Living the way Gramps taught me by Flatty
For as long as I could remember, I had been fascinated with short haircuts on men. I have spent countless hours fantasizing about getting one of those short cuts myself; in some of these fantasies, it would be an ivy league, sometimes a sharp high and tight, but most often, my favorite—a clean, crisp flattop. The reality of my hair, however, had very little to do with the fantasy. I was extremely self-conscious about this obsession with short hair—as a result, although lots of guys my age sported the cuts of my dreams without thinking twice about it, I purposefully kept my hair long, to avoid providing any clues about my secret proclivities. To make matters worse, I routinely got a lot of attention about my long hair, which made me even more self-conscious whenever I seriously contemplated cutting it. My hair is very thick, wavy and a dark auburn color with natural highlights. Over time, it had gotten longer and longer so that despite my internal fantasy life, I was typically the guy in the room with by far the longest hair, and by the time I turned 24, my hair reached several inches below my shoulders. I knew it looked fantastic and I got compliments on it almost daily, but all I wanted to do was cut it off into a super short, military flattop. But I knew I would never have the guts to actually do that…or so I thought.
Early one morning, I woke to the jarring sound of the phone ringing. When I answered, all I could hear was my mother sobbing on the other end of the phone—my grandfather had unexpectedly passed away. The news hit me like a ton of bricks—I had been very close to him and just seen him a few weeks earlier, when he had seemed to be the picture of health. Within a couple of hours, I was on a flight home. The next week was extremely emotional, particularly since my grandmother asked me to deliver the eulogy at his funeral. I was honored but also overwhelmed—could I really do justice to this vibrant person who had played such an important role in my life? The day before the funeral, I took a long walk thinking about all of the time I had spent with Gramps and remembering all of the great advice and encouragement he had given me over the years. As I reflected about our time together, one theme that kept surfacing was his constant refrain to live life with “no regrets” and to focus on doing what makes you genuinely happy, as opposed to doing what you are “supposed” to do. That ended up being the theme for my eulogy—the fact that Gramps lived his life the way he wanted to—with no regrets—and that he had taught me to do the same.
After a week, I returned home. My first day back at work was a Friday, and Gramps was very much on my mind as I made my way to work. My normal walk to work took me by an abandoned storefront in the middle of an otherwise lively neighborhood. A few months ago, I had noticed a lot of work going on in the abandoned building and today, as I walked by, the brown paper covering the front windows was removed and I discovered that “Joe’s”, a brand new, yet extremely old fashioned barbershop was now open. There was also a sign in the window stating “We specialize in Flattops!!”
I stopped dead in my tracks as I had the sudden realization that although I had recently told a church full of family and friends that I had taken Gramps’ advice to heart and used it as a model to live by, that wasn’t actually true. One of the things that I most wanted to do, I had never done because I was worried about what everyone else would think and I had serious regrets that I had gone almost 25 years and never experienced the thrill of having the haircut that I constantly fantasized about. I felt like a complete fraud and worst of all, I knew that I had let down Gramps.
I knew then what I had to—and desperately wanted to—do. I quickly walked towards the shop. Many times in the past, I had started to enter a barbershop with hopes of having clippers buzz off my hair, but each time my heart would start pounding, my palms would start sweating and I’d start to worry about what everyone would say about my drastic change in appearance; I’d quickly turn around and head home, both relieved and disappointed that I still had my long hair. Not today; instead, I confidently marched into the shop, which at that early hour was quiet. Only one barber was in the shop, nervously pacing in front of the window. He was a few years older than me, looked to be in great shape and had his dark brown hair cut in a #1 buzzcut. He gave me a big smile and said “Welcome! My name is Joe and today’s our grand opening—you’re my first customer!”
“Well, congratulations on the new business, Joe” I said. “I’m Brad. This seems like a great spot, though I actually haven’t ever been in a real barbershop.”
“Yeah, I can tell” he said, with a disapproving look at my long locks.
I could feel my face flushing and I self-consciously ran my hand through my hair (for what would turn out to be the last time).
He quickly noticed my discomfort and blurted out “Sorry, I didn’t mean to be rude. I just didn’t imagine that my first customer would be someone with such long hair—my specialty is more buzzcuts, particularly flattops. But don’t worry; I can cut any hair length.” With that, he motioned me to take a seat in the chair closest to the window. As soon as I sat down, he quickly fastened a cape around my neck—he seemed nervous that I might change my mind, but with thoughts of Gramps, I knew I wasn’t turning back at this point. “So, what are we doing with your hair today?” he asked, “Just a trim?”
My reply was immediate; “Actually, I want a flattop.” He looked slightly shocked but broke into a big smile, “Then you’ve definitely come to the right place!” He took a comb and slowly moved it through my hair. “So how short do you want it?”
“Very short” I responded. “I want the back and sides basically down to the skin but not razor shaved. For the top, I want it as short as you can cut it while keeping it boxy.”
