By Patrick F. Cannon

The basketball player LeBron James recently became the all-time leading scorer of the National Basketball Association (NBA), taking that distinction away from Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Many fans immediately claimed that James was the Greatest of all Time, or G.O.A.T., in shorthand. “Wait a minute,” many responded, “what about Michael Jordon? After all, he’s the all-time leader in points per game and won more NBA titles in his years with the Chicago Bulls!”

            Sports fans love to argue about stuff like this. Who’s the greatest hitter of all time? Babe Ruth? Ted Williams? Ty Cobb? How about the greatest football player? Many claim that honor for Tom Brady. But how about Jim Brown? Or Walter Payton? Or, from different eras, Sammy Baugh or Bronco Nagurski? Was Roger Federer really better than Rod Laver? Or Max Verstappen superior to Juan Manuel Fangio? Can we really compare athletes from different eras?

            For the snootier among us, who was the greatest painter? Was it Rembrandt, Picasso, or perhaps Jeff Koons, with his colorful carnival of the animals? Was Mozart better than Beethoven? And just what is the “Great American Novel?” A recent article by Rick Kogan trotted out Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby once again. A fine book, no doubt, but better than Saul Bellow’s Adventures of Augie Marsh? Or Twain’s Huckleberry Finn? Or Grace Metalious’ Peyton Place, which shocked the nation?

            You see the problem here. But while I think it’s fruitless to name the G.O.A.T. in the world or even in our country, it may be possible on a more local basis, and in more modest pursuits. For example, I have had my hair cut in several states, and even in foreign countries, but  by far the greatest of all barbers was undoubtably the legendary Pino “Golden Scissors” Grimaldi, who emigrated from Sicily to ply his trade at the once fashionable Hotel Brevoort in downtown Chicago.

            Now long gone, replaced by a sterile office building, the Brevoort was home to the famous literary luncheon group, the Potawatomy Powwow, where you might find literary lights like James T. Farrell, Sinclair Lewis, Saul Bellow, Ernest Hemingway, Mike Royko, Rick Kogan, and yours truly, quaffing a Martini or two, and enjoying the famous Roast Turkey with shad-roe dressing. 

            If you were lucky, you could end the day getting a Grimaldi haircut. I should tell you that an appointment with Pino wasn’t easy to get. In fact, you added your name to the waiting list of favored customers, then hoped that those above you would either move out of the area, or die. Once you were in his list, you could be certain of getting an appointment, although initially it might be at an inconvenient time.  Refusing an appointment time was tantamount to lifetime  banishment.

            Once ensconced in Pino’s chair, you would be treated not only to a perfect haircut, but receive the benefit of his breadth of knowledge about any and all subjects – sport, politics, finances, the very meaning of life. It was said by more than one customer, that a shave, haircut and shampoo at Pino’s hands could cure the worst hangover! Every mayor of Chicago was a customer – even Jane Byrne – as were financiers and captains of industry. I’m told that he was a rich man when he finally retired to Palm Springs, but not as rich as we! His departure signaled the end of the Golden Age of men’s haircuts.

            Another “greatest” in my long experience was the king of short-order cooks, the redoubtable Pablo “Chewy” Garcia, who manned the griddle at the Olympiad, just west of the Chicago River between Union and Northwestern Stations. If you sat at the counter, you could see Chewy work his magic, handling a dozen or more breakfast orders at one time, and never getting one wrong. His only help was a rotating group of interns, young men still wet from swimming the Rio Grande. In my experience, he was the only short order cook who actually knew the difference between over easy and over medium, and whose poached eggs were perfection itself.

            Although I never saw him in action for lunch, I’m told his olive and mushroom burgers were legendary, and his fries always perfectly brown and crispy. Great honors came his way, including the “Golden Griddle Spatula” and Honorary Membership in the American Hellenic Educational and Progressive Association. He even became baptized in the Greek Orthodox Church! Alas, the Olympiad closed in 2010, yet another victim of unbridled development. So, Chewy hung up his grease-spattered apron for the last time and retired to Santorini.    

Perhaps I should also mention Joe “Magic Rag” Conyers, who kept the wing tips of bankers, lawyers and politician gleaming for so many years in the lobby of City Hall; but then I remembered that few men have shoes these days you can actually shine, so wouldn’t have any idea what I was talking about..

Copyright 2023, Patrick F. Cannon

3 thoughts on “G.O.A.T.?

  1. I once knew someone who had the privilege of having “Golden Scissors” cut his hair. When Scissors was finished, he walked out of his shop looking like Michelangelo’s David. Only problem, he kept losing his fig leaf.

    The Greatest of All Time? Muhammad Ali, of course. He said so himself.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s