By John Kelly
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 15, 2011; 7:04 PM
"In Italy many years ago, there was rich people and poor people," Luigi Sacripanti says to me after spritzing my hair with water from a little spray bottle. I'm wrapped in a smock, sitting in an old-fashioned barber chair, looking at a yellowing poster headlined "Haircuts of Today": Square Back, Step Cut, Flat Top, Princeton. . . .
I just asked Luigi why so many barbers are, like him, Italian.
"The poor people was a little tailor, bricklayer, carpenter, barber," he explains. "The rich people, they was send their kids to college. . . . Many poor people, like my family, they send to learn a trade. Then at that time in Italy, families got 10 or 20 children. It was too many people and no jobs. That's the reason I came to this country. To have opportunity."
Luigi snips around my right ear.
When he was 25, Luigi left a town near the Adriatic called Teramo and moved to Washington. He went to work for a man named Steve Martini who cut hair at the White House and ran a chain of barber shops around town.
"And he employ a lot of Italians. . . . I started work here in 1960: the last chair. And I got promote to the third chair. Then I got promote here." Luigi indicates the chair I'm sitting in, the coveted first chair, the chair closest to the big window that looks out on Newark Street NW.
"Now I be outside," he jokes. "Step by step, I'm out."
After 13 years working for Steve, Luigi bought the shop. He's been here - Friendship Barber Shop - ever since.
"When the Beatles come from England with long hair, a lot of the men barbers, they refuse to learn to cut the long hair. . . . Before those days, there was beauty shop and barbershop. There was no unisex. I went to the hair style school at night and I learn to cut long hair."
Luigi snips around my other ear.
"I like the American people. Most of the American people, they no lie. They very honest people. European people, they all lie. . . .We got a lot of embassy around here. I serve everybody. But if I wanna choose what I like more, it's the people born here, the Americans."
Luigi thins my forelock.
"A lot of people, they think you can work miracle. There's no miracle. Sometime they expect you can make miracle. But nobody can make miracle. You can make hair a little shorter."
Luigi spreads shaving lotion on my neck and scrapes a straight razor across it.
"In a barber shop, you used to tell joke, dirty joke, about . . ."
Deleted. Deleted. Deleted.
"A lot of things, they offend people. But a long time ago, this was the joke, this was fun. Now. . . ."
"A lot of women, see, they abuses the man. They don't leave the man alone. A lot of bald-head men, the wife want it long on the side to cover the ears. It look like a piece of string. It no look right. But to make the wife happy, the man, they do. . . . I had John Sirica in the chair. His wife tell me what to cut. He sat down in the chair like a little baby.
"If you love your husband, why don't you leave him alone? Why treat him like a dog? It's abuse. The poor man, sometime they cannot defend themselves."
Luigi has been cutting FBI Director Robert Mueller's hair for 30 years. He's the only customer who makes an appointment. "Security," Luigi says. Luigi has probably cut other famous heads, too, but he doesn't pay attention.
"Okay, you got a lot of power, a lot of money, you got fame - we gonna end the same way: We get old, we gonna die. In other words, nobody here really impress me because they're better than me. What I feel is nobody is better than me. Maybe I'm crazy, but that's what I feel."
Luigi Sacripanti, 77, put four kids through college with a pair of scissors. On Feb. 26, he's closing his barber shop and moving part time to a chair in a shop owned by a friend.
Luigi hands me a mirror. "See the back and the front? You can comb the way you comb. Everybody got a different way to comb."