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Jim's Detour by Manny


Jim felt nervous as he purposely altered his path in the subway station, heading to the escalator which led up to the shops instead of the one down to the trains. This was not the first time he'd taken the circuitous route. In fact, two or three times per week he would travel up the two sets of escalators to the second floor, take a quick spin around the shops and then head back down. When his detour was in the morning, Jim would head into the bowels of the station for his commute into town where he worked as a general manager of a nationally known corporation. More likely, though, it was in the evening on his way home when action at his destination was more intense.

Jim's eyes darted at the sign that first perked his curiosity -- "Ballstone Station Barber Shop - 2nd Floor - we specialize in military High 'n Tights!"

Jim fidgeted as the moving stairs ascended to the second floor, especially as he caught a glimpse of himself in the mirrored panels between floors. His thick, dark hair was perfectly coiffed, swept back as the result of a half hour session with the blow dryer only half hour earlier at home. His dark suit was immaculate; the white, starched shirt made his tanned face stand out even more than normal. Jim smoothed down his pampered locks, feeling the density at the nape that so often had delighted him in the past. He was in his mid 40s but his thick, shimmering hair made him look youthful, not a day past 32 most people felt.

The barber shop was right at the top of the escalators; the initial glimpse of the neon lights on the ceiling quickly led to a full, frontal view of the shop. Like normal, for this early hour, the shop wasn't very full. Just two barbers present and only one gent under the cape. The older barber, who Jim assumed was the father, was putzing around with some items on the counter while the young barber was just beginning the haircut, still combing through the client's business cut. Both barbers appeared Korean, or perhaps Vietnamese, and they wore matching white tunics. There were a total of five chairs in the shop. In the evening periods, all chairs usually were occupied and the waiting room full near capacity too. Jim preferred to case the shop in the evenings, on his way home, but today he was running early, so he decided to swing by and discreetly check out the action. There were usually a few men getting groomed on their way to work.

As he stepped off the escalator and was right outside the shop, he heard the client under the cape affirm, "Yes, a 'high and tight' -- like the sign downstairs says you're experts at."

"Just checking," the young barber said without much drama. "Once I start, there's no going back," he noted with a slight chuckle as his fingers lingered in the client's slightly shaggy brown hair for a moment.

Jim's heart began pounding hard. His timing had been impeccable! He rarely saw major action during his morning perusals. Jim desperately wanted to watch the businessman's makeover. He walked a safe distance away from the shop. He'd seen many H 'n T's tightened up, but had never seen someone get transformed from a business look to a military look. Once he finally felt like he could sneak a peak, Jim saw the businessman with a clipped path down the middle of his head and a semi-sick look on his face. In a flash, the barber stripped off a second swath of the business cut.

Jim decided to take a quick side trip through the bathroom to give himself a little extra time in the mall area so he could see more results of the transformation. Once inside the john, he was confronted with his own prissy salon coif in the mirror above the sink. How he longed to be as courageous as the man in the chair! He took a brush out of his briefcase and ran it through his dense, shimmering mane. He estimated the longest locks were a good 5 inches -- the forelock that he wore swept back from his handsome face. How he would love to subject the pampered locks to a good, no-nonsense barbershop experience! They stylist at the salon was so gentle with them....plying in conditioner at the washing station, trimming small tidbits that disappeared on the black nylon cape, gushing over their thickness and sheen.....

As Jim emerged from the bathroom, he saw the business man under the cape having lather applied to the bottom two/thirds of his scalp. The young barber and client were sharing a laugh. Jim walked toward the escalator. He should hurry past and follow on to work....

But, as he approached, his feet slowed. He was desperate to see more of the action. As he looked into the shop, his eyes met those of the old barber who had walked towards the door and was just a few feet away.

"Haircut this morning, sir?" the man said to him as he nodded with a coureous type of 'good day' gesture.

Jim glanced into the barbershop's mirrored wall and gulped. After a slight hesitation he said, "Yes, since there's no wait."

Jim's knees felt wobbly as he crossed into the barbershop for the first time in his adult life. The old man patted the seat of his chair to indicate where he was to sit. The comfort of the huge chair helped set him a bit to ease.

In an instant, the large white cape sailed through the air and came to rest on his shoulder. Then the old man wrapped a strip of tissue around his neck and pulled the cloth snuggly around it fastening it with a large metal clip. The barber swiveled the chair a bit away from the mirror so that the other client was fully in view while he retrieved his cutting instruments. The young barber was holding up a mirror to show the man his skinned back and closely clipped top.

The client was virtually speechless. His voice sounded airless and scratchy as he eeked out, "Yes, that looks good."

"A little shorter on top, perhaps? I left it at a #4 -- half inch," the young barber explained.

"No, it's fine," the newly skinned man said nervously.

Jim's barber swiveled the chair again so that it faced totally away from the mirror. "Any special instructions? It looks like you haven't had haircut in good long while."

Jim didn't know what to say. It would've been prudent to just ask for "a trim". But, since the barber suggested his hair was too long -- and because Jim, despite his nerves, decided to make his first visit to a barbershop memorable -- he found himself saying, "Yes, I've been so busy of late. It needs to be have a a lot cut."

The barber placed his hand directly on top of Jim's head and began to push it forward. During the moments that Jim resisted, he saw the other client emerge from the chair and move to the cash register to pay. He was still feeling his smooth shaved back and clipped top -- and he was wearing a business suit, Jim noted! The combination fascinated him.

