If you want just a haircut, go anywhere. But if you want an extravagant and eccentric mix of shorn locks and entertainment, head for the City Dock in Annapolis.
There, Vincenzo Pasqualucci performs daily from his barbershop on Prince George Street, while on nearby Green Street, barber Irving (Izzie) Wolfe holds court, complete with jesters, in the back of his souvenir shop.
"I come to entertain my people," Pasqualucci pronounced the other day.
"To be fair but cruel," said one regular, settling in for a haircut, "it's 20 minutes for the haircut and 25 minutes for the . . . . "
"Polemica," Pasqualucci offered in his native Italian, wrapping gauze over his chuckling customer's mouth to stifle a less decorous description of his dialogue. "Philosophi."
Other beauty shops and salons operate within a block of the dock, in the heart of the city, but of traditional barbers, there are just these two, survivors both. Wolfe once had a six-chair shop and Pasqualucci had three chairs, but each now works alone. They are kept busy, though, with old friends, retired military men and others who believe -- as Wolfe put it -- that "the only difference between a 'style' and a haircut is between paying $7 and $30."
"I come for the ambiance," said customer Charles Rosenkrantz with a laugh, getting Pasqualucci's cautionary gauze-over-the-mouth treatment from the barber before speaking. "It's an old-fashioned barbershop, and you can't find too many of them now."
Those entering Pasqualucci's shop may be led to expect a normal trim, for it looks just like a barbershop. But those venturing to Wolfe's little cubbyhole, measuring barely 12 square feet, know right away they are in for something different.
That tiny area contains, besides the smiling, gray-haired barber and his chair, the accumulated paraphernalia of 63 years of barbering. (He was 14 when he started.) There are two sinks (one used for storage) and three spittoons, eight electric razors and a fly-swatter, a stash of bottles of a green lotion and shelves of shampoo and conditioner, an overloaded hat rack, a magazine rack, and flags of all nations.
It was into this cluttered scene that Lou Levin marched one recent afternoon, firing off a series of one-liners on his way to the chair. "I've been listening to this crap for 50-odd years," Wolfe complained with a grin. "Sit still!"
"Don't talk to me like that," Levin retorted. "I'm an ex-serviceman. I played drum with the Salvation Army. Can you beat that?" He removed his hearing aid and continued his jokes, deaf to Wolfe's growling.
As the jokes continued, a retired scientist named Michael Clark Manhold came in. He had sat under Wolfe's scissors as a child, but then left town for 25 years. Having just moved back to Annapolis, he was returning to the barber of his youth for the first time. "The last haircut Izzie gave me was a crew cut," Manhold said. "Before that, it was a flattop. He used to get some wax stuff and put it on the hair."
Wolfe rummaged behind his filing cabinet and, after a minute, emerged with a jar of "Control Creme" -- the very stuff that had held Manhold's flattop erect a quarter-century ago.
As Wolfe finished Levin's haircut, Levin studied the results in the mirror. "I don't know," he said. "I haven't talked to my lawyer yet."
Levin settled in a chair to listen to Manhold, now in the barber's chair, go on about the pyramid of Cheops, talking at the top of his lungs so as to be heard by Levin, while Wolfe struggled to work around his gesticulations.
Pasqualucci, cutting the hair of a retired naval officer one recent afternoon, was holding forth on naval operations in the Mediterranean during the Second World War. As a chauffeur serving with the 8th Centro Autombilistica Roma, he had been on a ship sunk by the British on Oct. 19, 1942.
Pausing from his clipping, Pasqualucci described in lavish detail the meat-and-sauce dish he had been eating when the torpedo struck -- how the dish was prepared and how it tasted -- then explained how little it bothered his digestion of the feast to spend seven hours on an inner tube, awaiting rescue.
Michael Parker, an English professor at the Naval Academy, was patiently waiting his turn in the barber's chair, and a discussion of Annapolis politics and the pruning of grapevines.
"Once you find someone you like, you stick with him," Parker said of the loquacious barber. "What other barber gives you cucumbers in the summer? And I think Vince is the only barber who makes his own wine." (Pasqualucci grows 10 varieties of grapes in his back yard, just down the street.)
But when Parker left, Pasqualucci returned to his favorite subject: The glories of barbering.
As a child near Rome, he said, "I loved going to the barbershop. I used to go over there and listen to the men talking -- soccer, boxing, anything . . . . It has to be in your mind, and in your blood.
"My ambition -- my penchant -- was . . . to be a professional barber. To be an artist."