Mike and his Lucky Day by Lox
After repeated failures to get my car started up again, I decided to look for help. Sherwood seemed like a sleepy little town, but there was a bit of commercial activity evident. I spotted a row of shops towards the end of the block and decided to go ask where I might find a mechanic. On one side of the street was a busy convenience store…surely a good spot where I could inquire. As I waited for the traffic to subside before crossing the street, a whirling red and white barber's pole caught my eye. It would be easier to stay on this side… I could see the barber sitting idly through the shop window. Since he had no clients in the shop, surely he wouldn't mind an interruption.
As I pushed the plate glass door open, a tinkling bell caused the barber to look up from his newspaper and then rise from the comfort of his chrome-based throne. The young barber was dressed impeccably in a white tunic and matching white pants and shoes. Very professional! Judging from his own hairstyle, he liked to administer very short haircuts with clippers. As he greeted me, the barber directed me to the empty chair next to the plate glass window with a nod and a friendly smile.
I stammered a bit awkwardly before letting him know the purpose for my visit to his shop. "Sorry to disturb you, sir, but my car broke down at the end of this block. Is there a mechanic you could recommend nearby?”
The barber scratched his head before replying, "Well, Jimmy Harris works on cars, but I know that he's on a fishing trip over the weekend. The only thing I can suggest is getting a hold of Jesse's garage in Fairfield – that's the county seat, about twenty minutes down the road. They have a mobile repair service -- sort of like a car first aid squad.”
"Well, if you could give me his number and tell me where a pay phone is, that would be most helpful,” I answered gratefully.
"No need for that, I'll call him myself from the back room. What kind of car did you say it was?” the barber asked.
"A '99 Pathfinder. I think it's an alternator problem. I stopped at the corner and the engine died. Can't get it running again.” I felt glad that I'd chosen the barbershop for help, as the young man was being most attentive to my problem.
"Okay, then. Have a seat while I make the call,” the barber said as he motioned to the barber's chair nearest the window.”
I was a little startled by the invitation to again sit in a chair where one got old-fashioned, traditional haircuts! That was not on the agenda, particularly since I was fond of wearing my own locks rather long and full. My carmel-colored hair spilled liberally over my ears and collar and a massive forelock, though parted near the center, was always threatening to obstruct my vision. "Oh, I don't want to be any bother. I'll just sit over here in one of these chairs,” I said as I stepped toward the line of straight-back, kitchen-like chairs against the opposite wall.
"Those aren't nearly as comfortable. And, besides, it might be a long wait before Jesse can dispatch someone. Go ahead, sit in this one,” he said, patting the over-stuffed brownish-red leather chair. "That's where my friends sit when they visit me on slow days like this. Those there are for clients. You're not a client, are you?” he asked with a twinkle.
"Uh,” – although the answer was truly ‘no' I didn't want to respond to the question. So I cracked a little smile and thanked him as I took a place in the big barber's chair. He was right, it was so comfortable!
While the barber was in the back room making a call, I surveyed all the curiosities of the shop. What first caught my attention was the line of electric hair clippers hanging from the counter in a display of largest (and most menacing black ones) to smallest (dainty grey ones). Then there was a huge collection of combs, shears and scissors (some looking like a cross between a comb and a scissors) laying on the counter alongside razors, brushes, lather machines, and tall jars of bluish liquid with combs in them. Everything looked circa 1950's, including a chart on the wall with traditional styles to choose from: crewcuts, short-back-and-sides, pompadours….wow! The place was in a time warp.
But, perhaps it was the smell of witch hazel and tonics that look my mind back to the very earliest and faint recollection of being taken to the barbershop as a small child in the mid-60's. Having though come of age in the 70's, long hair had been the thing for the greatest part of my life. And I had lots of it – very pretty, healthy hair with honeyed highlights in it to flaunt. In high school, I'd been a Shaun Cassidy look alike! That's why I kept it long even after the prevailing length receded….almost back to 1950's looks with the very young set these days. Boys demanding to get crewcuts and their longhaired dads objecting….the cycles of life and fashion, I thought to myself. How ironic.
The barber's entrance into the shop interrupted my trip down memory lane and contemplation. "The good news is that he can come. The bad news is that it'll take him about an hour and a half to get here as he's got a client in front of you. Well, just goes to show you Jesse chose his profession well. He's always busy. My shop, well, you see how it is. I spend hours in here by myself.”
