The New World
Dylan got settled in the barber’s chair as his aunt went to the side room to get her blonde hair dyed pink. She had picked him up early this morning. The plan was to get haircuts, shop for cool T-shirts, and then eat lunch at the new pizzeria on Bedford Avenue.
“Happy Veteran’s Day,” the 10-year-old said as the barber adjusted the height of the seat.
“What’s so happy about it?”
The barber looked like a character in one of those old movies Dylan’s aunt liked to watch. With his white hair, wispy mustache, and weary black eyes, he might have been the saloon keeper who served tequila to the outlaws just after they had gotten into town.
“They have a parade,” Dylan said. “A big parade in Manhattan.”
The barber tied a strip of scratchy white paper around Dylan’s neck.
“A bunch of killers marching down Broadway,” he said.
Dylan glanced over his shoulder. The beautician was folding a piece of aluminum foil in his aunts hair. He wished his aunt were sitting closer to him, but at least she was still in the salon. Dylan once had to wait a half hour in a drug dealer’s apartment, playing video games on a flat-screen TV while his aunt went out to get the money she still owed the guy.
“Not that it matters,” the barber said. “I don’t celebrate holidays.”
He began squirting water onto Dylan’s wayward locks.
“What about Valentine’s Day?”
“A scam by the greeting card industry.”
“Worse than Veteran’s Day.”
“How about Martin Luther King Day?”
The barber ran a comb through Dylan’s hair, parting it down the middle.
“Not even Columbus Day?” Dylan asked.
“Do you know how many people died because of that man?”
Dylan smiled. He had written a report about Christopher Columbus last month and earned a commendation from the social studies teacher.
“Think about everyone who came here because of him,” Dylan said. “All those people from across the world.”
The barber sighed and placed the comb into a clear plastic container filled with blue disinfectant.
“What difference does that make for me?” he said.
“If it weren’t for Columbus our great grandparents would never have come here,” Dylan said. “Our relatives would never have met and none of us would be alive right now.”
Dylan’s aunt started cackling at a joke by the beautician. She had a way of laughing that scared Dylan. There was something almost violent in her release, as though she were the victim of a seismic shift and a tectonic plate had rammed into her air sacks.
“Who said it was such a good thing to be born?” the barber said.
Dylan stared into the mirror and watched how the man with the white wispy mustache examined his scalp from ear to ear before leaning forward and starting to cut.
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