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Play the Hand You’re Dealt by htflatnc

Play the Hand You’re Dealt

Conrad watched the blip-blip-blip of the heart monitoring machine connected to his father. Conrad was sitting in the ICU thinking about what a one-way roller coaster the last two days had been – all down. Conrad’s father had a massive heart attack at the office two days ago. It was still touch and go. There was always one family member at the hospital holding vigil.

Conrad’s father was an orthopedic specialist and surgeon. His office was across the street from the hospital, so there wasn’t a long delay between the heart attack and treatment. As the old saying goes, doctors make the worst patients – and it had been years since his father had a simple physical. Conrad had been on duty in the emergency room when his father was rushed in. He knew his father would be arriving because of the EMS chatter over the radio in the emergency room. He called ahead to put a surgical theater and cardiologist on standby – standard procedure. And during the wait, Conrad had time to think about other things – calling his mother was uppermost on his mind. But he did not want to make the call – certainly not yet. He didn’t know his father’s condition. Besides, there was nothing his mother could do at this point other than worry and perhaps get in a traffic accident from being so upset. That’s how his mother was: when she was upset, she could become erratic. Although he dreaded making the phone call, he knew he would have to and of course he would.

Conrad had to be hitting on all cylinders when his father arrived, so he refocused just as the doors swung open and the two brawny EMS techs pushed the gurney inside. It wasn’t as though this was the first cardiac arrest patient rushed into the emergency room that Conrad had treated. It was, however, the first time the cardiac patient was his father. Protocol would have been for another doctor to take over, but everyone else was busy and there was no time to find another doctor. Conrad fortified himself that he would be able to do this. Besides, his temperament was much more like his father’s than his mother’s: calm and collected especially under intense pressure. If it had been otherwise, he never would have survived in an emergency room environment. After the EMS team rushed Conrad’s father in, Conrad quickly made the prognosis, whereupon his father was rushed to surgery. Conrad’s father was lucky there was such a short delay between the heart attack and reaching surgery. Time was the enemy. As much as Conrad would have liked to accompany his father to the surgical theater, Conrad stayed at his post.

Two days of uncertainty and anxiety followed. Although Conrad had to work on Wednesday, he could be at the hospital on Thursday and be at his father’s bedside relieving his mother. The blip-blip-blip of the machine was rhythmic and Conrad managed to doze off. A little later, Conrad felt someone tugging at his shoulder. His brother, Joe, had awakened him. Conrad stood up and hugged Joe. They had seen each other less than a week ago – on Saturday, the day after Christmas, and today was Thursday, New Year’s Eve. Joe lived about a 6-hour drive north, but in the meantime, Joe had been visiting with his in-laws who lived about a 5-hour drive south.

Joe: "Why didn’t anybody contact me earlier?"

Conrad: "I didn’t know Rachel’s parents’ phone number. I called several people I thought might know, but they didn’t. I left a message on your machine at your house. And finally I just called people named Anderson at random because I couldn’t think of anything else. Do you know how many Andersons there are in Atlanta?"

Joe: "They live in Alpharetta. And that’s how I found out was from the message machine at the house. And now that I think of it, I’m sorry I barked at you. Even if you had known they lived in Alpharetta, it wouldn’t have done any good. The Andersons are unlisted."

Conrad: "By the way, what time is it?"

Joe: "It’s between 12:15 and 12:30."

Conrad: "Will you stay with dad. I’d like to grab a bight to eat plus I need to run an errand right away."

Joe: "OK. And by the way, you’re looking a little shaggy for you."

Conrad: "That’s one of the errands I’m going to take care of."

Before he left the hospital, Conrad made a telephone call to Dominic.

Conrad: "Dominic, this is Conrad. I wanted to check if you were open today."

Dominic: "Yes, I’ll be open all day. I’m expecting the Morgans about 4 o’clock. I gave them a call to tell them I would be open and expecting them. Jason said they would be coming. So it’ll be regular closing time."