I felt a little sorry for the barber, and a tinge guilty that I probably raised his expectation when I pushed the door open. "Ah, finally a client,” he had probably thought to himself. A new fellow….obviously in need of a haircut. I quickly compared the image of myself in the mirror with my groomed, bulky mane to the chart of butch cuts and flattops. "Thanks so much for making the call. Do I owe you something for the telephone charge?”
"I'm not that bad off! Here let me offer you something to drink. How about a soda? A coke? I just enjoy having some company in here. My name's Jack, by the way. I'd already read the paper and was going through it a second time when you came in, needing help.” Jack was quite a chatty fellow, and so friendly and kind. Finding something to discuss was absolutely no problem at all. His insights into small-town life were entertaining. And I so much appreciated his small-town hospitality too.
We'd chatted for about 45 minutes when the tinkling bell announced a client. At least, I hoped it was a client for Jack's sake. The man looked like one anyway, with an overgrown thatch of blondish-brown hair. His mane looked like it had been cut in a standard businessman's style at one time, but it was bulky with big waves on top and shaggy on the sides and back.
As the barber greeted the client with a "hi, Dan,” I quickly vacated the barber's chair.
"No need to do that, I've got another one here I can use to cut Dan's hair,” he said. But he didn't insist when I said I'd already been bother enough and took a seat on one of the wooden chairs along the wall. I felt a bit of a relief to get away from the barber's chair, comfortable though it had been.
I found the sight of Jack casting a huge pin-stripped cape around Dan, making his body and the chair disappear under the billowing cloth, captivating. The barber was very gentle as he worked a comb through the unruly locks, smoothing the side and back down gently with his hands. The heavy forelock, however, continued to fall forward and dangle in front of Dan's eyes, despite a few attempts to keep it combed back. "It's been a while, eh, Dan?”
"Yep, things have been busy on the farm these days. But with the weather getting hotter, I couldn't stand it any longer,” the fellow in the chair replied.
"So, same as usual, then?” the man in the impeccable white cape tunic inquired.
"Yep, except here in front.” Dan reach his hand from under the cape and tugged the forelock down to his full length, virtually to the tip of his nose. "This is what's really getting on my nerves. Cut the fringe extra short this time. Nothing near the eyes, or even near the eyebrows, if you don't mind.”
"No problem,” the barber responded as he reached for the large set of clippers and gently nudged Dan's head forward. He clicked the machine on and then slipped it under the mass of hair dangling from the nape with the help of a comb. With a scooping motion he clipped off a huge wad of brown hair and flicked it back so that it landed halfway between the chair and where I was sitting. It looked as if a small bird's nest had landed on the floor! The first thing that impressed me was the barber's dexterity with the clippers and comb. In quick, repeated motions, he broadened the shorn swath across the back of the entire head. Then he drove the clippers higher and higher towards the crown as the bulky waves gave way to a tidy neat, clipped surface that was tapered rather tightly, going from near zero in length to a fraction of an inch near the cowlick.
The second thing that impressed me was how quickly the floor got covered with a thick coating of shorn hair and how little landed on the cape….at least at this point. Once the barber turned his attention to the sides, shorn hair quickly began to pile up on the shoulders and slowly slide down the front of the cape into the immense, cloth-covered lap. Dan looked like he was in a blissful state of relaxation as Jack worked the clippers repeatedly up the sides and back of his head. While the first shearing had been bold with huge clumps falling away, the following strokes were very small, precise, deliberate and repeated. Jack was an exceedingly meticulous barber. The smaller the amounts of hair that were clipped off, the more time he took, making sure to whittle the tapered hair to exact precisions.
The exception to the precision haircut that was developing on Dan's head was the overgrown thatch that remained on top. Jack put down the clippers and picked up a spritzer that dampened the brown thatch with a fine mist of water. Then the comb brought the long bangs forward so that the dangled across most of the upper half of Dan's face. The water made them fall in clusters, so that Dan's watchful eyes were clearly visible through the veil of hair. "So your tired of this mange in your face all the time, eh, Dan?” said the barber cheerfully. He snapped the shears open and shut a few times as he raised them up to the doomed forelock.
"Don't let me down, Jack. Remember, short!” came Dan's rallying crying.
Carefully, slowly, Jack slipped the blade beneath the wet tresses and towards the very top of the forehead made the first deliberate chop. Huge, heavy clumps fell to the cape, making a thumping sound as the shears moved deliberately and determinedly across the whole forehead. And then the face was unveiled. Small stubby bit of hair hung many inches above the eyebrow.
