Today I had my monthly haircut at Luigi’s, also known as ‘Mister L.’ The barbershop is a Hoboken Italian classic, with rare pictures of Frank Sinatra and Jimmy Roselli, Hoboken’s ‘other’ singer, plastered on the walls. Elderly Italian immigrants hang out there all day, most of them as much for a good conversation as for a trim, which gives me a chance to practice my rusty Italian. If you have to wait, red and white wine, sambuca and grappa, and lots of sweets are available. Luigi left his village in the Napels area to join his father in the US in the 1960s, and after opening his shop, together with his cousin Nicky, he started buying real estate, which was very affordable at the time. He now owns three apartment buildings, one of which he had built in the 1990s, and because of the real estate boom that started in 1996, when Hoboken finally approved a plan to develop its waterfront, he is a very rich man. Two days of the week he looks after his properties and other investments, but the other three days he still cuts hair, from 7 am to 7 pm, for twenty dollars, in my case the beard included, because after all he’s a barber.
When we don’t talk about soccer, Luigi’s and Nicky’s passion, we talk about politics, and my monthly conversation with Luigi is almost as enriching as my daily reading of the New York Times, albeit in a very different way. Compared to Luigi moderate conservatives are crypto-communists, and the conspiracy theories he can come up with would make Rush Limbaugh blush. His main sources of information are Drudge, Breitbart and the New York Post, to which he adds his own blend of crazy talk. He calls me ‘Professor,’ because I teach at the local college, and while he is working on my crew cut he can suddenly whisper in my ear: “Professor, did you know that Hillary Clinton killed at least fifteen people?” When I respond by saying that the last time I saw him he told me it was fifty people he says, dead seriously: “Professor, please let’s stay with the facts,” and when I ask him if he can tell me who the victims were he doesn’t get farther than Vince Foster and the cat of one of the women Bill Clinton had an affair with, but he always promises to provide me with a complete list the next time I’m around.
Since he is an immigrant himself of an ethnicity that at one point was heavily discriminated against in the US, you might expect Luigi to have some sympathy for Hispanic immigrants now undergoing the same fate, but he has none. He perfectly fits the profile of immigrants who despise later waves of immigrants from different countries – or African-Americans for that matter – for fear of having their livelihood taken away, as best described by Vincent Parrillo.
Because I know of Luigi’s sentiments towards other ethnicities and races I suspected that Trump was his guy, but it turned out to be Cruz. He couldn’t really give me a good explanation for that choice, but I suspect that it has to do with an aversion of the privileged, waspy Manhattan culture Trump represents, which Luigi could observe for the last fifty years from across the river.
In spite of our differences and the fact that anybody else with his opinions would scare me I love talking with Luigi and I respect him. He founded the Hoboken Youth Soccer League, in which my son’s teams won three championships, and for that alone he deserves a small piece of heaven.