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At Manny's - Jerry Seeks Counsel by Manny


The day had been very slow and I was a little anxious to close up shop and go home. I sat in the big barber chair because it was the best way to relax between clients. My eyes drifted back and forth between the clock on the wall and the mirror. I spent most of the time admiring my mane of thick chestnut-colored hair with fiery auburn highlights that glistened in the neon light. The mirror affirmed that I had good reason to be proud and protective of the glossy tresses. I reached for a brush and ran it through my hair, tidying up the locks that hung over my ears and to the base of my collar. I laughed to myself, thinking how ironic it was that no one typically left my shop sporting a mane like mine!

I heard the bell tinkle as the door to the shop swung open. I turned to see one of my regulars, Jerry. He was a corporate manager and one of my earliest clients. I'd been trimming his hair for over ten years, and he came in like clockwork. The big plus about Jerry was that he tipped very well -- over 20%. He had a great head of youthful, full hair that I enjoyed trimming. He always looked like a male model when I was done with his trim, sporting a nice business suit with a well coordinated tie. The big downside of having Jerry under the cape was that he had a few lines of conversation that got repeated over and over. He sort of treated me like his personal counselor.

One recurring theme was how out of control his teenage son was -- couldn't make him mind, bad grades, awful friends. I got an earful! The other rant he tended to go on about was feeling "stuck in a rut" professionally and personally. If he'd have been five years older, I'd have chalked it up to a mid-life crisis. His job no longer felt challenging -- same projects, same results, same office personality conflicts. He seemed eager to shake up his dull routines a bit.

As he took a chair, I wondered which of his issues he'd go on about today. Hopefully, it would be something new!

I fastened the cape around his neck and combed through his thick brown hair. When he'd first started coming, his hair was another topic that he subjected to over-kill. "Just a trim. Don't take off too much. I like it very long on top. Not too close on the sides. Easy with those thinning shears! My hair is one of my best assets." I had to agree with him. The sheen was remarkable and the texture perfect. If he weren't such a regular in my chair, it might get bulky very quickly.

I had been cutting Jerry's hair for so long there were no need for routine questions or instructions any more. I'd just take my comb and clippers and start shaping up his longish business cut. He had an amazing forelock that he swept to the side in a graceful, distinguished look of an aristocrat. Periodically I'd over-thin it on purpose or whack it back short.....which always brought a bit of a grimace from Jerry. He never said anything, though, and the tip was the same amount. But I'd watch him walk through the lobby feeling how short and/or thin I'd left his prized forelock.

"You know, Manny," he began, after we got through a few lines of chit chat, "I feel so trapped at work. Like there's no career growth for me. I need to wait until someone above me in the company dies. And the routines, they are becoming unbearable. Every day, the daily grind. I almost feel like a machine. I need something to shake me up. I want to be more spontaneous, less predictable. What do you think? Ever get those desires?" he asked me.

I took a deep breath and decided to answer patiently, as I'd done many times before. "I can related. You know my story. I left the corporate world twelve years ago and became a barber. Best thing I ever did. Sure, it shocked my friends -- but it was my life and that's where my passion was," I said, as I began the trim.

As he blathered on, my eyes became increasingly riveted to the thick, pampered locks on top of Jerry's head -- especially the copious forelock. If he wanted to be less predictable, I had the perfect solution! I comb through the brown locks and admired the sheen. He certainly had reason to be proud of his youthful hair. Yet, I couldn't help but thinking that Jerry would look amazing in my signature cut.... I combed the forelock down, and it fell past his eyes like a heavy veil. Five lovely inches of shiny brown hair -- and I had a comb and clippers in hand. It was so vulnerable.

"Do you trust my advice, Jerry?" I asked, leaving him sitting there under the veil of hair.

"Of course I do, Manny! I always feel so much better when I leave your shop than when I came in," he said.

"And you look better too, right?" I added.

"That goes without saying. You are the best barber in town!" he chirped.

"Do you really want to keep your seniority at work, but shake things up -- not just professionally, but personally, as well?" I asked.

