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Flattop John by JB
> AUTHOR'S NOTE: This is a re-working of another story on this site- Johnny Flattop by VS
Baldy. Even though this tale is very different from the original, those of you who have read that
story will recognize similarities in plot, characters, names, and locations. I even left a couple of
lines from the original story (mostly) intact. Nearly all of it is new material written by me. So,
why do a re-write of an already-good story? As a writing exercise. I sometimes take an existing
story from the site and re-work it, putting my own twist on it, re-imagining it. It's fun! And it
hones your writing skills. Try it sometime. -JB
||||| Flattop John ||||| by JB
It was a busy day at the car lot where I work. A shipment of new '79 Chevys came in and needed
to be prepped. A lot of work, even for a young guy like me. I just finished my shift and was
taking the back streets home because I was kind of tired and didn't want to risk the highway. I
was getting really fatigued so I pulled over to find a store to get something to drink, maybe a
coffee to revive myself. I walked into the 7-Eleven, poured myself a large coffee and proceeded
to the checkout where there was an exchange going on between the cashier, who looked to be in
his mid-twenties (about my age) and a tall outdoorsy looking guy in his mid-thirties who had a
flattop haircut (!). He was saying to the cashier, "Hey Sam, your hair's gettin' pretty long again, I
better see you in my shop soon!". And then the cashier (apparently Sam) with an outgrown
crewcut said, "Oh yeah, sure Nick. I'll be there when my shift is done. It's been about a month
hasn't it?" Nick responded, "More like a month and a half. Your hair's startin' t'poke over the
tops of yer ears and yer bangs are startin' t'flop down on yer forehead. Yes sir, gettin' pretty
shaggy there, bud. Oh, hand me a pack of Camels while yer at it, will ya?"
As this was going on, I was struck by the shortness of the two men's haircuts. I couldn't
remember the last time I saw a crewcut or a flattop on a guy my age, and now, here were two of
them standing right in front of me.
Sam handed the cigarettes to Nick. They finished the transaction and Nick left promptly. As I
was paying for my coffee I said to Sam the cashier, "Your hair looks pretty dang short to me
already. And you say it's been a month or more since you got it cut? You must of got butched
real good, man. You in the National Guard or something?"
He just laughed and said, "No. Nick works at the shop next door, he's a great barber, a real gung-
ho type; ex-Marine. He likes guys to look their best, real sharp, y'know?" Sam reached up and
ran his hand across the top of his head. His short, upright hair sprung back into place with ease,
"Couple of months ago my hair was as long as yours, longer maybe. Nick suggested I go short,
said it would look good on me. So I said what the heck, I'll give it a try." He grinned, "Guess it's
gettin' kinda furry now though, huh." I looked up at his grown out crewcut, "Man, I don't think
I'd have the guts to go through with that. I'd get razzed at work. And besides, no offense but, it
just looks...dorky, y'know?" Sam replied, "Yeah, I hear ya. But Nick's a pretty persuasive kind of
guy. And anyway, it's not so bad. Easy to care for... don't spend much time combing it, that's for
sure." He chuckled.
I left the store and proceeded to walk to my car. I couldn't help but notice Nick standing in front
of his shop smoking a cigarette. He was wearing blue jeans with a red and black buffalo-plaid
flannel shirt. His black hair (seeing his flattop from the front now) was cut very sharp and
squared-off. The ridge of hair combed up at the front glistened with some waxy, oily stuff as the
sunlight flashed off the strip of nearly bare scalp running down the top of his head.
I got into my car and sipped on my coffee for a bit, hoping to be revived. As I did, I watched a
dad bring his two shaggy-haired boys to Nick's barbershop. The kids looked pretty typical; bangs
down on their foreheads; hair covering most of their ears. The dad had a short haircut, tapered
nearly all the way up the sides and back but combed over on top with a side part. He seemed to
be a cop or a fireman; he had that look about him. Nick greeted them out front and waved them
on in. A little interested, I watched for a little while but my drowsiness got the better of me and
before I knew it 45 minutes had gone by. I woke to the sound of people out in the parking lot.
This was the family that was just in Nick's shop. The dad, sporting a fresh tapercut with a set of
whitewalls, was telling his sons how great they looked. One son, about 8, had his head shaved in
a short butch. The other, a young teenager, had a rounded crewcut, flattened on top. Then Nick
came out of his shop. He and the dad shared a cigarette, apparently laughing about what had
happened. The boys lingered nearby with sullen looks on their faces. After a few minutes the dad
with the two shorn kids left.
Again I was struck by the number of short haircuts I've been seeing. Five in one day! At the
same time and place! What was going on here? This part of town was an edgy, industrial area. A
workingman's part of town. But still...it's 1979 after all. Crewcuts and flattops all but
disappeared years ago, when I was just a kid.
As I was sitting there wondering what the story was with the two kids, I made eye contact with
Nick. He gave me a look and a nod and a smile. He flicked his cigarette and then went inside the
Being in a strange neighborhood and a little sleep deprived, I looked in my rearview mirror and,
running my hand up through my hair, thought "maybe I should get a haircut."
I finished the coffee and walked on over to the door of Nick's barbershop. I opened the door and
saw Nick sitting in the chair reading a magazine. He got up and said in a deep, authoritative
voice, "I was wonderin' when you were gonna come in. Have a seat". A bit surprised, I said,
"You sound like you were expecting me". "Well, I saw you out there in your car. You seemed to
be thinkin' it over, tryin' to decide if you wanted to take a chance gettin' yer haircut here. And
you do look like you're in need of a good haircut." He paused, smiled, then continued, "Hi, I'm
Nick, welcome to my barbershop. First time here?"
Almost sleepwalking, I went over and sat in his big red leather chair, "Yeah. Just got off work
and was on my way home. I was getting drowsy, so I stopped at the 7-Eleven next door to get
some coffee. I started talking with the clerk there and he said his hair was long like mine until
you gave him his crewcut a while back. I didn't think guys got short haircuts like that anymore."
