My father, Antonio Pizzaloni Sr., dismissed me from school for good on my fifteenth birthday. He strode into my Norwegian Geography class and announced that my brother was dead, and so I was now in line to take over the family business, which means I needed to start my apprenticeship right away, post haste, now dammit, stop your crying.
For the next five years, he taught me everything there is to know about being a barber – how to snip, how to cut, how to dye, when to comb and when to brush, why to condition, how to shave, when to lotion, how to wash, how to leave your own problems at the door, and most importantly, how to keep the customer satisfied.
What Paparino didn’t know is that I wasn’t learning these skills for him, so I could carry on his legacy and become the next in a line of great Pizzaloni barbers. I only willfully absorbed his expertise so that he would someday feel comfortable passing along his customers to me, and one in particular, a Dr. Mr. Lorne Michaels, creator and showrunner of my favourite thing in the universe.
I grew up with the Spartan Cheerleaders and Brian Fellows, strategery lockboxes and Mom Jeans, additional cowbells and an unashamedly breaking Jimmy Fallon. Ninety minutes every Saturday night made the other 9990 bearable, and I wanted nothing more than to be a writer and performer for the NBC institution.
Finally, Pop a suffered a fatal heart attack and, being dead and all, he had no choice but to let me cut Lorne’s hair. The all-important client was surprised to see me manning his lucky chair when he entered for his standing monthly appointment, as I neglected to inform him of what happened to my dad, lest he fail to show up. But Lorne needed his mop chopped, and so I finally would finally get my uninterrupted half hour with him, to demonstrate to him my true talents, knowing it would lead to my ultimate life goal.
I staged everything perfectly – setting up specific cues around the shop, consulting the investigative notes I’d prepared over the years, even enlisting my friend Kyle to come in and prompt some crafty jokes – better than Oslo designed its gorgeous Mediterranean port.
Lorne sits in the chair and starts the session as he starts every one, with a “So how are you?”, falling right into my lippity lap, allowing me to jump into my prepared bit.
“Not bad, but don’t you think that ‘How are you?’ is a phrase that’s pretty abused at this point. It basically means, ‘Blehgfsdhj! Say something to me!’ We say it all the time, to almost everyone we see. ‘How are you?’ ‘Good!’ Nothing is accomplished, and we just wasted each other’s time for the sake of politeness, social etiquette. But if we all agreed to get rid of this, it would no longer be a part of our day and we could get right to anything else. In Bergen, if you ask someone how they are, they think you mean it and they tell you. It’d be different if you were honest every time someone asked you how you were. ‘How you doin’¹?’ ‘Not great actually.’ But everyone asks it, and everyone says ‘good’. Even your doctor buys into the facade, but this is the one time you’re probably definitely not ‘good’. And he doesn’t ask it in a concerned way. It’s the casual way we all ask each other, and our instinct takes over. ‘How are you?’ ‘Pretty good!.. Oh, and my hand just got cut off by a buzzsaw, and I want to kill everyone I meet.’ It’s, like, give me a break, right?”
Lorne is speechless. I didn’t think I’d get him on my side this early, but something must have clicked and he’s probably already thinking of the best way to ask me if I’ll be on his show.
My “assistant” at this time brings him a coffee, and even though I made sure he knew how Lorne takes it, he makes sure to ask, “Would you like any sugar with that?” so I can get right into my spiel.
“Shouldn’t salt and sugar be different colours, so you don’t throw salt in your coffee or sugar on your fries? Then again, maybe keeping them the same colour makes you have to prove you can co-exist here, in this mixed-up messed up world of white powders. Make you smarten up, figure something out for yourself for once. This time we’re not gonna lay everything out perfectly for you. Who’s ‘we’ again? I hope I’m part of we, but you can never know. I know I’m part of me! I also hope that future me likes present me. I don’t really like past me. But past we? Don’t get me started. How about past-ah?”
It’s at this moment I launch into my pasta routine, and from what I can tell, based on the still-dumbfounded look on Lorne’s face, it works like a charm. Now it’s at this moment that the scent of the bacon that just so happened to be getting fried in the back room comes wafting in.
“Mmmm, smell that bacon! Or it might even be Canadian bacon. Not the John Candy movie, but the ham. Ham is a bit boring, too direct and quick, especially compared to the poetic bacon, which might actually be France. Mia and Jon are doing okay using it for their last names, but even they spice it up with an extra ‘m’. Jon hams it up a bit too much for my liking. You know, when I buy ham from the deli, the clerk always asks me if I need a bag. As if! Of course I should be able to fit it all in my ham pocket. You have ham pockets, right? Of course you do. That’s where that song came from. ‘If your front ham pocket is full, put it in your back ham pocket.’ I was making breakfast this morning and I find a box in my cupboard, and on the back is a recipe for pancakes. Below this is a recipe for crepes, which are much more delicious, but it’s only written in French, so I’m forced to go back to making pancakes. Sacred blue!”
Kyle is nowhere to be found, so I forgo the fitting prompt and dive right into one of my top skits.
“So the middle man has been having a hard time lately. Everyone’s trying to cut him out, but he has a family too. His mom is sick in the hospital, about to die, and without his financial help she’d never go in peace. He’s selfless, always trying to help, anything he can do to make this world just a little better. But you’re like everyone else. You just want to get rid of him. The poor little middle man. And this is saying nothing of the messenger, who’s getting shot more than a blueberry vodka at a sorority shindig. Which got me thinking about Joe, who might not be so average after all.”
I decide now’s a good time to start actually cutting his hair. I pull out my Henckels scissors, you know the kind whose logo is a little man or a few.