"Short enough?” Jack asked.
Dan smiled, "Can't get much shorter than that!”
Then Jack proceeded to scissors off all the hair on top of the head to about an inch in length. Each snip of the scissors sent wet strands, several inches in length, to the cape and floor. I looked at the chart on the wall. If Jack didn't stop cutting, the fellow in the chair would be well on his way to a short brushcut look!
After the mass was chopped away, the barber took off the cape and shook the shorn locks to the floor before carefully refastening it for a final go-around on Dan. There was a final session with a straight razor being dragged over the wet hair on top to thin it down and coax it into laying flat. When all was said and done, I judged the ratio of hair on the floor and cape to the head to be about 6-1.
Jack beamed as he held up the mirror so that Dan could get a good look at the tidy back. "So, what do you think, Dan? Satisfied?”
He nodded his approval, "Never a bad cut, Jack."
Then, unexpectedly, the barber turned to me. "And what do you think, Mike?”
Had the barber observed me intently watching the whole transformation? Observing carefully every snip and clip? "Uh, boy, a huge improvement. That's one sharp haircut! I like it!” I found myself enthusing.
As Dan handed Jack a bill with a "keep the change” tacked on, the phone rang. Jack waved bye to his client as he disappeared to the rear to answer the call.
Before moving to the door to leave, Dan said to me, "Best barber in the county, Jack. You ought to let him work on that hair of yours. It probably bothers you as much my mop bothered me! This is so much better.” He admired his shorn head in the mirror above my seat briefly, touching the clipped nape and tugging gingerly at his stubs where his long bangs had once dangled. Then he looked at my oversized mane, sort of disdainfully – or maybe it was a look of pity -- and without waiting for a comment or reaction, he left.
I felt my own glossy locks, the wonderful silken tresses that cascaded so beautifully about my head. What a hoot to spend my afternoon in an old-timey barbershop when I sported such a collection of dreamy tresses! But I liked the folk that patronized the place and felt quite at home, despite sticking out like a sore thumb.
Jack burst through the curtain. "Good news. Jesse will be here in ten or fifteen minutes. The other job was easier to fix than he expected.”
"I can't tell you how grateful I am for all your help, Jack. If I lived here in Sherwood, I know we'd be good friends.”
"You might even trust me to give you a haircut, now and then!” he said with a laugh. It didn't seem to be an invitation to submit to his shears, just some good-natured kidding.
"Is there anything I can do to help you out?” I asked, trying to change the subject. Although I liked Jack, I did not want the coincidence of my car troubles in front of a barbershop to lead me down any unexpected roads – like a barbershop haircut!”
"Sure, there's a broom in that corner. Maybe you can sweep this up while I run across the street and pick up some donuts for us. Jesse always likes a donut from Hough's when he comes into Sherwood. If any clients come in – and I doubt it! – just have them take a seat in the chair by the window. I'll be right back.” Jack was off in a flash.
So there I was sweeping up mounds of shorn brown hair. If I had on a white tunic, I might pass for the owner of Jack's Barbershop. Well, not quite. My own locks did not fit the barber image. After dumping the severed clumps of Dan's mane into the waste bin, I look a seat in the big brownish-red chair again and watched out the window – for Jack with the donuts and for Jesse's SOS-mobile. The chair was so relaxing, with its adjustable footrest.
As I daydreamed, a mental image materialized: Jack walking in, spinning the chair around to face the mirror, casting a snowy white and blue pin-striped cape, fastening it securely at the neck, and then nudging my head gently forward while bringing the huge black set of clippers up to my locks. What would that feel like? Would I have the courage to give this kind fellow some business? I was sure, looking at my tresses, he considered me quite in need of a haircut.
We'll that was not on my agenda. Getting my car fixed was. Just then a van pulled up with "Jesse's car service” painted in a circa 1950's script across the side. This place was in a time warp, really! A young fellow wearing a baseball cap that matched the van got out and came into the shop.
"You're not Jack!” he said with a chuckle.
"No, I'm Mike. The one with the car problem. Come on, it's right down the street.” But then I halted, not wanting to leave the barbershop empty. "Uh, it's that blue car down there. Here are the keys. You know what the problem is, right? I need to wait for Jack to get back. He's across the street getting your donuts.”
