Gifted at soccer, trained as an educator and filled with sociable energy, my oldest child has chosen to become a fashion designer. It’s ironic on a number of levels not least of which is that Kelly was not exactly, shall we say, rigorous in her fashion choices as a youngster. During her teenage years, in fact, she wore the same corduroy jacket, jeans and wool cap for weeks on end. By high school, whenever she needed to dress nicely, she relied upon her nine-year-old sister for guidance.

Now just over thirty, with her wife, Laura, Kelly is consumed with the establishment of their firm, “Kirrin Finch,” which will offer clothing to women with tomboyish tastes. Together, they are selecting fabrics, buttons and cuts with meticulous care. No detail is too small for them to debate, in a constructive way, in a heartfelt drive to “get it right.”

What would Lou Sanders have thought about this?


My father didn’t set out to spend a fifty-year career in the clothing business. When he finally arrived in Philadelphia from Kiev, via Cuba, he took the first job that was offered, behind the counter at a delicatessen. Immediately, he found the smell of fish on his hands to be repulsive and, after several months, quit to become a clothing salesman.  Shortly thereafter, in the late 1920’s, he rented a space to house his own shop. By the early 1940’s, he’d bought a neighboring building and moved his business, Lou Sanders’ Men’s Shop, into it. There it continued until 1981.

Unlike Kelly, my father didn’t aspire to the creative aspects of the business. He also had no interest in manufacturing. He was a salesman. I’m not even sure it would have mattered to him if his product were clothing or hardware or tires, so long as it wasn’t fish.


Kelly also didn’t come to fashion as a foregone conclusion. As recently as a year ago, she and Laura considered opening a restaurant as their enterprise. Their consideration of businesses so unrelated to their professions raised eyebrows.

“Why not just keep teaching and pharmaceutical marketing?” someone asked Kelly and Laura, respectively.

“We want to do something together,” said Kelly.

“Fair enough,” concluded the Greek chorus. “But what makes you think you can just parachute into a business or career without any preparation?”

“You’ll see,” they said, to the skeptics.

And we have. On their honeymoon, Kelly and Laura clearly spent countless hours churning through the possibilities. They identified the lack of female-proportioned clothing available to tomboys as a need to be addressed; they concluded they were the perfect team to solve the problem. Not content merely to spend money and hire professionals, Kelly and Laura have set themselves on a vigorous course of education to become experts in the field.

Utilizing their existing skills in marketing (Laura) and networking (Kelly) they have created a business plan, social media buzz and gained acceptance to Pratt Institute’s prestigious incubator for new fashion entrepreneurs. a major accomplishment. To our alarm, Kelly even asked to borrow our sewing machine; that might be taking the “do-it-yourself” mentality a step too far.

“How do you turn it on?” she asked.


My father loved his time at the Store. It was where he was most comfortable. But I don’t believe he cared about the product. He wasn’t solving a problem or addressing a need, except for his need to make a living. Not given to reflective communications, he never expressed anything about the subject of men’s clothing, even while devoting half a century to the cause. Sure, he preferred dressy clothing to denim. And he certainly wouldn’t have approved of ripped jeans under any circumstances. But these preferences could just as well have been expressed if he’d become an insurance agent or a lawyer.

He held many beliefs deep within a well of silence. We weren’t always sure about the inner workings of his mind. But the preferences he did feel sharply, such as that his sons marry within their faith, were communicated with an extreme clarity, spoken or not. When he first met my wife, Katie, who is not Jewish, he closed his eyes, leaned back his head against the couch and proceeded not to speak for the rest of the afternoon.

Several months later, when it appeared Katie and I might stay together, to my great relief, he refrained from an angry display. Certainly already chastened by my mother, he broached the subject of his disapproval with subtlety, even graciousness.

“She’s pretty. She’s smart,” he conceded, then continued, with his coup d’ grace: “But she’s a little older.” This from a man who had married a woman fifteen years younger and made known he felt that was a good idea.

He left out the major facts that she was also Unitarian, divorced and the mother of a two-year-old daughter.

“How will he be with Kelly?” Katie and I fretted.

“Will he accept her?” we wondered.

