Ted - Thank you for your service by Manny
This was not Ted's day. First a missed connection and then a weather related delay on his re-booked flight. The gate agent had advised the stuck passengers to stay near the gate in case there was a break in the weather and they could effect a quick take off.
There wasn't much for Ted to do as he'd already spent more time than he wanted scrolling through his email messages and surfing the internet at the last airport.
From the gate at DFW where he sat, however, he had a perfect view of an old-school barbershop. It seemed like a weird place for a shop that would've looked more appropriately situated on a small town Main Street. There were three large old fashioned chairs, manned with two old barbers clad in matching tunics. They did a brisk business -- including lots of soldiers (both in and out of uniform) that were transiting through. Watching the action in the barbershop became Ted's principle form of entertainment as he waited for further news about his delayed flight.
Ted was a salon-type guy with his nice hair coiffed into a longish, full style. He was rather proud of his thick, shiny hair that contributed to his youthful looks.
That said, he admired the work of the barbers, especially on the young men that came out sporting extremely close cuts. In particular, he'd been intrigued by the barbers' skill in cutting flattops. He'd watched one guy get his flat tidied up, and now he was watching a second one go from a standard businesscut to a flattop! The barber and client had an animated chat for a few minutes followed by the barber snagging the rather lengthy forelock and zipping it off in one run of the clipper over comb. The four inch lock fell almost intact onto the cape. Shorter and shorter the barber clipped the man's ginger locks revealing a lot of skin. Then the took the top down aggressively close, carving out a huge landing strip. Ted watched with great interest, even curiosity.
The barber took his time lather shaving the neck and around the ears. The man looked totally different coming out of the shop! A good ten years had come of his looks with the makeover.
To Ted's astonishment, the man drifted right into the gate area where he was sitting....right over to where Ted was.....and took a seat right across from him! Ted watched him explore his new haircut with his hand, smiling as he ran it up the back of his head and fingered the very short tuft in front that stuck straight up.
Finally, Ted could contain his curiosity no longer. "Nice haircut! I watched you get it over there," he commented as he nodded toward the barbershop.
"Thanks, the barber did a great job, I think. Although this is the shortest haircut I've ever had," he noted sheepishly.
"Big change, your before and after," Ted noted.
"Yep, I'll blend right into the military base I'm headed towards in Afghanistan," he replied.
"But you're not military?" Ted asked.
"Contractor. This will be my fifth visit. I help with systems installation. Computer geek," he replied.
"And you've always admired the flattops on base?" Ted asked.
"Bingo. Finally had the guts to get one myself. I'll be there for six months this time. Felt like if it was a huge mistake, the hair would grow out before I got back," he laughed.
"Well, it looks mighty sharp on you. Severely short, I admit, but works well for you," Ted said, before returning to his phone to get a message he'd received.
As he looked down at the shining screen, Ted's forelock dangled down in front of his face. It was very full and thick and heavy. Briefly, Ted fantasized he was in the barber's chair, and the first run of the clippers was taking the forelock off -- first step towards a flattop for him too. The thought excited him in the most surprising manner.
The fellow with the flattop decided to continue his chat with Ted. "So, is Frankfurt your final destination or are you connecting on from there?"
"Frankfurt. I have business there. Meeting with some bankers about an investment project," Ted replied. "Going to Afghanistan sounds a lot more exciting!"
"Neither of us will be going anywhere today if they cancel this flight, I'm afraid. I'm Nathaniel, but the way. Or Nate," he said.
"I'm Ted. Did you say that was your first flattop ever?" he asked.
"Yep. In fact, could you watch my stuff here. I forgot what it looks like. I'm going to pop over to the restroom to take another peek."
"Sure, but I already told you it looks great," Ted laughed.
Nate walked away, feeling the shaved back of his head.
Ted plied his own fingers through his long, soft locks. His forelock was quite long. He was quite overdue for a trim. Ted's eyes drifted to the barbershop. Then his pulse and heartbeat quickened. OMG -- he was considering it! A first visit to a traditional barber!! Yes, his hair was full and lapping over almost to the base of his collar in back. Would he have the guts to let an old-timey barber give him a good pruning?!
As Ted sat there squirming with excitement at the prospect, the gate attendant announced, "We can confirm another delay. This plane will not leave before 6:00 p.m. At this point you do not need to remain in the gate area, but check the boards periodically for updates about the flight. Once again, I am confirming that this flight will not leave before 6:00 p.m. We have a confirmed two-hour delay.
Ted glanced at the barbershop. He had a clear window of opportunity. One of the barbers was free.... He could walk over there right now!
When Nate got back from the restroom, Ted asked, "So, what did you think?"
"Yikes! It's short! I thought I said I didn't want a landing strip. But, maybe in my excitement I forgot. I mean it's a good cut, but so aggressively short."
"Suits you perfectly!" Ted said. Then he updated Nate about the confirmed delay, followed by a request. "Could you watch my bags for a bit? I have to use the restroom too."
But Ted's purpose was to go examine his own shaggy hair. He brushed it and smoothed it into place. It was, in fact, quite long.
When he got back to the gate, he mentioned to Nate, "Now with this delay, I was thinking about getting a haircut too. How much do they charge?"
"$22. Cash only, by the way. Rather steep for a barbershop, but considering their location and convenience, it's not too bad," Nate replied.
"Shoot, that's nothing. I pay $75 for a trim at the salon." The mention of the salon gave Ted a bit of cold feet about the barbershop. He certainly didn't want to get shorn -- some very barbered look. Or did he?
"Let me recommend the flattop. Those barbers have a lot of experience with all the military deploying from here to the war zones," Nate commented.
"Heavens, a flattop for me? I don't think so!" Ted laughed. "It'll be a big step for me just to go to a barbershop instead of a salon! I'm not even sure what to ask for to get a standard businessman's cut."
