Word spread quickly along Parson’s Blvd. in Jamaica, Queens when Anthony Mason entered Cutty’s Hair Studio to get the latest, hippest and craziest design etched into his dome.
“I think we put everything on that big head,” said Freddy Avila, the architect of Mason’s hairline sketches. “That’s a canvas. We put everything on there.”
Avila was the barber of choice when Mason was the muscle behind those brawny Knicks teams of the 1990s.
And if there was any question regarding where he was from or to whom his allegiance was, all one had to do was look at Mason’s large cranium.
Avila once carved a New York skyline into his head.
Then there were the phrases that Avila stamped on his head as if he was drawing on a notepad:
There was: “In God’s Hands.” His own name: “MASE.” Even the team he played with for five years: “Knicks.”
“The Statue of Liberty, too,” Avila said. “Whatever’s in my mind. We put it together and we put it in the scheme.”
And then nearly 30 minutes later, a masterpiece was formed.
Avila stood in his crowded barbershop on Saturday, devastated as he spoke.
“You can’t describe these things,” Avila said of the memories he and Mason shared. “There’s so much . . .”
A patron sat a few feet away, waiting to have “RIP Mase” carved into his head.
Avila said he didn’t know if he’d be able to work on Saturday because of the bad news from the morning, but he did.
Just the night before Avila had attended to Mason at his hospital bed just before he died early Saturday morning after suffering from congestive heart failure earlier this month. Mason was just 48.
Avila said he had a chance to say goodbye to his friend and frequent collaborator.
“Oh yeah, definitely,” Avila said, choking up. “I had to. That’s my brother. We spent 30 years together.”
Standing amidst a swarm of plants and barber chairs and sports mementos on the wall, including Mason’s No. 14 Knicks jersey, Avila reflected on their time together when Cutty’s was the destination for many of the most recognizable athletes in the area, such as Chris Mullin, John Starks, Jayson Williams and the St. John’s men’s basketball team. The late Malik Sealy frequently checked in.
They all wanted Avila’s signature creations.
“It was more than just a haircut,” said Shawn Brown, who cut hair at Cutty’s from 1990-2005. “It went with their lifestyle.”
Brown described those days as unforgettable. The Knicks were winning, Mason was playing a starring role and his haircuts attracted nearly as much attention as his hard fouls.
“We had the time of our lives there,” Brown said. “Just endless stories. Mason was a young man who was living his life to the fullest. It was always a joke with him.”
And the loudest and most recognizable customer at Cutty’s, since he was a hometown kid, a product of Springfield Gardens HS, was Mason.
Nobody but Avila cut Mason’s hair.
“He was the chief behind the wheel,” said Brown. “He would just tell Freddy to go to work. Freddy was an artist. He and Mason were very good friends. They were very close.
It was more than just a business transaction.
“They were intertwined.”
As for what he will miss most about Mason, it was his presence.
“His noise. Yeah, wherever he go, he’s just a loud guy,” said Avila, dressed in a dark sweater and struggling to answer questions from reporters and a television crew on Saturday. “He’s big and as loud as he can be.”
Mason was in the shop just a few weeks ago, Avila said, playing chess and discussing NBA All-Star weekend in New York.
Mason would appear at Cutty’s twice a week when he was playing in New York and even later when he played for Charlotte and later Miami, and finally with the Bucks, he still made time to check in.
Avila sounded as if he was still expecting Mason to walk through the front door, asking for his friend to go to work.
“He got a little thing with the heart but we never thought it could escalate to this point,” Avila said. “This is amazing.”
With ERIC BARROW
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