Conrad: "OK, thanks, Dominic. Oh, I’m going to be stopping for lunch before I come in. Can I bring you something?"

Dominic: "Thanks for the offer, but I already ate and early, light lunch. I’m going to eat a lot tonight."

Conrad left the hospital and drove to the grocery store. He went inside and came out – eventually – with a sandwich, chips and a drink. The store was packed and it seemed they were understaffed, so it took him much longer than he had anticipated. He looked at the clock and it was almost 1 o’clock.

When Conrad arrived at Gino’s Barber Shop, there was only one car parked on the street out in front, but no other cars. Conrad exited his car with his lunch. He went in past the barber pole that was still rotating beckoning any and all into the still-open shop. It was cold, but the sun was shining on the last day of the year.

When Conrad entered the barber shop, Dominic had just begun giving Steve Cox his weekly haircut. Since New Year’s was on a Friday, Steve had decided to come in a day early. Besides, having a fresh haircut is something Theresa always enjoyed. And as a result, Steve enjoyed it too.

Conrad: "Steve, how are you? I haven’t seen you in a long, long time. I hear you’re Coach Cox these days and I hear you’re married as well. Congratulations. I know you’re enjoying that."

Steve: "I am, I am. And I hear that you’re Doctor Przybylski. Are you working with your father?"

Conrad: "No, I’m working in the emergency room at the hospital. But in a manner of speaking, I was working with my father last Tuesday. He had a heart attack and I was on duty when he came in. He’s very weak at the moment, but he should recover. At least that’s the prognosis. I’ve been at the hospital and just now had a chance to get something to eat. You don’t mind if I eat?"

Dominic: "Not at all. And I’m so sorry to hear about your father."

About this time, Mr. Lewis, Jim and Pete’s dad, walked in the middle of the conversation. Bill Lewis and Conrad did not know each other, so they were introduced. Bill did know Conrad’s father, however. After Bill and Conrad greeted each other, Steve told him the news about the heart attack.

Steve: "Your pop is a great guy – and a good card player. We missed him last night and wondered where he was. We called his house, but nobody answered. I guess your mother was at the hospital."

Dominic by this time had reduced the back and sides of Steve’s flattop to a fine sandpaper. Dominic said, "That should be about a 100 grade sandpaper," as Steve ran his hand over the denuded area. Dominic continued, "Once I shave it with the straight razor, it’ll be about a 220 grade sandpaper."

Dominic went over and got the spray bottle and began spritzing Steve’s hair on top. He picked up the blow dryer and the brush and began bringing Steve’s short hair to full mast. Dominic put some butch wax in the palms of his hand and rubbed it around before applying the wax to Steve’s brown hair. Dominic thought Steve’s flattop was perfect for Steve.

Conrad was wolfing down his sandwich and intently watching Dominic work on Steve’s flattop. For Conrad, this brought back a flood of memories from high school. In the early days when Conrad was an unknown quantity on the football team, Steve had been one of the few guys who honestly made an effort to befriend Conrad. He found out later that Steve and Joe, Conrad’s older brother, had been team mates and good friends. Conrad: "Does my dad play poker with you guys on Wednesday night?"

Steve: "We play bridge, contract bridge, on Wednesday nights. We enjoy bridge more than poker because you have to actually play the cards and not the other player. Also, you play in teams rather than individually and have to learn how to communicate with your partner in what is almost a code. With contract bridge different teams are all playing the same hands, so skill level is key."

Bill Lewis: "My wife played bridge on Wednesday nights for several years before I told her I was going to start playing cards on Wednesday night as well. She thought I meant poker just like you did and didn’t like that too much. But I told her we were playing bridge, and then she had no problem with my Wednesday card games. She especially came to like it because I got better at bridge. My wife and I get together with three other couples twice a month on Saturday nights and play couples bridge."

Dominic: "We also use a variation: If all the players initially pass, the dealer has to play a one no trump hand. You can’t just give it up and walk away." Dominic began slowly plowing the Oster 76s back through the top of Steve’s flattop, one pass after another.

