He also can cut a rug

Charm: Vincenzo Pasqualucci gives customers and partners more than a haircut or a dance.

April 18, 2001|By Scott Calvert | Scott Calvert,SUN STAFF

Vincenzo Pasqualucci - Vince for short - is ready to groove. He's wearing a blue pinstripe suit and has groomed his bushy white mustache that's shaped like a frown. He oozes a sweet cologne called "Sex Appeal."

It's Monday night, time for big-band dancing at the Eastport Clipper restaurant near his downtown Annapolis home. Time to cha-cha, mambo and swing "with all the beautiful women."

"I still beat all the young men on the dance floor," he says matter-of-factly. He uses the term "young" loosely. He's pushing 80, after all.

This isn't a man short on energy or self-esteem. Mention his daytime passion - cutting hair and spinning tales - and he takes a stab at modesty. Is he really the best barber in town?

"I don't say so," he says with a shrug and a creeping smile. "But other people say so."

In the 40 years since he arrived from Europe, Pasqualucci's barbering, dancing and backyard winemaking have made him a fixture in the state capital. This native of Casentino, Italy, who blasts a country-western radio station all day in his shop, has no intention of putting up his size 8 1/2 feet.

"When a man retires," he says in a thick accent, blue eyes twinkling, "he prepares to die."

"A certified character" is how Dave Stotler sums up his friend, neighbor and barber.

Some customers have been ascending Pasqualucci's vintage 1965 barber chair for decades. He has a raft of regulars: Naval Academy alumni, state legislators, St. John's College students.

Now and then, an unsuspecting tourist wanders in, emerging a bit baffled.

Minor Carter first visited Vince's Barber Shop in the early 1960s while at the academy. In time, he took his daughter and now his 8-year-old grandson. Carter, who lives in Annapolis, figures he's had 10 haircuts in 30 years from other barbers, and his wife always knows.

"What did Vince do to you?" she'll say. "That's not his haircut."

It's not just Pasqualucci's scissor skills that keep people coming back to Prince George Street. His stories enhance, not to mention extend, the experience. The tales he tells are like old movies you pop into the VCR: some funny, some sad, all familiar.

Wartime tragedy

There was the torpedo that interrupted his lunch during World War II. The time he piloted his Cadillac limousine to Tennessee, hellbent on retrieving his young daughters. And, tragically, when he lost his son in 1969, two weeks into the 19-year-old's tour in Vietnam

His almost nightly rug-cutting has a following, too. "He takes over the whole floor," says Diana Hopkins of Cape St. Claire, recalling her first dance with him after her divorce four years ago.

That Pasqualucci has his own style is clear. He playfully slaps dinner guests' hands for grabbing bread with pasta still on the plate. He upbraids folks who, while trying to decipher his English, say, "uh huh," when disbelief or outrage is the best reply. ("What do you mean, uh huh?!")

But he also has a gentle side. He doles out bottles of wine he makes from grapes grown in his back yard. He gives free rides in the limo on prom nights and wedding days. Postcards from friends and customers plaster his shop windows.

Though he cuts hair six days a week, he's been known to miss an appointment or two. The story goes that he once showed up late for then-Gov. William Donald Schaefer, a man not known for patience. Arrivederci, said Schaefer.

Talking for health

Even a simple trim can be an adventure. Chuckling customers swap tales of hour-and-a-half cuts the way commuters compare traffic jams.

This barber doesn't snip and speak at once; he may need scissors and comb as props.

"My wife never starts dinner till I get home because she never knows when I'm coming home," says Tom Coan of Annapolis.

Pasqualucci doesn't apologize for his loquacious ways. "If a barber never talks, you know what would happen? You lose your lung. The more you talk, the better you feel."

At his cozy shop a block from the waterfront, the banter is locker room-lite - lots of women and war. It's a rugged, manly place, with the heads of deer that Pasqualucci bagged on the Eastern Shore gazing out from a wall.

The shop has a frozen-in-time feel - a cash register from 1961, an old rotary phone. On the walls are snapshots of his children, and some of him as a young man. In one he has wavy dark hair and thin mustache; his head is cocked, upper lip curled just so.

Astronaut and dancers

Warm testimonials abound. "I miss the good haircuts and conversation," astronaut Paul Richards writes on a photo. Female friends have signed a get-well card from a while back: "I need a dance partner." "I'm saving a dance for you!"

One recent afternoon brings half a dozen customers. He knows them all. By the time they leave, they may know him better, even if they've heard his tales.

He recalls Oct. 19, 1942, sailing across the Mediterranean on an Italian military ship, savoring a last bite of meat when - thwack - a British torpedo ripped the hull. Pasqualucci, then barely 20, wound up in the sea.

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