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At Gate C-17 - Mr. O'Donnell's Advice by Manny



I got to gate C-17 plenty early for my connecting flight to Chicago. I had high hopes for the pharmaceutical job fair I was headed to. If I could land a job, my transition from grad student to health industry professional would be smooth and quick.

I looked for a place to charge my phone and saw a stand with an open outlet. The older man also charging his phone there had a briefcase with the Abbott Laboratories logo stitched into the outer flap. I thought he was probably heading to the same event -- possibly as a job offerer instead of a job seeker. Engaging him in a bit of chat-chat might give me some tips or intel....maybe even a job. Abbott was considered one of the best employers in my field.

I smiled at him and we chatted a bit about mundane topics. He seemed quite outgoing and friendly. Finally I steered the conversation toward my specific interest.

I pointed to his briefcase. "Abbott -- that's one of the best places to work in the health industry, I've heard."

"The best," he responded proudly. "It's been my employer for 18 years and I can't imagine working elsewhere."

"I'm headed to a hiring event in Chicago and saw Abbott would be represented there," I said.

"Really?" The man said, with a hint of doubt in his voice. He eyed my outfit and then his eyes locked briefly on my hair. "I take it you're looking for a job." Then he gave me the once over for a second time and again took distinct notice of my hair.

I felt a little self conscious. "Of course, I brought a suit and tie for the event. Had to borrow it from my roommate, actually!"

"But you didn't have time to visit the barber," he noted with an unmistakable tone of disapproval.

I pawed at my hair momentarily. To be sure, it was quite shaggy -- more out of neglect than design. The thick, coarse blond locks covered my ears and past the base of my collar. Earlier in the week my roommate had trimmed my bangs at my request -- he took off two inches so that I wouldn't have hair in my eyes all the time. The heavy long forelock had really been bothering me for a while.

"You noticed," I said, half joking, half apologizing. "Big mistake? No haircut?" I asked.

"For sure, a very big mistake!" He confirmed. "I'm actually an HR rep for Abbott, leading our hiring initiative in Chicago. Sure, resume is very important....but, demeanor and the applicant's visual at the interview is certainly quite important too. Is he or she projecting the image Abbott wants -- professionalism, pride, the gold standard of the industry? Since I can't judge the suit....which, being borrowed may be ill-fitting....all I have to form an impression of what kind of an employee you might make is the hair."

"And?" I asked, knowing his verdict based on his facial expression.....

"Let's put it this way. See that barbershop over there? It's providential. The flight doesn't leave for more than an hour," he stated.

My mind began turning quickly. The man was right. I mean, he was the real thing. Knew what he was talking about. But that barbershop?! In the brief time I'd been in the gate area I'd observed the two old geezers in their matching barber tunics and was not impressed. They tended to specialize in military cuts; heavy-handed use of the electric hair clippers was the norm with them. Even as we talked, I was watching one gent with a standard business cut getting scalped!! He did not look happy as he sat in the chair while the hair butcher ruined his nice thick hair.

"Well, maybe. But, charging this phone is a priority," I said.

"I could watch it for you while it charges," he said cheerfully.

I stammered awkwardly. "So your prediction is 'no haircut, no job'?"

"I didn't say that. You could get a job. But do you want employment with the best companies? There is a lot of competition. Any small thing can knock you out of the running. Apart from being too long, your hair looks like it was cut by someone from your dorm. Or was it your girlfriend? It certainly needs a professional hand. I'd ask the barber to give you an 'ivy league' haircut. Look like you graduated from Harvard, not some community college."

"What's an Ivy League haircut?" I asked curiously.

"Oh, the barber will know. Sometimes it's called a Princeton. Very nice professional cut for you," he replied.

I was persuaded, reluctantly, to follow the man's advice. In my heart, I knew he was right. I needed a professional haircut....and, he was right about the suit I'd be wearing. The waist was too big and the trousers too short. "Okay, it's haircut time. Thanks for watching my phone," I said.

As I neared the shop, the man whose business cut got butchered was coming out the door. "I'd avoid this place if I were you," he cautioned. "Asked for a trim and came out looking like, well, I'm not sure what!"

His remarks unsettled me. Then,, I saw my way out. The sign in the window said "cash only". I headed back to the gate.

