The photo is from 1978. My son, his truck. Behind him, my truck.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Cardinal Barbershop, Palo Alto

Monday, March 18, 2002

Aunt Lila and Uncle Arno are visiting.  Lila tells me that unless I want to start wearing a ponytail (which would be fine with her), I must get a haircut.  She will treat.

Lila and Arno lived most of their adult lives in Manhattan. Recently they've moved to Mendocino.  Wherever they go, they're a fresh breath of Manhattan art scene vibe, lively and intellectual and fun.

Lila calls a friend who says the best barbershop on the Peninsula is the Cardinal Barbershop in Palo Alto, so there we go.  The waiting area provides a choice of Sports Illustrated or Playboy, so I read Playboy, which Lila finds hilarious.  She has a great cackling laugh.  She points out an advertisement that she designed for a Canadian beer.  Arno, meanwhile, is admiring a vintage barber chair.  He whips out a pocket camera and takes photos.  Everyone in the barbershop is watching us.  Lila and Arno raise the energy level wherever they go.

Arno Sternglass is 75 years old and still an active artist.  I love his work.  About a dozen of his paintings hang in my house.  Yesterday before watching a movie - Monsoon Wedding - Arno offered to wash my eyeglasses, as he was going to wash his own.  Never have my glasses been so clean.  Never has a movie looked so good.  To Arno, of course, clear vision is crucial.

George is my barber.  He immediately wins my heart by saying, “Are you a contractor?”

“How’d you know?”

“You look like you work outdoors.”

Most people, even after I tell them I’m a contractor, even after I appear at their door wearing a toolbelt,  say “No.  Really.  What do you do?”

I tell George to remove a year’s worth of hair.  While trimming, George says he’s been barbering here since 1955.  Yeow.  I tell George that in 1955 I was living in Maryland.  I was seven years old and my best friend had piled into the back seat of a 1954 Ford sedan and driven all the way to Palo Alto, which to me sounded like the end of the earth.  From California he'd sent me a postcard of a redwood tree that you could drive a car through.  Immediately I'd wanted to go.  Now I've been in California more than 30 years, and here I am sitting in a barber chair in Palo Alto, and where are the drive-through trees?

"Up north, maybe."  George shrugs.  "Where's your friend?"

"San Quentin.  He got arrested a couple of years ago for running a marijuana plantation."

Arno, meanwhile, has wandered around University Ave, snapping pictures as if he's found a spectacular anthropological subculture.  Three oriental carpet stores!  An Apple store!  I say, “Who needs three oriental rug stores?”  Arno insists in his clipped semi-German accent: "You never know.  Someday you might need one in a hurry."

It’s a great haircut.  Even Lila thinks so, and her standards are au courant

After an hour of Lila and Arno, Palo Alto is a fresher, livelier place.  We leave the Cardinal Barbershop, all eyes following us: two artists and one writer who looks, to his barber at least, like a contractor.

Arno and Lila Sternglass in 2006 - back in Manhattan

(Arno died in 2007 at the age of 80.  I've posted an appreciation of him here.)


  1. Hi Joe
    My partner is a carpenter/handyman with the soul of an artist, or something like that - perhaps a little like you... He stumbled across your blog when he hit 'trees'. He hasn't yet cracked the mystery of how to follow/comment etc. But I want to tell you how much we both enjoy your writing. Thanks.

  2. Carpentry is an art as well as a skill, so I think many carpenters have a touch of the artist in their souls. I'd love to hear from your partner when internet skills allow...

    Amazing that a search for 'trees' would point to this blog. There must be zillions of blogs that mention trees...

    Anyway, glad you and partner are enjoying this.