Bill: "Do you play bridge, Conrad?"

Conrad: "I did in college and med school. Bridge and working out in the gym were the only recreational activities I let myself enjoy."

Dominic, Steve and Bill all looked at one another. Steve went first, "Conrad, would you substitute for your father while he’s recovering?"

Conrad began scattering comments and questions like machine gun fire – in emergency room fashion: "Tell me more. Where do you play? What time on Wednesday? I don’t get off work until 6 o’clock. What time does it usually break up? Who are the players? Is it for money? How much money is it for?"

Steve, trying to calm down Conrad: "We usually go to dinner together about 6:30 and then about 8 o’clock come back here – in the back room – and play bridge until about 11. Everybody does put $10 into the pot. The winning team split the pot. So you aren’t going to get rich nor will you go poor, but it does make it more fun."

Conrad: "There’s a back room?"

Dominic: "Yeah, and it’s as big as the shop." With that Dominic had finished off the top of Steve’s flattop, picked up a small brush, brushed the clippers with four quick strokes, and hung them up on the peg next to the other five sets of clippers.

Dominic picked up the mug, put some hot water in it, swirled the brush around like a spoon in a cup of coffee, and began lathering the back and sides of Steve’s head and dabbed it through the landing strip of the flattop. Steve always became aroused when he had the lather spread through the landing strip. He would become even more aroused when the straight razor would drag through the center of the flattop.

Conrad was also aroused by the lathering motion and he sat back and enjoyed his arousal. Conrad: "Sounds like something I’d enjoy. I’ve been looking for something like a card game to relax and socialize. Hey, Steve, are you going to get your head shaved?"

Steve: "Yes and No. Dominic is going to shave the back and sides of my head. I get this done once a week and it is so very relaxing."

Dominic took the first of the hot towels out of the steamer on the counter and enveloped Steve’s head in the white turban.

Conrad: "Looks like it. I remember in high school you used to have a regular flattop. What parents would call ‘respectable’ flattop. You didn’t have any skin showing at all on the back and sides. It was closely tapered in back, however."

Steve: "Sure, I remember. First time I got a flattop was during my sophomore year, I got a DA flattop like Dominic’s. In fact, Dominic cut it after hours while I was sitting in this chair. Remember that, Dominic? My father marched me down here to see Gino the next day and I got the back and sides sheared off, but I was able to keep the flattop. The greasy hair on the floor looked like my sister’s cat coughed up a hairball. Dad didn’t mind a flattop. In fact, a ‘respectable’ flattop as he called it was a good clean-cut haircut, but not a DA flattop."

Dominic: "Oh, I remember that. Pop gave me a good talking to for giving you that DA flattop. He said your father was really mad. I don’t think pop charged him to shear the back and sides of that greasy mess, so that probably took some of the edge off your father. Your father could be tough, too."

Steve: "Yeah, he could be tough."

Conrad: "When did you start to shave the back and sides?"

Steve: "After I graduated from college, I was in the Marine Corps for four years. That’s when I started getting the back, sides and landing strip shaved."

Conrad: "I used to envy you and Dominic for having flattops. I wish I had one during high school – or now, for that matter."

Bill: "How was your hair cut back then?"