Joe smile got even broader, “No problem—this is going to be fun.” He reached for a set of clippers and snapped them on. “Last chance to change your mind” he said with a grin. “No chance” I said. The words had barely left my lips when Joe plowed the clippers into my right temple. I watched 18 inches of silky auburn hair cascade past my shoulder to fall in my lap, revealing the shockingly white skin underneath. The barber continued to work his way towards the back of the right side of my head—each pass shearing off a shocking amount of wavy hair, which joined the rapidly growing mound in my lap and on the floor. He pushed my head forward and ran the clippers up the back of my head all the way to the crown. I realized I could feel the air passing by the right side and back of my head—it was an experience I’d never had before and it sent a chill down my spine. Joe continued to make methodical swipes with the clippers until he had completely removed the hair on the back and sides of my head.
As he paused to reach for a broad comb, I glanced in the mirror and felt that I looked rather ridiculous, with extremely long hair still sprouting from the top of my head and touching my shoulders but the sides totally shaved. But I knew that was just a temporary thing.
Starting at the front of my head, Joe used the comb to pull my hair straight up and ran the clippers over the comb, leaving about an inch of hair remaining in its wake—with a glean in his clear blue eyes, he expertly flicked the long hair that he had just cut into the ever growing mound on my lap. Again, he moved methodically from the front of my head to the crown, until all of the hair on the top of my head was roughly the same one inch length.
To my surprise, he then turned off the clippers and used a spray bottle to wet my hair and then reached into a large tub of very thick looking wax and rubbed what felt like a very large amount into my remaining hair. “This stuff works great for flattops, especially when you’re first trying to train your hair” said Joe. “The only downside is that it’s kind of a bitch to wash out but it will keep your hair standing at attention.” He then grabbed a thick brush and a hairdryer and proceeded to spend the next 5 – 10 minutes getting my hair to stand up straight from the top of my head.
When he was finally satisfied, he turned off the dryer and grabbed the clipper and wide comb again. This time, he started at the crown of my head, basically laying the comb directly against my head and running the clippers over it. I realized that this was going to be one short flattop after all—I hoped he was leaving enough length to keep the top boxy like I’d asked, although there was nothing I could do about it at this point anyway. He continued to work his way towards the front of my head, shearing off most of the remaining length of hair that I had left. At that point, the hair on the very top of my head was starting to look like a great flattop, but the sides (what he later called the “corners”) was still long and unruly (I realized with a smile how much things had changed in the last half hour since I now thought of hair that was barely one inch in length as “long” when I had walked into this shop with hair well past my shoulders). Joe expertly wielded the clippers and comb to finish the look and get the corners looking razor sharp and boxy. He then went over the entire top again, cutting stray hairs here and there. He wet his hands, ran them over the top of my head to wet the little hair I had left and then added even more of the dense wax to my hair, noting that he wanted to make sure that my cut looked as sharp as possible. He then used the hair dryer again to get each hair standing rod straight. Finally, he rubbed in some warm shaving cream and used a straight razor to clean up my neck. The transformation was complete.
As I looked in the mirror, I saw that the cut was perfect. The sides were as short as I had asked, though when I tentatively reached a hand up to touch it, I noticed that it felt like extremely fine sandpaper—so different from the silky hair that I was so accustomed to. The top was very boxy, but short—the hair in front was maybe half an inch long. Joe handed me a hand mirror and as I tipped my head down, I could see that the hair at the very crown of my head was almost shaved, leaving me with a very pronounced landing strip. I absolutely loved the look; it suited my face and made me look stronger and significantly more masculine. Looking down at the 18 inch strands of hair covering the floor around the barber chair, I couldn't believe that I had ever let my hair get that long—I almost felt like a different person and I certainly looked like one!
“So, what do you think?” asked Joe. “Is it short enough?” “It’s perfect!” I said, “exactly what I wanted.” Joe smiled again, “I’m glad you like it. Not everyone can pull off a cut like that” he said, looking me in the eye with a meaningful look, “but I have to say, it looks fantastic on you.” I ran my hand up the back of my head and grinned, splendoring in the bristly feel, “Thanks,” I said, “you did a great job.”
As I went to pay, including a very generous tip, Joe handed me a card. “So, to keep you looking sharp, you’ll need to get it tightened up every 10 – 14 days.” “Wow,” I said, “that’s more upkeep than I thought—I only used to get my long hair cut every 3 – 4 months.” “Yeah, it’s a little more work but definitely worth it to look as hot as you do” he said, then quickly blushed. I looked him in the eye and said “Yeah, I guess you’re right. Do you want to meet up for a drink later to celebrate the new me?” “I’d love to.”
After making plans to meet later, I headed to work, feeling exhilarated. After all my years of worry and self-consciousness about what people would say if I ever got a short cut, I really wasn’t concerned at all about the reaction. I looked and felt great and if anyone didn’t like it, I knew that was their problem. As it turned out, the reaction was overwhelmingly positive. Best of all, I am now genuinely living my life the way that Gramps had taught me—without regrets—and, like my bristly head, it feels fantastic!