Conversation in a Back Yard, Oct 1978 by Archon 2
This is the first story in a planned series of "Conversations in a Back Yard." All semi-autobiographical, based on the various haircuts I had to get at the barbershop in the 1970's. Hope you like them...and I'm looking forward to your reviews and comments.
"Dave—whoa! what happened to your soldier-boy haircut? Get discharged? Why did you go with the Kojak…did you join the Marines?” was the first thing out of his best friend Steve's mouth as he came to visit him in his backyard. Dave had been sitting in a lawn chair, resting from his weekly chores: mowing, raking and general clean-up. Steve's voice prompted him to issue his familiar retort-"I'm not a bald, fat detective that licks lollipops!” Then, as Steve proceeded to sit down in the chair next to Dave, they went on with their familiar exchange which occurred whenever Dave came back from the barbershop with a different or shorter haircut; starting with Steve pointing at Dave's head and laughing, moving on to the usual insults, and then ending with a half-hearted attempt to rub Dave's head.
"Yeah, yeah” Dave replied, "so funny I forgot to laugh.”
"You also forgot to have the barber leave some hair on your head…oops, I keep forgetting, you don't get to decide” replied Steve, who then proceeded to sit up straight in his chair, pretending he was Dave, mimicking his voice: "Yes dad…I mean SIR, you were right. Thank you for choosing this new and excellent haircut for me, I can't wait to come back to the barbershop for the next one.”
"HA HA, I can't wait till your next haircut, Steve.”
Steve's brown hair was currently cut into a short taper, and had been for some time—though he had crewcuts in the past. So besides being the same age, both their fathers were in the Army and took them to the barbershop—which was probably a big reason for them being best friends as long as they could remember.
"Darn, I get a haircut and I'll still have to use this” Steve said as he pulled his comb out from his pocket and started to use it in front of Dave, and then continued his taunting with "actually, I like combing my hair…”
Turning his head around quickly to stare at Steve, Dave put on a ‘serious' voice to remind his friend that "I've used a comb before, idiot. And my hair had been as long as yours…till you know when. And besides, I use a brush on most of my short haircuts.”
"Brush? Only girls use brushes on their hair” replied Steve.
"Hey Steve, I hope your dad makes you get a butch.”
"Then will you teach me how to brush it?” asked Steve, mockingly.
"No, but I will sure have fun teasing you…”
"No you won't…or actually can't, because I can always laugh at your shorter haircut” said Steve, with mock satisfaction.
Well, that much was true. During the entire time that they were friends, Dave always had the shorter haircut. Even when Steve got a crewcut or butch, Dave had the shorter haircut. But they both teased each other, actually…never at school or in front of others, but privately, and they never took it seriously. In fact, their getting to laugh at each other helped when they got teased at school. (Maybe they talked too much about their haircuts; but they would probably grow out of it…or maybe not)
"Enough…and I am not bald.”
"Whatever you say Kojak,” retorted Steve.
With that last exchange, Dave started to think again about his "new” haircut. He had been buzzed yesterday, and the barber had done a "number” on him (heh, actually the number was a probably a couple of zeroes). Yep, he knew his clipper blade sizes…it was another piece of information that was learned at the barbershop through experience; and he had experienced earlier this year how any blade size denoted with a zero or zeroes left your hair horrifyingly short. During all these years, he had learned a lot by listening to the barbers as they every now and then questioned his father about how they were cutting his hair, and he had begun to associate how the finished haircut would look with the answers his father gave. Well, "trim today for him?” could really mean anything, as well as the dreaded question to his father of "do you want it shorter?” So after all these years he knew his haircuts and haircut terms. He also learned a lot from the haircut charts, of course. And watching his two brothers, father and others get haircuts. Yep, butch, crewcut and flattop were all familiar terms.
But it wasn't till earlier in the year when he experienced the zero blades. He had been there to watch as soldiers got clipped to the skin, of course. And he had seen what happened to others when the barber was instructed to "take it all off,” etc. But until then, he realized, he had been spared from really getting "skinned.” This realization had first come when he was taken to get what could be described as either a kind of longer high-and-tight haircut, or an extremely short tapered crewcut. From the front top, his hair was just long enough to sort of comb up to the side, but quickly got shorter till about a third of the way back, where it then tapered down over the crown, sides and back to almost skin. It was finished off with a short part on the left side, shaved in with a straight razor. "We use the 4 zero blade for this haircut” announced the barber as he began. One of the first things he learned about a zero blade being used is that there was no wondering if his sideburns would end up trimmed off at mid-ear or higher! "Boot Cut” was the haircut's name, given to him by a new barber at a new barbershop located in an adjacent city next to the base, which catered to the armed forces.
