A More Than Generous Tip (Extended) by Jay
As Sam peered through the big, plate glass window his heart started racing really, really fast, even faster than it was the night he swerved off the road that past winter and almost smashed his new Audi into a massive concrete barrier. All of a sudden, he felt clammy all over. He smoothed down his wind blown hair, trying to convince himself that this could definitely hold off for another week, or so. His watery eyes glided toward the sidewalk and zeroed in on this unassuming, hairline crack, wishing it were some precarious fault line about to burst open and suck him up. While sporadically playing with the top button on his meticulously pressed shirt, he mustered up the courage to glance over his shoulder and sneak a second peek inside the ominous window. Instantly, he was confronted by an expansive mirror dutifully reflecting the shallow, unpretentious space. Lurking above it was this large, square clock; its big hand stretched over the four, while the little one tiptoed toward the eight. Sam didn’t even want to try to figure out how long he’d been standing there, mindlessly carrying on with the unremarkable button, now haphazardly clinging to life from a long, tenuous thread. Even though it was the first nice weekend so far that spring, the soft sunlight and warm, docile breeze was unable to calm him down. His contorted face appeared only slightly more pained, as he bit into his lower lip and glared back down at the disappointing crack one last time, before making a firm decision to abort the mission and head back home. At that precise second, this guy with dark, shaggy hair, rounded the corner and plowed into him. The stranger flashed a smile, somewhere between polite and flirtatious, excused himself, then amiably pulled the door wide open. Sam motioned for him to go ahead and lagged behind, apprehensively taking in every detail of the scene unfolding in front of him. There was this chalkboard to the left where the guy signed his name, then saluted toward the barber manning the first chair.
The shop was pretty small, only two barbers, the aforementioned guy who was maybe thirty, and a much older guy, probably pushing sixty. The young one had just the faintest hint of dark hair all buzzed the same length, which was just the tiniest bit longer than the stubble on his face. Placing him in the window was a clever marketing maneuver as his effervescent, blue eyes and seductive smile drew a lot of attention to the otherwise unassuming storefront. Stationed next to him was the stern, scowling face of the second barber whose presence commanded a very different kind of attention. Towering well over six feet, with easily two hundred pounds of still rock, hard muscle, he looked to be serious, old school and all business. The ring of tightly cropped grey hair circling his otherwise baldhead made him appear all the more menacing.
There were two other men waiting when the guy Sam came in with grabbed a magazine and took a seat. Almost immediately, the young, eager barber spun the man in his chair around and handed him a mirror. His haircut looked great, lightly buzzed up the sides and longer on top, really current, really hot. It was gelled a little and stood up in just the right places. He seemed completely delighted as he handed the barber a twenty and told him to keep the change. When they reached the door, the barber put his hand on the guy’s ass and gave him a friendly good by kiss, then called the next name on the list. Right away, the very cute muscle boy sitting next to Sam grabbed his gym bag and strutted over to the empty chair, took his place and asked the barber to cut it short on the sides and leave it longer on top. Prior to draping the cape over his more than adequate upper body, the equally buffed barber kneaded his substantial hands into the guy’s noteworthy shoulders.
It was hard for Sam to figure out where things had begun in the second chair, as the older barber was busy dabbling hot lather around his customer’s ears when he finally looked that way. The guy’s hair was cut super short, with just the slightest suggestion of sideburns, then tapered up to maybe half an inch on top. He squinted uneasily into the big mirror before edging his bookish, wire-rimmed glasses across the barren sides of his head. There was no offer of a hand mirror. After running his fingers over his scalp, he grudgingly handed the barber a twenty and told him to keep one. The barber brusquely yanked on the chain dangling from his belt and pulled out a flat, black leather purse, and handed a five to the man who was still rubbing his head while uncomfortably staring in the mirror. They quickly parted ways. Impatiently, the barber motioned to the man spilling out of the last chair in the row, who really didn’t look like he needed a haircut at all, as it was clipped almost to the scalp. Nevertheless, he eagerly approached. Almost immediately, the chair was tilted back and a hot towel was placed on his fleshy, round face. Sam’s attention quickly went back to the other chair where the very proficient, hip barber was busy buzzing the blonde boy’s hair. Watching those powerful biceps bulging out of his super tight tee shirt as he lifted the hair and let the clippers gracefully glide over his comb, was definitely way more enticing than staring at the other barber, who was now completely immersed in knocking back his Diet Dr. Pepper.
