Saturday, November 28, 2009
I ran into Anthony, my mother’s former hairdresser, on Thanksgiving Eve and greeted him with the old standby “how’s business?”
And he told me.
“I sold the building,” he said. “I’m retiring.”
I couldn’t believe it. Another familiar place disappearing? Anthony has been running the beauty salon on Fifth Avenue for as long as I can remember. He can’t just close up shop.
Anthony said he’s not leaving Brooklyn. I thought he might head off to someplace like Florida, but he dismissed that idea.
“Maybe I’ll go to Key West for a couple of weeks,” he said, “but I don’t want to boil down there—especially in the summer.”
Anthony was one of the few people who actually loved his job.
“I couldn’t wait to get to work,” he said. “It was never really work for me.”
Not too many people in this world can make that claim.
One of my earliest memories of Anthony was coming home with my brother from grocery shopping when we were kids.
We had gotten caught in a terrible downpour that soaked the paper bags—no plastic bags back then-and the groceries began falling to the ground right in front of Anthony’s salon.
I remember a bottle of Coke hitting the sidewalk and exploding. No plastic bottles back then.
It was getting pretty desperate when Anthony opened the door and handed us some shopping bags so we could get our stuff and go home.
My mother had often gone to Anthony’s salon to get her hair done there and I did, too, for a while—back when I still had hair.
And the day I went into his salon to tell him my mother had died, Anthony was very kind and supportive.
“She’s sleeping with the angels now,” he told me.
I had to ask him how long he had been in business.
“Since 1966,” he said.
I did a double-take. I knew he had been there a long time, but I had no idea it was that long.
So that means I was nine years old when Anthony opened up. Lyndon Johnson was President of the United States that year, the first of eight presidents who would enter the White House during Anthony’s 43-year run.
There were no cell phones, Blackberries, no Internet, and no widescreen TVs, but Gemini VIII docked with an orbiting satellite in 1966 and Russia’s Luna 9 landed on the Moon.
It was the year of the Miranda decision, where cops had to tell you about your right to remain silent. It was the year a man named Richard Speck killed 8 student nurses in Chicago and, a short time later, a man named Charles Whitman killed 13 people from atop a building at the University of Texas.
A loaf of bread cost 22 cents and a gallon of gas went for 23 cents. A new home cost $40,000 and a new car had a price tag of $2,401.
John Lennon set off a firestorm of self-righteous outrage that year when he said the Beatles were more popular than Jesus. The Fab Four released Revolver, played their last live concert at Candlestick Park in San Francisco, and began work on Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart Club’s Band, which would be released the following year.
Both Star Trek and How the Grinch Stole Christmas made their debuts that year. A Man for All Seasons won the Oscar for Best Picture and its star, Paul Scofield won for Best Actor. Elizabeth Taylor won Best Actress for Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf?
I guess you could say 1966 was a tumultuous year, but then what year isn't?
Anthony and I talked about how Bay Ridge has changed and how we don’t recognize it anymore. It felt strange because I used listen to adults talk this way when I was young and I had no idea what they meant.
My world wasn’t going to change. The people, the shops, the neighborhood, they were all going to stay the same.
“I had all these beautiful ladies, like your mother—God rest her soul.” Anthony said. “All these beautiful ladies and they’re all gone now.”
We shook hands and Anthony wished me a happy new year. So now something else from my generation will disappear and the neighborhood will look a little less familiar.