Santagate and Jacobsen are playing a little verbal ping pong as Santagate’s associate, James Clogston, tends to Jacobsen’s locks.
The conversation plays out beneath a wood carving of a bear, the American flag, a framed Red Sox poster commemorating the 2004 World Series team.
There are personal touches around the shop, where Santagate is relaxing in a barber chair.
Pictures of the new grandchildren, twins Isabella and P.J., age 7 months, are on the counter. Some watercolors by son Rob, an artist in Key West, are displayed.
A sign shows haircut prices, last revised in 2006.
Jars contain Tootsie pops and bubblegum for younger patrons.
“That’s their treat after their haircuts,” Santagate said.
The TV is seldom turned on, a radio sometimes provides background music.
Santagate grew up in Malden, gave haircuts across the street from Boston City Hall, had a shop in Medford.
Fifty years of cutting hair provides a special education.
Santagate recalls some shady customers, but won’t name names, even when baited by Jacobsen.
“Whitey Bulger?” Jacobsen needles from the corner chair.
“I won’t give any names,” Santagate responds out of respect for the barber’s unwritten code of confidentiality.
“A barber shop is a sacred place,” he said. “Whatever is said here, stays here.”
Santagate sees the personal touch as what’s most important for a good barbershop.
“The personality of the barbers,” he said. “Having a personal relationship with the customers.”
Clogston observes whether someone chooses a barbershop or a fancy hair stylist depends on how they were brought up.
Santagate nods in agreement.
“I’ve had fathers, sons, grandchildren through generations,” he said. “Three or four generations of families I’ve been doing.”
He is at his trade long enough that Santagate has witnessed the return of short hair. A new wrinkle this year is an increase in customers needing beards trimmed.