If he rejected her, Kelly would sense it, to say nothing of the resentment Katie would feel.   To say we were concerned with their introduction to each other is a vast understatement. Yet, when the time came, Lou Sanders instantly abandoned all his inhibitions about religion, about divorce, and about step-grandchildren, a relationship he would have scoffed at as tenuous, at best, in any other family.

He loved Kelly like his own grandchild immediately, indistinguishable from his other six. Katie, too, was accepted as a beloved daughter-in-law from the moment it became clear she would not be going away. Did Lou reach this accommodation easily? Probably not. But once he got there, Lou Sanders didn’t look back.


Perhaps that is the closest connection he has to Kelly and Laura’s new enterprise. It doesn’t matter what the subject matter is. It’s just coincidence Kelly is entering the field of clothing where my father “played” for so long. In the important ways, when push comes to shove, Kelly is going about it the right way, all in. And as a grandfather to Kelly, when he could have fallen so much shorter, Lou went all the way. If Lou Sanders’ Men’s Shop existed today, doubtless he’d feature a new line on display the moment it becomes available: Kirrin Finch: menswear apparel for women.


Darryl Dawkins died last month at age 58. He’d debuted as a professional basketball player with the Philadelphia 76’ers in the late 1970’s. Darryl’s claim to fame concerned his ability to slam-dunk a basketball with sufficient force to explode the backboard. A cheery and smiling personality, his nickname was “Chocolate Thunder.”

My connection to Darryl Dawkins could not have been more tenuous. Yet, the basis for that connection proved hard to forget. During my senior year at Dickinson College, in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, I worked part-time at the sports desk of the local newspaper, the Evening Sentinel, which everyone I knew called “The Senile.” (Cynicism was the norm in college, after all.)

I didn’t socialize much and didn’t mind spending Friday evenings alone in the newsroom, fielding telephone calls with results of local high school contests. On occasion, I attended games and wrote articles. Among the highlights were interviewing the stars of the Boiling Springs Bubblers softball team, Patsy Peach and April Showers. No, I didn’t make those names up.

Back to Darryl Dawkins: The sports photographer was named Tom. He was talented and, a recent Google search disclosed, destined to own his own studio and make a career of photojournalism. When I knew him, however, he was barely older than I and thrilled to have a press pass that allowed access to sporting events. “This is major!” he’d say, as he gathered his equipment and drove off in a rusted Toyota hatchback, as though he were a fireman who’d just heard an alarm.

In reality, the Senile didn’t confer access to “major” events, however enthusiastically Tom characterized them. Like me, he typically covered local high school sports or low-level college games such as the ones I played at Dickinson. But once, during the pre-season, the Philadelphia 76’ers played a “home game” at the Hershey Arena, just 20 minutes from Carlisle, and the local press credential conferred access.

Since our sports editor/reporter (one person filled both roles) didn’t want to cover “an exhibition game,” Tom volunteered not only to photograph the game from courtside, but also to try to conduct a post-game interview in the locker room. There, Tom witnessed Darryl Dawkins nude and reported (verbally, not in his article) that his “schlong” was the longest ever on a human being. Not prepared for such a sighting, and also not willing to risk being drowned in a whirlpool bath, Tom didn’t attempt to snap a picture.   But he obsessed for the rest of the year with obtaining a locker room pass to a regular-season game in Philadelphia in order to secretly capture this phenomenon.

To my knowledge (and I am NOT going to check with the Guinness people) the longest schlong is not an authenticated matter. That didn’t prevent Tom from bringing up the subject obsessively. His observation clouded every mention of Darryl Dawkins for me forevermore.

Though Tom did drive two hours to several 76’ers games with a credential that allowed courtside access, he never again gained access to the 76’ers’ locker room.  The NBA season ended in the spring of 1978 at the same time as I graduated and ended my career at the paper. The lesson I derived from this slice of life is, as follows: Some assertions can simply be trusted. Others warrant the phrase “Trust, but verify.” And some, like Tom’s contention about Darryl Dawkins, may best be forgotten, if possible.


Mark Twain observed: “Everyone complains about the weather, but no one ever does anything about it.” Well, I did something. I moved from New Jersey to North Carolina, thus sparing myself what I found to be the disheartening, life-sucking, soul-crushing tedium of a relatively northern climate.

Now, I don’t experience the gloominess that afflicted me in late October, each year, when I began to count down the days until spring. Rather, I embrace the short, two month “winter” that provides my new home with 1-2 inches of snow, three or four days below freezing, and the glorious opportunity to see daffodils begin to flower in early February.

