By Nita Lelyveld
6:27 PM PST, February 3, 2014
One day in his little back room at Bolt Barbers in West Hollywood, Richie the Barber — shaved head halfway to total tattoo coverage — decides he'd like to break a Guinness World Record.
"Most tattooed," he says. "Hey, wouldn't that be great?"
Just thinking about it makes him bounce, eyes wide with excitement, in front of his turn-of-the-century barber chair.
For a second, he pauses work on the head of hair he is shaping rapidly into a fade. "But that's probably hard, right?" he says. Then he shrugs and resumes snipping, so swiftly his scissor blades click like castanets.
Light-bulb moments come constantly to this exuberant 28-year-old. Some make him go to extremes.
Consider his two passions: being a barber and being a clown.
Richie practically grew up in his grandfather's Westminster barbershop, where he first wielded the scissors at age 10.
Two years ago, he trimmed off his last name — Esposito — and legally became Richie the Barber.
His grandfather, who used to cut a circus ringleader's hair, once took little Richie to Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey. Backstage, the boy encountered a clown sitting in a bucket. The clown juggled for him and gave him silks. From that moment on, Richie wanted to be a clown.
So his outer clown would match his inner clown, he recently had a clown face tattooed on his own.
Big red eyebrows replace the ones he shaves away every day. Big red lips extend his own beneath his handlebar mustache.
A nose tipped in red was key, of course.
To make the look pop, he had the rest of his face inked blue — the bright turquoise of a cartoon swimming pool.
Blue ears. Blue eyelids. (The eyelids made him howl.)
Richie has random tattoos on his face as well: a third eye, upside-down umbrellas, the word "good" on one eyelid and "luck" on the other.
But the back of his head has been reserved for clowns too. The inked outline of Bozo the Clown's face already stakes out the center, although only the nose has color so far.
On the sides of his head, Richie the Barber is growing Bozo hair, which he has dyed bright red.
It's enough, of course, to give anyone with a fear of clowns nightmares.
But then Richie the Barber starts talking, and he's like a friendly pup who can't stop jumping up and down.
"Did you see my new stuff?" he says, pointing to a set of model teeth and some hypodermic needles under glass — meant to recall the days when barbers also served as doctors and dentists.
"Hey, did I tell you I want to go to Thailand this year? My dream is to juggle and stand on an elephant — and also play with the tigers and pray with the monks."
In his private lair at Bolt, family photos hang on the wall. Walk in, and ragtime music or Sinatra might be playing.
He's in love with the old-fashioned: big-top circuses, red, white and blue barber poles, the uniforms barbers wore to work way back when, a century before Richie the Barber was born.
He wears the same outfit every day, verging on the Little Tramp — white shirt, red bow tie, well-worn black suit with baggy pants and his name scrawled in big white letters on the vest.
Most of all, Richie the Barber says, he wants to entertain and make his customers smile. Cutting hair, he might stop to honk the bike horn on his belt or pull out a giant yellow comb or start juggling his primary-colored bowling pins or throwing rainbow confetti.
One side of his business card reads: "Richie the Barber, Circus Clown, Sword Juggler, Fire Juggler, Banjo Player, Sideshow Performer, Magic Show/Comedy Show, Juggle While Riding Unicycle."
The flip side: "Also cuts hair."
Each day, people who have heard stories or stumbled upon photos of him wander in off the street to see for themselves.
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