Nick wrapped tissue around the back of my collar and fastened a striped barber cape tightly
around my neck, "Oh, you'd be surprised," he began, "A lot of cops come in here... that guy that
just left here with his two sons, he's a cop. When his kids' hair gets so long it hangs in their eyes
and below their ears, he brings them in t'get squared away." "They didn't seem to like their short
haircuts very much", I ventured hesitantly. "Sure, long hair's the style these days all right.", he
said, "All their friends have long hair; even most younger men...like yerself. The thing is, on
most of 'em, it just looks bad. Well... on ALL of 'em it looks bad in my opinion." He gave a little
It had been years since I've been to a barbershop, I usually opt for salons, keeping my hair on the
longer side: covering my ears, parted in the middle, feathered back on the sides, touching my
collar. Typical cut for a guy my age. Going to a 'real' barbershop was a new experience for me.
Something I hadn't done since I was a kid. Nick's last remark about guys with long hair made me
wonder if coming in here was a mistake.
Looking around the shop only confirmed my apprehension: I spotted deer antlers mounted high
up on the walls. There were framed photos, mostly football players from the '50s and '60s, all of
them sporting flattops, crewcuts, and butches. Next to the photos was a poster with "U.S.M.C"
printed on it along with the Marine Corps insignia. The Stars & Stripes hung just inside the
shop door. The haircut price list was next to the Marine poster: SHORT CUT......$5.00,
SHORTER CUT......$5.00, SHORTEST CUT......$5.00, CHILDREN (under 12)......$3.00.
I wondered if it was a joke... Had to be. I heard 1950s pop music playing from a radio or stereo
As Nick turned to the countertop behind the chair to get a pair of shears and a comb, I became
aware of a strong-smelling, commanding scent that seemed to fill the shop. Not an unpleasant
smell, it made you sit up and take notice. As Nick returned to the chair, the smell doubled in
strength and made my eyes water. Nick must have noticed my nose twitching (or my eyes
watering), "Butch Wax gettin' to ya?" He said with a bit of a grin. "Butch wax?", I replied.
"Yeah. That's the thick gooey stuff us short-haired guys sometimes use t'keep our hair standin' at
attention an' give it some sheen. Got quite a kick to it. Kinda knocks yer socks off, don't it. Yes
sir, a clean, sharp scent for a clean, sharp haircut. Nothin' better... My hair's thick enough and
trained enough I don't really need it to keep my flattop standin' up. But I like the look and smell
of it, so most days I rub a little in and brush it up real good. I'm usin' a bit more than usual
I had to admit I found the scent alluring, almost exciting, even though it was giving me a slight
headache. I could see why guys would use the stuff. Just for the scent, if nothing else. Of course,
it wouldn't make much sense to use it on long hairstyles like mine.
Nick began running the comb through my hair, "Got a good head of hair here, bud. Thick and
coarse and straight, like mine." He combed my bangs down in front so that they covered my eyes
and nearly touched my nose. He continued, "Must be annoying as hell having the wind blow
your hair down over your eyes like that...Or even just bending your head down to pick something
up...I don't know why you guys put up with it. A working guy needs a haircut that's practical."
He combed my bangs back out of my eyes, "You said you were on your way home from
work...What sort of work do you do?" "I work at the Chevy lot about 2 miles from here.
Detailing cars mostly, a little of everything." "Outdoors, huh? The sun must be murder beatin'
down on yer head all day, right? And the rain...Have you thought of gettin' a different cut?
Somethin' with less fuss an' muss?" "Yeah. I have, actually. I guess that's why I'm here." Nick
froze for a second, then started combing again. In the mirror, I thought I saw that smirk again.
Nick, "OK then, what'd you have in mind today? Basically the same, only shorter?" "Yeah,
pretty much. But take it up so it's only about halfway covering my ears, and off the collar in
back. You can leave the bangs just above the eyebrows." "That's quite a shorter cut than what
you've got now...You ready for it?" "Yeah, I've been thinkin' about it for a couple of weeks.
You're right, it gets pretty hot working out in the lot all day. I'm ready t'get my ears lowered."
"Okey-doke. So a medium layer cut, right?" "Yeah. That sounds about right." So far, so good, I
thought. Guess I was worried for nothing.
Nick, "Say, you mind if I use the electric clippers instead of the shears? I usually use the
clippers. Saves time, and you get a better looking haircut to boot." I paused for a second, "Sure.
That sounds fine." As Nick turned to get the clippers, I started to worry again. At the salon, the
only time they use clippers is to even up my sideburns and clean up the base of my neck.
There was a click and a hum as Nick switched the clippers on. The humming grew louder as he
moved his hand closer to my ear. He lifted my hair up with the comb and slid the clippers across
leaving the lower half of my ear exposed, "How's that? Is that the length you had in mind?" I
studied the results, "Yeah. Maybe just a little shorter." Nick took another quarter inch off, "Like
that?" "Yep. That'll do." I was starting to feel a lot more at ease now. Nick looked and sounded
like a drill sergeant but he seemed to be a pretty decent barber.
As Nick began using the clippers here and there he started in on some small talk, "You do any
hunting?" He motioned at the antlers on the wall. "Naw. I like to go camping and fishing though.
I like being out in nature, away from all the city stuff." "So you're an outdoorsman...like me,
huh?" "Yeah. I guess. You hunt anything else besides deer?" Nick froze again, then started
clipping again, "Oh sure. Bagged an elk last year. Tried for a black bear once, didn't get one
though. I hunt other things, too. I collect trophies." Was that a bit of a smirk again? Nick
continued, "How's this in back, not too short?" He held up a mirror so I could see his progress,
"Looks good", I said.
Nick resumed the small talk along with the clipping, "Gonna be a scorcher tomorrow, around 90
they say...You ever think about gettin' a shorter haircut? Maybe a taper cut...just above yer ears
and up the back a ways. Be a lot cooler than the cut yer gettin' now, don'tcha think?"
