Baseball History At Billy the Barber's
LOOKING at the calendar, I had just said to myself, ``Ah! Shave Day!'' That is my reminder that another dispatch must be made ready for Monday's post, when our mailman is fresh from his Sunday's rest and will be glad to oblige us all.
Thus it was, and my cubicle door opened to admit Douglass Walker, who told me he was on his way home after being to Waldoboro to get a haircut.
``But today's Shave Day!'' I expostulated, and as Douglass is a young man and has as yet been unexposed to many things he didn't know about Shave Day and asked politely to be enlightened.
In such ways we rural folks occupy our minds and time without dwelling on serious matters. Accordingly Douglass harked with intense attention while I ran down the details of Shave Day.
My mother, whose acumen was sometimes excessive, frequently said there was a noticeable correlation between my decency of conduct and the distance between haircuts. She was so sure of this that when I sneaked one of my sister's cookies, or neglected a thank you, she would hand me 25 cents and tell me to go see Billy Coffin and get a haircut.
I didn't mind visiting Billy, for he was our community authority on baseball, as well as our town barber. But I did not relish the aftermath, when Mother would point out to everybody how much nicer I behaved after a trim.
Usually, I would go to school and squander the quarter with Billy on the way home. As a baseball expert, Billy knew all those things other experts had to look up. He would work his scissors and tell you that Honus Wagner once got three hits off three pitchers in one inning, but it was an exhibition game in Kentucky and didn't count.
But one memorable day, I must have been a sorry case, because it was a Saturday and I got to Billy's just as he was sweeping the shop and dusting the set-your-turn chairs. The Saturday-morning gentry were lined up on the sidewalk, waiting to come in.
Billy took me first and somewhat briskly, and instead of waiting for me to climb on to the tot-stool for the young-uns, he gave me a boost that concluded the matter immediately. ``Now, young man,'' Billy said, ``Don't you never pull this one again until you're old enough! Saturday is Shave Day, and I don't cut hair until the town is ready for church!''
Except in innocence or ignorance, nobody went for a haircut on Saturday. Knowing I had erred honestly, Billy made an exception, and the gentlemen of the community waited. Billy didn't hurry with me, and to suit the occasion he made harangue in this manner:
``Don't suppose too many people know this one, but if you'd like to start a bush-league fight and attract attention, you might ask the experts if Babe Ruth ever pitched a perfect game.''
Every ear in the shop was giving full attention to Billy, and mine in particular because Billy's scissors were snapping and snipping close and I wasn't just sure if he was mad at me. But all went well. ``Depends on how you ask the question,'' Billy was saying. ``Ruth never did pitch a no-hit-no-run, but he did pitch in one.'' The story hour didn't take long, because on that Shave Day I was getting one of Billy's fastest haircuts. Billy interrupted himself with, ``Be right with you, Gents!''
``The Babe wasn't a bad pitcher,'' Billy was saying, ``Southpaw, and he'd have days. This time it was his rotation, and he started against the old senators at Fenway and right off, every fan in the park knew it wasn't one of the Babe's days. Four straight balls, and Washington had a base runner. Ruth started a rhubarb and got himself hoved out of the game. Then the Sox sent in reliever Ernie Shore, and the whole thing may have been among the reasons Babe Ruth went to New York. Anyway, the Babe threw four pitches in that game.
Billy had a goldfish bowl on a high shelf on his shop wall, and instead of fish it was full of lollipops. After a haircut, Billy would try to lift a boy up high enough to reach a lollipop, and this pleasant custom ended when the boy was too heavy to lift.
On that Shave Day I was too big to get a lollipop, and I've surmised Billy was punishing me for appearing on Shave Day. But he finished the Babe Ruth story. The Washington runner was thrown out trying to steal second, and Ernie Shore went on to retire the next 26 batters. Billy said the score was four-zip.
In Billy's time a shave was 15 cents, and I never paid him over a quarter for a haircut. Only once have I ever gone to a barbershop to be shaved. Everybody needs something to remember Paris, and I have my Saturday shave on the Boulevard Berthier. Ah, Paris!
American Express had mixed up my railroad reservations, and I was obliged to wait two days. I repacked my two valises and I had everything I'd need in Paris, and checked the other one at the baggage center at the Gare de l'Est. It simplified my metro trips, except that at La Residence I found I had checked the wrong valise. No razor.
The morning of my belated departure from Paris was a Shave Day, and I strolled up the boulevard to a barbershop. The barber with violet hair welcomed me, and said, ``American?'' They can tell. ``Yep,'' I said, and he smiled and asked, ``How are my favorite American League Red Sox doing this year?''
``No pennants,'' I said, ``but they're not in the cellar.'' And I added, ``Your English is well spoken!'' ``Should be,'' he said. `` I went through high school in Fall River, Mass.'' So there I was, asking a barber, ``Did you know Babe Ruth once pitched in a no-hit game?'' I thought I owed that to Billy for his haircut on Shave Day.