Hope springs eternal in a Highlandtown barbershop

April 04, 2004|By DAN RODRICKS

I DECIDED TO beat the Holy Week rush by weaving through a sidewalk full of schoolchildren and taking a seat in Rick Citrano's well-lighted Highlandtown barbershop. You'd never call this place a "salon" or a "cuttery." It's pretty much your father's barbershop. Rick gives a no-nonsense haircut for $9.

I arrived just as Rick was brushing the trimmings from an elderly man with orange-and-gray hair and preparing to clean up a young man who wanted his brown hair to be as trim as his brown beard.

There were two television sets side by side in the shop - one was black-and-white and gave a security-camera view of Rick cutting his customer's hair; the other was in color and showed a Bonanza rerun. In the Bonanza rerun, Little Joe had been assigned to a posse, and he was wrestling with his conscience because he knew the accused "bad guy" hadn't shot the posse leader's brother but the posse leader's brother wanted to shoot the guys instead of bringing them to town for justice. I always liked Bonanza - among the first television shows we saw in color back in the day - because there was always a life lesson, and Little Joe was cool, and he had great hair.

I like to read the sports pages in the barbershop. Friday, I read about the 2004 Orioles. This is the first time in maybe five years I've paid attention to the Orioles for more than an hour. The team is interesting again. Is this the year Jay Gibbons breaks out? Can Melvin Mora handle third base? Is Sidney an ace? Palmeiro and Surhoff are back, but who are these young ones? I have boots older than some of these guys.

"They ought to do well," Rick Citrano said as he took a razor to the bearded fellow's head. "If they don't have too many injuries."

I love to sit in a barbershop and listen to guys talk sports. It's a guy thing. You have to do it once in a while.

Nothing against the unisex salons and cutteries and lovely women (Teresa, Rosie and Janet) who gave me fine "stylings" in recent years. But sometimes - say, spring, as we prepare ourselves for baseball, fishing and Easter or Passover - men need to assemble in our well-lighted caves and clean each other up.

My son went with me to a barbershop a few weeks ago; there were three chairs, three busy barbers - black guys and white guys - and we were all talkin' NCAA basketball, and the sets were tuned to ESPN and ESPN2, and the reading material ranged from ESPN Magazine to Jet and GQ. "Now that's a barbershop," my son said.

At Rick's on Friday afternoon, the atmosphere was similar, even with Bonanza because Bonanza is pretty much all guys except for the occasional woman who shows up with Ben Cartwright at a barn dance or gets sweet on Hoss.

`The Orioles are on television Sunday night [tonight]," Rick said. "I never heard of Opening Day being on a Sunday night."

The bearded fellow explained that the game has to be Sunday night because it will be carried on ESPN, commercial television further gooping up an American tradition - Opening Day usually being a festive afternoon event - but baseball somehow surviving this.

"So it's the Game of the Week?" Rick asked, referring by title to the old show - among the first we saw in color back in the day - that set a standard for sports telecasts and gave us Curt Gowdy, Vin Scully, Joe Garagiola, Bob Costas and Tony Kubek.

NBC hasn't carried a Game of the Week in a dozen years. Those of us who grew up in American League cities saw National League baseball for the first time on that show. I remember going to the barbershop Saturday afternoons with my father, and from spring to late summer the TV was always tuned to Game of the Week.

Pardon all this nostalgia.

I find myself acutely conscious of time lately - my mother, the former Rose Popolo, just turned 90; the neighborhood lacrosse star, whom I recall going off to first grade, suited up yesterday for North Carolina against Hopkins at Homewood; and I had coffee last week with an old friend who shocked me with the fact that her son, Stefan, is now a junior with a samurai hairstyle at Temple. "In about two minutes your kids will be in college," she warned me, "and you'll be trying to figure out how to live in the house without them. I still don't know what happened. I had this job for a really long time, raising my son, and I thought I was doing a good job, then all of a sudden my job was over."

Still, I am glad baseball season is here again and the Orioles are back in town - even if it presses the point about the passage of time.

I haven't felt this way in years. It's an old feeling, perhaps not as intense as it once was, but certainly rooted in boyhood's innocent passions.

I grew up in the Boston area, and when I was 13 - my son's age - the Red Sox won the pennant, and we all went to heaven. That was before free agency, division playoffs, the designated hitter and World Series games (and Opening Day games) at night. Native Baltimoreans have similar feelings about the 1966 and 1970 Birds. And we all remember Orioles Magic and the last World Series championship - won by the Orioles in a Philadelphia stadium that's no longer there.

Nothing will ever be exactly as it was, the way we'd like to freeze it in time, or see it again in perpetual rerun. But you skip down the sidewalk and into spring, hoping for the best - that Jay Gibbons has a big year, that Melvin Mora masters third, that Sidney becomes an ace, that dreams come true and your hair keeps growing just enough to send you back to your father's barbershop.

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