Yet, things are not perfect here. Yesterday marked the twelfth consecutive day of measurable rainfall, a record not seen here since record keeping began, in 1867. My solar panels recorded their twelfth consecutive day of near-zero production. And my lawn is no longer sod; it is sodden.


I don’t remember complaining much about cold weather when I was a child. There were several glorious “snow days,” when sleds transplanted school. And I recall rooting for enough cold weather to freeze the skating pond across the street.

In our house the clanking of the radiators comforted me, along with their hissing. It made the house seem a living, breathing thing, though it probably only indicated a deficiency or over-abundance of air or water in the system. I recall my father fiddling with the furnace. He added water or subtracted water; I could never figure out which. I recall him making sounds like “Ecch” and “Unnh” and “Sehrgehadit” while he tramped around in the fetid furnace room.

I looked forward to the spring primarily so that I could play baseball outside and scan the major league box scores in the newspaper. But the cold didn’t prevent me from throwing a ball against the wall all winter in an effort to perfect my accuracy. Now that I think about it, most of my friends refused to join me for baseball activities in freezing weather. But more than a few times, I shoveled snow and ice off the driveway so I could more easily play by myself. No problem.


My father detested snow. He disliked it for the usual adult reasons, like the difficulty of driving or the necessity of shoveling. But I wonder now if he’d had some awful childhood experience pertaining to snow. He saw no joy in it, no beauty, no redeeming characteristics at all. He didn’t ski, sled or build snowmen. For his men’s clothing store, a snowstorm meant dead, unprofitable days.

Cold weather, without precipitation, was different; it served a purpose for my father. It meant people needed gloves and sweaters as gift items and for themselves. It meant outdoor workers needed long underwear and sweatshirts. It meant frugal people who had hoped to get through winter with a light, short jacket, needed overcoats.

I vividly recall standing in front of Lou Sanders Men’s Shop one December 24 when the temperature soared to sixty-five. People walked around in tee shirts and shorts; the radio reported people strolling on the beach in Atlantic City. Once they accepted the impossibility of a White Christmas, the public mood was exultant. My father was crestfallen. He shook his head like a man regarding a disaster site, as he gazed at piles of winter inventory and lamented the ruin of his year.


Once I reached adulthood, I found myself increasingly sharing my father’s viewpoint, though not to the same fervent degree. Like my father, I saw the problem with snow as an economic one. It made me shovel the walkways and required me to pay to have my driveway plowed, by the inch, no less! Imagine, a three-inch storm cost about $75, a seven-inch storm about $150. Snow prevented people from shopping for houses and, therefore, cost me some clients in my real estate law practice.

Unlike my father, I expressed appreciation for the majesty of a beautiful snowfall. Though skeptical, when I denied the accuracy of forecasted accumulations, it was with the hope that they were exaggerated. When my father heard “five to seven inches are likely,” and he declared: “It’s going to miss us completely,” his tone suggested he believed he could actually affect the outcome.

Now that I live in a warm climate, inclement weather, whether warm or cold, is viewed primarily as a temporary limit on outdoor activities. No longer one who throws balls against a wall, I rely upon tennis or walking to stay active. I accept that bad weather cannot be wished away. By moving south, something I don’t believe my father would have considered, I’ve vastly improved my chances to avoid weather-related misery. My entire outlook is better. If the forecast threatens a few days in the forties this winter in Chapel Hill, I’ll say, with bravado: “Bring it on!”


We attended a season-opening “Newcomers Alumni” event last week. The group’s name requires some explanation. Chapel Hill has a “Newcomers Club” that helps recent arrivals meet each other through a broad array of activities. After three years in Newcomers, however, members are gently evicted to make room for new arrivals. Those who wish to continue join the “Alumni” club. Its schedule is less extensive, but occasional get-togethers allow members to stay in touch with a broad array of friends and acquaintances.

Walking amidst groups of people at these events I reliably hear details of illnesses, surgeries and recoveries. The concept of TMI (Too Much Information) rarely makes an appearance. Sometimes, at a dinner or cocktail hour, I pay attention to how long it takes the guests to broach such subjects. Rarely is it longer than fifteen minutes. Knees, backs, eyes, joints, hands, you name it, and folks at these social events can discuss them ad infinitum.