Conrad: "I have very tight curly hair that clumps together – like sheep’s wool. Just won’t work for a flattop – or really to grow any length at all. It’s almost impossible to put a comb through my hair when it’s more than an inch long. It used to hurt combing my hair, so when I was about twelve, I decided to make me happy and my mother unhappy when I got Gino to cut my hair real short so I didn’t have to comb it. I still remember like it was yesterday. Gino was real patient and ran me through several steps taking it down shorter. Gino first cut it to about an inch, but it was like corduroy – ridges up and down and still impossible to comb. He took it down to about a half inch and it was still like corduroy and I just didn’t like that look. Finally, Gino to take it down with a #2 blade on top. That worked. It was the first time I had a crewcut, and I loved it. I loved the way it felt and the way it looked. The problem with a #2 was that the corduroy was back in just a few days. So I was back in the barber’s chair at the end of the week – not that I minded. I’ve always liked getting in the barber’s chair. I got Gino to go shorter this time – down to a #1. Mom was angry after the first shearing – her little boy didn’t have his blond locks any more. But my father was able to calm her down – said that’s how young boys were wearing their hair and I just wanted to fit in. With a #2, I looked as though there was a little bit left, but with a #1 and my blond hair, I looked bald. I asked dad for haircut money every week, which he thought weird at first, but he cooperated."

Bill: "When was the first time you shaved your head?"

Conrad: "It wasn’t long after I tried out for the football team in tenth grade that I first had my head shaved. It was a hot summer as usual and I asked Gino if he would lather and shave my head. He said he didn’t think that would be such a good idea, but Dominic was in the shop that day. Dominic had begun cutting some of his friend’s hair and said after I got my hair cut that he would shave it for me if I wanted to. I took him up on it and the next day he shaved it with several other guys from school looking on, including Steve."

Bill: "Dominic, so you were a barber before you were a barber." Dominic laughed and said, "I guess so."

Bill: "Did the other guys give you a hard time while Dominic was shaving your head or afterwards."

Conrad: "No, they were curious and wanted to watch while Dominic shaved my head. I didn’t mind at all if they did. Actually, I wanted to watch as well and asked Dominic if he would turn me to the mirror, which he did. I was surprised to see them there. I was the kicker on the football team. The thing about being a kicker is that you’re kind of isolated from the rest of the team – or I felt that way – and having my head shaved with all those guys watching broke the ice."

Dominic talking to Bill: "In case you don’t know, Conrad was a great kicker. In the two years we played with him, he made the difference at the end of the game in four or five games. He was dead accurate up to 40 yards out and was over 50-50 at 50 yards. Besides that, he could punt to any spot the coach asked him to put the ball."

Conrad: "It helped that I had guys like you and Roy and Cliff blocking up front and keeping everybody off of me when I kicked."

Steve had become very aroused thinking back to the distant past. He said, "I remember when you got your head shaved. I didn’t know what to make of you before that. After you shaved your head with all of us watching, you were one of us guys." Steve felt the razor stroking through the center of his flattop carving out the landing strip. That always got Steve even more aroused than the memory of Conrad’s head shave.

Conrad: "I watched Dominic clip off the fresh crewcut Gino had just given me the day before. It was already really short, less than a quarter inch on top. He then wrapped my head in a hot towel, which felt really comfortable." Steve was nodding his head in ascent when Conrad said that. "Then he used a mug and brush and lathered up my whole head. I can remember really liking the feel of the brush as it spread the shaving cream over my head. Then out came the razor and he stroked it clean."

Bill: "Dominic, did you use a straight razor?"

Dominic: "No. I didn’t know how to use one then. I used a safety razor. To tell you the truth, I’d never used a safety razor on anybody else before then either. So I was learning as I went along. I was really excited about being able to shave Conrad’s head."

Steve: "Conrad, you say you envy me and Dominic for our flattops. When I saw you getting your head shaved, I envied you. I really wanted to do it."

Conrad: "Why didn’t you?"

Steve: "I did shave mine now and again for all four years I was in the military. I really liked it. I didn’t do it in high school because dad said ‘no way. You’ve got a nice head of hair and enjoy it while you can.’ I talked to him about shaving it several times and it was always the same answer. When dad saw me with my shaved head while I was in the military, he laughed. He said it was my head now that I was supporting myself. When I was in high school, dad had a comb over. He did part of the time I was in the military as well. But now dad has accepted reality of being completely bald on top. Back in high school, when he would tell me to enjoy the flattop while I could, I didn’t understand. But I’ve come to understand it."

