Remember the rumble scene in The Outsiders (the movie based on the novel by S.E. Hinton), when the Greasers and the Socs let loose on each other in that big, wide-open field? That’s what I imagine takes place regularly at San Diego vintage shops. On one side, the Betty-and-Don-Draper-obsessed, and on the other, everyone who shopped and wore vintage before the Mad Men style machine took over the universe. I picture petticoats flying and gabardine torn to shreds.
But Mark Reynolds, a barber at Dapper Jay’s in La Mesa, informs me that he doesn’t shop at vintage stores. Yes, he dresses in suspenders and saddle shoes, but he’s a “thrift shop” guy, and he has little tolerance for fads and trends.
“If someone comes in here asking, ‘Can I get a rockabilly haircut?,’ I’m gonna say, ‘No, you can’t.’ I know they probably want a pompadour with sideburns, but…”
Reynolds lets his bitter tone finish the sentence.
It’s one of those hot, muggy weeks in August, and everyone who steps into the shop shines with sweat. Inside, the air-conditioner’s on, and the mini-refrigerator is stocked with cold beer. The folksy Western Swing sound of Pokey LaFarge plays on the stereo system.
Two of Dapper Jay’s four barbers wear scally caps. Two wear skinny ties. Three wear saddle shoes. Granted, these aren’t exactly Greaser uniforms, but there’s no doubt that, in the event of a rumble, these guys would side with the working class. Cigarettes, yes (every now and again, one of the barbers steps outside for a smoke), but no martinis. These guys drink beer.
Of the four, Reynolds is the loudest and most intimidating. Think Matt Dillon as Dallas Winston in The Outsiders — but take off the black T-shirt and put him in suspenders and a button-up. He has a SIG Sauer pistol tattooed into the shaved side of his head.
Two chairs over, Chris Angielczyk, who would prefer to be referred to as “the barber from New York,” has instead earned the nickname Ponyboy. At least to me, he has. He’s just finished explaining how the S.E. Hinton book changed his life. (Remember Ponyboy and the Robert Frost poem? “Stay gold, Ponyboy.”) It was the first book a teacher ever gave him that he could relate to.
The rest of the barbershop is quiet while he speaks — until, that is, Reynolds pipes in and says of Angielczyk, “Yeah, he was a fuckin’ Soc.”
The others laugh at the absurdity of Angielczyk (or any of them) as one of the rich-kid characters.
“We weren’t the wealthy ones,” Reynolds says.
Angielczyk confirms that he related to the Greasers.
Kevin Grossman, working at the chair to Mark’s left, says (referencing the story’s plot), “And then there was that one time he burned the church down.”
Again, everyone laughs, including the four clients that occupy the chairs.
Reynolds tells an “I’m not a Soc” story about going out on a date with a girl a while back.
“She was hot, kinda trendy, and hoity-toity.” Reynolds keeps his eyes trained on his clippers and on the hair of the Filipino guy in his chair. “You know, yoga and hiking Cowles Mountain every day? So, anyway, we’re going out one night with some of her hoity-toity friends and their fuckin’ boyfriends or whatever, and someone asks me, ‘What do you do?’ And before I can answer, the girl I’m dating says, ‘He does hair.’”
Reynolds stops and looks around.
“I said, ‘No. I’m a barber.’ It was like there was something wrong with being a barber.” His voice rises. “I had to make it a fuckin’ point.”
The other guys nod. The music switches over from folksy swing to a doo-wop mix tape.
Grossman has his own point to emphasize.
“We’re not cookie cutters,” he says, returning to the discussion of fashion. “We end up spending more time at the AMVETS thrift store than at Fashion Valley.”
Reynolds waves his electric razor in Grossman’s direction. “Don’t mention AMVETS. I don’t want no kids in skinny jeans buying up our shit.” Then he says to me, “He meant we spend more time at Walmart than Fashion Valley.”
The other guys laugh.
“Anything that looks like it’s from a Mad Men set, I’m pretty into,” says Amy Smets (with husband and daughters).
Image by Howie Rosen
Local blogger Amy Smets could probably give Mark Reynolds a run for his money in a thrift-store rumble. But judging from the old-timey-housewife collectibles that adorn her home, it would never come to that. It’s unlikely that Reynolds would care a wink for the vintage Thermos collection on the shelf in Smets’s living room or the “still life with vintage toys” in her daughters’ room. Still, there’s little doubt that Smets would side with the Socs over the Greasers. She is, after all, a pastor’s wife who is looking to bring back “the joy of being a homemaker.” On the other hand, her wrist tattoos and her love of Formica might put her a trend or two ahead of today’s housewife.
On her blog — Simple Here & Vintage There — Smets wrote of her 2010 search for a home: “After house-hunting for a while, we realized we did not want [to buy] a house flip. The granite countertops and bad paint jobs weren’t fooling us.”
Today, she stands in her tiny kitchen and runs a hand along her beloved Formica.
“It’s called ‘Boomerang,’” she says. “I like it because it’s like the old tables they have in diners.”
From afar, the design on the Formica looks like a bunch of squiggles, but up close, I can see the tiny, overlapping boomerangs that give the pattern its name.
The Smetses’ home sits at the top of a tiny, steep lawn in Fairmount Park. From the time it was built in 1950 until Amy and her husband Duane bought it, the two-bedroom, one-bath house had a single owner. The Smets purchased the place for $240,000 and gave themselves a $10,000 budget for the makeover. Before they moved out of their Normal Heights rental, Pastor Smets took a week off from work. He did the renovations himself.