Though the Club is not limited by age, most of its members are self-described experts on the inner-workings of Medicare. For a few more years, I’ll continue to be at the younger end of the spectrum. Accordingly, I don’t share many of the maladies that afflict members as a mere consequence of age. However, primarily due to playing tennis, if I choose, I can participate in the litany of complaints with the most infirm of them.


I haven’t had a surgery for nearly a decade (left knee) and I haven’t had a BIG surgery for twenty years (herniated disk) but I do deal with a seemingly never-ending skein of minor irritants. As soon as one disappears and I experience a week or two of pain-free tennis play, it seems something else pops up (or out). For instance, in the last two years, I’ve successively had a sore right wrist, plantar fasciitis to the left foot, a tender right ankle, a quirky left knee, and a tweak to the right hamstring. For the sake of continuity, perhaps, throughout most of the last thirty years, the tendon in my right elbow has been sore to the touch – the dreaded condition known as “tennis elbow.”

Not all of the news is bleak. Following surgery to my wife, Katie’s rotator cuff last year, she undertook physical therapy. Among her exercises was an arm and shoulder stretch conducted with a thick rubber band. “Why not?” I said to myself, and I started to do the stretch every day. Not only does my shoulder now feel stronger than ever, my elbow is finally pain-free, and so is hers!

I considered what other activities I might do to forestall injuries. For instance, I now work with a hand-strengthening ball; I continue to stretch my back; I walk daily. But there is not time enough in the day to anticipate and correct for every possible twinge and tweak.

Sometimes I wonder, or am asked: “Why continue to play tennis if it is so difficult on the body?” My response is that tennis keeps me relatively thin and fit and keeps my competitive juices flowing. It also affords me social contacts across a wide spectrum of ages and backgrounds. Most importantly, I enjoy the physical challenge of hitting balls back over the net. I enjoy the mental challenge of adjusting to speeds and spins and competing with a like-minded opponent.

Still, I’m aware there appears to be a price for that enjoyment and my best days of gazelle-like running and lion-like leaping are behind me. Accordingly, my next home, wherever and whenever that is, will have to be close to a facility with a ping pong program, just in case….


Philip Roth won the Pulitzer Prize in 1997 for “American Pastoral.” It’s at or near the top of any list of Philip Roth’s greatest novels and understandably so. As a detailed and evocative portrait of life in mid-twentieth century America, it’s amazing. Certainly, the novel is inspiring to someone like me, at the lowest end of the authorial food chain, who dabbles in the world of memoir and also tries to evoke “the times.”

When I originally read the book, in 1998, my life involved alternating work and fatherhood immersion. My children were 14, 8 and 6. We also had a crazy dog whose walking needs, despite the kids’ promises to help, generally fell to me. It was a challenge to read a novel more literary than “The Berenstain Bears Go Fishing.” Yet, I found time to plow through “American Pastoral” with a lot of skimming. I failed to retain any details from that “reading” other than it’s set in New Jersey and includes a deadly bombing.

Recently, “American Pastoral” appeared in our home as a selection by my wife’s book group. Blessed with the luxury of time and concentration, I set out to savor every expertly chosen word, every finely crafted paragraph.  Reading Roth, carefully, I pondered the following: “If an eighth grader were to write a series of two-hundred-word sentences, surely he would flunk English composition. But when Philip Roth does it, it’s “Stylish with a capital ‘S’.’”

Is Roth’s sort of Style what is missing from my writing?


To answer this question, I’ve decided to give it a try? After all, the writer’s mission is to furnish his reader with every opportunity to gain insight, to find kernels of truth that are elusive, to brave the question, the imponderable, the unanswerable reality that so infects the human condition with uncertainty, vexation, puzzlement and even – if the truth be obtainable by mere mortals – to gain a gift from God, if He exists, or She, for that matter, for in relation to man’s ultimate place in the pantheon of beings, what a gift it would be to truly comprehend!

