One and Two Halves

One and Two Halves Cover

One and Two Halves

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Before Jack-in-the-Box came to town, Belmont Shore was a quaint little Southern California coastal village, or at least that’s how its inhabitants saw it. They still saw it that way even after Jack-in-the-Box. Rickety shacks on pilings, built long ago, were scattered on the beach along Ocean Boulevard. They were grad­ually coming down to make room for parking lots for the tourists and “flatlanders” who came to the beach on week­ends and during the summer. Across the street, two and three story apart­ment buildings crowded one another for beach frontage. The apartments were a mixture of seasonal rentals for summer tourists and temporary homes for the year-round residents who moved into the neighborhood from such disparate places as Avon, Illinois and Obi, New York. The apartments were the dividing line between the beach cottages and the stucco and wood frame houses that lined the one-way streets stream­ing to and from Ocean Boulevard and Second Street.

The streets themselves were barely wide enough for parking on both sides with one lane for traffic. The parking spaces were occupied day and night by the Volkswa­gens of school teachers, the Mustangs and Rivieras of Talk-of-the-Town hustlers, the Cadillacs and Lincolns of middle class working people, who really should have been driving Chevies and Fords but had the bigger cars be­cause they were trying to keep up with the Jone­ses. There were the Alfa Romeos and Austin Healeys of playboy types who came to the Shore because they’d heard somewhere down the line that there were attractive young women everywhere and parties that lasted for days. There was indeed a grain of truth to some of that talk. As the war in Vietnam raged and college campuses across the country were rockin’ ’n’ rollin’ between protests, the Shore, like the rest of America, was having a party.

Second Street, the main busi­ness district, was where the action was. From Quincy to Bay Shore, Second Street bustled with gro­cery stores and drug stores, bak­eries and banks, and in this thirteen block stretch, bars, liquor stores and real estate of­fices flour­ished on virtually ev­ery corner. There were coffee shops and pizza parlors, Mexican restaurants and Chinese cuisine, and four barber shops.

Sec­ond Street started coming alive every day at nine when the morning manager at Jack-in-the-Box started hosing down his parking lot and the adjoining side­walk. Asa swept in front of his liquor store, and Al stood in the entryway to his jew­elry store greeting early shoppers. The breakfast crowd at Sut’s Hut was breaking up and going out into the morning. The air was charged with the ocean’s briny aroma. Sun poured down on the avenue like drawn butter. Bernie Honig unlocked the door to his barber shop at nine on the nose.

At a time when crew cut was king and the fra­ternity boys were wearing ivy league styles, Bernie’s was one of the first “hair styling” barber shops around. Cam­pus radicalism and revolt against “the establish­ment” were taking hold, and long hair styles were coming in. Bernie, knowing where the dollar was, began attending workshops and seminars to learn how to deal with the longer styles. He was ten years ahead of his time. He’d tell his customers, “I could see it coming.” His appointment book was filled, and he stayed busy even after the barbers in the other shops on the avenue were playing checkers with each other in the front windows of their shops.

Bernie’s shop was on a block that included a coin oper­ated laundry called Norge Village and Mc Coy’s market on one side, and Asa’s liquor store and a cafe on the other. The red and white plastic cylinder of his barber pole, a sym­bol of so many years of blood letting and tooth pulling, re­volved during business hours. A red-white-and-blue neon sign hung in the window. Its tubes were shaped to spell out the words “Bernie’s Barber Shop.” The vertical lines of both Bs looked like twin barber pole.

The shop had two medium-size maroon leather-upholstered iron chairs, spaced six feet apart, not huge and heavy like the old porcelain barber chairs, but also not tiny and light-weight like the styling chairs that appeared later. They were smooth and cold, and they never seemed to break down or lose their luster, as though they were oblivious to the passage of time. Behind each chair were cabinets and shampoo bowls above which hung mirrors. Other mirrors were positioned on the opposite wall facing the chairs. They lined up so that when the customer in the chair was looking into either mirror, he saw his own reflection front-back, front-back until the tunnel curved upward and out of sight. A ’forties vintage cash register sat on a raised podium in the middle of a table midway between the two chairs on the opposite wall. Magazines littered the lower surface of the table, and six waiting chairs lined the wall, three on each side of the register.

Noticeable, sim­ply by the ab­sence of any other wall hangings, except mirrors, were two eight by ten black and white pho­tographs, toward the back of the shop, of a much younger Bernie when he was an apprentice jockey in Chicago. One pictured him riding a horse to victory at Arlington Park; the other showed him on the same horse in the win­ner’s circle, wreathed with roses.

At age forty-four, Bernie was as steady and hard-working as the chair he toiled behind. His favorite expression was, “Ain’t no use walkin’ around if yuh ain’t makin’ money.” He’d walked off the ship at Terminal Island at the end of the war and gone to work at the Iowa Barber Shop in downtown Long Beach. It didn’t take him long to realize that he wanted his own shop. When he bought the lease on the one in Belmont Shore, it was a one-chair operation. In the twenty years that followed, he added another chair.

Jerôme Farot, the barber in the second chair, at twenty-five, was young enough to be Bernie’s son. Three months after he’d gradu­ated from high school, he was enrolled in the American Barber College at Fifth and San Julian in the heart of downtown Los Angeles’ Skid Row. He went on active duty with the Naval Reserve immediately after he passed the state board. He got lucky and got to serve his tour of duty at Los Alamitos Naval Air Station. That’s how he found his way to Bernie’s front door. When he got an early-out to go to Long Beach City College, he went to work afternoons and Saturdays in the second chair.

When they were both in the shop and cutting hair, it was as busy-sounding as a beehive. Voices overlapped, and if either of the two barbers wanted some privacy in his conversation, he’d have to lower his voice. But this was not often, as Jerôme’s schedule was only half of Bernie’s.

One and Two Halves