Dominic: "You know the first time your pop shaved his head, I shaved it for him. He and your mom had just returned from visiting you in Japan. He said that you had shaved your head and told him you did it so that you would know how it would be to be completely bald since you didn’t want to have a comb over like he did. He said that you were facing reality before it was reality while he was denying it even after it had happened. So he guessed he would face reality. He said he had to spend a lot of time getting his hair right when he came out of the shower. And it was hard keeping it in place no matter how much goo he put on it – in the winter when he wore a hat or on a windy day, it was impossible. So he decided to go under the razor. He still comes in to have it shaved – says he enjoys the hot towels."

"Huh, I did not know that," Steve said slowly and deliberately. "I always figured that the guys at work had given him enough of a hard time that he decided to shave his head to get them off his back. My dad is a lot like Mr. Morgan and their family reminds me of my family growing up – and your family, Bill. I’ve gotten to know Jim these past few months and he is a fine young man. You and Mrs. Lewis should be very proud."

Conrad: "So if you liked having a completely shaved head in the military, why don’t you have one now."

Steve: "I do like having a completely shaved head. I also like – and prefer – having a flattop. And Theresa likes me having a flattop. Besides Dom says I have a perfect flattop for my balding pattern."

Conrad: "Steve has a balding problem?"

Dominic: "Steve is bald at the crown and doesn’t have a receding hairline like his father with the hair on top becoming very thin. The perfect haircut for Steve is a horseshoe flattop." Dominic tapped and rubbed Steve’s bald spot which he had just finished passing the straight razor over. "Still want me to do only one pass?" Dominic asked Steve.

Steve: "One pass is good. Theresa likes it when it’s not totally smooth but still down to the grain or below. It will lead to good things tonight."

"Hey, that’s my sister you’re talking about," Dominic said. Both Steve and Dominic laughed. With that, Dominic began brushing the top of Steve’s matted down flattop and then grabbed the blow dryer. He turned it on and immediately drowned out any possibility of conversation – at least on the part of Dominic and Steve.

Bill asked Conrad, "Would there be any chance of my son getting a job at the hospital this summer? He’s expressed interest in becoming a doctor and his grades are on track to being able to accomplish it."

Dominic: "How old is he? He has to be at least 16."

Bill: "He’ll be 16 in May."

Dominic: "He’ll need a driver’s license for the job."

Bill: "He took driver’s ed this last semester and got a permit just before Christmas. I’ve taken him for a drive twice this week. He’s learning, but not there yet. He also wouldn’t realistically be able to start the job until June."

Dominic: "That’s ok, the job wouldn’t be open until then and would be for the summer."

Bill: "There is one thing though. Football practice will start in mid-July and I’m sure he will be planning to play again next year. Steve helped him a lot this past year."

Dominic: "We can accommodate that – after all I played football as well. He would be working directly for me, so I need to meet him."

Bill: "Understood. You’ll definitely need to meet him and get to know him. And hopefully he will make a good impression and I’m sure he will do a good job."

Dominic had turned off the blow dryer and Steve had heard the tail end of the conversation. "Conrad, Bill’s son is a good kid. He has a great attitude and is eager to learn. He listens well, understands what you tell him quickly, and is creative as well in terms of how to improve his play."

Conrad: "Sounds like someone is coach’s pet."

Conrad and Dominic laughed at that. Steve was somewhat taken aback. "Jim is no brown-noser. When he disagrees, he’ll let you know. Sometimes, he’ll want to do things his way. Sometimes it works and is an improvement. Sometimes it doesn’t and Jim will admit the way I suggested was better. Like I said, he’s creative and thinks about what he’s doing."

Conrad: "Sorry if I was flippant. Seriously, it sounds as though he’d be great to work with. Anyway, tell him to give me a call." Conrad took out a card and wrote on the back. "Those are the hours when he shouldn’t call since I’ll be at work. Plus, he’ll know where to find me Wednesday evenings now."

