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Milestones

A Tonic Called Friendship

Through triumph and tragedy, Nick Perrulli and Carl Gorham have been buddies for nearly 50 years. Now a fourth generation of Gorhams sits in Perrulli's chair.

November 05, 2001|DUANE NORIYUKI | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Over the years, there have been few changes at Joe's Haircutting & Styling in La Mirada, located in a strip mall dominated by storefront churches and bars, interspersed among shops providing insurance, acupuncture, brakes and doughnuts.

Like Floyd's place in Andy Griffith's Mayberry, there are posters showing the differences between a flattop and a butch. Combs soak in deep blue disinfectant. A photo of Sandy Koufax hangs next to the mirror. It is a long, narrow shop, ideal for the putting green that once ran the length of four barber's chairs beneath a huge map of the world.

Nick Perrulli is seated in his chair watching a Saturday afternoon football game on television when an old friend enters the shop. Carl Gorham, 76, has driven 117 miles from Yucca Valley to get his hair cut. Nick stands, and the two men shake hands warmly.

Perrulli, 75, has been cutting Gorham's hair since midway through the Eisenhower administration, when a dime tip was enough to put a bounce in his step. He also cut the hair of Gorham's three sons and three grandsons. Then, a couple months ago, Perrulli reached a milestone in his 51-year career. Gorham's two great-grandsons, cousins born on the same day a year and a half ago, came in for their first haircuts, marking the fourth generation of Gorhams to sit in Perrulli's chair.

"Isn't that somethin'?" Perrulli remarks.

Ethan was calm, but Chandler arched his back and screamed despite numerous attempts to distract, reason and bribe. He was not the first Gorham to show such displeasure. His father, Shawn Gorham, who now shaves his head bald, had similar feelings of terror during his first cut.

Perrulli never took it personally, and over the years emotions evened out to the point where he is practically a part of the Gorham family. He helped Carl and Vivian celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary four years ago, and when Chandler and Ethan were born, there was little discussion about who would cut their hair.

As a matter of fact, there never has been much discussion in the Gorham household when it comes to haircuts. Even during the 1960s, when long hair became fashionable, Carl had only one thing to say when he spotted hair whisking against the ears of his sons.

"Time to see Nick."

A former Marine who even now runs a tight ship, Carl Gorham rarely had to say more than that.

For Perrulli, cutting the hair of a fourth generation wasn't about cutting hair at all. It was about tradition, friendship and family--things he cherishes.

"It feels great that they would care for me more than strictly haircutting," Perrulli says. "That means a lot to me, to know people care about me."

One of three children, Nicholas Vito Perrulli grew up in the slums of New York City's Lower East Side, where his father delivered ice and coal. Perrulli remembers the rats, the Saturday night baths in the kitchen tub, stickball in the streets.

His dream was to play catcher or, perhaps, third base for his beloved New York Giants; but then one day he approached his hero, the legendary Mel Ott, for an autograph, and Ott turned him down. Perrulli had learned about the importance of respect from his parents, Italian immigrants. There was only one thing for him to do in response to Ott's disregard: "From that moment on," Perrulli says, "I was a Yankee fan."

In 1942, he moved to the West Coast. In 1944, joined the Navy and was stationed at Pearl Harbor, where he helped repair submarines after the bombing. Uncertain of what direction to take after the war, he opted for barber school and in 1949 began cutting hair in Westchester.

He moved around a bit, from one shop to another. It was while working in Norwalk in the mid-1950s that he met Carl Gorham, who walked in one day for his usual cut and saw the new guy behind the chair.

Perrulli wrapped Gorham's neck with tissue, just as he does now, just as he has done since that first meeting. Gorham left with a pleasing cut and a new friend.

The two men would, periodically, see each other at the bowling alley where Perrulli and Gorham competed in separate leagues. Perrulli was usually in the 150s, while Gorham, with a 196 average, sent pins flying like sparks.

In 1960, Gorham, an electrician who owned his own business, moved the family from Norwalk to La Mirada. For a while in 1963, he and Perrulli lost touch. But Gorham went to some of Perrulli's bowling buddies to find out where he went. They found each other again at Joe's place, owned by Joe Cincotta, who has been cutting hair at his current location for 45 years.

Perrulli and Gorham caught up, discussed issues of parenting and politics, weather and the events of a changing world.

During the O.J. Simpson trial, there was plenty to talk about, especially the photograph of Perrulli's son, Joseph, which appeared on the cover of a tabloid with a woman he used to date--Nicole Brown.

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