"Jack is the best fellow you can imagine. Too bad, though, about having to give up the barbering business and go to work for the county sewage plant. I hope he still continues with the shop part time. Jack gives the best flattop in the county.” Jesse pulled off his hat to show off the thick-pile hair that, though rumpled, kept a very firm, ramrod straight profile. What a haircut! Such lush, course hair – a perfect style for Jesse's mane. "Okay, I'm off to service your car. Hopefully, it'll be as simple as my last client's – just some loose wires.”
Jack came back with the donuts and got a little refreshment table set up in the back of the shop, behind the curtain, for when the mechanic was finished with my car. The whole time we chatted, I couldn't but help thinking about poor Jack closing down his barbershop and taking a job with the county sewage plant! That seemed like a crime. As much as I enjoyed our conversation, I kept hoping some clients would show up. Mainly, it was because I wanted to see friendly Jack get some business, but I had to admit that I had really enjoyed watching Dan get shorn down…. Maybe some lad with a head of golden curls would be brought into the shop by a stern father!
The first status report from Jesse was not promising. It was not a loose wire. The alternator needed to be replaced. The garage was running over a spare part. If there was one in stock, maybe about an hour. Estimated price, $164. As ever, helpful Jack piped up, "If you don't have that amount on you, I can float you a loan.”
"Then I'd have a reason to come back to Sherwood so that I could pay you back. Who knows, by then, I might even be in need of a haircut!” The comment just slipped out spontaneously, totally surprising me!
"Well, you know the old saying about ‘putting off for tomorrow'….” This time, I felt like I was in fact getting an invitation from Jack to test his barbering skills. Perhaps it was because I, for the first time, flirted with letting him cut my hair. I quickly glanced around the little cozy shop and thought momentarily about the friendly barber going out of his way to help me, even to offer me a loan! The least I could do was give him some business.
"You know. You're right!” I ran my fingers through my long mop nervously. "Why not put this hour Jesse needs to get my car running again to good use?” My boldness in moving towards a haircut totally surprised me. When would I start regretting it, I wondered? I looked at the long row of clippers hanging from the counter. Never had had a set near my head….
"You're on!” Jack was elated. "Have a seat in the pole position.” He motioned to the chair by the window, exactly as he did when I'd first entered his shop seeking assistance.
This time, sinking into the barber's chair, I did not experience that overwhelming feeling of relaxation. Quite the contrary. I was in a very heightened state of excitement and nervousness. It had happened so suddenly and dramatically – almost a conversion experience from avoiding at all costs a barbershop haircut, to volunteering to submit to the barber's shears. Jack casting the cape and fastening it about my neck notched the emotions up considerably. I looked at myself in the mirror. My pretty-boy, long hair looked so out of place in Jack's. Pretty soon it would start falling in shorn clumps onto the crisp pinstriped cape. Would I go all the way and make my foray into the world of old-fashioned barbershops a genuine and total experience, or would I wobble and timidly suggest a trim?
"So, how much of this goes and how much stays?” Jack asked while brushing my hair down and stroking it gently. I loved the feel of his hand smoothing down my locks. Perhaps sensing my tensions, Jack gave me a brief shoulder and neck massage while waiting for a reply.
The first impulse was to request a trim. But, I knew that would disappoint Jack. He would want to shear me down with a pair of clippers, that was for sure. "Well, uh…” I stalled for time. In the next few split seconds, I realized that asking for a trim would also disappoint me! I thought about Jack gauging off a huge wad of hair from Dan's nape. The wonderful first swipe of the clippers in a virgin jungle of hair! I wanted to experience that for myself – not to be on the watching end but on the receiving end. What would it be like to have the buzzing clippers close to my scalp? And, really, since I was in the chair…why should I not go for the total barbershop experience?! It would be a once in a lifetime sort of thing. I looked at Jack in his impeccable white tunic and then glanced at the chart on the wall. All those styles from the 1950's! Could I request one….and sacrifice my beloved, glossy, pretty-boy tresses?
"Yes?” Jack prompted. I sensed he knew the inner struggle I was going through. He was going to give me space to decide, but nudge the process forward towards a clipper-inclusive resolution. That was the tone he struck with his one forward question.
"How about a….” I stalled. "Well, uh. Give me a traditional, short barbershop style!” I blurted out. Relief swept through my body momentarily. Jack reached for the clippers. Then my level of excitement shot through the roof. "Do you specialize in any particular cut?” I said, verging on the breathless.
