Barbershop talk: a night of charity, a day of memories


November 25, 1990|By MICHAEL OLESKER

"Bart Simpson," Harry Marsiglia says. "You see what this world is coming to?"

With the delicacy of an artist or a safecracker, he takes a little tuft of hair from an elderly customer's head and gently snips away.

"Batman," Harry says. "Can you imagine? The kids want haircuts like Batman. Bart Simpson and Batman. What's this world coming to?"

Harry's beautiful. He's been cutting hair for 50 years now, ever since that tender moment when Harry was 14 and his father, Charles Marsiglia, handed him scissors and took off for the racetrack.

You want to talk barbering? Harry's your man. You want to talk boxing or betting or an unofficial history of street life in Baltimore, they're all here, Harry and John Marsiglia, Hunky Sauerhoff and Tony Catramados and Wild Man Joe O'Connell, all of them sitting around the J&D Barber Shop on Hammonds Ferry Road with customers moving in and out and the TV showing quiz games and frigid sunlight beaming through the shop's big front window.

They all want to talk about tomorrow night's boxing card at the Teamsters Hall on Erdman Avenue, the proceeds of which will benefit the Firefighters Widows and Orphans Fund.

"Look at him," says Tony Catramados, pointing to Hunky Sauerhoff, who's promoting the charity event. "He's got the biggest heart in Pigtown."

"Yeah, you're beautiful," agrees John Marsiglia, who's known Hunky for 40 years, "and you're forgiven for everything."

"Everything's a long list," says Hunky.

"OK, everything except the bad tips at the track," says John.

Groans resound. Everybody's got stories of money that went away, this one at the track, that one in the boxing ring. Harry Marsiglia's got old snapshots and a 45-rpm phonograph record hanging on the wall here that symbolize money that slipped through his fingers.

The record is "The Sloppy Madison," a novelty hit of the '50s. Harry played drums in those days for a local band called The Untouchables. They cut "The Sloppy Madison," and Jack Gale, the old disc jockey, handled it for them.

"One day Gale comes to us and says, 'What do you want to do, take $40 now and forget it, or see if the record goes?' " Harry says. "I said, 'The hell with it, gimme the money.' "

Gale sold the song to Columbia Records. It made a bundle. Harry stood there with his share of the $40.

"You want to talk money?" John Marsiglia says now. "What about Joe?"

Wild Man Joe O'Connell could write a whole book, or star in one.

Back in the '40s, he had about 50 pro fights. One time he fought 10 rounds for $20. Another time, he fought out at Fort Howard and was paid with a carton of cigarettes. And he didn't even smoke. Once, he fought a gorilla for $50. He lost, but it was quick. One time he was hit so hard that on the train ride home, he thought he was still fighting. Another time, he fought a kangaroo for a dollar a minute on a Pigtown parking lot. He made $8 before the kangaroo got serious.

"My cousins had me fight the kangaroo," O'Connell says, reclining on a barbershop chair with an Orioles cap on his head. "It didn't go that well. The kangaroo knocked me down and jumped on me. I said, 'You tell that kangaroo, next time, I'm jumping on him.' But, you know, a dollar a minute was good money in those days."

Also, he had worse nights. At the old Turner's Arena in Washington, he came out of the dressing room one time and began moving toward the boxing ring. Everybody started pointing at him. Joe thought they liked his new boxing robe. He was wrong. They were noticing he'd forgotten to wear anything underneath it.

"He's the only fighter," Hunky Sauerhoff says appreciatively, "who never jogged a day in his life."

"True," says O'Connell. "My manager would send me out to run. I'd ride the old No. 17 streetcar for a while. Then I'd come back and splash water all over myself, and he thought I was sweating from all the running."

At Teamsters Hall tomorrow night, there's a whole card of fighters ready to make their own memories. It's called the Cavalcade of Champions, with 10 South Atlantic Championship bouts.

But it's not just the boxers making memories, it's the families of firefighters who'll benefit.

"That's all," says Hunky Sauerhoff. "We just want to help some people."

"Widows and kids," says John Marsiglia.

"Yeah, kids," says Harry Marsiglia, snipping away at a customer's locks.

Kids -- even if some of them are a little crazy these days, what with their haircuts like Batman and Bart Simpson.

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