Sometimes all you need from a pal is the dependability of knowing he is there.
I don't know why, but I like to get my hair cut when I travel, especially in foreign countries. Maybe it makes me feel less like a tourist. Maybe I just get so frazzled before a trip that I don't get around to going to the barber until I've left the country.

Whatever the reason, here I was in a three-chair barbershop in Jamaica.

The day outside was broiling, this being midsummer in the tropics, and the shop had no air conditioning. It was a ragged little place, with wires hanging down and pipes exposed. In keeping with the Official Code of International Barbering, a table was piled high with old magazines.

A man wearing baggy blue jeans and black sneakers who appeared to be in his 20s lounged in one of the barber chairs, doing nothing, reading nothing, perhaps thinking nothing. He didn't work at the shop. He wasn't waiting for a haircut. He was just there.

I figure the guy was, as my father would put it, palsy-walsy with the owner. Palsy-walsy. I love that expression. One of an entire lexicon of lost phrases, it makes me feel like I'm Humphrey Bogart when I say it. "So, you and the flatfoot here are getting pretty palsy-walsy. Anything I should know?" For the same reason, I also like the word jake, as in "everything's OK." "The dough's all here. We're jake. Now take the dame and scram."

You just don't hear that kind of patter anymore. For that matter, you don't hear the word patter anymore. Dialogue, maybe. Or interface. Or conversation. But not patter. I don't think that people patter like they used to. Now, they Instant Message.

Those lost words conjure up simpler times. They echo of old-fashioned values: loyalty to a pal (as Bogart would say), steadfastness, doing the right thing. Somehow, they call to mind friendships: easy, young, and earnest, like sienna-hued pages from mental scrapbooks of boys in clubhouses becoming blood brothers.