"Well,” said Jack with a broad smile. "I am known for my flattops. People like Jesse come from near and far for those.” My heart skipped a few beats. I could NOT leave the shop with a flattop. People would think I was insane. Jack set down the clippers and picked up a comb. He gathered the forelock and combed it straight up so that it extended perpendicular from my scalp. About seven to eight inches of glossy hair…and I imaged Jack scissoring it off short enough to stand erect. I was just going to have to turn down the idea of a flattop. I shifted nervously in the chair, hoping the cape would conceal my trauma. Kind Jack saved me from my predicament. "But I don't think a flattop is the right style for you. You do have a strong hairline in front, but with such a nicely shaped head, I think another cut would suit you better.” The forelock fell back into the soft waves that lapped generously over my ear.
"So?” I enquired, about ready to suggest a typical businessman's cut with an extra instruction to "leave it on the longish side”.
"The right cut for you is an IVY!” Jack suddenly exclaimed.
An ivy?! What was an ivy? I momentarily imagined long intertwined garlands of ivy hanging in pretty tresses. But that couldn't be. "What's an ivy?” I asked.
Then Jack pointed to the chart. My eyes bulged out. It was basically a crewcut with a bit of whispy bangs in front….one of the shortest cuts possible! "So what do you say?” the barber urged, encouraging me to accept the ivy challenge.
Then it dawned on my that Jack himself sported an ivy….and that he had given Dan an ivy. It was a touching thought. Jack wanting to give me the very same haircut he himself wore. The same shorn down to the pate minimalist style. I looked at myself in the mirror. Caped, in the midst of a 1950's environment. The row of dangling clippers beckoned to me. All my pretty, pampered hair that I fueled my vanity…. I clenched the arms of the chair and gripped them tightly. I swallowed. Then, looking straight ahead, I gave the order. "I say…,” a gulped, then forced it out, "Fire-up the clippers, Jack! An ivy it is!
He beamed. "You've got such a perfectly shaped head. My plan is to clip you down really close. You'll look smashing with an extra tight ivy.”
I could hardly believe what I was hearing. How could it all come to this? The afternoon had been a steady progression to the near-total divestiture of my beloved silken tresses. From the moment I selected the barbershop over the bakery to inquire after a mechanic, I had started down a slippery slope towards an appointment with desperately hunger electric hair clippers. Coaxed to take a seat in the huge barber's chair, compelled by compassion to request a haircut, gradually committed to a total barbershop experience, and now, nearly convinced that the key to happiness lay within the sharp metal teeth of a huge, unbridled set of hair clippers plowing through my dense hair very close to my scalp.
Jack whirled the chair around so that I faced away from the mirror! My heart skipped two beats! Then my eyes fixed momentarily on the powerful machine Jack held. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw my terrified tresses. They knew the tide had turned against them. From the moment Jack cast the cape and fastened it tightly about my neck, I realized that the clippers had won the battle for my heart. Only lingering compassion and nostalgia for my decades as a pretty-boy, longhair remained. I would submit fully to Jack's desire to scalp me close. "Let ‘em rip, Jack. The shorter the better!”
My locks braced for one heroic last stand, urging my neck to resist bowing as Jack nudged my head forward. But his years of experience and his determination prevailed. Firmly, the barber pushed my head forward. The huge forelock that had been so conspicuously on display minutes before as he had considered administering a flattop swung precariously, inches above of pristine, pinstriped cape. The beautiful glossy highlights and sheen momentarily distracted me.
Then I heard a click, followed by a high pitched, menacing hum. I swallowed hard and clutched the arms of the chair firmly. A five-bell alarm rang out "mayday” as the hungry teeth hit the tender skin right below my nape as the barber's comb snared the doomed tresses. Jack was about to do it.
And then it happened! Jack quickly and deftly gouged off a huge chunk of my treasured caramel-colored hair with a forceful flick of his wrist. As the screaming teeth ripped through my mane, a jolt of excitement pulsed throughout my entire body. I pictured the mound of shorn hair sailing through the air away from my stunned body and landing with a muffled thud on the barbershop floor. Separated from their kin, the shorn locks undoubtedly felt lonely in their exile. But friendly Jack would take care of that. With quick, repeated flicks, he peeled away all the hair that had so proudly dangled from my innocent nape.
I envisioned my nape clipped tight and eagerly awaited phase two. Jack's clippers would climb to new heights, clearing away the thatch and brush.
