If this sounds like the opening of an obituary for Pete the Barber, let me rush to say it isn’t. He’s doing well, I’m told, resting at home after too long in the hospital. But his haircuts and his barber shop here in Santa Monica, Pete’s four decades behind the chair — are now history.
I’ll tell you how I measured his haircuts, for our 15-plus years together. I didn’t go to Pete when I needed something different, a change of style that I usually couldn’t articulate. For that I’d drive off to Beverly Hills to see Michael (barbers sometimes have last names, hair stylists, never), my man in the fancy salon who has worked his magic on me for a quarter century. Michael knows what I want, even when I don’t.
But if it was just getting too shaggy or curling up ugly over my collar, go to Pete, down the street. Most of the time I just needed a great haircut that was short enough to last a while but didn’t make me look like I was pruned for summer by a distracted gardener. I could count on it being even in the back, easy on the sides (he knew my hair sticks out like Dagwood’s if you go just a little too short), and he left it styled just the way it was when I walked in.
When you walked into Pete’s shop, north of Broadway and south from the Dance Doctor, a step down off Fourth Street, you stepped back in time. It hovered somewhere between cluttered and messy in there, but not so much as to be discomfiting. Just comfortable and lived in, the way barber shops used to be. Man’s territory. There was a lot to look at, from plastic Greek statues (Pete was of mixed Greek heritage) to stacks of reading material to bobble heads to clippings and photos on the walls to a brick with a string tied around it and a piece of paper reading, “All that’s left of Pete’s old barber shop.” You could tell he was proud of his profession, but I never found out how he got into it, why he became a barber. It was one of my questions I didn’t get the chance to ask.
No shampoo, no blow dry or fancy conditioners at Peter’s Barber Shop, in and out in 10-15 minutes, unless we really got to talking. But that was the best part of a Pete’s haircut. There were no bounds on what you might hear in that chair, and absolutely no telling if it was true or a tall tale, or (usually, I think) a mixture.
Beyond his considerable skill as a barber, there was his renown as a conversationalist and storyteller. And just a helluva nice old gent, with a great dry sense of humor.
I heard so many stories over the years and took them only for the moment’s entertainment without committing them to memory. When I decided to write about Pete it became a long drawn-out process; why, I’m not sure. Was it really his aches and pains and doctor and hospital visits the last couple of months, when I’d walk in the shop half a dozen times and he’d wave me off with a scowl, or the times he smiled and we did chat a little and he said, “Write whatever you want, I don’t care. It’s fine.” Did he want me to tell his story, or not? Pete spent a lifetime as the wise and careful barber who could talk about anything with anybody and not offend because he could joke around without really taking sides. Old habits die hard.
I had hoped to pry a few more of those stories out of Pete’s well-used memory banks, but it wasn’t to be. So, dear readers, won’t you help me out? Help me tell his story, since he’s no longer available to us behind his vintage chair.
I remember Pete telling me he was born on Cyprus, a large Mediterranean island nation that changed sides like a ping pong ball for hundreds of years, flying flags of Greece, Italy, Egypt, England, France, Iran, Turkey, even split in two. Pete spoke Greek, Italian and a little Spanish. I think he fibbed about his age for a few reasons, but one may have been that he wasn’t sure because he didn’t have a birth certificate, I was told by a friend of his. That made it easier to tell me he was 84 when I first met him at the end of the last century, and still 84 when I asked him a couple months ago.
I’ve received a few emails about Pete, and if anyone’s got a story, a memory from his shop, I’d love to collect them and pass them on in a future column.
I got one just this week from Michael Loox, who asked me if I had any word on Peter. “He has been cutting my hair for 13 years and treats my 4-year-old like his own granddaughter. He was supposed to meet my son after he was born but now the handwritten note is down and the shop is empty. We shared all the news on the walls (my cat cards from Christmases past), the funny and the sad. I hope he is OK.”
A week ago I heard from Maj. Jim Burns (military men are very picky about their haircuts, you know), who wrote, “His conversations are enjoyable, true to life with a mixture of light humor and real experiences. Did you know of his military service in the Greek Army prior to his emigrating to the U.S.? Pete’s presence is definitely a solid institutional foundation backed by a sense of true character and wisdom in an area deep in cultural chaos.”
So what do you say? Peter Katsikides was an outstanding citizen who gave so much to Santa Monica for so long, let’s finish the job he got cut short on, and celebrate him in print with your remembrances of the grand old man. Write to my email below.
Charles Andrews has lived in Santa Monica for 28 years and wouldn’t live anywhere else in the world. Really. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.