I gave that some thought as Nick continued to use the clippers around my head, "Yeah, it would
be cooler", I said, "To tell the truth, I have thought about getting it cut shorter, above my ears,
from time to time but never actually tried it...Chickened out I guess."
"Well, that's understandable", Nick began, "A guy has to be pretty self-confident and strong-
willed to break away from the pack, do his own thing and not care what everyone else
thinks...Yeah, you'll fit in a lot better with your layered cut."
That last remark hurt a little. I'd always thought of myself as an adventurous guy, willing to take
chances, a free spirit. And now I find out I'm just one of the sheep in the flock, ready to follow
the leader. ...Time for a change, "You know what? No more chickening out. Let's go with the
"You sure? I hope I didn't talk you into somethin' you don't want."
"Naw. I thought it over and decided it was time I broke away from the pack. Time to be a leader,
not a follower. So let's get that taper started. Go to town with those clippers, Nick."
Nick chuckled, "All right, man. One taper cut comin' up...or maybe I should say goin' up." He
chuckled again as he hung the buzzer clippers back onto the hook and lifted up a different set of
clippers, "Now, are we talkin' just off the ears, or a REAL taper cut?"
"Uh...I'm not sure. What do you mean by a REAL taper cut?"
"Well in MY dictionary, a taper cut usually goes all the way up the sides here to the crown,"
Nick used his hands to illustrate what he was saying, moving them up the sides of my head and
around the top edge, "The same in back," Nick grabbed hold of the hair on top my head, "Yer
hair on top stays long, relatively speakin', so it lays down. It'll be parted on the side, not the
middle. I can take it really close around the ears, no sideburns. That's what's called white-walls.
That cop with the kids got a taper cut with white-walls. If you like, I can leave it longer so's you
can keep yer sideburns."
All this talk about tapers and white-walls made me feel a little nervous, but in a good way:
giddy, excited, "Well I'm not a cop, so better leave me some sideburns, OK?"
"No problemo, bud... Say, I never asked what your name was."
"It's John. But I usually go by Johnny. Sort of a left-over from when I was a kid I guess."
"Johnny it is, then." Nick reached back and grabbed a big squarish looking comb with large
teeth. I heard the clippers start to whir, sort of like electric hedge clippers. I'd never seen this
type of clippers before, just the buzzer type that hum. These were shaped sort of like a flashlight
with a heavy-duty round cord attached. The loud whirring and thick cord made me think these
clippers really meant business. These are the clippers barbers use for REAL haircuts.
Nick stood to my side, lifted my hair up with the comb, and ran the clippers up the side. A large
hunk of hair fell onto my shoulders. Before I had time to think about that, Nick had made several
more passes with the clippers. "Just removin' a lot of the bulk here so I can see what needs to be
done. Then I'll get that straight, angular taper up your sides lookin' real sharp." He worked his
way quickly around my head, hair piling up everywhere. In a matter of seconds I went from a
regular long-haired dude of the '70s to the short-cut kid of the '60s I once was. My ears stuck out
like jug handles.
Nick must have seen my wide eyes looking back in the mirror. He switched the clippers off,
"Quite a change for ya, huh. Second thoughts?" "No, I guess not. Just gonna take a while t'get
used to the new me...I reckon this is part of bein' a leader and not a follower, right?" "Yep. If you
look the part, you act the part...Now let's get those sides squared away."
The clippers began their loud whirring again as Nick placed the cutting edge at the bottom of my
sideburns. He skillfully moved the clippers up and away from the side of my head leaving a short
stubble at the bottom and angling out to an inch where it met the long hair on top. After several
more passes he ran the comb up through my sharply angled taper a few times, checking for
evenness and correcting any irregularities. Satisfied, he moved around to the other side and did
the same. Then he stood in front of me and, crouching down slightly, compared both sides for
symmetry. After taking a little more off the first side, he swiveled the chair around and started on
By now I was getting used to my new look. Funny how it didn't take long. Maybe it won't take
long for others to get used to the new me as well... the guys at the lot... my girlfriend..., "I hope
Sandy, my girlfriend doesn't freak out at my new haircut." Nick responded, "Well, it's been my
experience that gals really dig guys with short hair. Mine does, anyway. A couple years ago I
mentioned to her that I might grow my hair out to a layer cut, like yours; well, like you had a few
minutes ago. But she had a fit. She said my flattop was a major reason she was attracted to me.
That's my 2 cents worth anyway."
Nick continued to guide the clippers up the back of my head, blending the taper with my sides.
After a minute or two, he switched off the heavy-duty clippers and reached for the buzzer
clippers again. In the mirror, I could see the furry, velvet-like texture of my hair as it angled
slightly outward from my ears to the top. I reached my hand from under the cape and ran it up
the side and back of my head, feeling the crisp, soft springiness. Nick saw me take my 'test
drive', "Like it? Looks good on ya." "Yeah. I do like it. Looks pretty cool actually...Feels pretty
cool, too. I can feel the air movin' past my ears and neck now. Kinda weird." "Guess it's been
awhile since they've seen the light of day, huh?" "Yep, at least 10 years I guess. Been growin' it
this long since I was about 15." "Well then, I guess it was about time for a change, huh?" "Past
time. Seein' how good this looks on me, I wonder what took so long. Hell, If I hadn't walked in
here today I probably would've kept my long layered cut forever." Nick grinned, "That's my
The clippers began to hum and Nick started fine tuning the sharp taper around my head. Using a
barber comb in one hand and the clippers in the other, he would lift my hair with the comb and
let it spring back. Then he'd use the clippers to buzz off any stray hairs, leaving it perfectly
smooth and even.
He clicked the clippers off again, stood back a bit and slowly swiveled the chair around checking
his handiwork from all angles. He seemed satisfied. "OK Johnny, now let's get yer top in shape."
