Over the past 55 years, Murphy Torres has faced his share of uncertainties. But he never had to think about who was going to give him a haircut.
Now he does. Last Thursday, Anthony Michelli hung up his clippers.
Michelli, 80, began as a barber in 1956, and, except for two years in the Army, has cut hair in Baton Rouge ever since. When he started, haircuts cost $1, or $1.25 for a flattop. They were $18 his last day on the job. He cut the hair of four generations of some families.
Since 1962, those haircuts have come in a handful of locations within a few blocks of Drusilla Lane at Jefferson Highway. He started his own shop, the Razor’s Edge, in 1969. He only recently succumbed to his wife’s urging to retire.
“After I hit 80 and looked around and (saw) a lot of my friends are not around anymore, I figured this might be a good time,” Michelli said. “I’ve been pretty fortunate health-wise. I might have a few years where I just hang out.”
Which seems appropriate, after almost 60 years providing men a place to do the same, although that has changed.
“They don’t hang around in barbershops like they used to,” he said. “I remember in the old days, a guy would come in and say, ‘Man, you’re busy. How long do I have to wait?’ In just a few minutes, he gets his haircut, and two hours later he’s still sitting in the barbershop talking. You don’t see that anymore. People get their haircut and they leave. Everybody is in a hurry.”
After starting his career on Government Street, Michelli returned from the Army in 1959 to work in Joe Lofaso’s shop on North Street across from Roselawn Cemetery. That’s where he met Torres, who was a neighborhood teenager.
“Mr. Joe always cut my hair. When he brought in a younger guy, he’d let that guy cut my hair,” said Torres. “We just hit it off, and he stayed with Mr. Joe probably about two years. He left and moved out to a barber shop off Jefferson Highway. I found out where he was at, and I was driving, so I just followed him out there.
“Through that whole time, I can count on one hand how many times another barber has cut my hair, and those times were because I was in Anthony’s shop, but he was busy so I had another one of his barbers cut my hair.”
For Michelli, loyalty is a two-way street. He has gone to funeral homes to provide a final haircut to a customer who died.
“That’s hard, too,” he said. “Then, you have people who have cancer, and you go to the house to cut their hair. All barbers do this. It’s to show appreciation. They’ve been with you for so long. You can’t turn them down.
“You go there and they don’t even know you’ve been there to cut their hair, but the family appreciates it. It’s just little things like that.”
Hairstyles have fluctuated since Michelli began. When he opened his own shop, longer hair was becoming popular for men, and barbers had to decide if they would include hair styling.
Michelli incorporated both for a while, then returned to a traditional shop.
“It worked out fine for us,” he said. “A lot of barber shops, when they went to hairstyling, they got a little pricier, and they were pushing more products on their customers. We did fine because we were picking up people that didn’t want to make appointments.
“Still, a lot of my customers, they don’t want to make appointments. That’s why I’ve got a lot of them,” Michelli said. “They don’t want a shampoo. They just want to come into a regular, old-time barber shop, get a haircut, shoot the bull a little while and leave.”
Thursday, Michelli saved the last haircut for Torres, who now lives in Denham Springs.
“I’ve enjoyed it. I still do enjoy cutting hair,” Michelli said. “I’ll miss talking to people every day — every morning go to the barber shop and talk. It’s going to be a little change for me.
“I had a guy ask me, ‘Are you enjoying what you’re doing?’ I said, ‘Yeah, I enjoy my work. Why?’ He said, ‘You’re not working, then. If you enjoy your work, you’re not working.’”