He knew he was in BIG trouble when his father told him earlier in the year that he was going to this new barbershop to get a new haircut—one that would make him look as "sharp” as the young soldiers that were sporting the new haircut on base. It was just before spring vacation, of all times…why couldn't they just wait a week till he was out of school and it could grow out a little? And why now, after he had been on a reprieve of sorts, as his father had allowed him to grow his dark brown hair out into a kind of "junior contour” or short taper cut this past school year? (Hey, 8th grade up till then was pretty good!) But off he went, consoling himself with the thought that he couldn't look any different than when he got all of his other cuts. WRONG! OH man, not only did he look much different, the way he looked made him somehow feel different. Actually, after the initial shock, he felt the familiar feeling of despair, realizing how much teasing he was in for when he went to school. But then, after looking at himself head-on in the mirror, he noticed how "square” and "neat” his haircut, and the harsh reality that this new "boot cut” delivered on its' promise; he now was a teenager made to look like a clean-cut young soldier who went on maneuvers on the weekend and otherwise had to act like a soldier when at home. Unfortunately, he was not the only one who thought he now looked like a soldier wannabe; his classmates immediately became inspired to come up with more clever and cruel taunts. "I salute your haircut” (along with a highly exaggerated salute), fake marchers following him down the halls of the school, and endless questions such as "Do you need directions back to the base” now became part of the teasing ritual.
So he had mixed feelings about this "new” haircut. Thinking about his now-gone boot cut, he was startled to realize that he had looked forward to going to the barbershop these past months. Wait, no…it's that he wasn't as nervous as he used to be, he corrected himself. When he went to the barbershop, he knew he would get the "boot cut” again, and would look the same because when his father decided on that haircut for him, he also committed to keeping it maintained regularly, like those young soldiers. That meant every two weeks, give or take a day (hey, the barbershops were open till 7pm on the weekdays, and Sundays as well!). And since it was a small shop, he usually got the same barber who didn't need to ask too many questions. "Boot cut?” from the barber, and "Boot cut” in reply from his father. He always looked the same now, unlike many times in the past when he came home with a much different or even shorter haircut. He liked that kind of consistency. No more trying to convince his classmates that he himself had decided to tell the barber to cut his hair shorter. He also remembered how the zero blades actually felt so close to his head, and how the steel felt—along with how sometimes he would feel them getting hot, due to the time and care that the barber spent on his haircut. He would watch as the barber changed the blades often on the sides and back and over the crown, and then using the clipper-over-comb technique on the very front he would take that small patch of hair down even lower. He was fascinated to watch as his white scalp was re-exposed each haircut. And like most, he loved rubbing his head and running his hand up the back to feel how his hair went from skin to stubble. But all of that didn't make up for the fact that he was forced to wear the boot cut, and was teased unmercifully because of that fact.
Then it all ended yesterday, and he wasn't sure if it was for better or worse. Well, he still got to rub his head, though it now was just stubble all over his head. And he certainly felt the steel blades against his head. And it wasn't the boot cut! That's better, he told himself. It happened, of all places, at the Base Family Fair which he went to with his younger brother and father. While he was having fun looking at the helicopters and planes on display along with the carnival booths, and planning what he would ride first, his father directed him to a booth at an all-too-conspicuous location that looked quite familiar.
Looking the scene over, he saw that there was a barber chair situated in the middle of the booth, with the front counter displaying some circulars and brochures. "Boot Camp Barbershop” read the sign on the top, while the sign under the counter promised 100 free tickets for any teenager who got an induction cut. A barber barked out the free services, encouraging their fathers to take charge of their sons, and have them get a haircut, or appealed directly to the various long-haired boys who wandered by. Lots of them stopped—not to get a haircut, but to watch the action. Of course, he knew what was going to happen next…
As his father led him to the line, he watched as an older teen was losing his long mop. Looking at this kid's exposed scalp, he judged that there was a #1 blade attached to the clippers. He was also witness to another scene, as two brothers who were in line before him were begging their father to not make them get their heads "shaved.” And then something different happened, or at least he had never witnessed it before…their father relented, as his two sons explained that it wasn't fair that their other brother (who didn't come) didn't have to get his head shaved, so they shouldn't either—at least they should all wait until everyone got the same haircut! So off these two went, and he now moved closer to the front of the line. This scene emboldened him, and for the first time in a long time he tried to bargain and reason with his father.
"Hey dad,” he said to get his father's attention.
"Isn't my hair short enough? And you've told me how much you like my boot cut—why an induction cut now?”
"Sure I like your boot cut…if I didn't I would not spend so much time and money making sure you looked great all the time. I also like how you looked when you have a burr haircut,” replied his father.
"A burr is not an induction cut, dad”
"It's just a little shorter. And it's keeping with the spirit of the fair—see, there have been other young men here, and there are some others here waiting…”
"They are not here to get an induction cut, dad. They're just here to watch and make fun of those kids who get their haircut,” he interjected.
Doug remembered his father chuckling at this point, then making some seemingly innocuous statements that actually, in the context of the situation, could be thought of as ominous:
"So you always say…stop worrying about what others think,” replied his dad.
