Finally, Thailand by Mentu
Finally, the gig was headed for the beach. Peoria had anchored off of Pattaya just a few hours ago and for once I had two days of liberty before my next duty day. As the gig rose on the gentle swell, the breeze caught my hair and blew it all around - so much for combing. It’s always nice to be outside without a hat but the first puff of wind always rearranges my rather fine straight hair, especially, when I need a haircut. Today, I really need a haircut. Only yesterday, the XO dropped the dog collar by my plate at breakfast. It was just his subtle way of telling me that this Ensign needs a haircut and soon. To be honest, I really was past due and the only reason nothing had been said before now was the schedule we had been maintaining for the past few weeks. The whole crew was exhausted after two back to back amphibious exercises during which my Deck division repeatedly launched and recovered Marine amtracks day after day. In the late morning sunshine, the sight of that long white beach ahead of us and the scent of tropical forest were wonderful after weeks at sea breathing the smell of diesel. It promised to be a great day.
Ashore, at last! I fished out the card that my Marine roommate had given me. Unlike some ships, our Captain paired all of the junior officers with a Marine counterpart during these exercises which is how I had come by Matt’s recommendation after showing him the XO’s little presento. He had been to Pattaya many times before and recommended the barbershop run by a friend of his. You see, Matt had been a liaison officer with the Thai Navy for the past year helping to prepare for this spring’s exercises. He said his friend, Vanik, was a meticulous barber and spoke English quite well. With a smile, he assured me that I would get a great cut there and enjoy the experience.
I only had to ask a couple of people for directions before I found the somewhat out of place red and white barber pole. Matt had told me it had been a gift from a satisfied customer. As I opened the door, I found the shop all but empty and no customers in the two chairs. A thin nice looking fellow stood up and bowed with his hands pressed together as he welcomed me to his shop. “Please come in, how are you today?” “Good, thank you. Are you Vanik?” “Yes, I am Vanik, Sir, please, have a seat. Are you an American?” The chairs looked as though they were right out of a 19th century American barbershop but beautifully restored. “How could you tell I’m an American, Vanik?” “Oh, only American sailors come to my shop and ask for Vanik. I have a lot of American customers. Yes, they have taught me many American expressions and helped me improve my English. May I ask who recommended my shop to you?” “Actually, Vanik, it was my roommate, Matt, an American Marine.” “Oh, Matt, he is a good friend of mine! He has also been a very good teacher.”
As my new barber’s long fingers began to massage my neck and shoulders, he asked “How would you like your haircut, Sir?” “Vanik, I need it cut up off the ears, short sides and a little off the top.” “Ah, certainly, Sir, that is my special haircut. My friend, Matt taught me just what that means. I’ve had a lot of practice and you will be very pleased. I will take special good care of you, Sir.” “Vanik, it’s not necessary to call me Sir all the time, my name’s Mike.” “Ok, Mike, you just relax and I will take good good care of you just as I would my friend, Matt.” Already, I was beginning to relax as Vanik’s surprisingly strong hands worked their magic. I hadn’t realized just how tense my neck was until the muscles began to ease. I noticed, then, how pleasant this little shop was with its own small garden next door visible through the window. From the garden the fragrance of incense drifted out of a little shrine and into the shop. This was nice. This was starting out to be a really great experience.
“I am going to lay the chair back now so that I can wash your hair first, Mike, here we go.” If the neck massage was relaxing, the feel of Vanik’s fingers massaging the shampoo into my scalp made me feel as though I could go to sleep. After the rinse, he raised the chair and turning me facing away from the mirror began drying my hair. When it was almost dry, he rubbed in something that smelled faintly of sandalwood. Vanik next started brushing my hair straight back as the dryer’s warm air blew through it. I can’t remember a barber every brushing my hair like that; it felt so pleasant that I did began to drowse just a little. This had to be the best barbershop anywhere.
Vanik picked up a comb and as it passed through my hair, I heard the click and hum of clippers. Vanik pulled the comb through my hair again and I heard the clippers move over it for the first time. He continued cutting clipper over comb as he proceeded in the back up to the crown. I thought for a moment he might be going a little short but everything was going so well I felt sure it would look fine and I didn’t want to be wearing that dog collar when I got back to the ship so a little shorter would be fine. After the top, he began to clip the left side. I couldn’t tell how short he was going but every pass of the clippers seemed sure and deft. Moving to the right, he continued cutting using nice regular strokes. I had always sort of liked haircuts but this something more. In that comfortable chair, I began to doze just at the door of sleep.