He grabbed the large square comb and the heavy-duty clippers again and began combing and
lifting my top hair, getting a feel for the texture, "If I leave about an inch and a half up here, it'll
still lay down pretty much. That sound OK to you?" "Yeah. Sounds good." I gave a little chuckle
which, of course, Nick heard, "What, did I miss somethin'?", he said. "Naw. It just struck me as
kinda funny: Up until now, if a barber said he was gonna take my top down to an inch and a half,
I would've high-tailed it outa there pretty darn fast. But now, it just sounds natural, like I've been
doin' it all my life." "Well, it is natural, right? Guys were just made to have short hair. Looks
good, doesn't get in yer eyes when yer workin', easy to care for. Short hair rules, man. That's how
I see it anyway." "Yeah, I guess I'm startin' t'come over to yer way of thinkin', Nick." Nick
grinned, or smirked. I'm not sure which.
The clippers started to whir again and he made quick work of my top hair: lift and cut, lift and
cut. Maybe I was still kind of drowsy, or maybe it was the caffeine starting to kick in, but I was
getting pretty psyched watching my top being taken down. "Hey Nick. How long have you had
Nick switched the clippers off and thought it over, "Well, let's see...My dad took me in for my
first flattop just before I started high school, about 20 years ago, 1959. Kept it through my senior
year, that's me in that photo on the wall there- the good lookin' guy in the football uniform. After
high school I joined the Marines, and except for the boot camp special they give ya when you
first arrive, I wore a flattop then too. Kept it ever since. It takes a special kinda guy to sport a
flattop. For it to look its best, you need the right kind of hair and the right shape of head, which
you've got by the way", he grinned, "It also doesn't hurt if yer good lookin' to start with. But just
as important is the attitude that goes with it. A guy needs to be self-confident. He needs t'know
who he is and what he wants."
I took a deep breath and exhaled forcefully, "Well, right now I'm thinkin' I want to try a flattop.
What d'ya think?"
Nick grinned slightly, then quickly hid it. "Well like I said, you've got the hair and head shape
for it. And by askin' for it, you seem t'have the attitude as well... Sure. A flattop would look great
on you. You're already 3/4 the way there anyway. I'd just need to take yer sides in a bit more near
the top and flatten yer deck."
He switched the clippers on again and started squaring up my sides, making the taper more
straight up instead of angled outward. He continued on around to the back and up the other side.
After a minute or so my taper cut had a distinctly boxy look to it. Watching the transformation, I
was getting more stoked by the second. I had to tell myself : "I'm getting a flattop!" just to
convince myself it was really happening. Although, seeing my reflection in the mirror was all the
convincing I needed.
The whirring stopped and Nick hung the big clippers back onto the hook. He grabbed a pump
bottle and wetted my hair down on top, "Gotta get yer hair standin' up before I can take it down
flat." He picked up a brush in one hand and a blow dryer in the other and got to work, brushing
my hair back and upward. The sound of the dryer whined down as nick swapped the dryer and
brush for the buzzer clippers and square comb. In the mirror, I could see my hair standing on end
like the back of a scared cartoon cat.
Nick stepped around to the front of the chair so that he was facing me, "OK now. You ready for
this? Still want yer top taken down?...I can stop right here and still leave ya with this squared-off
taper cut." By now, the adrenaline was in control of my mind and body, "Yep. I'm ready. Take it
down nice 'n' flat, just like yours." Nick grinned, "Roger, Wilco. Over 'n' out." I grinned back.
The buzzer began to hum and Nick slid the comb through my hair a few times, stopping with the
comb held level, my hair poking up through the teeth. A quick swipe of the clippers and I was
left with a 3/4 inch high ridge of hair where my bangs used to be just a few minutes ago. Nick
was all business now, concentrating on cutting my top with machine precision. He positioned the
comb just behind the first swath and mowed down another. And another. After the second pass, I
could see my scalp starting to show through down the center where my hair was no more than a
quarter inch, maybe less.
Seeing my scalp exposed on top, I really started to get nervous about the whole thing, have
second thoughts. But, what the hell. It was way too late to stop now; my flattop was nearly
complete. And besides, I liked how it looked on me. If only it weren't so danged weird looking!
Part of me wanted to run screaming from Nick's shop, and the other part wanted to punch the
first part in the face and tell him to be a man.
Nick finished taking my top down and began working on the edges, blending them in with the
squared-off sides. Every once and a while he would spot a hair that was a micron too long and
clip it to perfection. He must have noticed the worried look on my face, "You thinkin' of
chickening-out again, Johnny? A little late for that." I gave a little nervous laugh, "A whole LOT
late. Naw. I like how it looks. I like how I look with it. It's just such a major change, is all. And it
happened so quick- I wasn't even planning on getting a haircut today, nevermind a gnarly flattop!
Just hearin' myself say it seems unbelievable: 'Nick, give me a flattop.'... The guy I was this
morning would'a laughed an' shook his head an' told me I was crazy... And here I am... with a
flattop haircut... Just like Dad used to wear. Guess I'm more of a man now than I was this
Nick swiveled the chair around one more time, making his final inspection, "Yep. Definitely
more of a man now than you were a half hour ago, that's for sure...Maybe you should stop calling
yerself 'Johnny' and just stick with 'John', now that you've left the little kid behind, ya think?"
I gave that some thought, "Y'know? You're right...The last of 'Johnny' is scattered all over yer
floor and in my lap...Say hello to 'John'."
"Hello John. I'm Nick. Nice haircut, man." We both laughed.
Nick put his tools away and loosened the collar around my neck. He picked up a small, silver set
of clippers and began shaving away the scruffy hairs on my neck and squaring off the bottoms of
He swapped the clippers for a duster and brushed the loose hair clippings off the top of my head
and away from my face, ears, and neck, "So, how's it look? Is that a big enough landing strip for
ya?" "Landing strip? Ya mean that part runnin' down the middle where I can see my scalp?"
