By Bob Stonehill
My first haircut took place in a Sunnyside barber shop located on 48th Street, just south of Skillman Avenue. The event was memorialized in a photo taken by my father, using a 1930's Brownie Kodak camera. As with all recollections, it is hard to separate the actual memories from stories retold over the years, but I swear I can remember the terror I felt and that my screams of fear were genuine. The photo showed me sitting, not in a regular barber's chair but in a chair made to look like a horse (no doubt with reins), designed specifically to distract young children.
In later years of my youth, I must have found another shop more convenient. Once, my father brought home a hair clipper, and I was shocked. I later found out that my immediate neighbor, Michael Karp, always had his hair cut with a hair clipper, a bowl placed on his head to give his father a symmetrical guide. After that discussion, I became fascinated by Michael's red hair.
As a married 25 year old and father of a two year old David, I decided to get a haircut in a local Jackson Heights barber shop just east of the Earle Theater on 37th Road. Operated by the "Two Sals," two really nice guys, it quickly developed a following. After a while, they added a third barber who occupied an unused chair. I wanted one of the Sals to cut my hair that day, but only the third "new" barber was available, and I was ushered to the vacant chair. His face looked vaguely familiar. In conversation, he noted that he had once owned his own shop, implying that he had been at one time more than a "third barber," and asked if I was familiar with Sunnyside. As it turned out, he had owned the very shop where I had received my first haircut, along with many others in my youth.
My father Ben had recently passed away, and my mother was still living with my brother Lee at 39-36 46th Street in Sunnyside Gardens. I relieved my mom of some loose old photos and as I searched through the group, I found the original photo of my first haircut. Yes, this new barber was behind me posing in the picture. I couldn't wait for my next haircut to show him the photo.
As I eagerly slid into the third chair, and showed my new friend the old photo, he was quickly overcome with emotion and nostalgia. He asked if he could display the photo. My heart sank with foreboding, but how could I deny this older man a chance to nostalgically revive the feeling of pride his entrepreneurial days had given him. Empathy drove my decision, and I handed over my only record of the event, which he proudly displayed in full view on his mirror.
A few months later in a visit to the Sals’ Shop, with the third chair unoccupied, I inquired about my "new" old friend. He had moved on and my photo was gone forever.