Remembrance of Things Past: Shipshape haircuts over several decades

I went to Wayne’s in Poquonnock Bridge recently for a haircut, the barbershop where I’ve been a customer for several years, but not my whole life.

When I was a very young boy, not more than 5, I remember my mother giving me a coin, which I assume was a half-dollar, and instructing me to tell Mr. Scibelli that I needed a haircut. Massimino Scibelli was our next-door neighbor on Thames Street and the proprietor of Macey’s Barber Shop. His son Andrew succeeded him. The shop is still in business, now called Diane’s.

Mr. Scibelli and his wife Jessie also had two daughters, Ann and Laura, and at one point hosted an Italian nephew, Nello, who was my age. Nello and I used to play together and we liked watching the new television that my father had installed in our dining room. Although Nello didn’t speak English and my Italian was limited to mangia, one didn’t have to be a linguist to appreciate a clown with a seltzer bottle.

When we moved to Mystic in 1952, my father and I began going to Sisco’s Barber Shop on West Main Street. The shop was located over the bowling alley and next to a union hall. It was very convenient to the Modern Grill, and when waiting with my father for my turn in the chair, I’d often be sent there to buy coffee for all the customers in the shop.

There were other barbershops in town. One was Toscano’s, another Squadrito’s. As far as I knew, all barbers were Italian. That stereotype changed when I started my freshman year in college in Washington, D.C.

I asked one of the older students where I should get a haircut and he suggested the Senate barbershop because it was inexpensive. Since I was getting familiar with the D.C. bus routes, I boarded the #32 bus and headed for Capitol Hill. I had learned that if you wore a tie and looked like you belonged there, especially if you carried a briefcase, you could go almost anywhere in the city.

When I got to the Capitol I headed for the Senate wing and took the mini-subway to the Senate office building. Sure enough, there was the barbershop.

To my surprise, I found that the barbers weren’t Italian; they were African-American. I remember sitting in the chair during the World Series and finding that senators would stop by the barbershop with its television to learn the inning and the score, to see what their chances were of winning the Senate pool.

After college I joined the Navy and for the first two years, while stationed in Charleston, I got my hair cut on base. The haircuts were generally all right, but not great. However, they got me through inspection.

When I left Charleston I went to sea aboard the USS Kitty Hawk, an aircraft carrier in the Gulf of Tonkin, off the coast of Vietnam. I don’t ever remember getting a haircut aboard ship. Neither did a lot of other guys. We were very busy. I didn’t stand watches. I was called a “day worker.” I started work at about 7 in the morning and often worked until midnight.

I remember the captain coming on the 1MC public address system one day to discuss haircuts. He commented that he had noticed some sailors’ hair was getting pretty long. He recommended that men working around machinery should wear headbands for safety reasons.

When the ship made port in the Philippines, I would get my hair cut at the Exchange in Subic Bay. My first visit was another eye-opener. The barber was a woman! I was surprised, but also delighted. I got a haircut and a shoeshine for 65 cents!

When the cease fire came in the fall of 1972 and the ship began its transit back to Pearl Harbor, the executive officer came over the 1MC and said that folks should “fall in behind me at the barber shop.” And he told us we needed to start wearing shirts. As he put it, “We’re going back to where they fought the war from behind desks.”

By the time I got out of the Navy and started teaching at Cutler Junior High, Frank Sisco had retired. I crossed the river and began to go to The Razor’s Edge, Roger Panciera’s shop on Cottrell Street, next to French Cleaners.

When I was transferred to Fitch Junior High in Poquonnock, I started going to John’s, next-door to Benny’s. John’s grandson Wayne was a student at Fitch. Now Wayne owns the shop and I still get my hair cut there. And I could still pass inspection if I had to!

Robert F. Welt of Mystic is a retired Groton Public Schools teacher.

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