Reuniting with a Childhood Friend in Hoboken NJ after 50 Years

“There are things about your childhood you hold onto because they were so much a part of you. The places you went, the people you knew.”
—The Wonder Years

Jerry Gustoso, Sr, and I go back some 50 plus years. We knew each other since we were teenagers, but hung out in different neighborhoods. His family used to operate Gustoso's Bakery on 4th and Adam Street. My parents bought Italian bread there. As a tribute to the family that served the city of Hoboken for 75 years, the area was designated “Gustoso’s Bread Way.”

Jerry and I grew up at a time when Hoboken was a very tough town. There were a plenty of bars, liquor stores, pizza joints, pool halls and bookies making the rounds and taking bets. Growing up in the 60s and 70s, we could have never imagined the beautiful waterfront development of condos, apartments, and Frank Sinatra Park that replaced the abandoned warehouses and shipyards. Oh, we always had the stellar view of NY City, but the waterfront itself was grimey, damp, smelly and dangerous—especially after midnight. 

Over the last year or two, Jerry and I reconnected on Facebook. When he saw I was in town visiting my 100 year old dad he wrote, “it would be great to see you before you leave.” I suggested coffee one morning and we settled for 11 AM at the First Street Barber Shop where he works part time. “I have to open up the shop and we could go to the coffee shop next door and talk,” he said.

I loved the funky ambience of the barber shop that had three classic barber chairs. Jerry invited me to sit in one of the unused chairs. There were two clients waiting and another walk-in. Before I knew it Jerry began talking to his customers, and I gradually became part of the conversation. We shared stories of Hoboken to his younger patrons. It was fun. I also enjoyed watching Jerry doing his thing—cutting hair. He was clipping away as if his hands were scissors like the 1990 film "Edward Scissor-hands," starring Johnny Depp. In between conversations, I admired some of the decorations that Nancy G., the owner of the shop had on display: An old shipping trunk, facing the bay window, a black old-fashioned rotary phone, photos of the late Joan Rivers, David Bowie, Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle, a nude Marilyn Monroe, a 24K gold plated limited edition record of Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York,” and a framed NY Daily News cover with the headline JFK Assassinated.

Jerry came out of retirement a few years back to keep busy. Staying at home getting bored wasn’t for him. After he was done with his customers, we went to the coffee shop next door. He treated me to a chai latte while he had his coffee fix. We continued our conversation about the old days. I always liked Jerry. He was always respectful of my parents. For years, he used to see my dad sitting on the front stoop of his five flat greeting and being greeted by passersby. Jerry was a handsome young man who had a reputation for being one of the best dressers in town. 

We both had a rebellious streak and flirted with high risk behavior. Fortunately, we lived to tell about. That’s the way it was for many of us kids who hung out on the street corners—especially in the 60s. I asked Jerry how he got into cutting hair. “I cut my older brother’s hair once. My father asked him where did you get your haircut?” His brother said, “Jerry cut it!" His dad was surprised but asked Jerry, “How about giving me a trim?” Afterwards he asked, “You like doing this?” Jerry said, “yes.” Impressed with the spark of passion he saw, his dad encouraged him to go to school to train as a stylist and the rest is history. Jerry went on to work at the legendary hair salon of Paul McGregor’s and other salons honing his skills, while I pursued a career as a podiatrist in California. Here we were coming full circle—like two kids hanging out again—hopefully a little smarter and a little wiser.