“It seems like those little men on my scissors are always judging my technique. And sometimes even the person I’m snipping. Not you, of course. But some of those shaggy men who come in. ‘Another baldie, hey? You know we can cut afros too?’ Luckily, there’s strength and sharpness in numbers, which is why I only cut with the twinsy, manspreading, three-legged race-competing, two-man Henckels.”
My buddy finally comes back into the room and delivers his next scripted line. “I was just on the phone with the car rental place. Ooh boy, what a mess!”
“Don’t get me started,” I reply, when in fact I did want him to get me started. “They’re always trying to upgrade your car, even when you don’t want it. ‘Travelling alone? You’ll still need a school bus, or maybe an airplane! Also, your insurance might not cover a Greco-Roman god stabbing you with his sceptre, so you better get our ‘extended’ insurance, for a low low price of something that’s not actually low low!’ Oy!”
Kyle makes an incongruous face before withdrawing into the bathroom, unexpectedly I should add. Lorne and I both notice a teenage boy walk by the store window, and even though it was never part of my strategy, with Kyle gone I know that I’ll need to ad-lib my next line. Luckily I’m feeling prettay confident and I manage to come up with a good one off the cuff, proving to myself that I can mine a little gold out of nowhere using only my big fat brain.
“It took humans thousands of year to evolve to have eyes, with the rods and cones and the cornea on the cobea, all working together in intricate collaborative cohesion to help us interact with the world in a visual sense, to see the beauty and the wonder and also the dangers and the sadness. And still these emo kids won’t cut their fiddling bangs off!”
Fortunately I get that killer punchline out before Kyle emerges from the lavatory and exclaims to no one, “WHO WANTS TO BE A MILLIONNAIRE!” He’d obviously forgotten the proper segue, but at least he did mention the right game show, the one needed to trigger my best celebrity impression. Such an ability is vital in establishing my important role in a variety of sketches on the late night show.
“Speaking of that popular catchphrase,” I say to Lorne, “did you hear about Reege getting fired from hosting ‘Million Dollar Password’ for yelling at some of the crew²? He can be quite a handful.” I follow with a flawless portrayal of what he might have said to the crew, and how he might have said it, complete with vocal range changes and purposeful yet tense body movements. “Don’t ever point the camera at the contestants! Keep it on me! Don’t forget who signs your paychecks or I’ll never let you shine my shoes again! I’m the star! If I got away with killing Kathie Lee³, what makes you think I won’t get off scot-free after I dip your heads in tar?!'” I end the fabricated rant with an emphatic, “More like Egregious Philbin!”
Although my delivery was certainly impeccable, I’m caught completely off-guard when I sense that Lorne might be a tad uncomfortable. However, I realize that’s only because we still haven’t addressed the elephant who’s no longer in the room. I catch his drift and explain what happened to my conservative father.
“Well, a couple of weeks ago, he had a stroke… of genius! But he wasn’t able to convey the brilliant idea to me, because of his stroke. To be honest, he was considering retiring anyway. It got me thinking, it’s interesting that when athletes retire, they like to get traded back to a team they used to play for, so they can end their career with that team. But there’s no other job like that. Papi wasn’t going to return to Magicuts for a final snip and buzz or anything. I’m not going to go back to a Wendy’s when I’m 85 years old just so I can make one last Big Mac. Other athletes like to retire on top, after winning a championship or something. You think Pop was going to hang up with clippers after finishing up a perfect haircut? Not in this lifetime! Well maybe if –”
As I’m about to sneak in a minor call-back, using ‘stroke’ in a third way, via innuendo, Lorne interrupts my vocalized thought, speaking up for the first time since his initial greeting, as the haircut is just about finished.
“Excuse me, son. You might not know who I am beyond being one of your father’s longtime customers. I actually run a variety television program, and we’re looking for new writers and performers. Since I walked in here today, I’ve had the pleasure of observing a comedic prodigy in my midst. Someone who’s intelligent, inventive, with a ‘je ne sais quoi’ star presence that cannot be quantified or denied. I won’t forgive myself if I leave without saying something.”
I feign perplexity and ignorance, hardly able to contain myself. I know what’s coming, my dream about to become a reality. I can’t help but picture the stage, where my heroes performed, that will soon be mine. Then I imagine the same stage, years down the line, when some young hopeful who was raised by SNL will get to live his own dream. He’ll be given the opportunity to stand where his hero once proved to the world and his dead barber dad’s ghost how entertaining and purely funny he is, how being a great barber was never the —
My thought again is interrupted by Lorne’s words, now directed to the back of the room.
“Kyle, what you’ve been doing behind-the-scenes today is nothing short of magnificent. Your unique yet relatable car rental frustration, the ‘Millionnaire’ bit to which you fully committed – hell, even that esoteric bathroom retreat that I still can’t make heads or tail of! Son, if you ever give up this hair cutting assistant’s business, there will always be a job for you as a writer and performer on my television show, Saturday Night Live.”
Lorne drops a fifty dollar bill on the ground as payment for the haircut, then decisively grabs his coat from the rack and exits through the front door. Without saying goodbye to me, an eager Kyle follows closely behind, and I am left alone, in my family’s barber shop, where I am doomed to live out my days as nothing more than the next great Pizzaloni barber.
¹ [said like Joey, to subliminally inform him I’m attuned to his program’s network.]
² [Editor’s note: While that is actually the correct program (not the one you’re thinking about), Regis was never fired and to the best of our knowledge never said anything untoward towards any crew members, and that includes the key grips and best b’ys. AJ just needed a topical factoid in order to showcase his chosen impersonation.]
³ [Editor’s note: Our lawyers have advised that we make it clear that there is absolutely no way that Regis could have killed Kathie Lee. As we all saw in the trial, the evidence clearly indicated that at the time of her gruesome murder, he was on the front lines saving an Ecuadorian rainforest. Like his lawyer said, to which nobody could deny, “Since he was in a tree, he must go free.”]