A refuge from troubles in New Kensington
Frank Costantino is 95 years old and he has seen a lot.
As a boy growing up in New Kensington, he knew the boom times, when the Alcoa plant worked around the clock and there was plenty of overtime for anyone who wanted it.
New Ken was a wide-open town then.
The sidewalks were filled on Friday and Saturday nights, so thick you had to walk in the streets. Music poured out of bars and taverns, betting parlors hummed and the party continued at the after-hours clubs until dawn.
Frank has seen the tough times, too.
After the factory closed, much of the town closed along with it. Some families moved away, looking for work and a change of luck. All the great joints closed their doors, and downtown New Ken no longer bustled.
It is an old story.
Up and down the rivers, the old mill towns are barely a memory for most. Whole neighborhoods have disappeared, and even some streets are gone, which makes no difference, because there is no longer anyplace to go.
But the bones of New Ken have stayed strong.
Mount St. Peter's Catholic Church still packs them in, as does Ida's Restaurant, still a favorite, after relocating because of a fire.
And Frank's Barbershop is still open for business.
Frank grew up in his father's shop and was destined for barber work, even though he tried a few other things first.
He went off to war, returned home to a factory job and did a stint as a crooner in California, singing as “Frankie Con” before deciding to get his barber's license back home.
On any Saturday, Frank's shop is busy.
He still has the steadiest hands around, which he is quick to show. And after nearly seven decades on his feet, he might take a quick breather after a half-dozen haircuts, but he bounces right back up.
All day long, Frank's pals sit in the extra barber chairs or along the wall, some balancing a coffee and a doughnut, while a couple of guys might play a few hands of gin at a corner table. It is easy banter — these guys have known each other forever — but it doesn't take long to fit in.
Frank has cut the hair of high public officials, powerful clergy, mafia dons, lawyers and doctors and the common man, giving them all the same fine service. He always kept his own counsel, unless asked, and most of the time, he just listened.
That has not changed.
Sometimes the world seems out of control. When hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, raging fires and the threat of nuclear war all come together, something feels amiss. Add political chaos, terrorism, endless war, and even the solar eclipse, and it can seem like the end of times.
But it is not that way at Frank's.
There, you can take a break from the craziness outside.
It is that place we all need in uncertain times, or in the midst of a bad run, or when we can't find the answers to the big questions.
It is like sitting down to your mama's sauce at the end of a tough day.
Joseph Sabino Mistick is a Pittsburgh lawyer (joemistick.com).