But, I was totally unprepared for what actually followed. Jack came with the clippers again firmly…yet this time filled with an almost fury. Up, up, up the clippers went. And then, to my total shock and loss of innocence, they climbed up over the crown and straight forward! Like a Buffalo snowplow in mid-winter, the clippers pushed an incredible mound of hair off the precipice of my forehead. Shovels full of 7 – 8 inch tresses tumbled furiously down in front of my face, almost instantly turning the blue and white cap into a shimmering field of caramel-brown. Jack made short work of my mane, rapidly repeating the "up, over and off” pattern several times. After the shock, came a feeling of nirvana as the vast amount of hair piled up higher and higher on the cape.
By the time the machine was snapped off, I felt absolutely light-headed and giddy. Then he brought the shears high on my forehead. The cool blades told me my transformation was almost over. Snip, snip, snip. The strands that fell away were but an anticlimax compared to the yeoman's work done by the clippers. Then he spent a copious amount of time with small snips and clips to tidy everything up.
Finally, Jack swirled the chair around to give me the first glimpse of the new me. Words cannot describe what I felt seeing myself for the first time without cascades of glossy hair dominating my face and head. Jack had certainly not been timid with the clippers. I'd been completely shorn.
There was scarcely a patch of blue or white left on the cape. I was near bald, and Jack looked as proud as a new father. "So, what do you say?” he asked eagerly, reaching for a whisk brush. "This should make your life a heck of a lot easier,” he added, brushing his hands across the bristles.
"I love it!” was what finally came out of my mouth. And, belatedly, I came to the realization that what I said was the full truth – not just something to make Jack feel good. I loved what Jack had done to my hair! I was a true convert, an enthusiastic one, a barbershop believer!
Jack withdrew the heavy hair-laden cape and shook it, spilling the collection of shorn tresses to the floor. I peered over the edge of the chair, looking at the mounds of hair about the chrome base of the chair. Good-bye, oppressive tresses!
Then the cape was back on. Jack tidied up the details with a straight-edge razor – just like he'd done to Dan. He also applied soothing lather around the ears and nape and scraped away the ragged edges. The bangs of under half inch were the only hairs long enough to grasp between my fingers. Everything else was clipped down, almost to the wood. My scalp was clearly visible through the stubs.
Jack held up a mirror so that I could survey the back. The biggest shock was the wide white band that extended prominently around the edge of the back. Lily white! Hidden from the light of the sun for decades. And now prominently revealed with nothing to hide under.
"I cleaned you up as best I could,” said Jack, sounding apologetic for his work.
"Jack, you did a fantastic job! I absolutely love it!” Jack beamed. He reluctantly un-caped me, and I reluctantly stood up to leave the throne that been the venue for my transformation.
"Now, when you need to get it touched up, tell the barber you want an ivy,” Jack said as he brushed some loose hairs from my shoulder with his hand. "If he asks you for a number, tell him #3 on top and #1 on the sides and back – that's what I gave you. I generally take a #4 myself on top and a #3 on the sides. If you want to push the envelope, some time, ask for a #1 on top and a zero elsewhere. And here's a tip, just to get in nice and short. Right before the clippers strike, remind him that you want it ‘extra tight'. You are such a handsome fellow with your ivy, Mike.”
"One of the best things about it is that we now share a common hairstyle, Jack!” I said, running my hand up the back of my head and over the top, trying to grasp my skimpy bangs. "I am so glad my car broke down, just here, and this very block!”
Jack handed me a broom. "Here, get rid of the evidence that you were once a pretty-boy!”
It felt great to sweep up the shorn mound of hair into an alarmingly vast pile. "Can't believe that all came from me!” As the glossy hair tumbled into the waste bin, I vowed that from here on out it would be barbershops and clippers only for me. Nothing else. I stared in the mirror and fancied myself in a flattop just like Jesse. That would have been a hoot!
Just then, a big yellow school bus full of high school boys pulled up in front of the shop. The door swung open and out hopped a middle-aged man sporting a meticulously groomed pompadour that gleamed in the bright sun with a pomade-induced brilliance. He had on a neat polo shirt with a whistle hanging around his neck. The determined man pushed the door open. He was tanned and immaculately groomed with a sort of short taper in back and sides that supported the huge crest of hair which swooped back.
The coach addressed Jack. "I got 20 boys on that bus that need to get shorn before we get football camp going. Can you handle ‘em in under an hour? No fancy haircuts, just buzz off the mange! I want them running laps at the stadium by 3:30.”