"Yeah. In the military we call that the landing strip...like the deck of an aircraft carrier...which is
also called a flattop...That's where the name comes from." I ducked my head forward and from
side to side, the fluorescent overhead lights flashed off my 'landing strip' like a beacon, "Oh
wow. It really draws yer attention, doesn't it. I can't take my eyes off of it." "Yep. The landing
strip is the most eye-catching part of a flattop; the most desired or the most feared part, dependin'
on yer point of view", he snickered. I reached up and patted the top of my head, "It's
sorta...crunchy. I like it."
Nick reached for a small jar sitting on the countertop, "How about a little Butch Wax? You
seemed t'like it when we talked about it earlier. It'll get yer hair standin' up at its best an' add a
little sheen. And of course there's the scent. When ya enter a room, folks'll smell the Butch Wax
before they look up to see yer flattop." "Sure. I'll try some. But don't go overboard with it. Seems
like pretty strong stuff... an' I kinda like this dry furry look my hair has now."
Nick dipped a finger into the jar, "Nothin' wrong with the dry look. I like it too. Some days I
don't use any wax." He rubbed the dab of Butch Wax between his palms, "I'll use just enough
t'get yer hair standin' at attention an' give the folks a little light show." He ran his hands up
through my hairline in front, across the top, around the crown, and up the sides and back.
Immediately, I was hit with the blast of that distinctive scent. "Knocked yer socks off again,
didn't it", Nick said with a grin. I grinned back through my watery eyes.
Nick wiped his hands on a towel, "One thing about Butch Wax, it's hard t'get off yer hands, or
off yer hair for that matter. Hot soapy water and a lot of shampoo usually does the trick. And
you'll probably wanna change yer pillowcase more often too; Butch Wax tends to permeate
everything it comes in contact with."
Nick picked up a bristly brush in one hand and the blow dryer in the other. The dryer revved up
to a whine and he began pressing the brush up the sides of my head repeatedly. He continued
around to the back and did the same. I could feel my hair stand straight out after each pass. My
head was being shoved every which way by the forcefulness of Nick's brushing. He moved to the
front and spent a lot of time getting it standing to upright perfection. Nick finished up with the
landing strip, repeatedly brushing it forward and back again. When he was done, I could feel
every hair standing up, and my head felt tingly all over. I thought I'd died and gone to
heaven...and heaven smelled like Butch Wax.
Nick held the brush up, "You might wanna get yerself a boar brush like this. The bristles are a lot
like yer own hair, only a bit stiffer. When you brush with it, it sorta meshes with yer hair; tugs
and pulls at it. Really gets yer hair standin' up straight." He reached over and grabbed the jar of
Butch Wax he'd just used on my hair, "Here", he tossed it to me, "On the house." I caught it and
grinned, "Thanks!...Won't you be needin' it for yer work though?" "Naw. There's more where
that came from. I've got a Butch Wax display case over there by the window."
Nick removed the cape, being careful to let the clumps of my hair fall to the floor and not all
over me. "Here, see what ya think." He handed me a mirror and let me get a back-view of my
flattop. I ran my hand up the back, "Wow", I said, amazed by the tactile sensation; stubbly near
the bottom, springy near the top. Nick grinned, "Wow is right. Feels pretty good, huh."
"Awesome...Why didn't I do this sooner?" "I think that's the reaction most guys'd have if they
would just get over their fears and try it."
I climbed out of the big red leather chair, a different guy than the one who sat down only a half
hour ago, "Yer sign there says $5.00, if I'm readin' it right." "Yep. All cuts are 5 bucks, 'cept
kids." "Well, here's 7 bucks. I really like this haircut, thanks...And thanks for this", I held up the
jar of Butch Wax. "You bet. Go easy with that stuff...a little goes a long way.
I headed for the door...and my new life, when Nick added, "Hey John, how long you plannin' on
keepin' that flattop?" I stopped, "Not sure. A few months I guess, maybe longer. Why?" "Well,
yer gonna wanna keep it spruced up, y'know...keep it shipshape. You should come in every
couple of weeks t'get it trimmed. Any longer and it starts lookin' scruffy...Like Sam, the guy at
the 7-Eleven there. He should'a come in 3 or 4 weeks ago. Maybe he's lettin' his hair grow out, I
don't know, but he should at least keep it trimmed around his ears an' neck. People see that hair
pokin' out all over, it reflects poorly on me, his barber."
"Well, I don't really know Sam, but from what I can tell, he just doesn't take it that seriously. He
seems like an easy goin' kind of guy...Um...Just out of curiosity, how come you gave him a
crewcut instead of a flattop, like me?"
"Oh. That's easy, his head isn't shaped right for a flattop. And his hair's too fine. It just wouldn't
look very good...Not real sure what kind of cut would look best on 'im though. The crewcut
wasn't bad but..." his eyes scanned the old photos and posters on the wall, "Anyway, I'd like t'see
ya in here in a couple of weeks t'get squared away, OK?"
"Yeah, sure. I'm lookin' forward to it actually", I exhaled deeply, "Still feels like I got jack
rabbits jumpin' around inside my stomach though", I grinned, "The guys at work tomorrow,
seein' me with my flattop, my girlfriend..."
"Whoa there. You're startin' to sound like 'Johnny' again. You're John now. You're a more
confident guy now. Be proud of yer flattop. If they start kiddin' you about yer haircut, then kid
'em right back. Tell 'em to get their long-haired butts in here an' get their ears lowered."
I chuckled, "Yer right, Nick. And I am proud of my flattop. It looks great, no matter what the
guys think. So, thanks again. And I'll see ya in a couple of weeks."
I left the shop and got into my car. Through the shop window, I saw Nick grab a broom and start
sweeping my hair off the floor. The emotional experience of getting a flattop haircut (still can't
believe it!) left me feeling kind of hungry. So I decided to go into the 7-Eleven and get a burrito.