With this in mind, I thought back to my childhood, to every moment that has shaped me, made me who I am, formed my consciousness, my reality, or what I think of as my reality which may or may not be actually thus, since perhaps, my perception of my own existence is wrapped in a time-space continuum no less opaque than the stone walls in the West Philadelphia home where I grew up and yet who could doubt that my own fate formed amidst the hopes and dreams that my parents, too, felt for themselves and for me and for my brothers and sister — whose destiny controls, after all? Who can say? And why? Surely, if I strive to reach an understanding of myself in relation to others and to the surrounding community it will all devolve back to that question, the most human of questions, and yet the most Godly: Who is in charge around here and, more importantly, is there coffee ice cream in the freezer?

Women, of course, have influenced me, from the earliest days when I was doubtless close to my mother, (though I could have been close to my father, but for his need, real AND perceived OR illusory to pursue the American dream in the most obvious way, by working, working, working) and not to forget the formative nature of my elementary school years of near-total obliviousness, to the middle school years of embarrassing silence, to the high school years of embarrassing non-silence – and finally, to choosing a wife, a life partner, or being chosen, perhaps, because that’s possibly what really happened, but maybe not, since one’s destiny to join that of another human being may not be deemed a choice but may be more a matter of mysterious chance, a happenstance of cosmic timing, a blip, whether eventually it proves itself heavenly or hellish, (determined over time and even then subject to the interpretation of each individual involved, and subject to the opinions of society at large, inevitably applying its own shifting standards) that shapes much of the rest of a person’s experience of life, with life, of course, defined perhaps as no more than the short period between birth and death.


“Live for the moment,” everyone says, yet plan for retirement, that period of reflection, when all the points have been scored, the blanks filled in, the results tabulated, one’s place in the pantheon of human existence finally secured, as we hurtle towards death, a final rest, a complete rest, for no rest could be more absolute. But think about it: only in America could opportunity be gleaned to rise within one generation from immigrant to professional and to give one’s progeny the opportunity, if they choose, to return to wearing torn jeans and working as organic farmers – those who have descended from ancestors reviled on the shtetls of Eastern Europe now reveling in the freedoms of the Middle Atlantic states’ safe harbors of assimilation. But what has been left behind? What has been lost when the very foundation of existence is uprooted, twisted and turned into an unrecognizable visage of yearning, of aspiration, of success and, dare it be admitted, possible eventual incontinence? Oh, America.


Well, what do you think? Shall I continue as a Rothian? Or would the reader, perhaps, be happier if the next book I reread is by Hemingway?


We hadn’t planned to eat lunch so late, nearly two o’clock. Our first choice, the Coco Bay (Costa Rica) beach club, had lost the electricity in its kitchen. We found our second choice, a sandwich shop, to be closed. Looking across the street at a café in the corner of a small shopping center, I said: “Let’s try Vida Loco. At least it looks open.”

With such a minor prerequisite – merely being open – we didn’t expect much. We sat at a wooden table and noticed we were the only customers. Even given the hour, that concerned us. The menu, too, seemed blah. A ceiling fan buzzed ineffectively and a stray dog lazed under an adjoining table.

“What are you going to have?” asked my wife, Katie.

“I don’t know,” I shrugged. “I’d like to have something interesting but I don’t see much here.”

The server approached and told us, in a confiding tone: “The chef made lasagna today. It’s not on the menu. She had an inspiration.”

Since the temperature was 92 degrees and I usually think of lasagna as dinner, this didn’t immediately appeal. But the choices were otherwise “same-old, same-old.”   Why not try the lasagna? “Inspired” lasagna, no less.

In addition, the waitress seemed like someone whose recommendation you could trust. She wasn’t particularly young, perhaps in her mid-forties. And she wasn’t notably attractive, exactly, but she looked unusual.   She had jet-black hair, pulled back in a tight ponytail, medium brown skin and perfect white teeth. If you put a flower in her hair, she could have played Carmen. I don’t usually engage my server in idle conversation, but I thought she might shed an interesting light on Playa de Coco. Clearly, she wasn’t a local.

“Where are you from?” I asked.

I would have guessed Brazil or Argentina, but wasn’t surprised to learn, as we chatted for a moment, she was from the Canary Islands, a tiny, remote protectorate of Spain, located hundreds of miles off the North African coast. This made perfect sense, since she seemed European, but somehow exotic. She told us her name was Susanna.

“She’s unusual,” I said, after the server departed for the kitchen.

“Yes,” said Katie. “She’s not a typical local waitress, but she’s nice.”


