'Ain't No Place Else To Go'

April 12, 1995|By Ellen Gamerman | Ellen Gamerman,Sun Staff Writer

It's early on a Saturday and the regulars at Leon's Barber Shop in Annapolis are all atwitter over a friend who's old enough to be a grandfather and has just fallen in love.

"Sixty-seven and the old man can't do nothing but talk about her," says Reggie Barrett, who is reclining in a red leather seat. "You can't even talk to him no more."

Soon after the red, white and blue stripes on the barber pole start turning, the regulars roll into the shop in the Eastport section of town to talk, drink cup after cup of coffee and maybe get their hair cut.

At the center of the buzz is Leon Wolfe, 78, who has clipped, snipped, tweezed, lathered and brushed his clientele six days a week for the past 62 years.

On this Saturday, Mr. Wolfe is not talking about love. He has a comb through somebody's eyebrow and is trying to clip the hairs short. The man in the seat grips both arm rests and sits still. A few seconds pass.

"Beautiful," Mr. Wolfe says, stepping back, not bothering to brush off the little gray hairs left on his fingertips. "How'd it feel, baby?"

He doesn't wait for an answer. He cuts fast. He talks fast. His conversations stop, start, change direction -- they do everything but end.

Mr. Wolfe lives on the camaraderie in his storefront shop, not the $8 haircuts.

"What the hell? That's life, you know?" he says, shaking a balding head with a whip of white hair over the ears. "You get people to like you. Ain't that right?"

Annapolis Mayor Alfred A. Hopkins already got his hair cut but he's still sitting by the door, complaining about the "bunch of children" on the City Council.

Reggie Barrett is adjusting his shirt over his back brace and talking about the doctors who say he may need surgery.

J. J. Talman is reading the National Enquirer and saying something about the IRS.

The Saturday regulars joke about getting fat, going bald and growing old. They catch up on who's out, who's in, who's dead, who's alive.

When one of them, Jimmy Dunleavy, died a few years ago, his friends wanted him buried in one of Mr. Wolfe's red chairs.

Instead, the men hung a photograph of Mr. Dunleavy, which they pass every time they walk to the glass case of hair creams and tonics.

The men like some conversations so much, they repeat them.

"You know I have an alley," says Bill Jones, who comes every weekend and tells the story to Mr. Wolfe's new clients.

"I've seen the alley." says Al Stakel. "I've driven down the alley. I've seen it a couple of times. Bill Jones Alley. I know it."

"Dennis Callahan gave me that alley," Mr. Jones says of the former mayor whose campaign he managed and who named the alley for him. "Dennis was a good mayor and a very brilliant man. It's a good alley."

Mr. Talman hoists his chair up from the reclining position and heads for the snack tray. He's heard the story before.

"I think I need some crackers today," he says. He tears open the plastic wrap, bites into a peanut butter cracker and changes the subject.

Mr. Wolfe's barbershop is a place for Eastport natives, but Mr. Wolfe is not one of them.

His parents, Jewish immigrants from Latvia, moved to Baltimore just after the turn of the century and started a family. They might have stayed were it not for the accident in 1914.

One of the Wolfes' five daughters was struck by a double-decker bus at Ann and Orleans streets, near her father's secondhand furniture store, and died.

The family moved to Galesville to try to erase the memory, and two years later, on Sept. 12, 1916, Leon was born.

Later, the family moved to Fourth Street in Eastport, where the barbershop has stood in one location or another since 1933.

Mr. Wolfe's older brother, Izzy, gave him pointers when they cut hair at a family shop attached to their old house at 435 Fourth St.

In 1960, Mr. Wolfe opened his shop at 415 Fourth St., where it remains today.

Mr. Wolfe lives in St. Margarets with his wife of 55 years, Ruth, and fills the shop with photographs from his childhood, his days as a Navy barber during World War II and the awards his son, Ronnie, won for coaching local lacrosse teams.

Although he underwent heart surgery four years ago, Mr. Wolfe says he has no plans to retire.

"I didn't say I was," he barks. "Didn't hear it from my mouth, did you? You didn't. All right then."

And for that, his clients are grateful.

"I come here every day," Mr. Barrett says. "Ain't no place else to go but Leon's."

Baltimore Sun Articles
|
|
|
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.