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The Concierge by Manny (recovered)
With a quick phone call, I suddenly found myself with an extra day in Raleigh. The gig in Atlanta had been canceled, so I could just hang out for a day before heading on to Charlotte. Fortunately, the call had come through before I checked out of the luxurious hotel that had quite exceeded my expectations. The staff was all so friendly and helpful – especially the concierge, who had save the day by recommending a fantastic restaurant for the key meeting that clinched the big sale for me! He also hit the nail on the head in directing me to the perfect shop for a pair of leather gloves, which somehow I’d forgotten to pack.
As I leaned over to ring the front desk to notify the hotel that I’d be staying an extra night, a glossy curtain of honey-colored hair dangled in front of my eyes, shielding them from the harsh light of the lamp bulb. I was an all-star business salesman, even if I didn’t look like one! After putting the call through, I sat blankly for a moment, wondering what to do next.
Staring aimlessly in the mirror over the desk, I noticed how very long my hair was. I pulled my heavy forelock straight back and then watched it cascade down over the ears in gentle waves which eventually edged forward, framing my well-defined face and then slowly brushing over my eyes. It was thick and full of body; but the weight of the tresses, after they’d passed a certain length, caused my hair to constantly fall toward my face. The concierge, Sam, could certainly recommend a top-notch stylist for a bit of shaping….I was sure of it. He looked impeccable with his own pompadour piled high, perfectly groomed.
Reflecting modestly on my persona, I thought I’d make the perfect candidate for a Tommy Hilfiger add. The softness of the “pretty boy” hair was a nice contrast to the masculine carvings of a square jaw and prominent Roman nose. I turned towards a bit of a profile and saw how my long locks completely covered the collar – a full two inches below the base of the collar. Yes, a trim was certainly needed. The softness of the water in Raleigh, or perhaps the high quality shampoo provided by the hotel, certainly agreed with my hair, I thought, as I admired the sheen. The shimmering hair cupped under right above the shoulders and provided for quite an unorthodox style in the business community. But, I felt my distinctive locks added a pizzazz that clients remembered. Now that I was the top salesman at the office, no one grumbled anymore about my “pretty boy” hair or suggested that I get a “decent” haircut.
Calculating the value of the sale I’d concluded the night before, I realized that I’d just set an all-time company record. I reached again for the phone and dialed the concierge. “Sam, another assignment for you. I’m in desperate need of a trim, uh, you know, I mean, a haircut. If you can get me an appointment for this afternoon, I’d appreciate it. Someone with a lot of experience. No assembly-line, chain-mall operation. You know, I trust your instinct. And, there’ll be something for all your work…fear not!” Sam definitely would be getting a handsome tip from me….a quality guy, for sure.
I glanced again in the mirror. In the early days, when my hair was actually quite a bit shorter than now -- but still far from a standard “businessman’s style” -- the pressure in the office to get it cut was intense. “Need a ride to the barbershop?” Wally my supervisor would remark with a smirk. “Need a loan? Haircuts at Al’s only cost $7.75….” No way would I give up my long, floppy style, especially to a bunch of geezers! A fellow with nice hair ought to flaunt it, was my way of thinking.
As I waited for Sam to call back, my mind wondered to the darkest month at Dow, not too long after I’d first started, when I hadn’t clinched a single deal for weeks…. Depressed, alone in my apartment….thinking about quitting…sitting on my bed and staring in the mirror….just like this exact moment! In the midst of my gloom, I decided to take the bull by the horns. I put myself on alert, “If you don’t make a sale before the end of the month, your ass is gonna get dragged down to Al’s barbershop, and you’re gonna tell the barber, ‘an extra-short taper, please…with whitewalls!’ It was that perfect punishing threat which spurred me to spring into action, and I racked up a pair of sales, just in the nick of time to save the pretty boy hair!
To celebrate, I let the locks grow a little longer. Wally, whose hair was shorn into the most un-hip, conservative style – a geeky side part, slicked to the side with brylcream -- was not happy. Although I loved flaunting my tresses, there had from that time on been a hint of curiosity of how I might have felt if the sale had not gone through, if I made myself cede to Wally’s badgering to punish my lack of sales success with a barbershop special. What if Wally had loaded me up in his car and driven me down to Al’s for the big chop?! Sitting helpless in the chair, with Wally instructing Al to have no mercy on pert, pretty boy style….how would I have felt? Watching Al reach for the clippers and dreading the shower of falling pretty-boy hair onto the pristine, white cape.
The fact of the matter was that for a while after that close call with the clippers, I drove by Al’s as often as possible, hoping to see a longhair like me swathed in white and getting shorn.
Just then, the phone rang, interrupting my little trip down memory lane. Trusty Sam had an appointment for me: 12:00 o’clock, 714 Walnut Street. A five-minute walk from the hotel. Go right after leaving the hotel, two blocks, take a left. 714 is less than half a block from there. Vance is a very experienced fellow, a real pro… With the concierge’s track record, there was no reason to doubt I’d be happy.