The guy Sam came in with put his magazine down and glanced over at him. “Nick, does a great job, huh?”
“A-huh. Fast, too, and, umm, lots of fun to watch.” He turned his head to face him, “I’m guessing you’ve been here before?”
His hand moved through his thick hair, “doesn’t look it today, huh? It’s been a couple of months. Really need to get this mess cleaned up. You?”
“Um, me? Ah, first time.” Sam cleared his throat, as he almost apologized, “my regular stylist moved to Miami, and I,”
“Um, stylist?” His eyes rolled up toward the old tin ceiling. “You’re in good hands, Dude. Never had a bad haircut here, okay.”
“Yeah, I’ve heard pretty good things about this place, so I figured, what the hell, take a walk on the wild side.” There was a little, nervous laugh as he played with the hair that was just beginning to curl up right above his collar, “what’s the worse that can happen, huh?”
Together they watched Nick finish up with the guy in his chair who ended up with pretty much the same cut as the guy before him. He seemed equally as happy, handed Nick another twenty and told him to keep the change. “Guess I’m up, unless you,” he hesitated, “you were, technically, here before me.” Sam shook his head. Before the guy got up, he extended his hand and introduced himself.
Jeff’s instructions were exactly the same as the guy before him, and Sam assumed, the guy before him: short on the sides and leave it longer on top. Sitting there all alone now, his spirits slowly sank as he realized that he had just, pretty much, sealed his own fate, and was now going to get stuck with the other barber, who by this point had already finished shaving the big guy’s face and was running the clippers over the top of his head. With this sour expression that appeared to be permanently etched into his weathered face, he intently completely his task, never moving his pursed lips, never making even the slightest overture to engage in conversation. Meanwhile, Nick was happily buzzing the shaggy hair away from Jeff’s neck. Big clumps of dark hair fell to the floor as the two of them playfully joked around and flirted with each other. Sam’s head continued to bob back and forth between the two chairs, first watching the totally efficient, but gruff barber massage shave cream all over his customer’s sizable scalp, then back to Nick, where the scissors were now out and he was enthusiastically chopping away at the hair on top of Jeff’s head.
“Nice, tight ivies, and don’t be afraid to show a little skin, Jimmy.” The all too familiar barbershop smells, especially the, still repugnant scent of cheap aftershave, catapulted Sam back to that dingy, hole in the wall where his mother’s latest boyfriend had not so casually led his unsuspecting brother and himself for their first real haircuts. That strident voice still haunted Sam. Compliantly sitting there, right next to the virtual stranger who had issued the orders, he had been forced to watch his older brother get scalped, knowing full well that he was next. The clippers ripped through Charlie’s cool, blonde curls exposing bare scalp that had never before seen the light of day. Every Saturday for the next five and a half months, the three of them left that crummy shop with the same, shiny sidewalls, the same shadow of hair on top, and the same quarter inch brylcreamed, and standing erect in very, very front. And every Monday morning, Sam dragged himself back to school where all the hip kids ran their hands over his sheared head and made fun of him.
He tried to calm down, reminding himself that he was not seven anymore, and that this was not that same, old barber shop, and that “Uncle” Eddie was nowhere to be seen. Irregardless, that same hysteria started building all over again: the big lump in his stomach, the dry mouth, the sweaty palms, the irrational sensation that he was going to throw up. With each stroke of the straight razor, Sam’s pulse quickened. There he sat, huddled on the very edge of the hard, wood seat with his long legs wrapped around each other. His left arm uncomfortably hugged his chest while his right elbow bore into the arm of the chair. Compulsively, he twisted three inches of sandy, blonde hair so tightly around his finger that it almost made the blood stop. Why hadn’t he accepted Jeff’s offer to go first? Stupid, stupid, STUPID IDIOT!