"Well, you always say that one reason all of your sons have short haircuts is that you wouldn't want others to think we were hippies, or whatever,” Doug retorted, and then immediately wished he hadn't—being a smartass was not the way to win any argument with his dad.
Interestingly, his father didn't come down hard on him, but instead offered his explanation "Ok, truth is I do care about how others perceive you…all parents do. But it's also, as I said earlier, that I wouldn't spend the time or expense if I didn't think it was worth it.” And then he continued, "So today it's an induction cut…and it's not like it won't grow in no time till you can get your boot cut again, unless I have you keep your induction cut.”
"You mean you might take me to the barbershop for an induction cut from now on, Sir?” he asked his father. Though not required, Doug always threw in the ‘sirs' when he thought it appropriate.
"Probably not to the barbershop for an induction cut—if I decided you would look the best with one.”
"What do you mean, Sir?” he asked, now wary of the answer.
"Dammit,” came out forcefully from his father's mouth, which then immediately softened to his familiar speaking voice as he explained to Doug. "If it really was that all I wanted was for you to have a "shaved head” or whatever you think your haircuts are, then I would simply buy a pair of clippers and do it myself at home. Probably once a week even…no more time spent taking you to the barbershop, and I could spend the money on other things. And to tell you the truth, those odd times when I had you get a butch or burr I considered purchasing a pair of clippers—in fact, I nearly bought a pair many times as we went to the PX after the barbershop. But ultimately, as good as you looked with a butch or burr, I thought you looked better with your crewcuts, or now your boot cut. And that's why I take the time…don't you think you deserve to go to the barbershop for a professional haircut.”
Feeling somewhat emboldened by his father's somewhat conciliatory tone, he ventured into dangerous territory again, by stating that "I think I deserve to make my own choices now, Sir.”
"That's a negative, I decide for you” his father replied, adding, "and for your brother as well.”
Oh right, his younger brother Matt! He was 4 years younger, and had the same dark brown hair as Doug, currently cut into a regular crew cut which he seemed to have had forever. Yeah, Doug was jealous of Matt, and had always hoped that once—just once, that Matt would get a shorter haircut than he…or at least the same. Now was his chance, and maybe it would mean freedom from this humiliating experience, just like the two brothers who were ahead of him.
But suddenly he realized he had moved to the front of the line, and was too late, as he was now beckoned through the side door to the chair. In a last-ditch effort, Doug spurted out to his father, "Sir, is Matt getting his haircut too—it's only fair that he gets the same haircut that I get…”
"Just you. Enough already…get in the chair” his father instructed him. And then it began…
"Hey, wake up” Steve suddenly yelled…”Are you daydreaming about having some hair?”
"Shut up!” replied Doug, now brought back to the moment. "Sorry,” he continued, "I drifted off thinking about yesterday.” "And I have hair, you asshole. In fact it's twice as long now as it was yesterday,” Doug added.
"Twice as long today??” "Must have been really short when you got it cut yesterday.”
"Yeah Steve, it was half as long as it is today.”
HA HA, I'm laughing at you trying to be clever, and your haircut.
"Just an observation actually,” Doug said as he rubbed his head all over, continuing with "I can tell by how it feels, doesn't feel as much like sandpaper today.
Waving his hands around Doug's head, Steve used what he believed was a convincing dark and mysterious gypsy voice, intoning "And I can tell by using my crystal ball that you are going to really get teased tomorrow at school, even if your hair length doubles again.”
"Oh, I was wondering when that would happen,” snapped Doug. "And just for that,” he continued, "I'm not going to tell you how humiliated I was yesterday as I got my haircut at the fair's Boot Camp Barbershop, which will deprive you of another chance to laugh at me.”
"What, I didn't know they gave out haircuts at the fair…too bad I missed it…err, seeing everyone get their heads shaved that is,” Steve said, now guffawing and pointing at Doug's head.
"Keep it up Steve…”
"No, seriously, I didn't know that you got your hair cut at the fair, or that they gave them there. Just thought your dad marched you to the barbershop, gave the barber his instructions and you saluted and thanked both of them afterwards.” "How much more humiliating can it get for you?” Steve added.
"Listen dumbass. Haven't you heard anything? First, I was at the fair…lots of people standing around staring at me in the middle of a booth. The whole experience, from the time I sat down till I got up and was instructed to lean my head over a trash can as my head was toweled off was humiliating. Not your typical barbershop experience.”
"Oh, tell me about your horrible experience, and try not to cry” Steve said in his mocking voice, "there there, it will all be OK once you tell me about your humiliating Boot Camp Barbershop haircut” he concluded.
"Well, I'll begin by saying that though they gave only induction cuts, the barber began by asking my father a question which turned into the most embarrassing conversation I've had to endure” started Doug.
End of Part 1.