I flopped on my bed. I had an hour and a half to lounge around, watch television, relax. After the trim, I’d get a bite to eat and then hit the pool! What a treat to have an extra day to pamper myself! I ran my fingers through the abundant mane, measuring the length of my silken hair. Perhaps an inch trimmed away….
I must have dozed off, because the next time I looked at the clock, it was already 11:50. Oh my goodness! my appointment! I quickly brushed my hair and hustled out the door, almost forgetting the note with the information on the salon. Vance, Walnut Street. Oh, what was the name of the place? Hopefully nothing “cute” like “Hair Hut”. At least it was a fellow. For some reason, I never like ladies doing my hair…
I followed the directions, calculating that I would be right on time. As I walked I tried to get a good look at myself in the reflections of the shop windows. The locks bounced in a perky way as I hustled along. Altogether too long. The trim was coming not a minute too soon. I felt the dense collection of hair with my hand as I pushed it away from my face in the habitual way. Maybe I’d have Vance take off two inches…. I turned the corner onto Walnut, trying to see the sign for a hair salon. Nothing in range. 702, 704, 706….a delicatessen, a record shop, 712. And then I froze in my tracks, just in front of 712. I was stunned. 714 was a barbershop! An old-fashioned barbershop with a huge plate glass window in front. Old-time print un-mistakenly announced “Vance’s Barber Shop”! I was completely taken aback. And to make things worse, the barber, dressed in an old-time white tunic top, stood in the window looking directly at me. He smiled. I couldn’t think.
The door swung open and Vance called to me, “You’re right on time. Sam said you’re a high powered businessman, so I’m ready to get to work right away.” He eyed my mane discretely. I staggered in, feeling almost numb. “I don’t normally take reservations at all, but Sam is such a good fellow – he explained what a busy man you are – that I told him I’d take you on my lunch hour when I’m normally closed.” He pulled the Venetian blind down on the door and flipped the notice around, officially closing the shop. Guess there was no exiting… I would have to really emphasize trim, I needed only a trim!
I shuffled nervously as I watched Vance – immaculate in a starched barbering tunic with short sleeves. Embroidered name label on the breast pocket. Then it occurred to me. Vance looked so much like Al, the barber Wally wanted to drag me to. He was in his early 50’s and sporting a flattop! An ultra-precision cut flattop! Like he was out of the 1950’s. And that’s just the way his shop looked too. Frozen in time. Just me and my big hair broke the retro-harmony.
I could not let Vance cut -- or butcher! -- my hair. He patted the seat. And I meekly climb up into the huge red vinyl seat. Vance shook open a huge white cape and cast it professionally around my neck. What a snug fit! The overstuffed chair was extremely comfortable – contrasting to the heightened tension fraying every nerve in my body. I stared incredibly at myself, all caped up and waiting to get shorn by a real barber! The neon lights blared out unmercifully – and there I was in the seat closest to the window for the whole world to watch getting shorn. Where was Wally to bark out the instruction?
“So, how do you want your hair cut today?” Vance asked, brushing and smoothing down my glossy, wind-swept tresses.
I swallowed awkwardly. Suddenly, the penny dropped….I knew I had to do it. The lingering curiosity, the years of dreaming about “what if’s”, the fascination with longhairs submitting to the shears…. I could not believe my own words as I blurted out, “An extra-short taper, please.”
Vance smiled broadly. “…with whitewalls?”
“Yes, sir,” I murmured.
The chair spun quickly around, and I caught a fleeting final look at longhaired me before I found myself facing away from the mirror. There was not a moment to spare. Vance clapped a hand on top of my head and forced it down and forward. The lush forelock dangled enticingly above the white, starched cape. A click and a humming sound came from behind. The clippers were ready to attack my pretty boy hair…. I held my breath as Vance tackled my shaggy mane deftly at the nape, driving the clippers firmly up the back of my head. I could sense clumps of my glossy hair falling away. Over and over the clippers pressed against my tingling scalp. Higher and higher the clippers climbed with each determined drive. Vance was going to take me down tighter than tight! Huge diverted tufts of shorn hair drifted down the cape into my lap. I felt light-headed as the bulk of my mane was methodically stripped away with the electric hair clippers. Mounds of lovely, soft tresses collected on the trembling cape. I felt like I was getting inducted into the Marine Corps!
Vance was as firm with the shears as he was with the clippers. Snip, snip, snip they went at the top my forehead. The huge, glossy forelocks fell into my lap. He was going to take it all down incredibly tight, my whole proud, glossy mane. Lift, chop. Lift, chop. Lift, chop. By then, my lap was completely covered with my honey-colored hair, like a huge cauldron of melted taffy.