An uneasy glance to his left confirmed that one side of the super-sized head was now completely cleared, but as the steadfast, more mature barber moved onto the other side, Sam heard the distinct sound of clippers humming again. There was somewhat renewed hope as he looked over and saw that Nick had loosened the cape and was already cleaning up Jeff’s neck. Wow, this guy was fast! Nick grabbed the tube of gel, massaged some into his hands and ran it through the freshly cut hair. Meanwhile, his co-worker was still working on the man with the now completely shaved head, which he was busy lathering up for a second go-round. Jeff looked elated as he stared in the mirror. The sexy barber got yet another twenty and Sam got a wink and a nice big smile before the new Jeff, with the really hot haircut and very sweet butt, opened the door and scooted out.
Now totally confident, Sam approached Nick’s chair, but instead of acknowledging him, Nick looked over at the other barber. “Ah, Pop, I’m headin’ out for a smoke.” He motioned to Sam, “mind takin’ this last guy?”
He got a grunt and a brusque nod. Understandably, Sam’s spirits completely sank as he watched Nick disappear out into the late afternoon sun. Within a few seconds, the barber left behind was collecting another miniscule tip from the man with the freshly shaved, cue ball of a head, and motioning for a noticeably hesitant Sam to come forward. The person who destiny had chosen to give him a haircut still didn’t speak. Diffidently, Sam crept toward him, attempted a cordial smile, and went to climb up into his big, leather chair.
“Why don’t ya take that nice shirt off, Son.” His index finger directed Sam to the coat tree standing compliantly next to the door.
Sam’s confused expression only seemed to irritate him as he stood, rigidly by with his arms crossed, sizing him up. Always one to follow the path of least resistance, Sam unbuttoned the crisp, navy and white striped shirt and hung it up. “Um, I was thinking that I’d like to go short, you know,” he lifted the hair around his ears, “um, on the sides here and a little longer on top, kind of like,”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah, short, I get it, okay?”
Sam was gruffly spun away from the mirror. Conversely, as the man behind him purposely jerked the chair up higher and higher, the sinking feeling in the pit of Sam’s stomach became even more acute.
“Short-sides.” The barber grabbed the hair that was hovering over Sam’s forehead, “and longer on top.” He dug his cold hands into Sam’s uncovered shoulders, “maybe a lit’l more up front?”
Sam nodded. Without any more discussion, the barber finished pumping up the chair, but dispensed with the cape this time. The clippers started humming, then rested on Sam’s right sideburn, and then they started traveling, ever so meekly, through a couple of inches of his thriving, sun streaked hair. Like a diver somersaulting off a high platform, the first clump glided through the air and tumbled down Sam’s arm. Simultaneously, his head followed it. The unwavering barber immediately dug the palm of his hand into Sam’s forehead and burrowed his determined fingertips into the cranium, as he continued to encourage the clippers up the side of the head. The higher they climbed the more diligent the barber became about flipping the steady stream of severed, wavy hair down Sam’s bare chest. After finishing the second side, the man controlling the clippers, not so tenderly, shoved Sam’s head forward and forced them straight up the back, all the way to the top, in one clean sweep. His free hand remained succinctly planted at the forefront of Sam’s head preventing him from squirming even the tiniest, little bit. The clippers lingered right there on the cusp for few, brief seconds, then scraped over the crown. Sam warily tried to convince himself that his hair was pretty out of control, and a lot probably had to be sacrificed if he wanted it to look just like Jeff’s and those other two guys’, but as the powerful clippers were repositioned and began moving over his temples inching higher and higher with each successive pass, he desperately tried to remember every step Nick had taken to create those perfect haircuts. Wasn’t he using the clippers over the comb by the time he was this close to the top of the head? His inner voice desperately tried to persuade him to believe otherwise, as it rationalized that every barber probably doesn’t cut hair the same way, and that they all must have their own unique style. Hard as he tried, he wasn’t really buying into any of it.
