A Journey In Time at a Point Pleasant Barber Shop
At Pasola's Barber Shop, time freezes and memories linger
Before my eyes was the man who always cut my hair, ready to chop away again, and give me the news about town that no newspaper ever could.
Jack Pasola was still clipping away Wednesday morning, after decades of doing this, even if many of his customers are all gray now, including me.
Or they just have a few strands left that Pasola, a former Point Beach mayor, nips off with the ends of his scissors and does the best he can to comb over their scalps.
He'll spend the time he would have spent chopping off clumps of somebody's thick mop - the time he used to spend when everybody had long hair in the 1970s - reminiscing about the way things used to be.
"I went to the Ocean Road School," said Pasola, who's now 68. "Then I went to the Beach high school, even though I lived in the Boro....They had the football field down by where Burger King is now."
In the chair was the man who fed me whenever my parents couldn't: Pasquale "Pat" Carannante, the locally famous owner of Pat's Pizza, who made Philly cheesesteaks better than all of Philly. When my parents went out to eat, my brother and I scooted over there on our bikes, back in the early 1980s, to get a special steak sub or a calzone.
He's been retired for about five years, even though the pizza place is still there, on Route 88 in the Boro. On Wednesday morning, he was about to head to Italy, where he came from. He talked a little about missing the business, even though, admittedly, it got to be "too much."
But he was happy, because he was where he belonged, talking to two of his biggest fans.
Pat kept up with the banter the best he could - "How's it going, Boss!" used to be one of his favorite phrases, even though he often used to mix Italian phrases with broken English.
"Yeah, yeah, I remember you," he said as he smiled at me. "I got a son about your age."
A town can change the width of its streets, the landscape of its parks and downtowns. But there's always a place that keeps time where it was when things were simpler.
That's Pasola's Barber shop, the little house-like structure on Arnold Avenue where teachers, politicans, local business people and just about anybody who is anybody in Point Pleasant Beach and Point Pleasant Boro has had their hair cut at least once, even if they prefer what they get at the beauty salons in the mall.
Chances are, they're like me: They came back.
"I remember when you came in here when you were little," Jack likes to say to me when I come by. "Your mother used to sit in the back and say, 'Cut off more. Keep going.' "
Chances are, they came back because the mall can't give them what they get here. At Pasola's, you get banter, news and friendship.
At Pasola's, you can walk in after not being there for more than a decade - as I did last year - and get treated like a long-lost relative sitting down for Thanksgiving dinner.
I used to go to Pasola's religiously - even when I went away to college, or moved to Pennsylvania and Delaware briefly when I took newspaper jobs in those places. My mother used to tease me for "driving two-and-a-half hours for a haircut."
I always came on Election Day, too. I just had to. Jack is a Republican, so he had a good handle on the national as well as the local races in an area that is strong GOP territory.
"Do you think Bush is going to do it?" I remember him asking me back on Election in 1988.
"Yeah, I think he's going to do it," I said.
"I don't see how he can't," he said. "I just don't think people can trust Dukakis."
I remember walking in there in early 1990, when Gov. Jim Florio proposed a big tax increase that he eventually rammed through the state Legislature. Later that year, you had a hard time finding a car that didn't have an "Impeach Florio" sticker slapped on the bumper.
Long before that tax revolt became big, you could sense the anger and betrayal at Pasola's. I got there the day the story broke, and got there early. If you don't go early to Pasola's, you may not get a haircut. Nowadays, Pasola's closes at 10 a.m.
"Did you look at the Ledger today?" he asked me, on that cold, winter 1990 day, before his crowded shop.
I pulled it out the Star-Ledger from the stack of newspapers that he always keeps on the chairs on the side. Yep, big tax increase.
"Can you believe this?" he said.
The customers who filled the chairs on the side were just as angry. They echoed everything Jack said. "Can you believe this?" he kept saying, and so did they.
I didn't even know about the increase before I walked in there that day. By the time I walked out, I felt like I knew everything. I knew Florio was going to lose re-election; in 1993, he did.
Back in the 1970s, I thought going to the barber was a sort of punishment. My parents wanted me to get my hair chopped to my hairline, even though so many of my friends were allowed to grow their hair down to their collar bone.
Finally, in high school, I strayed. Given my loyalty to Pasola's, I'm almost afraid to admit it now. I started going to the Barbary Coast on Bridge Avenue in Point Boro. I wanted the washing and the drying and the styling that everybody else was getting. I wanted them to trim the ends, not razor off the clumps that would bring my hair to a near-stubble.
Then, in college, during my senior year, I hit a rough patch in my life. My girlfriend left me, and I was going through a bout with eating disorders. As much as I enjoyed Rutgers, I was missing home. I was missing our house on Barton Avenue in the Boro. I was missing the beach and the Boardwalk, and being with my friends and family.
I missed sitting in the chair, with Jack chopping away at my hair, talking about the day, talking about the government and the way things used to be.
On Nov. 8, 1988, the day George H.W. Bush was elected, I did what I needed to do. I did what I waited four years to do, but should have done much sooner.
I got my hair cut.