Back in 2001, every three or four weeks, I'd find myself in Mario's chair, at Mario & Mike's Haircutters. Corner of Maple and the Post Road. "Be My Baby," "Walk Like A Man," "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow" and all those other indelible tunes from 850 AM Oldies Radio as the soundtrack.
I mention 2001 because that's when I wrote my column, "The most comfortable seat in town" about Mario & Mike's -- but Mario had actually started cutting my hair (at least, what's left of it) way before that. The year we moved to Westport, 1987, I saw a place with a striped barber pole less than a mile from our house. The price was right. The sign on the door didn't say "Hair Stylist." That's all I needed to know. I claimed my seat.
Matt was 5 when all the Herman men became regulars at Mario & Mike's. Greg was 3, and his hair was still soft and blonde. (It hasn't been that color for upwards of 25 years.) Those were the days when the smell of Mike's cigarette smoke filled the room, even though he'd sneak outside to light up, and his endless array of sweaters dazzled the eye. When Mike would get all worked up about Bridgeport politics, and Mario would have to calm him down. When Ann, manning the third chair, told all her teenage customers, in her pidgin-English, "You so handsome, your girlfriend gonna love this haircut."
About seven years later, Mario gave Robby -- another dark-haired Herman who started life as an almost-blonde -- his first haircut. Robby's the only one in the clan who can claim Mario's been cutting his hair his whole life. The photo of that rite of passage is still a family classic.
The changes started coming in 2006, when Mike hung up his razor and his scissor and sold the business. (Sadly, he passed away a year later.) Mario stayed on with the new owner for eight months, then moved one town east to join John at the Fairfield Barber Shop. For me, the commute was no longer nine-tenths of a mile, but it's not like I needed a passport. That far I could go for loyalty. And a good haircut. At the right price.
Mario's new place was another old-fashioned barber shop, but for me, it wasn't quite the same. John, with all due respect, wasn't Mike. David Asman and Liz Claman on Fox Business were not the Ronettes, the Shirelles and the Four Seasons. I didn't know the guy on the chair next to me, or the other guy sitting on the couch waiting his turn.
A few months ago, John sold the establishment to Mario. Good things started to happen. Mario brought in his son Marco to man the second chair: Call on the phone and you will not be able to tell the two of them apart. They replaced the ancient tiny tube with a flat-screen TV you can actually see. John's taste in entertainment still lingers with Fox Business as the default network -- how many times a day can you listen to the stock prices? -- but I've already cultivated Marco as an accomplice for an eventual bolt to ESPN.
So now, every three or four weeks, I find myself in Mario's chair -- still. At the Fairfield Barber Shop. Corner of Unquowa and Post roads. Fox Business as the soundtrack.
But it's still the most comfortable seat in town.
Hank Herman is a Westport writer, and "The Home Team" appears every other Friday. Hank's adventures with his dog, Ricky, can be followed on his blog "Beagle Man" on the Westport News website -- http://blog.ctnews.com/beagleman/ . Hank can be followed on Twitter @BeagleManHank and reached by email at DoubleH50@gmail.com