The old barber succeeded in pushing Jim's head forward so that his chin almost touched his chest. He heard the other client and barber finishing off their business....

"Keep the change," the client said. "You did a good job, but I'm not sure this haircut suits me."

"It look good. It's what you ask for. You get used to it," the young barber retorted.

Just then, Jim felt the clippers plow up through his nape. The vibration of the metal teeth on his sensitive, sheltered scalp sent a jolt through his entire system and he gripped the arms of the chair to steady himself. The barber drove the clippers up the bottom third of his head before easing off into a sharp taper. Jim's heart was pounding rapidly and he told himself there was nothing he could do at this point -- to just relax and enjoy the new experience. His first barbershop haircut would be brutal!

The old man continued with the clippers -- over and over he ran then up the back of his head, moving them further and further up towards the crown with each drive of the clippers. As he moved toward the ear, the barber flicked the machine so that a few clumps of shorn hair fell onto the cape under JIm's imprisoned gaze. They were at least two inches long -- quite a length for the side of his head, Jim thought.

"I'm going to get coffee, Dad, you want some?" the younger barber said, as his father paused from the work.

The older barber took advantage of the pause to engage Jim in a chat, "Your first time here?"

"Yes, first time -- it's a convenient location right in the subway station. I saw your sign on the ground level. Does just your son do the high and tights?" Jim asked.

"No -- I'm the best for H 'n T! I taught him everything he knows, but I'm the expert," he said proudly.

"That other client seemed a little nervous about his first H 'n T," Jim noted.

"It was good haircut, my boy give him!" the barber insisted.

"I've thought of getting one, but...."

"You want one, I give you one!" the barber exclaimed.

"No, no! Not today, anyway," Jim said nervously.

The barber swirled the chair around to face the mirror, "Here, let me show you...."

When Jim saw his reflection, his stomach lurched. He wasn't prepared for the brutal taper that was half finished!! The one side was still his elegant coif that was full and swept back gracefully over half his ear while the other side was clipped down almost to the skin half way up the side of his head before transitioning rather dramatically into a very short taper up the side of his head. He was going to emerge shorn -- but not with a high and tight -- not if he had a say in the matter!

"Good head shape for either H 'n T or flattop. Not good haircut for all men -- but very good haircut for you. Hair thick and full -- especially nice with dark hair too. I want to give my grandsons flattops but they say no. No barbershop haircuts for the teenagers."

The young barber walked back into the shop and his father consulted him, "Don't you think mister's head is good shape for H 'n T?"

"Perfect. Is that what you're giving him?" the son asked non-chalantly.

"NO!" insisted Jim. "I just want a normal, tapered haircut -- a business cut."

"Okay, okay, for this time," laughed the older barber. Then he resumed the haircut with Jim watching in the mirror. He tackled the other side and began stripping away the salon look. The clippers were amazingly powerful and clumps of dark hair rained down on the white cape. Jim's hair had never been cut so short in his entire life. He enjoyed the feeling of being helpless at the hands of a barber who had his own agenda -- the barber who called him in for a haircut, the barber who noted that his hair was too long, the barber the urged him to accept a flattop or high and tight!!

Soon, the barber was wetting his hair down with a spritzer. Then quickly, he lifted the long, five-inch forelock and quickly sheared off two thirds of it! The very long wet locks fell ontop of the dense coating of dry shorn hair already on the cape. Lift and snip, lift and snip, lift and snip. The coif succumbed to the shears in under two minutes! Then the barber exchanged the scissors for a set of thinning shears, and he began removing the bulk.

Jim felt an inner sense of satisfaction that the old man was putting a very definite end to his fussy salon look -- but he squirmed at the thought of getting to the office in a half hour or so shorn like a young schoolboy from the 1950s.

There were several moments in the ensuing minutes where Jim thought the haircut was ending, when the old man, instead of removing the cape, swappedp the clippers or shears again for another cutting instrument. The hair had been clipped so short on the sides and top that it had trouble laying down flat. Finally, when the haircut was over, it took a big dollop of styling gel to plaster it down. A rigid sidepart contributed to making the inexpensive barbered look unmistakable.

The old man held up the mirror and proudly announced, "This is what I call a good haircut, mister!"

Jim's stomach was in knots. The back was skinned almost half way up and extremely short towards the crown. What made the whole thing worse was the wide swaths of exposed virgin scalp, shining bright in the glow of the barbershop's neon. "Looks good," he said, if only to end the haircut!

FInally, Jim was released from the cape and its load og shorn hair, and allowed to stand. "How much do I owe you?" Jim asked.

"Free for you today. First time. Free if you become regular here," the old man said, betraying a sharp entrepeurial spirit with a streak of gambler in it.

"Oh, no, please take the payment," Jim insisted.

"You not happy? You not come back? How about, free with a nice tip?" suggested the smiling old man.

"Yes, it's a good haircut. I'm happy with it," Jim said to molify him.

"Free with nice tip and a promise for me to give you a flattop or high and tight on your next visit," the barber said conclusively.

Jim glanced into the barbershop's mirrored wall and gulped. After a slight hesitation he said, "Yes, next time, a flattop." As he held out a $20, he commented cheerfully, "Here's a tip for your great work, uh...what's your name, sir? If you're going to become my barber, I should know your name."

"Mr. Lee!" he responded cheerfully. "Next time -- H 'n T for you!"




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