Posted by: Barrylu - 01-12-2019, 02:26 PM - Forum: Features - Replies (1)
This is a copywrited article. Do not publish portions or the article without the author's permission

                                                              My Father's Barber Shop

When I was a very young child I would occasionally accompany my father to his barber for a haircut. My father insisted on going to his old barber in his old neighborhood in the Brownsville district of Brooklyn. We would take the Pitkin Avenue bus for a long time and after getting off the bus we would walk several blocks to the shop. Outside of the shop, there was a large barber pole in a glass case. The pole had white and red stripes and was always turning. Sometimes I was lucky enough to be there when the barber would wind the pole mechanism with a  large crank. He would insert the crank into a receptacle in the barber pole and with the crank wind the strong spring that was responsible for turning the pole.
Upon entering the shop immediately to our right was the manicurist. When I asked my father what she did he replied that manicures were only for dandies and pimps. If getting a manicure was looked down upon by my father then they were certainly of no further interest to me. To the left of the door was a large raised Shoe shine stand. There was an old black man sleeping in one of the padded seats on the shoe shine stand. In all the time I was in the shop I never remember anyone getting a shine. Occasionally, the bootblack would rouse from his sleep and sweep up the haircuttings from the floor. Then he would silently climb back on his perch on the shoeshine stand and resume his nap. Moving into the shop there were two barber chairs to the right and several chairs for waiting customers to the left.
Toward the rear of the store, there was a large stainless steel round structure. The stainless steel structure had a gas flame beneath it. There was a sliding door in the bell structure. The Barber would slide the door open and extract hot terrycloth towels the hot towels were used to heat and soften the patron's beard prior to the shave.  In addition, the towels were also used to wipe away any remaining shave cream after the shave.
Finally, at the rear of the shop, there was a pay phone and a man in a suit and tie, sitting in a chair by the phone. The man in the chair was the local bookmaker. He was a man to be respected. He must have been well connected to the mob or maybe even a made man. On my infrequent visits to the shop, he inevitably gave me a piece of licorice and my father allowed me to accept the treat. Finally, there was a door to the back room. I was never allowed to go into that room.
My father would knock on the door. It would open and I could smell cigar smoke and glimpse a bunch of men playing cards. My Uncle Max (my father's brother) would emerge from the room and he would greet us. I never did know what my Uncle Max did for a living. It was not until many years later that I realized my Uncle ran the poker game in the back of the barbershop. Furthermore. my mother insisted that my father take me with him for a haircut, so as to ensure he didn't sit down in the poker game.
My father would get his shave and haircut while seated in one of the barber chairs. At the same time, I got my haircut in the next chair. The only difference was I was not really seated in the chair. Instead. there was a separate seat on a metal frame that fit over the handles of the barber chair. I sat on that seat with my feet on the barber chair seat. Then joy of joy one barber cut my fathers hair while another cut mine at the same time. But wait the best was yet to come. At the end of the haircut, my barber whipped up some lather with a brush, brushed the hot lather on my neck and proceeded to shave the back of my neck. Finally, the best part of the whole experience came. The barber went to the large stainless steel towel heater, extracted a hot towel and wiped the lather from my neck.
On the way home, we stopped at a nearby candy store and my father would buy me a Meloroll ice cream. Then back on the bus for the ride back to Eastern Parkway.
There is a short story that is related to the barber in Brownsville. I myself do not remember the event but have heard the tale many times. It seems that one day my father was on the bus returning home from the barber. The bus was crowded and a young woman with a small boy boarded the bus. My father started to get up to offer the woman his seat. She refused to take his seat so instead, he offered to let her child sit on his knee. A few stops later my mother with me in tow got on the same bus. I spotted my father with a strange kid on his lap and started to cry hysterically. My father was red in the face and kept trying to explain to my mother just what had happened. Everyone on the bus was laughing and my father just kept stuttering trying to explain the events to my mother. Finally, he lifted me to his other knee and we rode home to Eastern Parkway with me on one knee and some strange kid on his other knee.