Bill: "I’ll give him the card and I know he’ll want to call you. Besides, he might meet you here in the meantime. He keeps regular hours here at the barber shop. Thursdays at 4 o’clock with the Morgan family getting his flattop tuned up."

Conrad: "Jim sounds better and better."

With that, Dominic had finished Steve’s flattop. "Another Dominic masterpiece," Steve said as he looked at himself in the mirror. "You make mugs like me look good enough to attract babes like Theresa. Dominic, you don’t mind if I stick around. I’ve got nothing pressing and I’d like to go with Conrad to see his dad and also Jim. I haven’t seen Jim since high school either. Would that be ok with you, Conrad? I’d love to see him."

Dominic: "Fine by me if you hang around. As I always say, here at this barber shop, the haircut is free. You’re just paying for the entertainment."

The other three chuckled. "I’m sure Jim will be glad to see you as well," Conrad said as he headed towards Dominic’s chair and as Steve was paying Dominic. Steve then went over and sat down next to Bill Lewis. Dominic walked over and took his position behind his barber’s chair.

Dominic didn’t ask the question of everybody. Some customers, he didn’t need to ask. He had not asked the question of Steve or Mr. Morgan in over a year. But with Conrad and other customers who would change what they wanted or with those he didn’t know, Dominic asked the question. It was a question Dominic may not have asked a million times, but it was still a large number of times: "What’s it to be today?"

Conrad replied: "With all this talk of receding hairlines, facing reality, and shaved heads, I’m ready to face reality and get my head shaved. It’s time to face a new year head on."

Conrad then tilted his head down in front of Steve and Bill Lewis, showing them that there were a couple of bare patches to go along with his receding hairline. He reached up, rubbing his finger in one of the defoliated areas on his pate. Conrad then felt the contrast with the area that still had short hair that was clipped three weeks ago – completely smooth versus slightly bristly.

Conrad continued, "It’s been three weeks between haircuts – which is far too long a period for me – and the corduroy is back."

Dominic: "It’s more like corrugated pipe than corduroy. You have industrial strength hair, not soft, pliable hair like textiles. Plus, the ripples are farther apart."

Conrad: "You’re right about that."

Dominic: "And I’m glad when somebody finally takes my advice."

Conrad: "I think you’re probably right. It will be better to be bald than balding."

With that, the show started. With difficulty, Dominic started by plowing the t-edgers up through the back of the thicket of Conrad’s short blond hair. Dominic turned the t-edgers off and said, "You can really tell it’s been three weeks since you were last in here. The edgers are having trouble." With that he went to the counter, hung the t-edgers on their peg, picked up the Oster 76s, put on the 00000 blade, brought them to life with a jump, turned them off, oiled them, and then brought them back to life. "That’s when you know you’re getting a haircut, when you hear the sound of those babies," Steve said.

The Oster 76 clippers had no trouble severing Conrad’s thicket down to a severely truncated dense clump. Steve sat slack-jawed, becoming aware of his arousal at the sight of Conrad’s shearing. But he was half-way expecting it since he had seen Conrad been shorn numerous times during high school and had always had the same reaction. Bill Lewis, on the other hand, had the reaction of seeing a car crash – fascination; feeling of relief that it wasn’t him in the chair, but a realization it could be; and sheer terror.

Dominic turned off the Oster 76s after demolishing Conrad’s blond thicket and picked up the t-edgers once again. Bill was unsure what purpose the t-edgers would serve at this point since Conrad’s hair was already cut so close. But as Dominic made the first pass over the top of Conrad’s head with the t-edgers, Bill could see that the hair was even shorter as more skin shone through. Even with Conrad’s blond hair, the t-edgers made a noticeable difference.

Bill Lewis’s wife had always reassured him that if he decided that he was tired of his comb over, she would support that decision. He knew he would not have any problems on that front if he decided to face reality like Conrad was.