"Of course! That's been an enduring desire and dream!" he exclaimed.

I didn't say another work. I scooped the heavy forelock up with my comb and lifted it off the forehead just a tad. Then, in a quick motion, I ran the clippers closely across the comb's plastic teeth.

The flash of neon temporarily blinded him, and the massive forelock fell, almost intact, right onto Jerry's lap! He looked down in shock and horror at his most cherished piece of prime real estate, laying in the midst of snippets, looking forlorn and useless.

"Manny!" the horrified man exclaimed as his eyes darted up to the mirror to see more clearly what I'd just done to his treasured hair. A patch of half-inch tufts sprouted near the forehead where the mighty lock had once been anchored. "What in the....."

I snagged another copious shank of hair from on top and clipped it off near the scalp. "Jerry, I'm shaking things up in your life, just like your wanted. Relax! And say good-bye to your predictable, routine self and appearance! Maybe if I turn you away from the mirror, that'll help," I said as I swiveled the chair towards the hotel lobby.

Jerry reached out from under the cape and seized his detached forelock. "I can't believe this," he muttered.

"How's your son behaving these days?" I asked with the intent of distracting him from my work.

Jerry seized the bait. "He just doesn't listen. I tell him something like, 'clean up your room' and he defiantly prances out the front door and says something like 'I'm going to hang out at the mall with my friends now'....like I didn't say anything to him," Jerry whined.

While Jerry droned on and on about his son, I continued putting a definitive end to his traditional businessman's look....turning his floppy style into my favorite haircut -- a boxy flattop with deep pile and slightly beveled edges. Jerry had the perfect hair for a that sort of handsome flattop.

Jerry winced as I ran the clippers straight up the back of his head for the first time. Clumps of his silken business cut fell to my feet.

"Manny, I'm really nervous about this. How short are you cutting my hair? What is everyone going to say tomorrow at work when I come in looking totally different?" he fretted.

I paused the hair cutting and looked him squarely in the face. "Isn't that the point, Jerry?! How many times have you sat in this chair and longed to be able to shake things up -- do something different and daring?" I asked rhetorically.

"You're right, Manny," he whimpered.

"When you stride into the office tomorrow sporting a sharp flattop, you are going to stir up the office!" I pronounced.

"A flattop?! Manny! Are you out of your mind?" he protested.

"You will thank me for this, Jerry, I'm sure of it!" This time, I clamped my hand tightly atop of his head and forced it to face downward. I had wanted to do that for so many years! Take the gloves off and stop the timid pawing about. Show Jerry how to control the situation.

"Your son needs a firm hand, Jerry. Like mine!" I wrenched Jerry's head to the side, to make my point and stripped his trendy sideburn off as I plowed the clippers up through the temple, close to the scalp.

"When you have determined something will happen, then carry it out." I switched the guard to take the sides and back down shorter. The white scalp looked dramatic on Jerry!

I continued my pep talk, "When the lad told you he was going to the mall, you should have acted preemptively and decisively. Step in front of his path and say, 'oh, no you're not! Not until you've cleaned your room!' March him back upstairs and make him mind you. Understand what I'm saying, Jerry?" I said as I continued stripping away all the soft, shiny brown hair from Jerry's sides and back.

"Yes, Manny. You make things quite clear," he murmured.

"Your flattop will give you added authority in the house. When you see your son this evening, tell him 'there's a new sheriff in town, son' and he is going to shape up and comply with instructions," I told him.

"Oh, Manny, one of the first things I'd like to do is bring him here, to your barbershop! His got this huge mop of hair that's always in his face," Jerry whined.

"Then take action. Tell him he's getting a decent haircut and that settles it. Let's do a little role play here, Jerry. Tell me what you'll say to him this evening. And use a tone of finality!" I urged.

"How's this. 'Son, I'm tired of the hair in your face. Tomorrow, I'm taking you to the barber!' How was that?" he asked.

"Perfect. Now let's see if you actually follow through!" I replied. "No need to manhandle the boy. Just take away his cell phone until it's been cut. I can assure you, that mop will be on the floor at my feet within a week. He'll be begging you to bring him in," I laughed.