When the cutting stop, Vance spun me back around to see the work his hand had wrought, my makeover. Despite the radical alteration, the final product did not surprise me one bit. I looked just like Wally! I suddenly found myself smiling, pleased that I’d finally had my mane shorn off to something “decent” and pleased that I finally succumbed to the linger curiosity of a real barbershop experience.
“So, what do you think?” asked Vance.
“You forgot the whitewalls,” I said matter-of-factly. “And, perhaps, maybe it’s a little long, yet, on top.”
This provoked Vance, I could tell, and was glad about it. When Vance finished me up the second time, I looked like I had just stepped out of a military base barbershop. And the floor of the barbershop looked like a bootcamp reception center!
“What about a side-part and some brylcream?” I suggested. Ah! now Wally and I would be twins! Except, I would be the highest salesman in the company and would demand that the management replace Wally with me as supervisor.
As I paid Vance, giving him a handsome tip, I vowed to myself to always wear my hair shorter than Wally’s. I eyed Vance’s precision flattop. Why not? I’d love an extra-tight one! On my next trip to Raleigh, I would return to Vance’s and demand a flattop just like his!
On the way back to the hotel, I could not help but feel over and over the shorn scalp – particularly the stubble in back. The chilly wind nipped at my denuded scalp. It felt wonderful! The greasy brylcream, though, was not exactly to my liking. Another reason to go flat….
I hadn’t been back in my room for more than 15 minutes – most of the time spent in the bathroom analyzing the new me, shocked that I’d actually done it! – when the phone rang. “Uh, Mr. Sayers, Sam the concierge calling. I hope the reservation I made for you met your expectations….”
“Oh, Sam. Far exceeded them, you can be sure!” I replied with a somewhat mysterious, non-committal tone.
“Yes, Vance did call me and said you seemed very satisfied. I was just calling to make sure and see if there was anything else I could do for you….”
“As a matter of fact, there is. If you’re at your desk, I’d like to drop something by for you,” I said as I opened my wallet and pulled out a $50 bill….
“Sure, I’ll be right here waiting. Any other requests you have will be mine to fulfill….” His voice trailed as I put down the receiver.
When Sam looked up from his desk as I approached, he was shocked by what he saw. From groovy to geeky, I’m sure he could never have imagined that I would have had Vance put the clippers to me and drive them so tight through my trademark tresses. “Like my new look?” I said.
Sam stammered, “Oh, well…I, uh….” He obviously had been caught off guard.
“Perhaps you suggested to him I probably would like something like…” I reached to the severely tapered back, “this?!” I found the tone of my voice becoming harsher as I spoke.
“Oh, no! I never imagined….” he stammered.
I snapped, “But you felt I was in need of a good old-fashioned barber when you made me an appointment, obviously never thinking I’d come away from the place with my trendy mane….”
“No, Mr. Sayers. Vance is great at a variety of styles….”
“Like pompadours!” I stared at him, surveying his thick black hair, piled high on top of his head in a magnificent pompadour, with a tightly tapered back. “Here’s $50 for all your help. But go see Vance when you get off work. And get a decent haircut!”
“I’m desperately sorry about your haircut; I never imagined he’d cut it so short and…ah….”
“Nerd like?!” I droned.
“But it did occur to you that an old fashioned barbershop was not exactly a place for a Tommy Hilfiger model look-alike like me… You set me up to get shorn.”
“Well, I thought that….” Sam stammered. “It’s just that since Vance is my own barber I knew I could make him clear time for you. You need to believe me! Let me call Vance to find out what happened, how….straighten this misunderstanding….”
The poor fellow was in agony, and it wasn’t at all his fault. I started feeling a little guilty. Then I broke into a big smile. “Relax, Sam! I’m just joshing you!! I just gave you a $50 tip. I’m really pleased! I told Vance myself to cut my hair like this! You hit the nail on the head again! How in the world did you know that I was ready to shed that high maintenance, bothersome hairstyle for a retro look?”
Sam’s tense face melted into a look of relief.
“I’m going to write a strong letter of recommendation to your manager to get your photo there on that “employee of the month” plaque they have hanging in the lobby!” I chimed.
“Oh, thank you so much….is there anything I can….”
“Actually, yes. Why not come with me right now straight back to Vance’s? On the way back here I decided that this brylcream style is not for me and I’m going to have him take me down flat, just like his. I think you too, might be ready to shed your high-maintenance, greasy pomp and go flat with me. How about it?!” I asked, as I give him a pat on the shoulder.
Still overwhelmed by relief, Sam nodded affirmatively. “We can go flat together. I have been considering ditching the pretty boy look for a while and the time is exactly right. Now!”
The let’s get over there, I said tussling the well manicured shiny mane. And, we set out in lock step, dreaming of Vance, electric hair clippers, and ultra-sharp flattops!! “I’ll tell him to take us both down extra tight!”