David Moseley

A close shave

2014-12-15 12:38

David Moseley

In any decent cowboy movie there comes a time when the bad cowboy, having just dispatched the hero's family to the other side thereby setting in motion a series of events that will guarantee his downfall or socked a plucky child in the jaw, sits in a barber shop surrounded by incompetent henchmen.

As the barber tends to the evildoer's unkempt beard, a groveling underling invariably says or does something stupid, causing the bad cowboy to lash out which in turn causes the barber to nick his customer.

At this point the barber is either reassured before immediately being shot dead, he’s simply shot dead, the underling and the barber are shot dead, or the barber receives a stern glare and proceeds, only to be shot dead on completion of the shave. In the case of Blazing Saddles, a musical number might break out. But there is always a scene involving a switch blade, a barber and a bad guy.

That, more than anything else in the western genre, always appealed to me. Thanks to the sound effects, something akin fingernails on sandpaper, the blade always seemed blunt as a stone, yet the bad guy would endure the "grkt grkt grkt" of the shave, even managing to read the paper and sip whiskey at the same time.

As soon as I was old enough to waste money, I thought one day, that's what I would waste it on. Time passed, however, and the relative ease of the five-blade shave with moisturising Kopi Luwak-infused menthol aftershave balm obscured any notion of an "Old West" cut. Then, one day, a colleague came back to the office with a severe trim.

"When did you enlist?” I asked. Ha, he responded, not quite triumphantly, though not too despairingly either. This is Giovanni's handiwork, he said. He tidies you up with the cutthroat.

And all those scenes came rushing back. Yes. Yes. This is my chance to lie back, read the morning news and sip coffee, all while Giovanni takes off facial hair in the manner befitting a strapping young lad.

I marched downstairs and into Giovanni’s tiny store on Cape Town’s Thibault Square. Lined up against the wall were his regulars, men who looked like they weren't around when western movies were at their peak, but rather men who were around when the “Old West” was still a thing.

Accompanying the scene, just like the noise in the movies, was the rustling of newspapers as the old-timers battled to keep their hands still.

I stepped through the entrance; sadly not a swing-door. The papers dropped. The men looked up. Giovanni turned. His customer in the chair swiveled as the bell above the door chimed. All that was missing was a Can-Can girl, a fast-playing piano and a dangerous character spitting tobacco into a spittoon. Giovanni's was unmistakably an Italian joint, but weren't the best westerns spaghetti?

As I tried to back out, worried that the youngest customer fought in the Boer War, Giovanni's "younger" assistant, about the same age as my great-grandfather, grabbed my shoulder.

A quick trim, he asked. "Uh, a shave actually?' The papers stopped rustling. The everyday commotion on Thibault Square died down. His eyes lit up. A close shave, you say? "No. No. Just a shave…"

As my words trailer off, I was placed into a chair, tilted backwards, lathered up and wondering how many ears had fallen to the floor of Giovanni’s store, all in the blink of a rheumy eye. In my haste I'd forgotten the other staple of the western shave – the nervous barber with a shaky hand.

Peering down towards my noise, trying to find the mirror, I saw Giovanni’s assistant approach. "Grkt grkt grkt". "Grkt grkt grkt". All done, he said before applying a "balm" that was possibly 90% witblits, 10% diesel.

No ears had fallen off. No henchmen had been shot. But my heart was in my throat all the while, pulsating, no doubt, against the blade.

I walked back into the office. "Ah, Giovanni's," said Rob. "Giovanni's," I nodded.

- Follow @david_moseley
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