"How will you cut his hair?" asked Jerry.

"I'll decide that when he's in my chair. For a teen, my default is a short back and sides. Bangs snipped off at the tidy, mid-forehead length. But, if I get any attitude....well, he could end up with a butch!" I said.

"Okay, Jerry, sit up straight and don't move. I'm ready to take this top down nice and flat!" I announced.

Jerry complied and sat straight, still and submissive. His hand clenched the armrests with a ferocity. I took a blow dryer and forced the short, mish-mash of tufts into a dense, but rag-tag, collection of erect strands. Despite having been largely truncated, Jerry's hair was still long enough to show off the lovely color and sheen. I took a huge flattop comb to help me establish a straight plain on top. Then I continued without comb crafting a lovely, deep pile flat with beveled sides. The dark brown hair contrasted dramatically with the snowy white ribbons of newly exposed skin around the ears and nape. The transition from zero at the nape to plush pile on top was nothing short of pure craftsmanship.

I eyed Jerry and thought he looked quite different with the flat -- more like a cop than a corporate manager. Then I imagined taking him down....shorter and shorter....carving out of landing strip....and finally shoeing him! Perhaps, some day it would happen. But not today.....

I swiveled the chair around to show off my handiwork. "There, the new you!"

Jerry gasped, "Oh, Manny! Oh, Manny!" He blubbered, unable to speak, cowed by the man with the flattop in the mirror.

"Well, is that all you're going to say...'Oh, Manny'?! How do you like it?" I insisted. "Shall I cut it shorter?"

"No, please! Don't cut any more!" Jerry quickly said.

I pulled off the cape carefully and shook the shorn locks to the floor. Then I whisked him with the duster and drove away stray cut hairs from his face and collar.

I could tell Jerry's legs were wobbly as he stood to pay and leave the shop. His eyes were riveted in the mirror.

"Well, I know what the talk of the office is going to be tomorrow," he said, and then broke the nervous tension with a hearty laugh. "Can I see the back?" he asked.

I held up the mirror. "What do you think?"

"It's very, very short," he said, feeling the exposed skin and stubble. "Like I'm in the military." He looked down, wistfully at the floor where the once mighty forelock appeared decimated, kicked into a million components and pathetic.

"How long will it take to grow back?" Jerry asked.

I gave him a stern look. "Grow back?! Then it will seem like you made a big mistake. Like you regretted going flat. Everyone will laugh at you, and your son will be even more rebellious. No, Jerry -- you did not make a mistake. You took bold action. Let your teasing friends and family know you marched into the barbershop, took a seat, and instructed your barber to 'give me a flattop!'. You need to embrace your new look enthusiastically. In fact, next time you come in.....with your son, I hope.....I'm taking that top down. Oh, yes! And, one day, I'm going to carve out a very macho landing strip!"

Jerry's eyes bulged. The penny seemed to drop. "How about Saturday, then? Shall I bring Hunter in. Perhaps we should get matching father-son flattops. He might like a landing strip as much as I...."

Jerry handed me an extra large bill and said as he gave me a big bear hug, "Thanks, Manny for being a great counselor and pal." Instead of releasing me from the hug, though, he continued speaking. "Use the change from the $50 to get yourself a decent haircut, friend. This girly-boy look seems out of place here," he said as he ran his fingers through my locks and gently tugged at them. For a minute, I thought he was going to get forceful with me, and yank me by my treasured locks into the chair.

"Why don't you practice your forceful, authoritative tone with me, Jerry?" I whispered in his ear.

But, instead of wrestling me and prepping me for an amateur mowdow, as I imagined and hoped he would do, Jerry took one last look at his new flattop in the mirror and bid me good evening. I was left to sweep up the shop and go home.

Before turning out the lights for the evening, I brushed my thick chestnut-colored hair with fiery auburn highlights that glistened in the neon light and imagined how I'd look in a deep pile boxy flat like I'd just given Jerry.....




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