While we waited for our food, we didn’t think more of Susanna. Eventually, she emerged with massive portions of lasagna.

“Wow,” Katie and I said, together, amazed at the size.

Susanna placed them down before us, then said, in the same confiding tone in which she’d suggested the lasagna: “Beware that the world as we know it is coming to an end this fall.”

“It is?” I said, surprised, looking up from my plate.

“Yes, I read about it on the web. You should check it out,” she said.

“I should?” I said, trying to maintain a respectful tone.

“The collapse will spare no one,” she stated.

“Are we, um, talking financial or physical collapse?” I asked, widening my eyes to indicate my full attention, while actually wondering how I’d end the conversation and eat my lunch.

“Both,” Susanna said. “It’s clear.” She continued in this vein, telling us that the stars were aligned, the signs were clear, the heavens were moving, the spirits were gathering, etc. This went on for several minutes though it seemed much, much longer.

“Okay, then,” I finally interrupted. “I guess we should try to enjoy ourselves while we can.” I glanced down at my now-cooling lasagna.

I’d made a major mistake, I realized, engaging our waitress in conversation.   She’d clearly taken my interest as authorization to inform us of the coming calamity. Perhaps, having shown interest in her background placed us, in her mind, into a special, intimate circle of people who deserved a warning.

“You really must read about it,” she said with urgency. “Just type in ‘end of the world.’ Many very brilliant people have reached this conclusion. I’m certain it is going to happen.”

“I’ll check it out, really,” I said, trying to convey sincerity.

Just seconds before I would have had to say: “Um, I’d really like to eat the lasagna you recommended,” Susanna withdrew, finally.

“That was bizarre,” I whispered to Katie, once we were finally alone.


To our relief, the lasagna turned out to be incredible. It tasted sublime, the cheese and pasta and beef combined in juices that melted deliciously in our mouths.

“Who would have thought great Italian food would be found in Central America?” asked Katie.

“It’s incredible,” I agreed, savoring a mouthful.

“But how do we avoid talking more with Susanna?” asked Katie.

“Good question,” I said. “I can’t take much more ‘bad news.’”

As soon as we finished, we left enough bills on the table to pay, and dodged Susanna on the way out. But for several days afterwards, we wondered how we could go back for another lasagna meal.

“We just have to take our chances,” I said. “Maybe Susanna will be off.”

“The food is worth the risk,” agreed Katie.


Finally, we returned to Vida Loco for dinner with two other couples as reinforcements. We’d told them the whole story, which they’d found hilarious.

“Don’t engage the waitress in conversation,” we warned, “or you’ll be sorry.”

Sure enough, Susanna seated us. She thanked Katie and me for bringing the additional guests. We communicated to our friends with our eyes that she was “the one” and everyone waited in suspense to see if she would offer her grim predictions.

Though it was still not on the printed menu, Susanna said there was plenty of lasagna and most of us ordered it. Her serving was efficient and professional. The lasagna was excellent again. Our friends were pleased with their meals, but I felt both relief and disappointment; like I’d promised them the chance to see a train wreck and it hadn’t materialized.

After she brought out desert and coffee, and dinner appeared to be completed without anything out of the ordinary, Susanna said to Katie and me: “Wait here just a moment, please. I want to show you something.”

“Here we go,” whispered my friend, Rick.

“Oh, no,” I said.

“You’re going to get the real story,” said another friend, Greg, punching me playfully on the shoulder.

“Maybe it’s an asteroid,” suggested his wife, Kathy.

“Armageddon, for sure,” said Rick’s wife, Donna.

A moment later, Susanna emerged from the kitchen with two plastic packages.

“These are for you,” she said. “First is a CD of some wonderful local musicians. It’s music I think you will really enjoy. And this,” she said, handing me the second plastic package, “is a DVD showing the history of the National Parks in this region. The photography is stunning.”

“These are gifts?” I asked, amazed.

“Yes,” for such nice people, said Susanna. “When will you be back in town?”

“Not until December,” I said. For a moment, I wondered if she would tell me that would be too late. By then, the world would have been destroyed.

“Terrific,” said Susanna. “I hope you will visit Vida Loco at that time.”


Considering our encounters with Susanna, initially I thought she was “nuts.” Then, she was so sweet with the gifts that I disliked myself for thinking she was “nuts” when she’s probably just somewhat eccentric.

