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A new barber turned my head around

Alicia Zayala, owner of Alicia's Haircutters in Baldwin,

Alicia Zayala, owner of Alicia's Haircutters in Baldwin, gives Harold Pockriss a trim on Wednesday. Photo Credit: Jeff Bachner

When my barber for more than 45 years, Dominick, retired earlier this year, I was in a fix. I can’t drive, and only one other barbershop was walkable from my house in Freeport.

Dominick represented more than a good haircut. For me, he was an ambulatory landmark and a tradition. He always asked about my boys, now 44 and 49, and admired our family hair.

I’d walk by his empty shop on Grand Avenue in Baldwin, hoping another barber would move in. Otherwise, the one other shop available to me was small, like Dominick’s, but uninviting, often empty, with no geezers or mothers with kids.

Dominick’s was a one-man operation and often had customers waiting.

But my luck changed — I thought.

A barber pole above Dominick’s was gyrating! Red, white and blue! A bright neon sign proclaimed BARBER. Open for business!

But a placard in the window displayed the barber’s name — Alicia Zayala. A woman!

My heart sank. I didn’t want a permanent, I wanted a haircut! Going to a female barber wasn’t my cup of tea. Was I a repressed chauvinist?

I had cast my ballot for a woman for president, voted to send two women to the U.S. Senate, and respected our three female secretaries of state.

When I was a school guidance counselor, my female boss for years was smart and led me through thick and thin.

A family friend warned my wife never to give a person with my last name a sharp tool. He was right. My wife is Mr. Fix It. I’m allowed to replace only toilet seats.

In 10th-grade Latin, I liked the way Queen Boadica took it to the Romans. Not a comic-book heroine on the big screen, but a real woman.

A generation later, my niece in diapers was on the cover of Ms. Magazine, and my younger son went to a college that had co-ed bathrooms in the dorms.

Recently, I needed medical attention on the weekend and went to a walk-in clinic. It was my first solo experience with a female doctor. She wore a flowing multicolored robe, partially covering her head, a reassuring presence who sent me on the road to recovery.

And then I saw a woman upstate shearing a sheep. She was old enough to be a grandmother. The sheep was wiggling and kicking, but she calmly cut layers of wool as she answered questions.

But at 87, I hadn’t grown up. I opted for the guy barber with empty chairs in Baldwin. He was young and confident. He waved an electric razor that sounded like a buzz saw. With broad swipes, he mowed my hair. I felt like grass under a lawn mower. It was my quickest haircut since they scalped my pompadour at Fort Dix in 1952.

He held a mirror in back of my head so I could check out his work. It wasn’t as bad as it felt. He had made the cut.

But he wasn’t Dominick.

When hair once again crept over my hearing aid, I wondered whether I should try the lady barber. Why not? My hair could grow back.

At the old shop, Dominick’s family pictures and the glossy autographed photo of actor Chazz Palminteri were gone.

The new barber was middle-aged, clad in a colorful but tasteful frock, reticent at first but outgoing.

Small talk to break the ice turned into a chat. Alicia was pleasant. Like Dominick, she had a slight accent. From where, I couldn’t figure out.

I savored the snip of the scissor and the slide of the comb, her grip on my hair to cut it.

She had Dominick’s mellow concentration that I had taken for granted, checking me out like Michelangelo completing his David.

I coughed. She rushed to get me a hard candy.

Finally, she trimmed my eyebrows and a few errant hairs on my face.

It was the longest haircut I’d ever had, and she matched Dominick’s care and craft. I was very pleased, and I have gone back twice more.

Reader Harold Pockriss lives in Freeport.

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