"I think a taper would suit you perfectly," Nate said. "Actually, I thought the business world required a more conservative look. Your floppy hairstyle seems more like what a college professor would sport."
"It's normally not this long. But, you're right, most of my peers have much shorter hair. Especially the Germans I'll be meeting with," Ted noted.
"Okay, then here's what I recommend you tell the barber. 'Tapered short around the ears and up the back. Two inches off the top and the bulk thinned out."
"That sounds complicated, like a foreign language almost. What about if I just say, 'shape it up' or 'a trim'?"
"Do you want me to come with you and tell the barber?" Nate asked.
Ted smiled but had mixed feelings about the offer. Finally he replied, "Sure, that would be helpful."
As the two pulled their carry-ons toward the barbershop, suddenly Ted's legs felt like jelly. Not only was he going to a barbershop for the first time, but someone who just got a military-length flattop was going to tell the barber how short to cut his hair! The idea of him going flat churned through his mind. It was unthinkable!
Nate announced to the barbers as he pushed the door open, "This fellow admired the flattop you gave me so much he decided to get his own hair cut!"
The geezer who had cut Nate's hair motioned to the chair. Ted felt incredibly nervous as he took a seat. It felt odd to be facing away from the mirror!
"Same length flattop for you, sir?" the barber asked.
Ted's mouth felt dry and clammy all at once. The offer had been made. The implements were within arms' reach. The total fear of a flattop strangely appealed to Ted. He could either act on this outrageous impulse, or play it safe.
He opted for the latter. "Oh, no, uh, but Nate will explain how I want it cut."
The barber cast a cape, and suddenly Ted was enveloped in white.
"He's looking for a change from this overgrown, floppy style. So, taper it short around the ears and tight up the back. On top just long enough to lay down," Nate instructed.
"What about a regulation for the gentleman?" the barber asked.
Nate hesitated a bit. "Yes, that might suit him," he said with a bit of hesitation. After a brief pause, Nate continued with more resolve in his voice, "In fact, I think a regulation cut would be perfect for him."
What regulation, Ted wondered?!
Suddenly the barber's large hand clamped down on Ted's head and forcefully made him bow it toward the chest so that his chin almost touched the cape. The manhandling was such a far cry from the prancing and cooing of the stylist in the salon. The silence of the barber contrasted notably with the chatty stylists' compliments....'oh you have such, thick gorgeous hair....a lovely sheen'.
What came next almost made Ted explode with unforeseen excitement. The huge set of clippers -- with nothing but large sharp steel teeth -- hit his nape and were driven tightly up the back of his head virtually to the crown. Although he couldn't see, Ted could feel a drastic transformation taking place. The cool breeze of the shop's air conditioning suddenly hit the closely clipped strip that went from nape to crown. Ted gripped the arms of the chair to steady himself. He had never had a clippers taken to his hair before.....and this haircut was turning into a baptism by fire. The barber came back for a second run up the back that was as aggressive as the first.
"I really admire the service you men perform for our country," the barber noted to Ted as he flicked a large shank of shorn hair that clunk to the clippers so that it landed in full sight right in Ted's lap. Ted's eyes bulged. He felt aghast at the amount of hair the barber took off in that single drive.
"I'm not in the military," Ted eked out.
The barber snagged the heavy forelock and ran the clippers over the comb so that virtually the whole long lock was deposited on the cape in one piece. Suddenly, Ted's whole lap was covered in hair.
"But you're like Nate there -- going to help the troops out as a civilian on the base," the barber insisted.
Ted stared at Nate, who blushed and cracked a bit of a guilty smile.
Nate piped in from the waiting area. "No, Ted there is a banker. But he was wanting a military-length cut. In fact, what he really wants is a flattop just like mine. Isn't that right, Ted?"
The barber paused from his work and the whole shop stared at the speechless Ted.
Ted's eyes were riveted on Nate's flattop. His stomach was in knots. It seemed like they all sat in silence for hours. Everyone was waiting for his response.
Then it rolled slowly, haltingly, off his tongue. "That's, uh, um, yeh, uh, right. Give me a um, ah, I guess, a flattop just like his."
Nate flashed a double-thumbs up to his new buddy who was obviously sick with fear and stifled delight.
The barber ramped up the divestiture of Ted's floppy business cut into high gear. Very quickly, he stripped away virtually all the growth. 90% of his head was now clipped down to virtual stubble.
"Landing strip, like Nate's there?" the barber asked.
He stared at it momentarily. "Yes, just like his," confirmed Ted.
The barber continued sculpting the remains of Ted's mane until he was left with an extremely short, military-length flattop. When it was all done, the geezer spun the chair around. Ted gasped as he saw himself for the first time. "I can't believe this," he murmured. "It doesn't even look like me."
Nate jumped up and rushed over. He fondled the plush, bristled top that stood perfectly erect. "It looks a whole lot better than the old you, Ted!" he exclaimed.
The barber was very careful as he removed the hair-laden cape. "I've got to admit, I agree with Nate. That's one super sharp look, sir. And, thank you for your service to our country."
Ted and Nate exchanged smiles. No one was going to try to correct the record.
As they were paying, a father and son strolled into the shop. The father took a look at the mounds of hair on the floor and whistled. "Wow, looks like a boot camp barbershop in here. Thank you, fellows, for your service to our country."
"Come on, Nate, we need to go catch our flight to Afghanistan," Ted said jokingly. As they walked out into the terminal, he continued, "I sort of wish you were coming with me, Ted. We kind of hit it off."
"We sure did," Ted replied. "You aren't going to have a lay-over in Frankfurt by any chance, are you?"
Nate smiled widely, "Sure am. And, I know who I'm going to spend it with...."