I was just enough aware that I felt Vanik move back to the left side and where he began to push the clippers up through my side burn and higher but again with smooth precise passes of the clippers. Continuing around to the back he seemed to push the clippers sort of high but it was just so relaxing after those exhausting weeks to let someone else take control that I just enjoyed the sensation. Once more he ran the comb through the top where I could feel it was already a lot shorter, but, hey, it’s a haircut; it will grow back. As I felt him place the comb over the front hairline, I heard the clippers make another pass and this one was close. I opened my eyes as Vanik made a second pass and I realized that not only was this haircut going to be much shorter than I had ever worn before but that I was already committed since there was no going back now. Considering all that had gone before, I realized that I had quickly come to trust my new friend to do a decent job so it seemed only proper to let him finish. A new haircut experience could be ok after years of the same cut Vanik definitely seemed to know what he was doing; maybe short wasn’t going to be all that bad. At least the XO was certainly going to approve and I could give him back the collar instead of having to wear it.
Vanik continued across the top of my head with his careful clipper over comb all the way back to the crown. Just when I thought he was finished, he changed to a different comb and started over again at the front but even more carefully. Damn, he’s giving me a flat top! “Vanik, did I ask you for just a little off the top?” “Yes, Mike, a little off the top, exactly.” Somehow we had failed to communicate even though we both used the same words but I don’t think I had ever been so aroused by a haircut before that moment. As he continued cutting the top very close back to the crown once more, tingles run up my spine. When he turned off the clippers, I could only wonder what was next. “In for a penny, in for a pound” as they say.
A new clipper was snapped on and Vanik returned to my left sideburn. The clipper continued up and up and I could feel that the hair was now being cut really close to the skin. He continued clipping back along the side and around the ears blending the really close hair on the side into the top as he went. Progressing toward the back, every pass if anything felt higher and closer than the last. Then starting at the nape of my neck I could feel the clippers run up and up and then over the crown. Was he going to leave me with any hair. For the first time in a barber’s chair I began to feel my Johnson stiffen between my legs as the close shearing continued to the right sideburn or what used to be a sideburn.
When he finished with the right side, I could hear Vanik preparing the next step. What could he be doing now? There was nothing left to cut. I could hear a clinking sound in a cup or something. The feel of the warm lather was really nice and I realized he was proceeding to an outline shave. This at least was familiar from the best barbers I’ve had. He brushed the shaving cream from the left around the back and onto the right side. What a shock when I felt the razor begin not at the outline but above my temple. Oh, man! Mr. Johnson was beginning to throb now. Could this be happening and why does it feel so good. Vanik continued shaving the left side around to the back. With every stroke, I could feel how skillful was his control of the razor. Nearing the back, I felt the razor strokes beginning higher and higher all the way up to the crown. Damn but I’ve never felt this way in barbershop.
Once he had finished with the right side, Vanik picked up another clipper and began fading the shaved sides into the top from the front carefully moving once more toward the back but with greater care than before. After reaching the crown, he shifted his clipper and I felt him place the blade directly on the top of my head about an inch and a half back of the hairline. With steady pressure, he pulled the clippers against my scalp and continued back to the crown and over it. Then back to the front and a little to the left he pulled the clipper back once more before moving to the right of the center cut where he repeated that steady pull. I held my breath. I thought I was going to explode as he clipped the center all the way down to the skin.
Once more I heard his brush clink in the cup just before he applied a line of shaving cream around the front edge of my hairline. Vanik then brushed shaving cream down the center of the top. Was he really going to shave the top too. He then began ever so carefully shaving the outline around the front edge of the hairline using short controlled strokes. After he wiped the foam away from the hairline, I began to relax again as he wiped the shaving cream off the top. The next stroke of his razor began in that short area behind the front and proceeded back down the center of my head. A jolt of electricity shot up my spine as Vanik pulled the razor back to where the crown was shaved. When he began the second pass, Mr. Johnson exploded. What a feeling! I didn’t want it ever to stop. Only as I began to calm did I realized that Vanik had paused in his shaving. Then without a word, he returned to his razor and finished by shaving the center of what Matt called a “landing strip”. I felt weak.
I realized that this spectacular experience was near its end but not just yet. With a moist scented towel, Vanik began to massage and wipe my freshly clipped and shaved scalp then wrapped the towel around my head. With the hot towel wrapped around, the final part of the haircut began as he took his razor and shaved a crisp edge around my eye brows. At last, assuring himself that he had wiped away all the loose short hairs and foam, he began to massage yet more of that warm sandalwood stuff into my scalp. There just cannot be many barbers with such fingers. And just to be sure he with a short bristled brush he insured the front edge to attention and clipped yet a little more from the top using his scissors with that same controlled precision he had already displayed. My haircut was finished.
Vanik turned the chair around to the mirror. Could that possibly be me? I’ve never worn my hair shorter than a couple of inches on top. Now staring back at me was this stranger with what I could only describe as a mere hint of a perfect flattop. The front edge was the longest part of course and stood up perhaps 3/8ths of an inch. The rest faded back into silk smooth skin. As Vanik ran his hands over the top of my head one last time it felt like nothing else I had ever experienced and again, tingles ran up my spine. I noticed then that the guy in the mirror was smiling back, at me.