The barber shop always seemed to serve
more of a function than just a cut or a shave. It goes without saying
that it was a communication center. Anything that was going on was
shared in the chair. To this day I have yet to find a barber who
isn't an incessant talker.
As a kid in Vailsburg no one owned a wristwatch. We would always
take advantage of the clock in the barber shops to tell the time.
This had to be a public courtesy since appointments were unheard
of at that time. It was on a first come, first served basis.
Vailsburg had an abundance of barber shops. In my area we had
Phil's at 18th and Stuyvesant Avenues. Phil also booked numbers
as a side line.
Paul's he worked for Phil but took over when Phil retired. Louie's
at Sandford Avenue and Silver Street.
Anthony's on the corner of Commonwealth and Stuyvesant Avenues.
I received my first haircut there 64 years ago. It was converted
to a beauty parlor in latter years.
Ray's on Smith Street.
Matty's on South Orange Avenue across from Felix Fox Paint Store.
The latter was famous for his $.25 haircut.
All the shops had a barber pole outside. It was a mechanical windup
type analogous to a music box. I guess once wound it revolved all
day. Today they are very small and they are electrified.. The red
and white stripes were a vestige of the past. They were an indication
that they could provide bloodletting.
The origin of the barber's pole appears to be associated with
this service of bloodletting. The original pole has a brass basin
at its top representing the vessel in which leeches were kept and
also represented the basin which received the blood. The pole itself
represented the staff which the patient held onto during the operation.
The red and white stripes represented the bandages used during the
procedure, red for the bandages stained with blood during the operation
and white for the clean bandages. The bandages would be hung out
to dry after washing on the pole and would blow and twist together
forming the spiral pattern similar to the modern day barber pole.
I remember being in Komishane's Pharmacy on 18th and Stuyvesant
Avenues in the 1940's. The man in front of me was buying a leech.
It was given to him by Harry in a glass vial. I asked Harry Komishane
after he left why did he buy a leech? He said the man had a black
eye and was going to attach it to his cheek.
The leech would drain the blood from that area and would then
be removed. Looking back it seems that the barber pole should have
been in front of his pharmacy rather than at Phil's Barber Shop.
Did you ever wonder why most if not all barbers are Italian? The
following is the compliment of the search engine Google. Barbering
was introduced in Rome in 296 B.C. and barbers quickly became both
popular and prosperous. Their shops were centers for daily news
and gossip. All free men of Rome were clean-shaven , while slaves
were forced to wear beards. It is from the Roman (Latin) word barba,
meaning beard, that the word "barber" is derived.
I started working for Verizon in 1952 . In my early years with
them most of my time was spent in the Downtown area. Not unlike
Vailsburg, I started to know it like the back of my hand. Downtown
also had more than its share of barber shops. There was an Italian
barber shop on Springfield Avenue near Branford Place. This shop
was unique in that it used a hot steamed towel. While the haircut
left a lot to be desired, the hot steamed towel applied to one's
face was very stimulating.
The barber shops Downtown also provided a showcase for famous
people. It was very common to see signed photographs of famous people
in the windows of these shops. It's funny, the second barber shop
that comes to my mind was one on Arlington Street near Augusta Street.
Just when I thought all barbers were Italian, Guess what? He wasn't
Italian. He was Black. The barber was a famous former black boxing
manager. He had pictures of famous black fighters, the names of
which I have forgotten with the passing of time.
On William Street, near Halsey Street, there were a couple of
barber shops. One had a signed picture of Red Skelton. It was from
the 30's when he was playing the burlesque circuit. At that time
he was appearing in the Empire Burlesque located on Washington Street
between Branford Place and Market Street.
Another barber shop on William Street had a picture of Clayton,
Jackson, and Durante. This picture was of a male trio from the 1920's
vaudeville circuit in Newark. The Durante was none other than the
famous Jimmy Durante. Clayton wrote on the photograph that we will
make it as long as "The Schnozzola" has his nose.
I always enjoyed Jimmy Durante especially when I got older. He
was a classy man who only went to the 2nd grade. I remember once
reading about him visiting a good friend in the hospital. The man
was in I. C. U. The hospital told him that he was comatose and visitors
Jimmy said he just wanted to sit outside door of his room to show
his respect. That's what I call a man. And he only went to the 2nd
grade. But he was the son of an immigrant Italian who was a"
barber" in Brooklyn.