it…but, yeah, I got the same feeling.”
“I’ll say this,” spoke Yanis emphatically, “Be careful, my friend. There’s something in Little Peru that scares away the big dogs, and whatever it is, you should be wary of it, too.”
“Thanks, Yanis. And, yeah, I’ll try to stay frosty.” I paused for a moment. “What if I told you that I saw a naked girl in my building and that she might be a ghost?”
Yanis looked back at me inquisitively. “I don’t know…is she hot or not?”
“Are you telling me that you’d be interested in fucking a crying, naked ghost?”
Yanis shrugged again. “At my age, I’ll take what I can get.”
“Thanks, Yanis. You’re always a big help.”
Peter Bolton is the author of Blowing the Bridge: A Software Story and has also been known to be a grumpy bastard on occasion.