Bill then thought about what his sons’ reactions would be – or what he imagined they would be. Both had gone through major transformations themselves only two weeks earlier from their helmet-headed Prince Valiant looks to high and tight flattops. His oldest son, Jim, had even settled on getting a horseshoe flattop. They both gave every indication that they loved their new looks and intended to keep it. But how would they react if he got his head shaved? When Jim had told him that he would be getting a flattop to thank him for helping pay for a set of tires, Jim had asked his dad why he had not kept his flattop after college since he professed to like flattops. He had told his son that he didn’t because of his new job, professional image and so forth. That was undoubtedly partly true. But only partly true. The bigger reason was that he had noticed his receding hairline even at that young age. He had decided that it would be better to let his hair grow out in order to cover up what was happening to him – and frightening him, at least somewhat. That was twenty years ago. The effects of time and heredity had ravaged what had been a plush head of auburn hair cut into a perfect flattop. Because his hair was auburn, it made his flattop that much more striking. But that was then and this is now.

Dominic was enveloping Conrad’s head in the second of the three steamed towels. Steve turned to Bill Lewis and asked, "Have you got plans for tonight?"

Bill replied, "Yes, as a matter of fact we do. Last Wednesday at the bridge game, Mike Morgan and I came up with a plan that should make both our wives very happy and our sons too. We made reservations at Piccola Italia for our families to eat together. Mike and my wife have been good friends for years and lately our sons have become good friends as well. So we thought we’d go out together and have a good meal. Mike and I have as well since we play bridge together."

Steve: "Dominic, did you hear that?"

Dominic: "Yeah, I did. So, you guys are going to eat at Uncle Max’s place tonight. Steve and I are going with our families as well. We’ve got a room in the back booked. Would you care to eat with us?"

Bill: "I think that would be great. Do you mind having eight more people there? It won’t be crowded? I would check with my wife, but Mike Morgan and I were the ones who dreamed this up. And I’m sure he won’t mind."

Dominic: "No, it won’t be crowded and it will be great having you there. I’ll call Uncle Max and arrange it after I finish Conrad’s haircut. Conrad, could you make it?"

Conrad: "No, I’d better not plan on it. What with dad and all."

Dominic: "Completely understand."

After the third towel came off Conrad’s head, Dominic rubbed his hand across it. Then he took the mug and brush and began lathering Conrad’s head. Steve was watching intently. "Hot towels and the shaving brush are the best parts of getting my head shaved," Steve said. "I wish I could do that every day. If I could, I might still have my head shaved."

Conrad looked like a vanilla ice cream cone with his head lathered up, sitting there waiting to be shaved. Dominic was putting a fresh blade in the straight razor. He went over and pushed Conrad’s head down and began shaving the back of his neck.

Conrad: "I really enjoy having the razor pass over my head. The whole head shaving experience is great." Bill Lewis, on the other hand, wasn’t so sure.
Bill picked up on his previous trail of thoughts about his head shave. There would be no problem with his wife. There would be no problem with his sons. He wondered if Jim might actually decide to shave his since his dad had. Bill would not encourage it. He thought Steve Cox’s father’s attitude was the right one: Enjoy the flattop while you can. Bill certainly had enjoyed his flattop when he could. He would never have dreamed of shaving his head when he was Jim’s age. Old men had bald heads. And that was the key thought. Bill was really afraid of getting old, of looking old. But of course he knew that he was getting older. The occasional gray hairs told him that was true. And the really big fear was not getting any older.

And then it struck him. What would make him appear older: The comb over or a shaved head. The comb over would, of course. And the fog in his mind began to clear.

Dominic was finishing up the first pass of Conrad’s head shave and asked, "I used to go over your head twice – with and then against the grain to get it completely smooth. Still want that?"

Conrad said, "Absolutely."

Dominic put down the straight razor and picked up the shaving mug, twirling the brush around inside. He then began applying the foam painting the canvas before the next pass of the razor. Dominic picked up a double-edged safety razor this time and with his left thumb stroked off the shaving cream, wiping it on a towel on Conrad’s shoulder, and with his right hand stroked upwards with the razor against the grain on the back of Conrad’s neck. After the first stroke, Dominic pulled the skin taut and felt the effect of the razor’s labor. Satisfied, Dominic proceeded to give Conrad a very smooth shave.