A friend with insomnia informed me that 3 a.m. talk radio is full of people suggesting we are, indeed, in a seven-year cycle of calamities. For instance, September 2001, September 2008 (world financial meltdown). Now it’s 2015 and we are due! Many of these people, he laughed, have “read about it on the web.”

Of course, I think such prognostications are lunacy. But, with California burning, the stock market gyrating, Trump leading, and the Middle East what it is….


For the first decade of my life, my haircuts took place at a local barbershop called “Dom’s.” Dom wore thick glasses though the ironic possibilities of his poor eyesight didn’t occur to me at the time. Early on, trying to avoid visits to Dom provoked ridiculous tantrums on my part. I professed to hate the itchiness of newly cut hair on my shoulders and neck. And I was uncomfortable due to Dom’s repeated complaints about the difficulty of cutting my hair.

“He’s got two holes in his head.   It’s hard to work around,” said Dom.

“You mean cowlicks?” asked my mother.

“Yes, I call them holes,” said Dom.

I didn’t realize the “holes” were two places in the back and top of my head where whorls circled. Most people have one such area, which is centered; when little, I had two and, because of Dom, I feared I had actual holes in my skull.

Dom was busy and did not accept appointments so I always had to wait. Therefore, I endured the fact that nearly all the adults in the waiting area smoked and the place reeked with an eye and nose-stinging stench. Adding to my discomfort, Dom’s selection of magazines featured racy covers, which embarrassed me at six or seven, sitting beside my mother. I literally couldn’t imagine what sorts of pictures were inside. By my teenage years, when I’d go to Dom’s alone, I could at least imagine the pictures, and I was curious, but I still couldn’t make myself look inside amidst a bunch of strangers.


By the time I went away to college, in the mid-1970’s, hair cutting had given way to hair “styling.”   Salons for men, and coed establishments were common. Vidal Sassoon, a hairstylist, for instance, was a household name and ubiquitous on television and in print. When I returned home on break and learned that Dom had retired, to my amazement, I missed the familiarity of his shop and the predictable results.

At my older siblings’ urgings, I reluctantly accompanied my brother, David, to several different stylists over the years. Unlike Dom, in his white smock, these stylists wore huge jewelry, purple or blue hair and bizarre outfits. Getting a haircut was like visiting a fashion show, but not one to my liking.

Although, by the standards of the day, my hair wasn’t long it still topped out several inches above my skull. Inevitably, these stylists urged me to have “STYLE.” They dismissed the cut I’d been wearing since childhood, which included a part on the left side, and hair trimmed around, not over, my ears. Some wanted it to be longer; some wanted bangs and longer sideburns. All wanted to do away with the part.

“Your waves are special,” said one female stylist. “People would pay to have waves like these.”

“I guess I’m lucky,” I said, unimpressed.

“Can I tease them out?” she asked.

I wasn’t sure what “teasing out” involved, but my answer was “No.”

Never knowing what the end result would be, I always tensed in a stylist’s chair, and my taciturn tone stifled most discussions. While my hair length shifted modestly through the decades, my cut never changed. Effectively, the only difference between Dom’s cuts in the 60’s and stylists’ cuts in the 70’s and early 80’s was the price, by several magnitudes. Luckily, as long as I was in college or law school, I enjoyed an almost total parental subsidy.


I’d absentmindedly failed to get a haircut in the weeks leading up to our recent trip to Costa Rica. I knew that before we returned home, we were slated to attend a wedding in San Francisco. To describe conditions as humid in Playa de Coco would be understatement and the messiness of my hair was obvious. Accordingly, I agreed that a haircut in Costa Rica was in order – my wife, Katie, thought this was a simple matter. She didn’t know my hair-related history housed some anxieties.

Once I’d agreed to have my hair cut in Costa Rica, the issue became “where?” The barbershop in the small downtown area sits between several bodegas and a restaurant. When I passed by the first several times, thinking I might just pop in for ten minutes and get it over with, there were crowds of men hanging out. The television showed soccer games and the men sat around drinking beer and cheering. Worse even than cigarettes, the smell of cigars wafted through the air. I just couldn’t make myself walk in.

