When I was a kid growing up on the West End of Amsterdam, NY, I’d get my hair cut every two weeks at Joe Mason’s Barber Shop, on Division Street. A shaved head was the extent of my grooming awareness until the Beatles showed up. Then all of a sudden, I started noticing my hair a bit more. And I realized that shaving a head as big as mine was like painting the Empire State Building bright pink. So I decided to start wearing my hair longer. This required me to teach Joe some new tricks but after about four bi-weekly visits, we had my new hairstyle pretty much the way I wanted it. Then one Saturday morning, fate struck. My Dad needed a haircut so he told me to come along and get mine cut too. Joe’s shop was mobbed as it usually was on a Saturday. That’s when I first met him. His name was Ralph Fedullo and he was cutting hair that day in the shop’s second chair.
My Dad and I grabbed a seat and I started getting nervous. With two barbers working, us waiting customers had no way of knowing which of the two would end up cutting our hair. What really had me worried was that this Fedullo guy never stopped talking to the person in his chair. And every once in a while you’d catch him looking up at his customer in the mirror while his scissors were still snipping hair or his razor was scraping along naked skin! I began to notice that the heads of every guy leaving Ralph’s chair looked a little off kilter.
It had taken me two months to train Joe to get my hair just right. I was determined that he and not this new guy would cut my hair and I came up with a masterful plan. Since my Dad and I entered the shop together I could simply tell him to go first if Ralph yelled next. If Joe Mason’s chair emptied when our turn came up, I’d jump ahead of my Dad. With my fears put to rest, I grabbed the Daily News and got lost in a Dick Young column.
“Hey little Cinquanti, you’re next, let’s go!” I was in terror. This Fedullo guy was calling me and my Dad was nowhere in sight. It seems Pop had come up with his own “avoid Ralph” strategy of slipping into the bathroom at exactly the right moment. It was just me and Ralph with nowhere to hide.
That’s how I met Ralph Fedullo. Five decades later, I still count that day as a good one in my life. As expected, he did a hatchet job on my new hairstyle. If I remember correctly, he also shaved over a zit on my neck with a straight edge razor and I bled like a pig. But what I have no trouble remembering was how this grown up guy talked to me like I was his best friend. He told me stories about my family and stories about his family. He knew everyone of my teachers. He knew more about sports than anybody I’d ever met…