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Through thick and thin, he's stayed a cut above

(ran NP, TP, SP editions)

Long hair, short hair, curly hair, straight hair. And, yes, even bad hair. Anthony Lanza of Pass-a-Grille Beach has seen it all.

But Lanza didn't come by all that knowledge easily _ or overnight. The retired barber spent 45 years cutting, trimming and styling tresses in two New Jersey cities.

"I started cutting hair in 1922," recalled Lanza recently, "two years after coming to America from my hometown of Pescopagano in southern Italy. It wasn't a planned vocationI just ended up doing it."

Indeed, Lanza had dreams of becoming a lawyer, doctor or educator, but his plans were deterred by World War I. "I was a college student when the war started, but most of the really good professors were called to active duty. I continued school, but felt I wasn't getting a good enough education to attain my goals."

That's when he decided to join his older sister in America.

"I arrived at Ellis Island July 4, 1920, a very ill, but happy 18-year-old. I was seasick the entire 30 days on the ship, traveling in steerage with hundreds of miserable souls. We weren't processed immediately since it was a holiday, but were all glad to have our feet on solid ground again."

Lanza said he moved in with his sister's family, and secured work in a Jersey City factory. "One of the most difficult things I had to do was learn English, but I passed this crisis in a short time by listening and learning."

He also learned the barbering trade by watching and doing.

"There were few, if any, barbering schools in 1922," Lanza pointed out, "so aspiring barbers usually went to work in established shops, working with skilled stylists. The trainees got to do most children's cuts," he recalled with a grin. "They were too young to complain about a bad cut." Cost of a haircut in 1922 was 50 cents.

Even at that rate, Lanza saved enough money to open his own shop in 1929 in Jersey City. "The Depression was in full swing, but for some reason, people continued to get haircuts." After 32 years in that business, he bought a shop in the exclusive Carlton Hotel in East Orange.

Lanza and his wife, Mary, moved to Florida after his retirement. He was introduced to his wife of 67 years by his mother on a visit to Italy. They were married two weeks after they met.

The couple left two daughters in New Jersey, but were accompanied on the move South by their only son.

Have haircut trends changed much over the years? Lanza thinks so. "They are crazy!," the barber concluded. "You can't tell the boys from the girls or the girls from the boys."

Sporting a head full of wavy white hair these days (he said it used to be red), Anthony Lanza can be seen most clear mornings striding down the stretch of beach between First and 22nd avenues.

"It's good to be in Pass-A-Grille Beach," he said. "It's good to be in America."