The days passed and Katie kept reminding me of my need for a haircut, even though seeing the mirror should have been sufficient. One day, we ran into a local friend, Lupita. She mentioned taking her son to get a haircut.

“Where does he go?” asked Katie.

“To a wonderful woman,” said Lupita.

“Where’s her shop?” asked Katie.

“In her house,” said Lupita.

“Would she do Stuart’s?” asked Katie.

“Why not?” said Lupita. “We’ll see if she’ll give him an appointment. She’s VERY busy. I’ll call her. She’s an artista.”

“Um,” I say, nervous like in the old days about an appointments-only “artist.”

“Can she just do a simple trim?” I wanted to ask, but Lupita was already on her phone.


The day arrives. I take a taxi to the appointed intersection where pavement ends a gravel path takes over. I look at the map Lupita drew for me. It’s 7:00 a.m., and my appointment is at 7:15, the only time Teresa has available. In fact, as a courtesy to Lupita, she’s fitting me in before the usual starting time.

I walk two blocks on the gravel until it gives way to dirt. After I turn left onto a “side street,” which is really just an alleyway, the dirt is rutted. The yards I pass vary – some are neat and resplendent with lilies and hibiscus. Others are overgrown and appear abandoned. Small houses on both sides vary from neat and finished to tumbledown and half-finished, with rusty rebar sticking out from cinder block foundations. Every property is fenced-in.

Roosters crow. Cows moo. Cicadas scream. With almost no people stirring so early, it’s like walking through a 1930’s movie set for an abandoned Mexican village. I can’t help but wonder: “Will the place be clean?” “I hope I haven’t taken a wrong turn.” “Costa Rica’s not known for kidnappings, right?”

I reach the end of the alley and look left. There, a small wooden sign hanging from a tree limb reads “Teresa” and includes an etching in the shape of a scissors. I approach the gate. A pack of dogs in every size and shape materializes in the yard to welcome me. One has only three legs, but that doesn’t curb his barking.

After a moment, a slight dark-haired woman I judge to be about thirty years old emerges from the cinder-block house, shushes the dogs, and opens the gate. Teresa is pretty but I’m mostly looking at the dogs. She motions for me to follow. In turn, each canine takes a whiff of my legs and regards me suspiciously, looking at me as though thinking: “She saved you this time, but just wait…”

I follow Teresa past rusted car parts, a semi-diapered baby in an older child’s lap, and several chickens to a tiny closet-like opening in the rear. In the small space are a chair, a small sink, a mirror and walls covered with pictures of women with various elaborate hair-dos.

“Sietate,” (sit) says Teresa, smiling shyly.

“Gracias,” I say.

“Habla espanol?” (Do you speak Spanish?), she asks.

“Un poco” (A little), I say. “Muy despacio.” (Very slowly)

Teresa looks at my frizzy head, combs it out to gauge its length and motions with her finger that she sees where I part it on the left. I indicate the length I want around the ears.


Working slowly and carefully, unlike the slam-bam eight-minute cuts I receive in North Carolina at “Clips are Us,” Teresa washes my hair in the tiny basin and massages my entire scalp.  She appears not to believe in electric razors. She trims every hair by hand.   Teresa examines my hair like a jeweler regards a fine diamond.

I’m aware of the passage of time, ten, then twenty, then thirty minutes. A baby cries outside, the rooster crows again, and the dogs greet/scare the next customer. Teresa does not rush.

In labored Spanglish I learn Teresa has five children. They range in age from nineteen to one. I calculate, therefore, that she’s older than my original estimate, but maybe not by much. Her oldest is in college to become a teacher. Teresa has run her shop for five years; each year becomes “mas ocupado.” (busier) She’s proud; she’s confident; she excels at her profession.

After fifty minutes, she finally wields a small mirror and shows me the final product. It’s neat and even and layered just right.   I’ve never been so pleased with a haircut. I won’t need another for months.

When I reach into my pocket, Teresa says: “Tres mil.” (Less than six dollars).

My expression must have conveyed surprise. Teresa appears worried she’s offended me, that the charge is too high. “Menos?” she asks. (Less?)

“No,” I say. “Mas.” (More)

She smiles warmly. “Tres mil,” she repeats.

I give her ten dollars. She appears pleased with the large gratuity in a country where tipping is not assumed. She walks me out safely past the dogs, and I’m delighted with my first international haircut.


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