We went to visit the inlaws over spring break. Well, my inlaws; her parents. It was nice. The Philadelphia area is different from Altoona. Plus, they take us out to nice dinners!

One of the many family jokes or elements of folklore, or what have you, is my penchant for barber shops. Barber shops are great. They’re almost always a source of local color, and I don’t understand paying $18 for someone at a “salon” to cut my hair when I can get it cut for almost half the price by someone with probably twice the experience.

Last year, as we headed to some nice restaurant or another, we passed “Duke’s barbershop” near my father-in-law’s office, and someone suggested I get my hair cut there. Having not found (and to be fair, not really searched for) a satisfactory barber in Altoona, and needing a haircut when were last in the area over the winter break, I went to “Dukes.” It was almost everything I expected. I waited with 2-3 other men. Not one of them was less than twice my age. There were two chairs, but only one barber. The barber carried on a friendly banter with the customers. The only way I was surprised was that the barber was a woman.

Apparently, “Duke” had opened up a new place and was working there, and this woman was now the barber in the original location.

Having still not found (and still not sought) a barber in Altoona, I again headed to Duke’s when we were with the inlaws. Only this time the original Duke’s was closed. Instead there was a sign indicating one should go to the new location. It even said to mention this notice (which I did) and receive a $2 discount (which I did not). So, I went to the new Duke’s where I got my haircut by the real Duke.

That was a lot of preamble to get to the real story, but such is the way when I get typing.

The state of things with the two stores came up early in the conversation. The woman Duke had put in charge of the store allegedly cheated Duke badly. Duke had not been hurt like that since his mom died. Not only that, there was something not so very good with the former landlord. And she’d been giving out hugs and “must have hugged the right people.” Duke was preparing some choice words for said landlord, but the ex-cop getting his haircut before me suggested it was best to walk away and not confront said individual. Said individual had a rep, and you just don’t want to get mixed up in that. Take what you’ve got, and be thankful.

Duke’s wife came in to pick up a TV that needed to go back to the old location. Duke repeated the advice of the ex-cop to her. She moaned about having to “be the good guy” and how often she had to do that. I don’t know that I believed the angelic claims burbling from between her clenched teeth.

Fortunately, that topic passed. The ex-cop left not long after a buddy of his arrived. Like Altoona, everyone (else) in the barber shop had lived in the area their whole lives. The buddy, with jet black, slicked back hair picked up the newspaper and called about a car. He talked glowingly of his recently “restored” ’86 Chevy Camero IROC Z 28 — a restoration that seemed to consist of little more than replacing the blown engine and spending almost as much on rims as on the vehicle itself.

The conversation got around to where I was from. When Altoona was discovered, buddy said “Oh, I know where that is! Near Johnstown!”

Johnstown is about 50 miles away and I’m sure that things as little as 5 miles away from buddy’s home are not “near” him. Still, as Altoona’s not really “near” anything, I concur that that’s exactly right.

“It’s easy livin’ up there!” buddy continues. I agreed that the cost of living was not very high. I didn’t allow as to the possible relationship between said cost of living and the fact that it’s freakin’ cold, and miles and miles from anyplace that passes as urbane. Buddy wondered if it was a job that had lead me there, and I confirmed that it was the case, though a job for my wife with the university and all. “Oh, that’s sweet. Easy livin’ and with regular income!” He was almost salivating. When the conversation got around to where my wife was from, and I said “Gradyville.” Again, a punctuating “Oh, I know where that is! Near the state park!” shot from buddy’s mouth. “They got some nice houses up there. I guess your wife’s had it easy her whole life!” I agreed that she had a pretty good life.

Thinking of my wife’s “easy life,” I left the barber shop with a smile on my face, a cute story, and a damn fine haircut.