Naldo was my grandfather’s barber. When my mother and I moved in with my grandparents, he became my barber, too. And he treated me the same as he did my grandfather. Naldo treated all of his customers with respect and pure professionalism.
Well, there was a little deference given to me by Naldo. He told that he fed any children who misbehaved to the bear in the cellar. But that was never an issue. I always sat still for Naldo.
Naldo called his barber shop “Barber Service”, and that is how he answered the phone. At first he was at 25 Main Street, a building he owned near the old post office. I went there for my haircuts for a long time. I also recall my mother trying out a few methods of cutting my hair. It never went well. Naldo had to fix at least one of her attempts.
Naldo confided to my mother that I had very thick hair. So thick that he spent most of his time with the thinning shears. He sometimes complained to me I shouldn’t eat so many carrots. I never figured out what carrots had to do with thick hair. I told him I liked spaghetti, so maybe that was what made my hair thick. He said that he liked spaghetti, too, but that his hair was getting thinner, not thicker.
I loved the smell of the barbershop. It was both antiseptic and manly. I liked to watch Naldo sweep up my hair off of the floor while my mother got out the money to pay him. And she always gave him a little tip, something extra for dealing with my mop of hair and constant questions. And Naldo gave me a tip, too. If I was very good in the chair, I got a dime from him. He did that when I was four, five, and maybe even six years old.
Later Naldo sold the shop on Main Street and moved out onto the Post Road, but I can’t quite place the spot. It was somewhere between Middletown Plate Glass and Johnny Ads, I guess, but I don’t think I went there more than twice. I was older, maybe ten or eleven.
While his shop was out there, he broke his leg while skiing. It was such a cliche that my mother only half believed it. He was in his fifties by then and didn’t seem the skiing type, I guess. He had a brother who came up from “the city” and helped while Naldo was off his feet. Naldo sat and told his brother how to cut my hair. I found it funny.
I always imagined that Naldo came from a family of Italian barbers. Talk about a cliche! His accent was more Brooklyn than Italian, but his brother had a heavier Italian pace and accent. They were a good team. I never got the story of how his brother could leave the barber shop he came from to help Naldo, but there is probably a barber code or something.
Later years Naldo moved to the building behind Ed’s Enterprises on Old Post Road. His shop was smaller and harder to locate in the building’s basement, but I still went to him when I needed a good cut. I asked him why he moved to that location and he said, “I’m trying to retire, little by little.” From the car he drove, I figured he didn’t really need to keep working. But his customers needed him.
The last time he cut my hair, I was eighteen and had joined the Navy. When Naldo learned that I was leaving for basic training in a few weeks, he gave me my haircut for free and thanked me for being willing to serve. Many have thanked since, but he was the first. He gave me the first inkling of what it meant to serve. He was a proud American and I think he had served. He was the right age for WWII.
I went to see Naldo when I got back from boot camp and A school. I didn’t need a haircut, but I needed to see my old friend. And I wanted to show off my uniform to someone who would appreciate it. He was happy to see me, but he looked tired. I can’t imagine how many heads he performed his magic on in forty years. I remember him fondly and thank him for his service, both to his country and to the Barber Service.