When I got to the checkout, Sam looked up and did a double take, "Whoa! It's you again. I didn't
recognize you when you came in just now...Flattop City, man." He swiped his hand above his
head and made a whistly 'Phwrrrtt' sound, "Don't tell me, you just came from Nick's place,
I decided to follow Nick's advice and be confident, "Yep. Sure did. What d'ya think?"
"What do I think? Well, from a technical standpoint, it looks great, flawless. Like I said, Nick's a
great barber, no doubt about it....But I'm also thinking that getting a flattop, or any short haircut,
was the farthest thing from your mind when you entered Nick's shop, right?"
"And I bet he nudged you into it by starting with a longer cut, maybe just a trim, right? Then
something a little shorter, up above your ears, right? Then before you know it, gee willickers,
you're back in 1957 with a swell flattop, or maybe you're a jarhead in the Marines", Sam had a
big grin on his face by now.
I was getting perplexed, "Yeah. That's pretty much how it went...How do you know all this?"
Sam laughed and pointed to his own grown out crewcut, "Hello, perhaps we haven't met... I've
been there! Done that! I even bought the T-shirt! The whole golldang jar of Butch Wax!...Well,
actually, I didn't buy the Butch Wax. Nick gave me a jar, only used it once though. How about
"It's in the car."
"Don't get me wrong. I'm not teasing you because of your haircut, although, I don't think I've
seen any other guy our age with a cut like that, I mean c'mon, a flattop?...No, I'm teasing you
because you got suckered in by Nick's smooth-talking...just like me. You don't think I walked
into Nick's shop and said- 'Hey Nick, give me a crewcut!'- do you? It wasn't even on my
mind...sound familiar?" Sam could see by my expression that it sounded very familiar, "Thought
so", he said.
"So what's goin' on here, then? we're just a couple of normal guys right? How did we end up
with these haircuts? I mean, I actually LIKE this haircut. I like how it looks... I like how it feels.
Hell, I'm probably gonna keep it this way." I thought about it for a sec, "You don't suppose Nick
hypnotized us, do ya? Put us in some kind of trance an' made us want these haircuts?"
Sam looked thoughtful for a moment, "No. That can't be it. I don't remember him saying any of
those hypnosis-type things like 'You're getting sleepy' or 'Look how the light shines off of these
clippers' or anything like that. Do You?"
"Naw...But I was gettin' kinda woozy from the Butch Wax smell. It's pretty powerful stuff."
"Yeah, I noticed it when you came in the door a minute ago.", he smirked, "No. That's not it. The
most that stuff can do is give you a headache and make your pillow stick to your face...No, I
think it's like I said before, Nick's just a real persuasive guy; but he's subtle about it, y'know? I
mean, if he just came right out and said- 'You'd look mighty good with a crewcut, boy. Hop in
my chair an' I'll buzz ya down real good.'- You'd just laugh and say no thanks, just a trim please.
Actually, you'd just get the hell outa there, right?" No, he weasels his way into your head. He
studies you, gets to know your likes and dislikes. He puts ideas into your head and makes you
think the ideas were yours in the first place. He creeps up on you and BAM. No escape."
"The way you describe it makes it sound like he's huntin' us or something."
Sam had a stunned look on his face, "That's it!...Oh wow. Why didn't I see it before? The guy's
a hunter, right? He's got those gnarly deer antlers up on the wall."
"Yeah... He talked about huntin' when he was cuttin' my hair just now. He asked if I did any
hunting and...Man! He SAID it! He said he hunts 'other things' too...And get this- he said he
'collects trophies'! Dang!"
Sam was grinning again, "We're his trophies! Well, our haircuts are, anyhow...You might as well
mount our heads on a board and hang 'em up there on the wall next to the antlers. A long-haired
guy enter his shop, a short-haired guy leaves."
"And another head goes up on the wall", I was finally getting the picture. I thought back, "Dang.
You're right about him gettin' into yer head... I'm talkin' like him now! Droppin' my "g"s
everywhere and talkin' all folksy-like...Hell, I'm lowering my voice a bit t'sound more like him...I
don't even have the same name now! When I went into Nick's shop, I was Johnny, now I'm just
John. Man, he really did a number on me, didn't he."
"You were a goner the second you stepped through his doorway, my friend...me too, for that
matter...But you still like your flattop, right? Even after knowing you were tricked into it."
"Yeah. That's the crazy part, right?
"Well... I'm just guessing here, you understand... But it seems to me, deep down inside, we must
have wanted these haircuts, or something similar. I mean, it's not like Nick tied us to the chair
and buzzed us down against our will, right? I have to admit I've sometimes thought about getting
a really short haircut. Probably most of us guys have; it's the times we live in, right? Everybody's
got long hair now. A short haircut is the most taboo thing a guy could have, it seems. So it's only
natural we'd want to see what it was like. Well, that's my theory anyway."
"Sounds about right. I've thought about getting a short haircut before too." I paid for the burrito,
"But why does he do it? It seems kinda stupid; trickin' guys into gettin' short haircuts."
"For the thrill of the hunt, probably. He can't get out in the wild and actually hunt as often as he
would like. So he hunts 'other things' here in town to satisfy his urge. And, unlike deer and such,
it's always haircut season, right?...It might not even be about the haircuts; he just happens to be a
barber. Maybe if he was a dentist he'd be trickin' guys into getting braces on their teeth." We
both got a laugh out of that.
"Anyway", Sam began, "My shift is about over here. I'm just waiting for Carlos to come in and
take my place. I told Nick I would come in for a cut after work, guess I'll go ahead and do that; I
AM getting kind of scruffy around the ears. I'm letting my hair grow out again though, so no
major changes", he pointed at my flattop and grinned.
"What, yer still gonna let him cut yer hair? Even after we know what his game is?"
"Well that's just it; I know what his game is now. He can't work his smooth-talking voodoo on
me anymore. I'll be ready for it and hold my ground- 'Just a little off the ears and neck today,
Nick.' - And he's still a good barber, after all."
"I guess yer right...it makes sense that you.." "Hola amigo!" "Hey Carlos", Sam replied.
