by Paul Kandarian

Think boxer Vinny Paz is a tough guy? You haven't met his dad, Angelo the Barber.

The following article originally appeared in the February 1999 issue of Rhode Island Monthly magazine. It is reprinted here with permission of the author.


Photo courtesy of vinnypaz.com.

Angelo the Barber never met a suit he couldn't sell or in my case, a head he couldn't remember. "You have-a less hair now," says Angelo, seventy-nine, in his marvelous Italian accent. "But I remember the shape of your head, your face. You came in with you brother, right? How've you been? How's your mother and father?"

Angelo the Barber is Angelo Pazienza, father of Rhode Island boxing legend Vinny Pazienza. Angelo hasn't cut hair in a lot of years, but I remember when I was eight or nine, my grandfather would bring me and my older brother to Angelo's shop on Waterman Avenue in East Providence. I remember Angelo's dark, bushy hair, now thin and white, his loud Italian accent, and the long fingernail on the pinkie of each hand that he still has, "for scratching my head," he laughs. And I remember guys coming in every so often walking to the back room with Angelo and leaving—without a haircut, if you follow me. And if you remember Angelo, you follow me.

Ah, the good old days. I'd called Angelo to talk about those good old days of cutting hair, raising Vinny, the whole Rhode Island ball of wax. I met him at the Dunkin' Donuts at Reservoir and Park avenues and he remembered me—and the shape of my head—the minute I walked in, even though I hadn't seen him in thirty-five years or so.

Angelo hasn't cut hair nor done any back-room work in a long time, instead concentrating on Vinny's career from the time the kid was fifteen growing up off Pontiac Avenue in a small home with a garage out back where the old man hung up a tire for little Vinny to punch around.

"He saw Rocky I," Angelo says. "And he told me, 'I wanna be Rocky I'." Angelo would have preferred that Vinny get into something a little less brain damaging, like baseball, but with a whaddya-gonna-do? shrug, says, "Whaddya gonna do?"

"He was a ballplayer, a damn good ballplayer," Angelo says as we motor through Cranston streets in his brawny 1988 Olds, using the classic Italian gesture of the first two fingertips pressed against his thumb, and a back-and-forth of the hand. "But he got into fighting, and I gave it all up to concentrate on his career."

The "it" of which Angelo speaks is the back room stuff, the wink-wink, nudge-nudge business that he won't specifically talk about on the record, so I concentrate on his life in general, none of which he can talk about very long without swinging it back to Vinny. He can't help it, he is the quintessential proud father.

Angelo was born May 25, 1919, and lived at 552 Union Avenue, [Providence,] not far from where he lives now. His father died before he was born and at three, his mom took him back to Italy until he was eighteen. Once back in Silver Lake, he went into the Army, spent thirty-six months freezing in the Aleutian Islands of Alaska, came back and did construction. He points at Plainfield Street as we drive over it, saying, "I made his street." He started cutting hair on Pocasset Avenue, then moved around, to Rumford, then finally to Waterman. We're talking about this at Lou Tag's Kitchen on Pocasset Avenue, drinking coffee and eating homemade wine biscuits in an old tiny restaurant that is one of the few last really Italian things in this section of town. Even here, you can't get away from Vinny: His pictures are on the wall.

We wander over to Father and Son's Gym, 108 Laurel Hill Avenue, an old fire station Angelo bought and converted for Vinny to train in. He shows me the apartment he had put in for Vinny; the ring, the office that is literally covered with all things Vinny—posters, photos, trophies, you name it—and only a couple things Angelo, notably his old barber pole and the "Mr. Angelo's Barbershop" sign. Vinny doesn't train here anymore, so Angelo's trying to sell this place.

It's no secret the old man had a temper when he was Vinny's manager (he's not anymore, but he's still with his son ringside at fights), and that he fought with trainers, promoters, anyone who he thought didn't have his son's best interest at heart. They all "didn't know anything," Angelo laughs.

Vinny is thirty-six now, a world champion boxer who wants one more crack at a title this year before he retires and turns to a new career in acting, his father says. He wants to make a film on the story of his life: a little Italian kid from Cranston who grows up tough and strong and boxes his way to the top, his old man in his corner.

"Could be the break we're waitin' for," Angelo says. I ask who would play him. He laughs and says, "This actor from New York... damn it, I can't remember his name. Or Robert DeNiro. He'd be good."

Maybe, but even if DeNiro grew long pinkie nails and worked a back room of a cinematic barber shop, no one quite cuts it like Angelo the Barber. I ask how long he'll be in Vinny's corner. He looks at me like it's a stupid question, which of course it is. "Until I die," he says simply. "Until I die."

Paul Kandarian writes regularly for the Boston Globe, Upscale Living Magazine, and Rhode Island Monthly. Paul, without all the hair he once had, can be reached at pkandarian@aol.com.

Editor's Notes

Angelo didn't live to see his son fight his fiftieth bout in 2004, sealing his career with an incredible fifty wins out of sixty fights. Angelo died in February 2003 at the age of 83. In their Providence Phoenix column, Phillip and Jorge said about him:

Angelo was a show unto himself, and one of the kindest, most generous, and gregarious-beyond-belief characters you could ever hope to meet. He was ever-present in Vinny's corner, both literally and figuratively, as his son lived out the Biggest Little version of the Rocky story, rising from the Cranston suburbs to become one of boxing's more incredible showmen. You definitely saw the source of Vinny's flash, as well as his determination, and it was rumored that when Vinny first sold out the Civic Center, his father, the fast-walking, fast-talking human Ticketmaster, had moved half the tickets. Angelo was one of a kind and he will be sorely missed.

As far as we can tell, Lou Tag's Kitchen is no longer in business, and the building where Father and Son's Gym was once located is (as of late 2007) the headquarters for a plastics company.

This article last edited December 9, 2007

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