My favorite barber; fourteen years of haircuts and counting

I got a haircut today from Joe. Every two months (with one exception) for the past fourteen years since moving to Pittsburgh, I have walked down to Harry’s Barber Shoppe in Squirrel Hill, to take a seat and wait in line for my turn.

Joe Feldman doesn’t take appointments or reservations. You come, you stay, and depending on how many people are in front of you in line, you might sit around for up to two hours. In this fast-paced world, why would anyone wait so long?

A world of reasons.

Franklin before haircut


To step into the door from busy Murray Avenue is to enter a time machine. There are faded memorabilia everywhere. Letters of thanks on the wall, signed posters of Pittsburgh icons who are no longer with us, other celebrities, children’s artwork.

But it’s not just artwork. Joe always has his radio playing, tuned to his favorite oldies station. It is impossible not to be transported back to the days of Frank Sinatra, Johnny Mathis, and earlier musicians who go so far back that I have no idea who they are. Another time, another place? But not another place: Joe has always been in Pittsburgh, and his late father Harry (of the shop’s name) before him.

The atmosphere here varies, depending on who is in. Today, on a late Saturday afternoon shortly before closing time, it’s just a young guy in the chair finishing up, me, and an older guy waiting after me. It’s not always like this. Maybe it’s the snow. Sometimes it’s six guys waiting (hence the two hour wait). Sometimes there are really old guys who need help getting up and through the door. Sometimes there’s a kid. Sometimes there are (gasp!) women present, either waiting or just in to chat.


I think it’s when there are no women and children when the old-time atmosphere is most entertaining and touching. This is a place where we men seem to end up talking about personal matters in our lives, whether marriages or relationships or jobs or failing health or being proud new grandparents.

Joe always shares his quiet humor and wisdom: sometimes talk gets raunchy, sometimes it gets loud and angry; but Joe has seen it all. He has a gift for understanding where people are coming from, and keeping things under control while letting us be ourselves, be human, be men. The old-fashioned barber shop is one of the places where men feel an invisible bond even with strangers, where we allow ourselves to be vulnerable with them because we know, no matter what our race is, our age, our religion, we are brothers!


The guy in the chair is young, from Turkey. From what I can gather, he arrived in Pittsburgh just a few months ago. A lot of graduate students come to Joe for a haircut. (Heck, I was a graduate student when I started getting a haircut from him.) He and Joe are engaged in lively conversation about all sorts of things that, well, I cannot share here. It is amazing how private topics are so easy to discuss in the shop, even with someone you just met.

I tend not to talk much here (I’m more of a listener and observer), although I remember when, in a rare moment of self-disclosure some years ago, I brought up my anxieties about proposing to Abby. I don’t actually remember what I said or what Joe said in response, but one way or another he calmed me down. I also remember when I told him I was getting my last haircut before my wedding, and he spent a lot of time giving me the best haircut he could.

Not that he doesn’t always give me a great haircut! Apart from perhaps the first two times when I was new, and he was still trying to figure out my hair (all my barbers in my life have had to adapt to my coarse and stubborn hair that tends to stick out when very short) and my preferences, I’ve had nothing to complain about at all. He knows how I like it, and doesn’t have to ask anything any more.

The one time I missed his haircut

One winter I found that Joe’s shop was closed for a long time. I worried, because twice in my life, before I moved to Pittsburgh, a favorite barber of mine had closed up because of death! So I had to get my hair cut elsewhere, and I went to a local SuperCuts, where the whole experience was sterile and cold, plus I got a crappy haircut.

I was so happy that the next time I was due, I saw Joe working again. He had slipped on ice that season and broken his hand! But he had recovered.


Here I am, done after half an hour in the chair:

Franklin after haircut

You can see in the mirror the guy after me taking my photo for me. He said he used to get his hair cut by Joe’s father Harry here sixty years ago. Now that’s history!

(Update of 2012-10-26)

A year later, another haircut to remember.

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