Apparently this was the guy, Carlos, who was going to take over for Sam, now that his shift was
done. "Sorry, didn't mean to interrupt", Carlos said. "That's OK, I guess we were through here
anyway", I replied. Carlos was a young Hispanic guy about the same age as me and Sam. Great
head of hair, about the same style as mine, less than an hour ago.
"Anything in the store I should know about?" Carlos asked. "I don't think so...Oh wait, the Icee
machine froze up again for a while, bit it seems OK now", Sam replied. "Again? Didn't the guy
come out and look at it last week?" "Yeah, well you know how these things go. Just keep an eye
on it." "OK, I'll do that." Carlos wrinkled his nose and sniffed the air, "You using that waxy gunk
in yer hair again, Sam?" "...Um, that would be me, I think", I confessed, "I just came from the
barbershop next door...Got this new haircut...It was a lot like yours before that", I added. "
Ay caramba. You gringos, you scare me sometimes. What goes on in your heads that makes you
want to cut off all of your macho hair? I would never do that. The chicas, they love my hair. No.
I would never do that." After his little tirade, Carlos sort of grinned and said "Now go. That
waxy stuff is giving me a headache. And I'll look after the Icee machine. Now go."
Sam and I both grinned and left the 7-Eleven, "Is he always like that? Excitable, I mean?" Sam
replied, "Sometimes. When he is, I notice his accent gets stronger and he lapses into Spanish a
lot. Most of the time, he hardly has an accent at all."
Sam, "So. You wanna go into Nick's and watch me get my haircut?" "Naw. I don't think so.
Seems kinda weird goin' into a shop just to watch a guy get his haircut. Yer just gettin' a trim
anyway, right? Besides, I don't wanna eat this burrito in the barbershop. It'd sorta kill my
appetite I think. I am curious though, about what Nick's gonna say when you tell 'im you just
want a trim...I'll wait in my car and eat. Afterwards, you can tell me how it went." "Sure. See ya
in a bit."
Sam went into Nick's shop while I climbed into my car. As I took a bite of the burrito, I saw
Nick greet Sam and saw Sam walk toward the barber chair. I couldn't see the chair because of
the front wall separating the shop window from the door. I craned my neck over toward the
passenger side of my car and was able to see Sam's feet resting on the footrest of the chair. Nick
tossed the cape around Sam and stood there, presumedly listening to Sam's instructions. I
thought that Nick might get all agitated when Sam told him he just wanted a trim, but that didn't
seem to be happening. Nick picked up the clippers and stepped behind the wall where Sam was,
and where I couldn't see. I took another bite of burrito. The smell of the Butch Wax on my own
hair was killing the taste, so I cracked open the car window. Nick didn't warn me about that side
Sam's cut seemed to be going on uneventfully, although, at one point Nick walked over to the
wall and pointed at some of the photos there.
After a few more minutes I was beginning to wonder what was taking so long. A simple trim
should only take about 10 minutes; it had been 15 minutes since Sam entered the shop. And my
burrito was long gone.
Another 5 minutes went by, and I was thinking about going in to see what was happening, when
I saw nick remove the cape from Sam. Sam stood up (still behind the wall) and paid Nick. I
could see that Nick was talking to Sam. Nick motioned toward Sam's head, then to his own head,
making circling motions with his hands. Did Sam end up with a flattop like Nick's? Like Mine?
After everything that we discussed?
After a few seconds, Sam walked out the door, into the sunlight, on cloud nine, with a big grin
on his face, and a one eighth inch butch just like I saw on the cop's kid earlier. Only, Sam's butch
was skinned up the sides, all the way to the top edge. "Unnngh", I groaned, "What happened,
Sam?" I said aloud to myself. Sam saw me in my car and pointed to his buzzed head with both
hands, grinning like an idiot.
I got out of the car and walked over to him, "Quite a 'trim' ya got there, Sam... Like it?" "Stoked!
Best haircut I ever had. No fuss, no muss, clean-cut, a real-man's haircut. This is the same
cut those Marine guards wear in front of the White House and such. Yes sir, I..." I watched as the
grin dropped from Sam's face like an out-of-control elevator falling from cloud nine to the
bottomless pits of hell, "Oh, maaaan", he concluded.
I couldn't keep a bit of a grin off my face as I asked consolingly, "What happened, Sam?.. How'd
you end up with a boot camp special?"
Sam bent over and looked at his reflection in my side mirror, "Geez. It looks the same as it did in
Nick's shop, only 100% different." He reached up and ran his hand across his bristly head, "How
can something seem so right one second, and so wrong the next?"
"That's 'cuz yer not in Nickland anymore, yer out here in the real world now. You've come down
off yer haircut high...Butch."
Sam gave a sarcastic little laugh, "Yeah. Good name for me, huh? Man, what just happened?"
"I asked you first."
Sam stood up from gazing at his reflection and sighed, "...I'm not really sure...When I sat down
in the chair, I told Nick I just wanted a trim, right?.. And he seemed OK with that. He said-
'Yeah, yer way overdue', And I said- 'Oh well, better late than never'. I told him I'm growing my
hair out again, so don't take too much off. He said- 'You got it' and started trimming around my
ears. After a bit he asked , in a sort of round about way, if I wanted to take it closer on the sides.
Well, that's what I was waiting for, right?; Nick starting in with his smooth-talking so he could
get me to ask for a really short cut. This time I was ready for it, so I came right out and
confronted him about his little haircut hunting game- everything you and me discussed earlier.
By the way, I didn't mention you in any of this, so Nick doesn't know you're on to him; thought it
would be better that way."
"Wow. So what happened when ya spilled the beans? Did Nick blow up? It didn't look like it
from what I could see through the shop window."
