R.I.P. Tony Palos

I first saw Tony's barbershop when doing laundry at a dirty laundromat on Magnolia. The actual name of his shop was Lookin' Good, but I always just referred to it as Tony's.Tony's was a long narrow room with a small lobby area near the door and a short hallway leading back to the one barber chair in the place. The hallway was marked off by a movable partition that didn't reach the ceiling; I peeked over it one day and glimpsed a cot and a weight bench, which makes me think Tony might have lived there. The lobby area consisted of a battered old couch and matching recliners, centered around a coffee table featuring scattered remnants of recent newspapers and back-issues of Playboy and Cigar Aficionado. Tony's aspired to be a manly place: Cardboard cutout of Bogey, a couple of Rat Pack posters as well as the inexplicable presence of an original theatrical one-sheet for Superman, and, of course, soft porn. There was always something a little disconcerting that at least a dozen issues of Playboy were circulating through the lobby and bookstand area. The strangest moment came when the man ahead of me finished his haircut and, instead of leaving, picked up a Playboy and plopped down on the couch. I don't know what kind of attention this guy wasn't getting at home, but something was clearly wrong. The sole barber's chair sat in front of a low table, on which sat a TV/VCR combo and — again — a Playboy. I started to wonder if Tony was trying to tell me something about himself, or if he just wanted to provide healthy testosterone injections into what is usually a pretty dull experience. But it's not like I was about to pick up the magazine and thumb through it while he cut my hair. What would I do? Would I avoid the pictorials and adhere to the articles about how to shop for a roadster or what to do if your teacher starts hitting on you? Or what if I picked it up and he said, "Hey, check her out," or something along those lines. I don't think I could handle that. And Tony was in his 60s, so I don't think his heart would have taken the stress well, either. But despite all that, Tony's was a great place. He always had the little TV on and would hand me the remote when I sat down. I went there for so long that he needed only the briefest reminder of what kind of haircut to give me, and it was good every time. After a while, I couldn't remember how much the haircut cost, only that the $20 I gave him more than covered it, with a tip. The place was almost never busy, and most days I was the only one there. Tony's is gone now, why or to where, I don't know. My phone call to make an appointment — even with his small trickle of business, Tony preferred call-aheads to walk-ins — was met with an endless ringing. Not a disconnect or a warning that the number had changed; just the ringing. I drove by and saw that the inside of the tiny storefront had been gutted. Pipes lay everywhere amid chunks of plaster and a few spare paint buckets. The place was emptied, and only half the signs were gone from the outside. The faded decal of a barber's pole was still affixed in the window, but Tony wasn't around.