Monday, August 16, 2010

Hot Towels

My barber - Mr. Lyndsey Bezio of Mr. Lyndsey's Barber Shop in Clifton Park, New York - has been cutting my hair for more years than I like to admit. Lyndsey is the only gentleman in the area that knows how to give a decent military cut, and even though it's been 15 years since I left the Army, my hair still likes to play dress up. Lyndsey's a veteran too - Navy, but still technically a veteran I guess - so he understands my need for a low maintenance head.

Of course, just about any barber could give me a fade or a high-and-tight. I suppose that in a pinch, even the ladies at the trendy coiffure up the street could get the job done - although they'd probably use scissors and gel instead of clippers and alcohol. Heretics, but it doesn't matter. I cannot bring myself to leave Lyndsey. I'd feel like I was cheating on my spouse. Besides, there's just something about the way he does business.

Lyndsey is quick with banter, and knows how to appeal to his customers' interests. With Bob he talks politics. With Steve it's sports. With me he'll talk fishing. The shop is adorned with military and sports memorabilia. He keeps lollipops and gum for the boys - there are no girls at Lyndsey's shop. A cut or shave ends with menthol and a hot towel. Lyndsey is an old school barber, running an old school barber shop. He's one of a dying breed.

Even rarer than the old school barbershop is the old school fly shop. There might be one left out west, but I haven't seen one on the east coast since George Schlotter's place - The Angler's Nook - closed over a decade ago. George was something of a regional, fly fishing celebrity in the 70s and 80s. He originated a simple skating dry fly called the Vermont Caddis, and a hendrickson emerger that is - to this day - still deadly during a hatch of ephemerella subvaria. 

The Nook was actually a shack off route 313, not far from where the Battenkill crosses the border from Vermont into New York. As one passed over the threshold of the shop, he or she was usually greeted by a pair of bespectacled eyes peering up from behind a desk that effectively hid most of the proprietor's face. George spent the better part of every single day at that desk, tying flies for shops around the country. Undoubtedly, he can still whip up a dozen variants quicker than I can piece together a bugger, and his flies may still be found in bug bins from Maine to Washington.

If George wasn't seated behind the desk when you arrived, then he was likely out back messing with the chickens. He raised birds for hackle as Whiting had not yet come on the scene, and Metz and Hoffman were too costly an investment for a commercial tyer whose livelihood depended on economy. He sold a few capes, but used most of them himself.

I once saw George select chicks to raise after they had hatched. He separated out all the hens, and placed them in a black plastic bag. He then wrapped the opening of that bag around the exhaust pipe of his car. After running the engine for just a few minutes, the squealing and piping stopped as all the chicks were dead, having been asphyxiated. Cock hackle sold. Hen hackle did not. I remember wondering what it must have been like to know the world for only a few confused moments. It was a foolish, and juvenile thought to have had. George had a family to support. He couldn't afford to be charitable.

On the wall of George's shop hung a beautiful charcoal sketch of a brown trout chasing a minnow. That drawing fueled my dreams throughout adolescence, when those dreams weren't otherwise occupied by more typical teenage fair. The brown was huge, larger than life I suppose. Its spots were the size of dimes, and he wore a fearsome kype. That fish could have eaten every last one of George's chickens, and I spent season after season trying to live up to the promise of that sketch. I suppose I still do. Now that I've a few more years under my belt, however, I can be absolutely sure that fish like that do dwell in the river's riffles and eddies. I've hooked a few, but I haven't been fortunate enough to close the deal.

In the end, my memories of The Nook will have to sustain me. I can't see George ever coming back, and I think it unlikely I'll ever find another shop quite like his. That's not to say I plan to stop searching, but in the meantime, I suppose I'll have to get by on hot towels and the promise of trophy trout. 


Shaq said...

Thanks for the trip down memory lane. George was a class act and I learned something new every time I stepped in his shop. With the come back of classic wet flies, George's hens might have been worth keeping around. I had a shop like his near my home town in eastern Ma. It's a dying breed outside the "Destination" areas. It's too bad. Ed's shop in North Creek was a trip until he couldn't do it anymore too. The flyshop I am going to open when I retire is like the old least in my mind it is.

BKill said...

I could tell you some stories about George ... I camped with him and his sons in Wyoming and Montana about five years ago. Let me tell you, those Schlotter boys can drink.

Al said...

Does anybody know the tying recipe for his Hendrickson Emerger?.
We visited his shop quite frequently during the late 70s, 80s, and most likely early 90s at least, since I don't remember how long ago was it that we drove over the NY border to pay him a visit and found he had closed it.

BKill said...

Tail of dun hen hackle ... body of rusty brown dubbing ... collar of dun hen hackle with the tip folded back over the body as a wing case.