My family and I moved from Ithaca, New York to Lexington, Massachusetts on July 1st, 1997 when I was six. On approximately July 15th, 1997, my dad and I walked down Meriam Street and stopped at one of the two barbershops in Lexington Center to get our hairs cut —stopping where we did for no obvious reason other than it was the closest of the two places and didn’t require crossing Mass Ave.
There was only one lady working. She said she’d bought the place a few years earlier and was the only barber there. She squeezed my cheeks, fed me stale cookies, and insisted that I take some books home. The books were Sports Illustrated For Kids, stacked next to National Geographics, Us Weeklys, and pamphlets on nearby rescue dogs. On the walls were posters of Italian actors (Brando, De Niro, Pesci), sports icons ( The Dream Team, Larry Legend, Doug Flutie), and holiday cards from customers, friends, and family—or family, family, and family, according to the lady pinching my cheeks.
20 years later (almost to the day), literally nothing has changed—except now, the TV with the antenna is grainier, and, on the walls, there’s more of that handsome son of a b**ch, James Dean. (The only fella more handsome than James Dean is Brad Pitt. Maybe Tom Brady. But that’s it.)
Other than a year in Denver and a few underwhelming buzz cuts in college bathrooms, I’ve gone to Elena for two uninterrupted decades. When I was in first grade, I would sit on a booster seat and squirm when I saw the scissors. When I was in high school, I would take homework breaks and walk down to Elena’s and just hang. It’s been a constant. I’m there every five or six weeks for a trim and every 10 days or so to talk movies and test out some Dad Jokes. It’s the only place where I’m a regular and where I know the other regulars (re: middle-aged dudes like Tom and Doug and Ken who have graying hair and a friendly patience for tangential movie reviews that are both R-rated and delightfully forgetful).
“I saw this un-be-LIEVABLE movie on Showtime the other night. Unbelievable. I forget the name of it. But it was f****ing OUTSTANDING. There was Matt Damon and the woman from Homeland. What’s her name? Claire Jones. Claire Damon. Are they married? They’re married, aren’t they? I knew it. Jenny Damon. That’s not it. Jenny Davies. Jenny Dames. Jenny Daines. Claire Daines. That’s the one. I forget the name of it, but you gotta watch it. And they aren’t the only stars in it. No way. Danny DeVi—I won’t say who he is. But he’s short. Very, very short. Ah what the hell? It’s Danny DeVito. You just gotta watch it. And you know who directed it? Francis f***ing Coppola. Unbelievable. And tonight, I’m pouring myself some Cognac and turning on the news to swear at that asshole Trump until I feel too sick to keep watching. And then I’ll either watch A Streetcar Named Desire or Mystic River again. That’s Thursday night, baby.”
I go to Elena’s for the banter and the solid haircut and leave with The Birdcage on VHS.
We’re less Harold and Maude and more Thelma and Louise. She’s the Jimmy Fallon to my Justin Timberlake and the “ROCK AND ROLL, SWEETIE” to my “see you next week.”
Recently, I started filming Elena in her element—as an excuse to hang out at her shop, as a way to celebrate 20 years, as a way to document my surrogate Italian grandma, the long-lost child of Al Pacino and Susan Sarandon.
Here’s to 20 more years:
Good friends, good books, and a sleepy conscience: this is the ideal life. — Mark Twain