"If you don't mind some of them being attended by my apprentice Mike, here, we can handle the boys easily,” Jack replied. Jack looked at me, smiled and winked.
"No problem. These are low skill requirements…a number one all over,” said the coach with a bit of sadistic enjoyment in his voice.
As the coach disappeared onto the bus to marshal in the poor sheep, Jack hustled me into the back. "You'll help me out, won't you? With twenty boys, we'll make a bundle.” I nodded cheerfully and Jack handed me his spare barbering tunic! A lovely white professional looking tunic!
"I'll do it only if you keep all the profits!” I said slipping on the jacket, feeling great. In my heart, though, I knew nothing would make me pass up this chance to be a barber that afternoon.
"We'll discuss that later. Just do as I do. #1 all over is a no-brainer. Forehead to crown, nape to crown, etc. Clip ‘em short and we'll have ‘em out in no time.”
"How do I look?” I asked, modeling the immaculate white tunic.
"Like a real barber, with a signature haircut too!” he chirped.
I glanced at myself in the mirror that hung precariously on the wall. I was totally unrecognizable. The image of my buzzed pate filled me with an irresistible urge to, Thomas-like, confirm my metamorphosis. The velvety bristles told it all. Just a small fraction of an inch remained from the bundle I'd sported when I first pushed the door to Jack's Barbershop open. But it wasn't just the "ivy” look that captivated me. It was the tunic and my impending debut with the clippers. In the background I could hear the coach blowing the whistle, sending the poor boys to the chairs!
Jack put his arm around me as he led me out into the shop. "You'll take chair two – the clippers are already set to a #1.”
The boys were beginning to stream into the shop in high spirits as the coach paced and pranced about like a Scottish sheepdog herding them in. Unbelievably shaggy youths with every color and texture of hair imaginable! My excitement level soared when he shouted for two mopheads to move to the front of the line. "Move it, sissies!” the coach cried playing the part of the drill sergeant.
"Mike, you take Goldilocks,” Jack said pointing to a blond youth with a massive collection of thick, loopy curls springing out in all directions. "I'll deal with Rapunzel!” The Hispanic fellow who sported a long, thick ponytail and pierced ear moved into Jack's seat. I watched Jack cast his cape so gracefully about the lad. The boy seemed excited about his impending makeover. Jack grasped the tail in one hand and took the clippers right to the base. A red-headed kid with a close crop and freckles snapped pictures of the inaugural mow-down. A few moments of struggle…..and then it was over (at least the first phase). Jack held up the shorn tail like a trophy and all the boys cheered. Juan himself smiled broadly before the mounds of black hair – released from the bounds of a ponytail fastener – cascaded forward obliterating his face under a thick veil of hair.
I realized then, that Goldilocks was stalling…. Everyone had been so transfixed watching Juan lose his tail that Goldie was momentarily forgotten. I cleared my throat as I shook open the cape. The coach lay into the hesitant chap, "Luke, you get into that chair now or you just forget about football. You can rush home and let Mommy roll your pretty hair with that set of curlers you're so fond of!” The boys began cat-calling and Luke hustled his hide into the chair.
I glance briefly at Jack who was driving the clippers straight back across the top of Juan's head causing huge mound of jet black hair to cascade down onto the cape and floor.
Fastening the cape into place was a thrill. The glossy blond locks brushed up against my hand as I fumbled with the clip. "Any special instructions?” I asked as I picked up the clippers and snapped them on. The boys howled. Hamming it up for the youths doubled the fun.
Luke joined the festive spirit and joined the fun by eeking out, "How ‘bout a light trim?” his voice cracking, screwing up his face into contortions of fear.
"How about a nice traditional butch cut, instead,” I countered, snapping on the machine. I loved the feeling of power as the clippers vibrated in my hand. Momentarily, the golden curls would be falling in the wake of the mighty machine, reducing the huge collection of silken hair to stubs! "Tell Momma she can throw away the curlers,” I taunted as I drove the clippers into the blond mane. The boys in line cheered as the curls tumbled down onto the white cape. Jack, too smiled broadly, conveying his approval of my apprenticing.
Meanwhile, Juan psyched himself up by offering, "This feels great!” as the clippers pared away the evidence that he'd once sported the longest hair in his high school.
