The Grazier and the Hairstylist


Troy Bishopp

the Grass Whisperer and The Hair Whisperer

Ten years ago I was in a horse pasture building hi-tensile fence for my “cowgirl up” friend Barb, when I noticed an object moving towards me.  She had mentioned that her urban cowboy boyfriend might be out to lend a hand.  As he drew closer, one might have rolled an eye or two. 

Here was a (much shorter) John Wayne-like figure decked out in a cowboy hat, cowboy boots, a full length drover, leather gloves and mirror shades riding of all things, a lean, mean John Deere green– lawn mower! 

If it weren’t for the two beers in one hand and an Eswing hammer in the other, I might have thought a little differently.  As he pounded the fence staples gulping down the first bottle while reciting a myriad of jokes in his East Utica City slang, I could tell this would become a colorful friendship between the farmer and the Italian Stallion. 

As dusk settled over the new fence, I find out that my new friend, Ziggy, short for Frank Zegarelli, just happens to be a surgeon with a pair of sheers and owner of Zegarelli Haircutters in Utica, N.Y. 

 “Boy, I could use a new barber,” I cackled.

“I’m not a barber,” he wailed.  “Well then, I need a good hair cutter,” I sheepishly replied.  “I’m not a cutter either! You will address me as a hair stylist,” he said in resounding fashion.  According to, this barber versus stylist question is a common one.  If you want the dictionary definition, a barber is someone who is trained in shorter haircuts and their training is geared almost exclusively towards men whereas a stylist is better for trends and is more knowledgeable and adaptable to longer haircuts and styles.

 My experience has a country barbershop costing less than the city salon but you get what you pay for.

I liked the Zigster from the start because he had enough moxie and bite to hang with the boisterous grass farmer.   He busted me for my 1980’s hair-style and 45 year old mustache and practically dared me to come into the big city to his salon and get a modern, professional look.  On my way home from this exchange, I looked in my rearview mirror to reveal, he was absolutely right—— I was a freak of nature.

I figured it was only fair to meet his challenge, so I ventured into the concrete jungle.   I planned to reciprocate his wit and bantering head-on with an armful of farm fresh eggs and a grass-finished ribeye.  Upon entering the reception area between the 3 vintage barber chairs and the kitchen table adorned with playing cards, it looked like I had ventured into some sort of family museum.  Old elixir bottles, ancestor black and white pictures, antique area maps and golfing memorabilia all adorned the walls of this hair shrine.

Not missing a beat, he announced to the clients waiting, “we got a real farmer in our midst”, while telling some off color barn boot/animal joke while accosting me to take off the hat, get in the chair and sit up straight.  Oh, this wasn’t going to be just a haircut, this was going to be an experience!

He proceeded snipping and clipping until I violated the cardinal sin of salon etiquette by forgetting to turn off my cell phone during the critical, around the ear phase.  He went into an interesting choice of expletives, describing someone losing some flesh the last time that happened.  Once again I was mocked by jokes for the benefit of the customers, who seemed to thoroughly enjoy listening to this hazing ritual of a newbie.

By the time he got done with the hot lather shave of my wiry, neck fuzz and straightening out my under-nose caterpillar, I realized, looking at the unforgiving “gi-normous” mirror that Mr. Scissor-hands was a true craftsman.  He had just transformed a farmer into a movie star which was no small feat.

I was looking good and feeling good.  However, it was time for him to come to my place of business to see how a grass craftsman turns sunlight into beef.

He and Barb landed at the farm sporting their signature Harley Davidsons’ and appropriate biker gear.  With the grill warming up, I suggested we go move the steers to a fresh paddock.  Mr. Fashion Statement chimed in about how he could move those doggies better than yours truly.  “OK, I said, get in the truck, sit up straight and hang on!” 

So the scene is set, 100 steers on two acres separated from the next lush, succulent subdivision by one piece of poly-wire housed on a cord reel.  “Alright cowboy, take this reel and wind up the wire as you walk along and the steers will funnel right in behind you to the next paddock”, I explained.  “Hey, my wife and daughters do this, so you should be able to handle it”, I bantered again. 

He was doing fine for the first 20 feet until those 1000 pound beasts started charging through the fence opening.  “You might want to roll a little faster buddy”, I said jokingly.  He panicked and started reeling too fast, which lead to the wire becoming tangled, which led him to just run with the bird’s nest in tow until all the cows had settled into the paddock. 

By this time Barb and I were rolling with uncontrollable laughter.  “!!?*^+$#*, THEY were trying to kill me”, he said out of breath.  “Still think this grass farmin’ is easy there sunshine?  I asked.  Come on, stop whining, it’s time to go down to the house and taste the sunshine my wife is cooking up,” I said.  As we enjoyed the tasty meat, paired with a nice bottle of Snow Owl Riesling and fresh veggies from our garden, we agreed that farming with grass has the same quality as a great haircut.

Since those inaugural encounters, I have faithfully traveled to the big city on Saturday morning to reset my hat-headedness.  If it gets too long between cuts, I’ll get a friendly text that “someone needs to make a living too”.  Besides getting a great cut year after year, I always look forward to the stories and jokes while fellow chair-sitters get roasted.  The gift of synonymously being groomed and entertained is priceless among the men-folk.

Our friendship goes beyond the salon.  My wife and I have hung out with Ziggy and Barb at rodeos, bonfires, country bars, attended concerts at The Farm in Deansboro and celebrated the stylist’s 50th birthday to name a few.  Three weeks ago Frank and Barb finally got hitched in the historic Hotel Utica and will dwell together next to the pastures where it all began.  It’s a fitting tribute when country meets city and love intersects the two.

Our escapades together never cease to provide comic relief for any customer, be it from the country or the city.  We now fully appreciate each other’s talents through the experiences we share.  To tell you the truth, his skill of making me look professional compliments the grass business very well.  When you feel good about yourself, you project a positive attitude.  Who knew a pair of clippers in an urban cowboy’s hands could accomplish so much. 

“It is my considered opinion that the hairdresser is the most influential person in any community. When the public goes to a hairdresser, something happens to them. They feel safe, they relax.  I tell you that a clever, thoughtful, ambitious hairdresser wields a power beyond comprehension of most people.” ~ John Steinbeck

Published in Country Folks