"No, he didn't. I was watching his face pretty close when I exposed his game. There was a
concerned frown on his face for just a sec, then he shifted to a big grin and confessed. He
verified the whole thing...And I think it was about that time that things started to go south for
me. I was feeling like I had the upper hand, y'know? Like I was in control. I guess he started in
on a new strategy. At the time, I didn't even know it WAS a strategy, you understand. I wasn't
expecting it and he caught me off guard...He started talking about his hunting trips, how he
needed to pay attention to small details when stalking his prey. Somehow that led to his days in
the Marines and the induction haircut he had there and how he watched his friend from high
school get his induction cut before him and...by the way", Sam pointed at his head, "this is called
a high and tight butch, or burr. Nick said it's pretty much the same as the induction cut he got in
the Marines...Nick pointed out his friend's photo on the wall. He had a haircut just like this. I
thought it looked pretty good...One thing led to another and before you know it, I was asking
Nick to cut my hair like his friend had in the photo...And here I am, looking like my first day in
Marine boot camp."
"Sam, if your head wasn't already up on Nick's wall, it sure as hell is now...But, you like this cut,
right? Goin' back to the talk we had earlier, part of you must of wanted a really short haircut like
this or you wouldn't have asked for it in a million years, right?"
"Yeah...And I do like it. Just like you and yer flattop, I like how it looks on me. But man...it's
just so danged short! I look like a rough and tough Marine...I'll scare away the customers at the
7-Eleven...Heck, that reminds me, I left my jacket hanging behind the counter at the store.
C'mon, I'll get my jacket and I guess we'll call it a day."
As we walked over to the store, I started thinking what Sam said about him looking like a
Marine, "You should go over to the Army Surplus store and get a couple of those khaki green
T-shirts they wear, or those red and gold ones with U.S.M.C. stenciled on the front. Any hold-up
guy comin' in to the store lookin' for some easy money might think twice if he sees a Marine
behind the counter, right?" We walked into the store.
"Hey. That's not a bad idea. Maybe I'll get a pair of those big clodhopper boots while I'm at it",
Sam said with a grin, "Hey Carlos. I left my jacket here. Can you hand it to me?"
Carlos looked up and saw Sam and me at the counter, "Dios mio! What happened to you?
Where's you hair, man! You said you were growing it out like a normal guy...You're going
backwards, man! Ay,ay,ay."
Carlos continued to mutter and sputter in Spanish as me and Sam grinned and waited for the
show to end. I managed to pick out a couple of words from Carlos' outpouring like: 'loco', and
'estupido', and 'idiotas'- that would be me and Sam, I'm guessing.
As Carlos began to wind down, Sam asked again, "My jacket, Carlos?" He reached under the
counter and tossed the jacket to Sam, "Now go. I'm being blinded by the light reflecting off your
head." He raised his hand to shade his eyes from the supposed blinding light. "You know,
Carlos, you could do with a haircut yerself. You're getting pretty shaggy there, amigo."
"It so happens that I am planning on getting my haircut tomorrow; but just a trim, yes? So it
looks neat and well groomed. Not like you. You look like you got your head stuck in a pencil
I laughed out loud at that, then saw the frown on Sam's face, "Sorry. But it sorta does". I offered
up a grin.
Sam ran his hand up the back of his head, "You should try a shorter cut, Carlos. Join the club.
You wait and see, in a few years all us guys will be gettin' short haircuts."
"No,no,no,no,no. That will never happen. Long hair is here to stay, I tell you. I will never get a
short haircut like you two guys", Carlos paused, "...My father, he brought my mother, my brother
and me to America when we were just little boys, in 1962. He looked around and saw all the
flattops and crewcuts and decided his sons should have haircuts like all the other American boys.
He didn't have the money to take us to the barbershop all the time, so he bought a used haircut
kit and gave my brother and me butch haircuts on the patio. About a year later, guys started to
wear their hair longer, like the Beatles and stuff. We told my father this, but he would not listen.
For him, one had to have a short haircut to be a real American. So he kept giving us butch
haircuts all through school. It wasn't until 1972, my senior year in high school that he allowed
me to grow my hair out longer. After being teased all those years, I decided I would never have
short hair again."
"Wow", I said, "That musta been tough. My dad always made me get a crewcut till sometime
in '67, when I was in junior high, and I thought THAT was bad."
"And yet, here you are with a skunk stripe running down the top of your head. Dios mio."
I shrugged my shoulders, "I'm not a school kid anymore; I make my own decisions. And I like
how it looks."
"You should go see Nick tomorrow, Carlos", Sam said, "He's a good barber, he does good
Carlos looked up at Sam's buzzcut, "My father gave better haircuts than that! At least I had some
hair left on the sides when he was through. Ay,ay,ay. And you...", Carlos turned to me, "Your
plano cuadrado, your flattop, it scares me. But I can see that it is well cut. Very even. Nick
comes in here often and I know him. So maybe I will go see him tomorrow for my trim."
"You do that, Carlos", Sam began, "Nick will take care of you." As he turned to go, Sam gave
me a wink and a grin as we left the store.
Outside, Sam turned to me, "What do ya think? My money's on 'Crewcut Carlos' by this time
I laughed, "Heck, why not make the transformation complete; Nick gave ME a new name. He'll
be 'Crewcut Charlie', bet on it." We laughed and headed for our cars.
I climbed in, and as I sat behind the wheel, I thought about the major changes that took place
today: in myself, not just my flattop, but my attitude as well; in Sam, from scruffy crewcut to
jarhead; the cop and his two buzzcut sons...And then there's tomorrow; the guys at work, they'll
get their flattop jokes in, but maybe I'll send some fresh prey in Nick's direction; Sandy, hope she
likes my flattop as much as I do; and Carlos, Ay,ay,ay. I'll have to stop at the 7-Eleven and see
how that turns out.
I started the engine and headed out. At the intersection, I heard two short horn honks. I looked
over and saw Sam give a little wave. I grinned back at him. He turned left, I turned right. I just
met Sam a little over an hour ago, yet it seems like we've known each other for years. That's
another thing I can add to my list of changes for today: I made a new friend.