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One Photo: One Story; Tales Of A Neighborhood Barber

Joe. Joe the barber, we were there every week as kids. Zero, all the way around just like John Glenn the Astronaut.

Joe gave me my first haircut, and the same for my four brothers. I remember his shop. I can still smell the sandalwood, Pinaud-Clubman and witch hazel and hear the buzz of the Wahl clippers.

Photo: Joe the Barber and Dad.

There was a calendar on his wall of a policeman hovering over a speeding car trying to stop it as a child chased a ball into the street. It hung there for years.

It seemed like the entire police force from town came to Joe. He was right down the street from the station.

When I was nine he was my first football coach. I was trying out for Jolly Cleaners in the Belleville Rec League. I got cut before the first game. He was very encouraging at my next haircut but was terse about me lying about my age. You had to be ten in order to play rec football. He said next year would be better. I was cut that time as well.

I always felt grown up when I went by myself to the barbershop. It was a place of men. I was waiting my turn listening to a conversation about baseball. The Yankees.

I recognized Mr. Krzynefski, He was Harry and Gene’s dad, two of my classmates. He joined in the conversation and said he liked Carl Yastremski.

Joe got a look in his eye and said, “Radziewicz, Kryznefski, and Yastremski, most Polish ever spoken in my shop”! The men roared and Mr K winked at me. I felt like a man.

One day my dad handed me a few bucks and said “Get a haircut”.

I went upstairs and cut my own hair straight across the front. I pocketed the money.

Dad kept asking, “Joe did that”?

Mom called bullshit and got Joe on the telephone. He told them he hadn’t seen me in months.

A week later karma got me when during a basketball game someone in the stands yelled out to me, “Hey Dutchboy, you suck”. I looked like the kid on the paint cans.

I decided then that I needed to go to a stylist.

I hadn’t seen Joe in several years when I went to him the morning I was headed to New York for a job interview at Katz Radio. He suggested I cut the beard off. He’d do it for free. I declined.

Months later he actually felt for me when I told him I didn’t get the job. After a few minutes of silence he said, “You should have cut the beard kid”. He was right.

J and J’s Barbershop, on the corner of Washington Avenue and Joralemon Street. Belleville, New Jersey. Lessons learned.

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