"Forget something?" The man asked.

"Well, the shop only takes cash, and I don't carry any," I said.

"Too bad," he mumbled.

"Actually, I was wondering if you'd do my a favor. Could you take a look at my resume, if you don't mind, and see what you think. Any practical tips? Should I revise it?"

"Be happy to!" He replied. The man took his time looking things over and seemed please. "Good, very good. Not just the way it was composed, but what was on it. 4.0 GPA, some excellent internships. Quite a strong resume for a first time job seeker."

He reached into his wallet and pulled out a business card. Then he pulled out two bills. He handed the resume back with the items from his wallet on top. "Look me up at the job fair."

His business card read "Marvin O'Donnell, Chief of Personnel". There was a $20 and a $5 bill. My heart pounded quickly. I knew what I had to do -- march over to the barber shop and let the locks fall where they may.

I tried to not think of any consequence other than a good job with Abbott as I pushed the glass door to the shop open. The geezer who had scalped the businessman still was without a client. He dusted the seat of the chair off and motioned for me to take a seat. After a quick talk about flights and schedules he went straight to the point, my haircut.

"I'm going for a job interview and I need a more professional look. Do you know how to cut an 'ivy league' haircut?" I asked.

"Son, I'm a barber! Of course I know how to cut an ivy. It'll be a bit change from this thatch," he said, yanking the comb through my dense, coarse blond hair. "You want a very tidy look, I take it," he continued as he reached for the clippers.

My heart pounded, but I was resigned. In fact, I was starting to feel a wee bit excited. The barber nudged my head forward. I felt him lifting the heavy locks that hung from my nape with a comb. In instants, the clippers were cutting their way quickly through the dense thatch. I instinctively tried to dodge the clippers, but the old geezer had a death grip on my head.

"Steady, son! Major demolition going on back here!" Up, up, up the clippers climbed, almost hugging the back of my head. I felt a clump of hair hit the cape at the end of the drive. It was like the barber wanted me to see the amount of hair coming off! And was it every a major wad!

"Holy crap! Are you leaving anything back there?" I said, with a hint of amusement in my tone.

"Not much," the barber admitted as he made a second drive with the machine through my dense coarse hair.

I fell silent, concentrating on what was happening to my long, shaggy mane. I had never had a short, barbershop haircut before. When the barber moved to the side of my head, a copious amount of cut hair rained down on the cape. I watched it pile up in my lap. Then he moved to the top of my head, lifting my long locks with a comb and running the clippers over the top. Mound of hair fell in front of my face to the cape. The clipper over comb was happening quite close to my scalp! I was getting scalped for sure!

Finally the machine was snapped off and the barber took a shears to snip the remainder of my bangs off quite near the top of my forehead. Snip, snip, snip. A few more wisps fell before my eyes. Then, as if to signal the haircut's end, the old geezer swiveled the chair around.

"How's this length? Short enough?" he asked, holding up a mirror.

I was astonished! I looked like I was in the military. Virtually no hair was left -- just the slightest bit of length passed for a fringe.

"Yes, yes, that's fine," I muttered.

The barber's final act was to carve an exaggerated set of arches around my ears using a straight edge razor and shaving cream. Surely this was the end of the haircut!

And it was. The geezer carefully removed the hair-laden cape and let the cut locks fall to the floor. "Quite a change, son. You look much better with this crewcut," he said.

"But I asked for an ivy," I pouted.

"All the same -- ivy, crewcut," he chuckled.

I handed him the $25 and left the shop feeling my severely clipped head. The hair in back was bristly. Almost no length -- much of the top as well.

I ambled back to the gate where my phone was still charging under the man's watchful eye.

"Wow! Did you ever get your money's worth!" he exclaimed.

My face reddened. "Is this better?" I asked.

"Much. Two of the men on my interviewing team are former military who appreciate a smart short cut on the new recruits," he stated.

As we spoke, the gate attendant called the premium business class. "Well, that's me, son. I hope to see you at the fair in Chicago!"

"You will!" I said cheerfully. "Thanks for watching my phone and for the money to get a decent haircut," I called out as he walked to the gate.

"Happy to help an aspiring career man along, son!" he said with a wave.



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