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First Read—From “Curl”

By T.O. Bobe
Translated By Sean Cotter

T.O. Bobe’s Curl, translated by Sean Cotter and forthcoming with Wakefield Press, features Mr. Gică, the world’s greatest barber, and the colorful cast of characters who frequent his shop, including his ever-lurking antagonist, Dorel Vasilescu. Composed of   poems, mock-critical commentaries with footnotes, dreams, and diary entries, Curl is a patchwork portrait of universal loneliness.


Mr. Gică

Mr. Gică is the world’s greatest barber. He is one-point-sixty-two meters tall and weighs fifty-eight kilograms. He has given haircuts to the fleetest midfielders and highest-scoring strikers. He has cut the hair of the fattest tenors. His barbershop has hosted the longest games of chess. (One, begun eighty-three years ago, in the era of Gică the First, has passed from father to son, and he is still playing it today.)

Mr. Gică is the fastest barber in the world. He holds the world record for sculptural hairstyling and has won three Olympic golds in neck massage. But his specialty is the shave. He can remove any beard in one long motion, in waves of ligatures, the way only great artists draw a portrait. It’s his signature, and he keeps an example on display in his shop, printed and framed.


Account of Work Productivity

Mr. Gică’s shop has six mirrors on the walls, six sinks, six barber chairs, and no employees. His shop is always crowded and the chairs occupied. Mr. Gică steps from one client to the next, working against the clock, making one move at each. He snips and shaves like this: from morning to evening, he’s giving a simultaneous exhibition, and he wins every game. He has studied all the scissor openings, he has learned to control the center (that section most exposed to winds), and at the end, when the board is almost empty, he arranges the pieces so that every client walks out pleased and defeated, with head held high.


About Mr. Gică, Insanity, and Dorel Vasilescu

Some think they’re Einstein and they’re crazy.
Some think they’re Napoleon and they’re crazier.
And others think they’re made of glass and try not to crack,
and others think they’re made of paper and try not to burn.

Mr. Gică is the world’s greatest barber.

Some people think they’re doctors,
some inventors,
and some colonels.
And they all try to keep their stethoscopes on their necks
             and their screwdrivers in their pockets
             and their marked-up maps under their arms.
Only once in a while does someone think he’s Dorel Vasilescu.
Some think they’re Socrates and they’re crazy.
Some think they’re Louis the Fourteenth and they’re crazier.

But Mr. Gică is the world’s greatest barber
and that’s what he thinks he is—the greatest barber.

He cuts and shaves six clients simultaneously and never makes a mistake.
He has a keen eye and deft fingers.
He is famous and precise.
Someone thinks he’s Dorel Vasilescu and is nothing.
He wanders stupidly and wonders what it even means: Vasilescu.

Mr. Gică is the world’s greatest barber.

Some men think they’re Eminescu
and some women think they’re Madame de Pompadour.
Some people think they’re black locusts
and stand in the yard with their branches up,
waiting for doves.
If you’re a black locust, you know what to do.
If you’re a sock, you find a foot and sweat together.
If you’re the Magna Carta Libertatum,
you go to the basement to avoid sun damage and you try
not to get moldy.
If you’re Mihai Viteazu, you stay on your horse
and point your beard at the sky.

But what do you do if you’re Dorel Vasilescu
and you think you’re Dorel Vasilescu?

Mr. Gică is the world’s greatest barber.

The greatest tenors go to him, and the greatest soccer players.
They know they are the greatest tenors
and they pull out their handkerchiefs to mop their brows.
They know they are the greatest soccer players
and while they wait on the melamine bench,
they retie their shoelaces.
Compared to them, Dorel Vasilescu’s hands are way too big.
He rubs them together, he sticks them in his pockets.
No one knows he is Dorel. And Vasilescu.

Confidently moving from one chair to the next, Mr. Gică
snips and shaves.
And washes hair. And massages.

Some people think they’re Yuri Gagarin and they’re crazy.
Some think they’re Jesus Christ and they’re crazier.
Mr. Gică wrote a book
called Vademecum for Barbers.
He is the world’s greatest barber.
Dorel Vasilescu, dressed in gray, waits his turn,
between a soccer player and a tenor.

Flitting from one chair to the next,
Mr. Gică trims sideburns
and clips rebellious hairs off the neck.


Be My Name Barbershop

My name could be anything.
A woman walks to work in the morning
and passes her hand through her hair.
My name did not necessarily have
                                                  to be Gică.
I see her through the shop window,
I sit in the fourth chair and
                                     looking in the mirror
I see her cross through the name of the barbershop,

                         b  a  r  b  e  r  s  h  o  p  .
A woman walks in the morning,
I smoke.
Her name could be anything.
My name crosses though my customers’ haircuts
and their ladies’ nocturnal coiffures.
If she ever turned her head toward the window and read

                          b  a  r  b  e  r  s  h  o  p  ,
she wouldn’t see anything inside except a shadow,
                                                                        a careless outline
and she would rush on.
Her name and my name could be anything.


Why Hair Never Rots

Because a person ought to leave something behind, something so sincere it couldn’t seem at all calculated, that comes from within and will be stirred by any breath of fear or love.

And because the seborrheic masses on which it feeds are nothing but balls of loneliness, trembling as they rise from the souls of soccer players and tenors.

Because, after Mr. Gică’s death, his hair will grow a little, proving its independence, showing that its parallel life is a little out of synch, like the sound in a satellite transmission.


Excerpted from Curl by T.O. Bobe, published by Wakefield Press. Copyright © 2015 by Humanitas. Translation © 2019 by Sean Cotter. By arrangement with the publisher.

Published Apr 17, 2019   Copyright 2019 T.O. Bobe

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