When a pair of shiny scissors came within his site line, Sam slowly exhaled, and his shoulders, little by little, fell back into their normal position. The cold metal scurried across his forehead and sliced at the front a few times sending incredibly long hunks of blonde hair sailing directly past his wide eyes, down his chest and into his already encumbered lap. And then, as abruptly as they had been quieted, the clippers started roaring once again, only this time, a fine-toothed comb accompanied them. Here it was at last, the famous clipper over comb technique that Nick so masterfully employed. Rapidly the pair chased each other front to back slicing away at the still virgin territory on top. Ostensibly, this interlude was cut surprisingly short though, and instead of continuing to round the head, the barber dismissively discarded the humble comb. Almost with a vengeance, the clippers landed solo, right on the top of his head, and were thrust resolutely forward causing Sam to jerk unnervingly back. While pressing them against Sam’s scalp and shoving them back to front, the barber nonchalantly whistled the haunting chorus from Sweeney Todd. Before Sam had time to grasp what was going on, the man administering the haircut retrieved the comb, positioned it tight to the scalp, and hurriedly ran the clippers over it, retracing the same path across the top of the head over and over again. And then the humming stopped. Again Sam exhaled. His shoulders, however, did not return to their normal position. And the budding erection he had been trying to discourage, won out.
Only a split second later, the humming resumed. Sam thought it sounded a little different, a slight variation in pitch, and as the first swipe was taken up the right side of his head, it even felt different. Foolishly, the uneasy recipient of the barber’s undivided attention, attempted to remind him of his original instructions, but his timidly spoken words did little to deter the single-minded clippers as they methodically moved completely around his head. This time they hesitated just short of the crown. By now, Sam was definitely not able to convince himself that the barber was just using his own special technique, more concerned than ever that this ground had already been covered several times, and that the hungry clippers were overindulgently biting way too much off. Out came the comb for a third cameo, rapidly rounding his head, clippers perfectly synchronized to its every move. Deftly the barber maneuvered the clippers across the comb until he was completely satisfied that they had made enough trips over its innocent teeth to make Sam cream his shorts. Before it was all over, there was a little more scissor action, a little more clipper-over-comb action and a lot more fretting on the part of the guy whose hair remained under attack.
Prior to calling it quits, the barber ran his enormous hands slowly over Sam’s entire head and down his neck, “you gotta learn to relax there, Son.” The big hands squeezed Sam’s biceps, “you’re like one giant knot.” He smacked his lips a couple of times, then wrapped his thumb around the top of Sam’s belt buckle while his fingers stroked the front of his slacks. Awkwardly, Sam turned to face him. The barber withdrew his hand. Belligerently, he reached for the jar of butch wax resting on the counter, rubbed some into his palms, then yanked at the hair on the front of Sam’s head. Just as he finished slapping the same aftershave Sam so abhorred around his ears, Nick bolted through the door chomping on a wad of gum.
He swallowed hard and stared at Sam, “didn’t think a nice, preppy boy like you would go that short, Man. Shoulda stayed around for this one, huh, Pop?” He dropped his Marlboros on the counter before letting a couple of fingers zip up the back of Sam’s head. Sam got even harder. “Wow, right down to the wood.”
As he proudly spun the chair around to face the mirror, the otherwise obstinate barber’s eyes almost lit up. Sam reached for the top of his head as he stared at his thirty-five year old face superimposed around the same haircut he had when he was seven, the same bare, white scalp shining through again. Absolutely everything was gone except for the artfully blended, scant shadow above the stark sidewalls that led directly into the waxed quarter inch standing at attention at the very, very front. His eyes were literally bulging out of their sockets as he watched his chin drop and his lips slowly form a perfect “O”.
The barber responsible for the massacre ran his hand over what had been the site of a sideburn just a few minutes before. “Nice short sides, just like ya asked for, huh?’ His voice was low and intense, “and a little longer on top.”