Bill: "I heard something funny the other day. I found out what my son’s nickname is as a result of playing football."

Dominic: "What is it?"

Bill: "Mad Dog. Mad Dog Lewis."

Steve started laughing uproariously and said, "That name is absolutely perfect for your son. It is so true."

Bill: "Why do you think it’s funny or true? His mother was really upset when she heard it."

Steve, calming down, said, "She shouldn’t be. Not at all. It’s a nickname of admiration by his teammates. It’s true because of how he plays: he’s fearless and he strikes fear into his opponents quickly. Dominic, Conrad, remember Mad Dog Belichick from our team? Jim plays much the same way, but Jim is faster."

Bill: "I’ll have to explain it to his mother, then."

Steve: "Do explain it. Dominic, remember your nickname on the team?"

Dominic: "Oh, yeah. Rooster. Because of the DA flattop I had. And you remember your nickname, Conrad?"

Conrad: "The first one or the second one?"

Dominic: "You obviously remember both, but the first one didn’t last that long."

Conrad: "Long enough. The first one was ‘Eye Chart,’ Bill."

Puzzled, Bill asked: "Why ‘Eye Chart.’"

Conrad: "P-R-Z-Y-B-Y-L-S-K-I, that’s how you spell my last name."

Bill: "Oh, I didn’t know."

Conrad: "But once I got my head shaved and began winning games, they called me ‘Prez’."

Steve: "That ‘Eye Chart’ business doesn’t still bother you, does it?"

Conrad: "A little."

Bill: "And what was your nickname, Steve?"

Steve: "I didn’t have one."

The other two guys started laughing and saying "Yes, he did," and "One Hop."

Conrad calmed down from laughing and explained, "Even though Steve turned out to be a good quarterback winning the state championship and all, the first pass he threw in his first scrimmage, he completed on a one hop. And the nickname stuck, but only because all the guys loved you."

Steve: "Yeah, right."

Dominic had finished with the second pass and was feeling for anything that was left alive after that devastating pass with the double-sided razor. Dominic placed a cold towel on Conrad’s head and he almost came up out of the seat. Steve was laughing at this. "Wakes you up, doesn’t it," Steve said.

Conrad: "Why did you do that? You didn’t used to."

Dominic: "It closes the pores of your scalp."

Dominic then went over and applied baby oil and then Old Spice to a small terry cloth towel, removed the cold towel, and began applying the baby oil-Old Spice mixture to Conrad’s cleaned pate. Dominic said, "People are going to need sun glasses after this. Gonna let it shine! And smell good too."

Dominic put the terry cloth towel in the bin with the other towels and arranged Conrad’s collar. He then turned Conrad around for inspection. Conrad smiled and began rubbing his head. "Like old times. I’m going to have no trouble living with this. I’ll need to see you a couple of times a week, Dominic, to keep it looking this good."

Dominic: "And that is how you get repeat business."

Conrad hopped out of the chair and almost sprinted to the register. Conrad and Steve bounded out of the door to go see Joe and Conrad’s father at the hospital. Bill Lewis and Dominic were in the shop alone and it was quiet. Bill got up to go over and sit in the chair.

Dominic said: "Before we start, let me make the phone call to Uncle Max about this evening. I’ll be right back." Dominic went into the back and made the telephone call. Bill was turned facing the mirror and he stared at his reflection wondering what it would be like. Dominic came back and said, "It’s all arranged. 7 o’clock this evening for you and the Morgan family. It’s going to be a very enjoyable evening. Good friends. Good food. Good wine."

Dominic: "Pop usually cuts your hair, so I’ll have to ask you: What’s it to be today?"

Bill: "Let’s see how to play with what I’ve been dealt."

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