Oakland barber hangs up his clippers


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When Marcellino Cansino was in Italy during World War II, he asked a woman in a hair salon if she ever got tired cutting hair. He was thinking about what he might do for a living after the service, and he knew he didn't want the tiring job his father had in the steel mills.

"She said, 'You don't get tired,' " he recalled.

At almost 88, Mr. Cansino of West Mifflin still isn't tired of cutting hair. He's been doing it since cosmetology school, which he attended thanks to the GI Bill.

"You think of yourself as being able to go on and on and on," he said, "but it takes someone to give you a kick in the ankles to tell you it's time."

"Sorry it had to be me," said Linda Moneck, his daughter and partner at Marcel's Beauty Salon in Oakland.

On Saturday, the salon will close with Mr. Cansino's retirement. Ms. Moneck will move several blocks to work at Gregory's Hair Design on North Craig Street.

Her clients can follow her there, but many of her father's clients have died.

"When you lose so many people over time," he said, "that tells you it's time to sneak out."

Mr. Cansino, one of 10 children born to Mexican immigrants, grew up in Duquesne, where he went to high school. After service in both the Air Force and the Navy, he wanted a creative career.

"If you have the artistic touch, you can do it on people's hair," he said. "It's very designing. You have to have your mind on the person's face. Some people like their hair long, and some like it real short. Some people say, 'Does this look good on me?' and I say, 'You'd look a little better with a little more hair.'"

While waiting for his first customer of the day recently, with much of the salon furniture already cleared out, he sat with his rail-thin legs crossed, one turquoise cowboy boot tapping the air, the heel of the other hooked on the chair's chrome rail.

Ms. Moneck was standing nearby when she grabbed a brush and smoothed her father's hair.

Then she reached for hair spray and spritzed it.

"What are you doing that for?" he said. "No one's taking a picture yet."

"I just want you to look good," Ms. Moneck said, gently patting his hair.

With a cosmetology license newly inked in 1953, Mr. Cansino worked at several salons before settling into his own business in the Medical Arts Building on Fifth Avenue in Oakland.

There, he cut two, three heads of hair an hour and had as many as six to seven employees. Ms. Moneck joined him when he moved Marcel's Beauty Salon to Webster Hall, at Fifth Avenue and Dithridge Street, in 1980.

"I had a lot of customers from Pitt, [including] coaches Johnny Majors, Jackie Sherrill a few times. I shampooed Nikita Khrushchev's wife's hair. She was here for something at Pitt. There were guards all around us. Miss Jan from Romper Room was a customer. Roberto Clemente was a customer. He came to my salon because I spoke [Spanish] with him. He was so good, a very understanding person. Some people were 'hello, good-bye,' but he wanted to know more of you. He was very nice. When he died, I was in a trance all day."

For several years, Mr. Cansino's late wife, Josephine, worked as a manicurist in the salon with him. Of their four daughters, two are hair dressers, Ms. Moneck and Pamela Simko, who lives in Denver.

"It's been a good life, and I'm capable of doing the hair," he said.

"Everything's stable; I don't shake. But nobody wants to get his hair cut by an old man. I wouldn't go for a hair cut to a guy who's 88.

"It's going to take a little time to detach this from my mind," he said of his work. "It's always been get up, get ready, go cut hair. I have no desire to jump to something else, and at my age, who jumps to anything? I will take it day by day."


Diana Nelson Jones: djones@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1626. Read her blog City Walkabout at www.post-gazette.com/citywalk.

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