Even though Jack got a head start on me, I peeled off Luke's curls at such a fast clip that we were withdrawing the capes from our first two footballers at virtually the same time. The two longhairs emerged from their barbering thrones running their astonished hands over their buzzed pates, laughing and posing for the cameras. Then the next two victims fell into place. Jack got a shaggy-headed fellow that suffered from a severe case of hat-head once the cap was finally removed. My client sported a mushroom head of thick, shimmering carmel-colored hair, much like the mane I had only moments earlier yielded to Jack's clippers. The coach was in high spirits as he barked orders for them to move quickly into place for their shearing. It was obvious that this hazing rite was a high point on his football calendar.
By the time all twenty of the lads were shorn down to the wood, the floor of the barbershop was piled high with a layer of multi-colored shorn hair. And the whole job had only taken 45 minutes! Jack stretched out his hand to congratulate me. "Well done, Mike! You're a quick study!”
As the coach was counting up the money to pay Jack, a thought came to me. That fellow needed a taste of his own medicine! Not very fair of him to hang on to his pampered pompadour while Juan and all the others were forced to surrender their treasured locks.
"Hold it, we still have one haircut to administer,” I announced.
The coach wheeled around, his beady eyes darting around to spot the delinquent who was trying to slink away unshorn. "There will be 50 extra push-ups to the guy our barber-friend here is talking about unless you take a seat here right this instant!” he barked. There was a moment of tense, eerie silence as all the knob-heads looked around for the culprit.
Then I spoke. "OK, coach! You're the man! Have a seat!” I said patting the comfy leather chair.
A whoop went up from the crowd of footballers. "It's your turn, Coach!” The commotion grew louder. "Shave him bald, like us!”
The coach's red face morphed from embarrassment to irritation to apprehension. "This is all nonsense….” He blew his whistle.
The boys moved forward as if corralling him into the chair. "Take him down tight!”
Jack, who was enjoying the whole drama I had unleashed, stepped in to save the day. "I agree with the boys, Jed. Come on now, be a sport, and take a seat. And I'm happy to announce that this is your special day. Pay for 20 haircuts and get one free.” The whistle fell from the coach's lips. He knew he'd been defeated in his attempts to save his precious pomp. "Mike's become quite handy with the clippers in the past hours,” Jack said as he cast the cape around the nervous coach. "He's going to do the honors,” Jack said as he handed me a huge set of clippers with no guards attached. I posed for a special "before” shot with the menacing clippers poised to strike the beloved pompadour. The bald, red head snapped away. Then it was a click, followed by a roar from the boys, and a white strip of scalp from the forehead to the crown. Coach looked like a crazy skunk! The camera flashed and the hair fell. When he was swirled around to looked at his bald head – I mean, down to a 0000 length – coach's mouth dropped open. He gasped in horror, as his clip job had been far more severe than the boys.
The Jack reached for the lather machine. "Now it's my turn,” he said, pumping out a huge dollop of warm, white lather. The boys cheered and the camera snapped. Poor coach endured a full head shave.
When it was all said and done, he looked like a huge dork with his white scalp gleaming. "OK now, to the bus, everyone.” He tried to muster up an authoritative bark, but it sounded pathetically meek.
As the bus pulled away, Jack clasped my hand. "You're the best! He comes every year with those poor boys, and I've always wanted to do that! I wish you could stay here and be my partner.”
"Hey, you're having trouble keeping up a clientele for just one barber! But it would be a lot of fun…. This has been an excellent day. Maybe even life-changing for me,” I said looking at myself in the mirror and running my hand across my newly minted, velvety ivy. "You know what I'm going to do for you, I'm going to set up an internet advertisement campaign that's going to have all these chairs overflowing with chaps getting flattops, crewcuts and every type of sharp, traditional hair cut that you can give. And, I'll be in your chair at least every three months because that's how often I come through here on business!”
"Well, find a good barber where you lived to keep you tidy in between your visits here. A good ivy needs to be cleaned up every two-weeks or so.”
"You bet…. That's ‘extra tight', right?”
"Next time you visit here I'm going to introduce you to whitewalls!”
Just then the door opened and the mechanic came in. "Job's done!” Then he looked down and stared in awe at the mounds of hair on the floor. "What happened here, boot camp?”
"I was showing Mike here how to give a good crewcut…. Come on back, let's have some donuts!” said Jack as the three of us slipped into the back room of the barbershop. I thought to myself, as the camaraderie heated up that what I had first thought to be a stroke of bad luck – my car breaking down – had turned out instead to be a real bonanza in terms of new friends, new haircuts and new talents.