The following is the original column I wrote in 1998 about Jimmy Taglioli, a crusty old-timey barber in Savannah. I thought about him when I decided to reprint a book I published in 2001, “Everyone’s Gotta Be Somewhere,” in which I wrote about him. The book was out of print but when I reread the columns that were published in the 90′s, I thought, ‘Hey, these are pretty good. I need to get this back in circulation.” So with the help of Tom Greensfelder in Chicago, I did. And when I heard Taglioli was still with us – he’s 98 – I revisited him and wrote a second column, published today in the Savannah Morning News. I think I like the first column better although this time I left his house with a few branches off his grape tree. Want to buy a copy of “Everyone’s Gotta Be Somewhere”? It’s available in Savannah at The Book Lady, online at Lulu.com, and of course through me.
Nothing Slows Down Barber—Not Even Fire, Knee Operation
“My knee operation? Here, lemme show you for yourself,” he said, rolling back the pant leg of his flannel pajamas, revealing a patchwork of colorful crosshatches. “I’m OK, but I’ve been taking pain pills like a chicken eats corn.”
Taglioli celebrated his eighty-second birthday in the hospital. The opera-
tion was scheduled months ago, the burnout—Taglioli’s term for the fire— was not.
“Helluva thing, that fire. I was still turning a buck down there, meeting people from all over the world, going to work every day. But like my sixth- grade math teacher Miss Preston—she was one of them big, buxom women— used to say, no matter what happens, it could always be worse.”
He grinned, the space between his front teeth as prominent and hopeful as ever. “And then Lamas sent me back some of my rent for the month. Nice guy.” Art Lamas owns the building on the corner of Abercorn and Broughton streets that housed Jimmie’s shop before the fire. Taglioli was just eleven when his older brother, David, became a barber, but he knew then that he would do the same thing. He liked thinking about how the customers and the barber sat around talking politics and baseball. He liked the chummy clubhouse atmosphere. Now he’s cutting hair at home in Gordonston, bum knee and all. “A lotta beauty people work out of their house,” he said. “No parking problem here. I always had a set of tools at home for outside cuts, for when my customers went to the hospital. I even did Jim Williams when he was in jail.
Nice guy.” That reminded him of something else. “My name was in ‘The Book,’ you know. Page 181. When tourists find that out, they want to take my picture by the barber pole,” Taglioli said. His copy of “The Book” didn’t burn in the fire. Neither did his bike. Not true about his autographed Perry Como picture. “Ever tell you the story about that one?” he asked. “He was a barber, you
know, Italian, like me. Guy comes into the shop once, a singer at one of the downtown clubs who recorded for RCA, same as Perry. Said to me, ‘You know, you’re a dead ringer for Perry Como.’ So, I wrote Perry at the studio, told him what the guy said. He sent me a picture.”
Taglioli’s wife, Ethel, disagreed with one part of the story.
“I always thought he looked like Don Ho,” she said of the man she married fifty-six years ago.
Taglioli and his wife settled in Savannah after his World War II stint at Hunter Army Airfield.
“Saw her sitting in a drugstore near Birmingham,” Taglioli said of his wife. “She looked so pretty it was unreal. She put Elizabeth Taylor to shame. I ain’t fooling you, either.”
Taglioli’s family came to the United States from Bologna, Italy. In 1898, his father moved to a mining town in Alabama, where he dug coal, built houses and raised Jimmie and his five sisters and brothers. “Papa came first, laid the groundwork for the rest of us. But I got my mom’s nose,” he said. “And her hair. She always had pretty good hair.”
Taglioli’s son, Clay, cuts his father’s hair these days. Clay used to work in the shop but since the fire was hired on as an electrician.
“My life’s sort of in limbo now,” Taglioli said. “I might return downtown. I might go back to Italy. Got about twenty-five first cousins in Florence and Bologna, don’t you know. Or I might just want to catch a trout. Ever been fishing?”