So Long, Hal. We Hardly Knew Ye…

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The signs were ominous.

As I pulled into the familiar parking spot, I couldn’t help but notice the unbroken blanket of fresh fallen snow. No one had parked here. In fact, save for a long pair of footprints making a path in the snow to the door, there was no sign of life.

I glanced up at the storefront windows to see if the lights inside were on. But the blinds shuttered the windows completely, barring any spying eyes from the outside.

On one hand, the daily hours remained posted in their usual spot. On the other hand, there was neither a “We’re Closed” sign or a “We’re Open” sign.

That was strange.

I told my father to wait in the warm car and that I’d check out the situation. I got out of the car and headed for the door.

As I paced through the snow, I noticed those earlier footprints headed in both directions, with the return prints more recent than the ones pointing towards the door.

I was on a path taken once before.

This did not bode well.

When I got to the door, it was locked. I wondered…

I started around the corner to the pizza place. They’d know where Hal was. He frequently traded hair cuts for slices of pizza. It was a fair trade. And by that, I means it’s the kind of trading I did when I worked at my grandparents’ pizza stand at the Erie County Fair oh so many years ago.

As I neared their front door, it suddenly dawned on me they were closed, too. So I took a few more steps to the flower shop. She would certainly know what happened.

And Lauren did.

If you haven’t surmised by now, I’m writing about Hal, the popular barber of Mendon’s Hamlet. Over the years, he had developed a faithful following among the fathers who brought their young boys to him for their first haircuts, among those same young boys who had blossomed into young men, and among the more seasoned crowd of lifelong residents.

Hal was a bit of a quirky fellow, but knew how to keep the conversation going with the best of tonsorialists. He was also odd in the fact that he both acted his age and he didn’t. He possessed the appropriate amount of skepticism you’d expect from someone of his experience. Yet, at the same time, he had the curiosity of someone young, especially when it came to all things technology – from gadgets to business models.

He was among the first to install a 24/7 camera in his store. Just as quickly he was among the first to cut the cable and go off the grid.

And each of his personal adventures became an enthralling story that he’d tell and retell (but from a different point of view if he knew you had heard it before). This delighted both young and old. It’s one of the reasons they kept coming back.

Hal had no problem staking out a controversial position. Maybe it’s a barber thing. Maybe not. He once told me that he would change his stance depending on the customer. Not so as to agree with the man in the chair, but to challenge him. It was like a game Hal played by himself.

Sometimes his shop was a busy place. Lately, thanks to Covid and the crazy rules emanating from Albany, it’s been a less busy place. Even Hal wasn’t sure if he’d be open one week to the next.

When the lockdown was first lifted last June, many, like me, rushed for their far overdue haircuts. Hal knowingly said to each of us, “Let me give you something a little shorter than usual because you never know when you’ll be able to come back.”

But we did come back. At least some of us.

The uncertainty of sustaining his barber business had been on Hal’s mind for some time. He became an Uber/Lyft driver to diversify his income sources. He tried his hand at GrubHub, but artfully explained why that wasn’t a workable model.

Still, the cause of his economic ambiguity was quite clear to Hal. This is one stance he didn’t switch.

Hal despised government intrusion, especially when that government was New York State. He had no problem with articulating his position when it came to “King Cuomo” and his Albany minions. Many a time he said he saw the writing on the wall. Many a time he proclaimed, if he knew what was good for him, if we all knew what was good for us, we’d forsake this tyranny for lands more free.

On the last occasion of availing myself of his service, I asked him to cut my hair a little shorter. It was before Thanksgiving and I knew I’d be busy until January. (I usually get my haircut every 4 weeks.)

Hal had no problem with this request.

Little did I know why.

At the end of December, 2020, Hal packed up all his equipment and quit New York State. Off to Sunny Florida he went. Home of no income tax. Land of the free. State of “un” (or assuredly less) confusion.

And that was that. A generation of Mendon memories just took the (last?) train for the Gold Coast.

Thanks, Andrew.

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