THE TWISTED TREE OF COVID "MITIGATION"
On intermittent Saturday mornings when I was a kid, my Mom used to take me and my two brothers to get our hair cut in the flat-finish-yellow-walled, low-ceilinged, makeshift basement barbershop of a neighborhood man whom we called Mr. Bertolo. Mr. Bertolo lived in a modest, pale green, textured asbestos shingle-sided house in Oakland, NJ, six blocks from our house and right across the street from the Ramapo River, which overflowed about once/year. He had a small garden in his small backyard that we passed before we descended into his basement.
Mr. Bertolo was slight, short and had a ring of white hair around the sides and back of his head. He was a widower and a WWI veteran. On his wall, there was a small, faded photo of him in his uniform and doughboy helmet. He often talked about having lived in Nutley, a heavily Italian town fourteen miles away, slightly north of Newark. As a ten-year-old, I thought Nutley was a funny name. I later drove a milk truck there. Nutley had a reputation for pretty women. Maybe it was the way they dressed as they walked alongside Franklin Avenue. None of them wore masks.
Mr. Bertolo charged one dollar for each haircut, a bargain even for the late-1960s. He was functionally retired and cut our hair only because he liked my Mom, who was a generation younger than he was. He was lonely, Mom was a good listener and she constantly affirmed him. Mr. Bertolo was never in a hurry to finish his work. He would often stop trimming, turn and step away from the chair and face my mother as he expressed some opinion or other in his still thick accent.
Mom would reliably respond, “You’re right, Tom.”
Mr. Bertolo would predictably, immediately, proclaim, “YoudonrightI’mright!” (You’re darn right I’m right!)
These two lines, the second of which we presented with low-quality Italian accent imitations, became a running joke between me and my brothers.