Sam’s typically reserved voice lilted up, “what the f***?” Completely stupefied, he sat there blowing air out of his mouth then, ever so slowly lifted himself out of the chair and tried to walk. As he yanked his shirt off the coat tree the door flew open again and Jeff stuck his head inside. He took a quick look at Sam, and stopped dead in his tracks, “that, um, that guy I came in with, is he gone already, Nick?
A very dejected Sam waved his hand as his eyes shot toward the shiny linoleum floor, now almost completely obscured with his once amazing hair. While running his hand over his bare head, he tried to speak, but nothing much came out. Jeff looked over at him, shook his head, then shot Nick this funny, little smirk, “hmm, maybe next time, okay?” He kept staring at Sam as he slowly backed out of the barbershop. Despondently, Sam pulled the shirt on and edged his wallet out of the back pocket of his khakis. His hand was actually trembling as he pulled out a crumpled twenty. Facing his reflection full on, he shoved the money into the more senior barber’s hand and told him he wanted ten back.
“It’s fourteen, Buddy.”
“Right. Consider it a pretty generous tip, okay?”
Nick reached in front of Sam and opened the door before taking the liberty to grab his butt as he walked past him. He shrugged his big, broad shoulders and shot Sam this blatantly mischievous grin, “so, umm, sure hope to see you here again real soon there, Stud.” Those deep, blue eyes looked especially provocative as he arched his thick eyebrows and massaged his stubbly chin, “and, next time, I promise to take extra-special care of you, myself.” Sam did a quick double take and flashed a very strained smile back at him as he stumbled over the threshold, figuring it would probably be at least another twenty-five years before he’d even come close to walking past a real barbershop again, Nick or no Nick.
The better part of the next week was spent staring in the mirror trying to coax his stubborn hair to grow. The following Saturday afternoon, under the protective cover of his faded, orange baseball cap, he finally ventured out into the real world. After walking aimlessly in the rain for several hours, he looked around and realized that he was standing directly in front of the fateful site of his recent haircut disaster. Just like any other person slowing down on the freeway to stare at a car wreck, he hesitated and looked through the big window. The old barber was gone and a young, hot looking guy with a pretty severe high & tight stood in his place. An even closer cropped Nick was motioning for his next customer to climb up into his empty chair. Jeff approached. A little pointing and very brief dialogue ensued before Nick lowered his clippers onto Jeff’s forehead and shoved them straight back. Nick blissfully passed them back and forth across his friend’s head until just the lightest coat of stubble remained. Jeff had this wide grin plastered across his face as he rubbed his hands over his scalp. Sam, meanwhile, was rock hard. There was a little more dialogue; Jeff nodded his head several times and then another pair of clippers began clearing a large portion of the stubble away. Within a few minutes the perimeter of his head was as shiny as Sam’s had been just a week before. Nick appeared even more ecstatic than Jeff as he waved his hand and refused to take Jeff’s money.
A little dumbfounded, Sam edged toward the door and held it open for the new, new Jeff with the super fresh, super short high & tight. Unexpectedly, he yanked his baseball cap off and tucked it behind his back. Warm rain quickly soaked his head and began to trickle down his angular face, “small world, huh?” His head motioned inside, “just stopping back to get mine cleaned up. You know, you gotta get in once a week if you really want to keep it looking sharp.”
Jeff’s eyes sparkled as his hand grazed the top of Sam’s wet head, “Nick’s been trying to get me do this for as long as I can remember, and when I saw you,” he blushed a little, “and you looked, so, well, um, f***in’ hot, and,” he stroked his own shiny sidewalls, “anyway, here I am, skinned alive.”
This time Jeff followed Sam inside. He watched him rip off his drenched tee shirt and get in the chair. Affectionately, Sam’s fingertips scratched the fresh bristle that had managed to sprout on the sides of his head. Without flinching, he looked in the mirror and listened to what appeared to be his own voice resonate over the oldies blasting out of the radio, “just like last time, okay, Nick, nice tight ivy, and don’t be afraid to show a little skin.”