Cos

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We had the pleasure of taking some friends to see Bill Cosby the other night at the Paramount Theater in Oakland.  Dr Mrs My Wife and I had seen him once before, at the SF Jazz Center, where he’d done a two hour set for a fund raiser. I had been seeing him make more appearances on television, and it seemed like he was building up towards something bigger. And now here we were in front of the Paramount, watching the fruits of all this set building.

The Paramount itself is one of the old movie palaces that are scattered around the Bay Area. It’s a relic of a bygone era, all gilt edges and Art Deco flourishes.  It’s a beautiful venue for a show, and that night it was filled to the rafters for the man, himself. Half the crowd were young folks, “Cos-playing” in Cosby sweaters (to quote my friend Andrew); the other half were older folks, who’d no doubt followed Bill Cosby since he was playing Vegas in the 60’s. It was kind of heartwarming to see so many different kinds of people gathered together (I think this is a symptom of my own advancing age, but speculation on that will have to wait for another post).

Cosby himself is not quite the man he was, though he is still funny. He reminds me of footage I have seen of Groucho Marx in his later years, doing interviews (in this case on Bill Cobsy’s talk show). He’s bemused, slightly bored, and incredibly sharp beneath it all, as he rambles seemingly aimlessly. He also reminds me of my old man, who, it turns out, has been lifting material from Cosby for as long as I have been alive. He sat heavily in his folding chair, in a hoody and sweat cargo pants, holding court like a man in his own living room, occasionally breaking out of his stories to heckle the crowd. Just another evening in our living room.

Dad’s Haircut

I cut this man's hair for the first time in my life and he's got nothing bad to say about it
I cut this man’s hair for the first time in my life and he’s got nothing bad to say about it

Like most children, my first haircuts were at the hand of my mother. I sat on a chair in front of the rococo mirror in the entryway of our apartment in New York, an old bed sheet around my neck, and asked my mother for Tom Selleck’s haircut. In the era of Magnum PI, and with my curly hair, it was my best guess at what could be done. Those were the best haircuts of my life, certainly.

Flash forward last week. Dr Mrs My Wife had decamped to Hawaii for a week, leaving me with my parents, who have been visiting ahead of … well, let’s just leave that news for a different post. Suffice to say, while it was nice to have the old folks around, I found myself looking for a project to occupy them. Fortunately, I was well overdue for a haircut, and so I asked my mother to oblige.

Nowadays, my haircuts are much simpler than in my Magnum PI days. Armed with a pair of clippers, Dr Mrs My Wife has been cutting my hair very short for the past few years.  So, I asked my mother to oblige. Predictably, my father decided he needed a haircut also. Somehow that involved “supervising” – which is to say, literally standing over my mother’s shoulder and pointing out individual hairs. The simplicity of the haircut worked in my favor, and we were done fairly quickly. Mom takes things very seriously, and does her best. She brings an artist’s fine touch, even with a pair of clippers in your adult son’s bathroom, even with your husband looking over your shoulder and commenting. She still managed to make it clean and sharp.

Then it was Dad’s turn, but he didn’t want my mother to cut his hair, so it fell to me. My father’s head is like a sculpture of my head sent from the future. Our hairlines receding to the same point, sparse on top with a tendency to go all Larry Fine on the sides, and peppered with gray; it’s a before and after picture with 30 years in between.  I approached it with some trepidation, partly because I didn’t want to make Dad look completely bad, but also because of his tendency to mock mercilessly. Starting with the biggest guard I had, I worked around the sides of his head, making sure to get the stray hairs. The dark cloth in the sink, which had been camouflaged my dark hair, was now lit up with salt and pepper tufts.

My father was strangely quiet. As I cut his hair, I got a rare opportunity to look at him up close, from angles I didn’t typically see from. He wasn’t focussed, and hence not busy making mischief. Instead, he was quiet, staring into the mirror (with fear?), clenching and unclenching his jaw (a habit I have found myself picking up).  His face was softer, more doughy than I remembered it, with more fine lines than I remembered. Hie eyes near hidden in drooping lids, with the same impish flicker I knew so well. I was overcome with a tender feeling towards this old bear who had shrewdly, clumsily, purposefully, accidentally helped raise me to the man I am today. I had a vision of shaving his face in 10 years with a grandchild or two waiting to play with jiddu Awad.

10 minutes later, the moment had passed. Dad’s hair was cut, and not too badly, he was smiling broadly, his missing bicuspid more present than when it was there. I cleaned up the salt a pepper fuzz in the sink and we all went back upstairs to the present.