Double Duty by Clipperaddict
It was a major transition after 20 years in the U.S. Marine Corps. Fortunately, I had acquired some great skills and experience during my service as a drill sergeant. Uncle Sam had even paid for barber school as part of my retirement package.
I was ready for a new challenge. After searching the internet, I had found a couple of part time jobs that took my interest, and they were both at the Airport. I decided to apply for both and see what would happen. Before I knew it, I was gainfully employed working both jobs; as a TSA agent from 5:30 am to 9:30 am, and as a barber in the airport barbershop from 10:00 am to 2:00 pm. I couldn’t believe my good fortune. TSA is not the military, but has a bit of a military feel to it, or so I thought.
Barbering is something that has always interested me, and over the years I’d had the opportunity to practice on many of my fellow marines. For the most part, civilian barbering would have a lot more variety, and I wasn’t sure if I could manage that given my strong preference for military haircuts. Even the interview was a little challenging. Ted, the managing barber asked me to cut his hair. It was styled in a longish businessman cut: hair touching the top of the ears and almost touching the collar in back. Obviously, a scissor cut with no clipper action other than clearing the neck hair and edging his sideburns. My immediate thought was it made him look a lot older than his 42 years, but he asked for a trim to tidy it up, and that was what I gave him. It was a struggle as I really wanted to see him in a high reg. with a sharp part, but I did my best and he was impressed enough to offer me the job on the spot. When he asked, I told him I cut my own shaved high and tight horseshoe flattop. He told me there a lot of military men who come through the airport after leave, and they’re often looking for a regulation cut before they get back on duty. He thought it would be great to have a real military barber to help rescue those who have left it to the last minute. I looked him straight in the eye and told him I enjoy nothing more than getting a shaggy guy squared away. He told me I could start as soon as I liked, and we agreed, I would begin after TSA training, and my first week on that job.
TSA may have some appearance of military, but I quickly discovered it’s not nearly as buttoned up, especially when it comes to "grooming policy", and discipline. As the early morning shift leader, I knew after the first couple of days, I’d have to make some changes. Tardiness was a big problem, and when my team did arrive they were a mess: uniforms crumpled, shirts not tucked in, grubby looking shoes, and a few of the younger men looking like they just got out of bed. Their hair was out of control, and facial hair was unkempt. My drill sergeant wanted to kick in big time, but during "training" I had learned we take a much gentler approach in the TSA. It was time for a pep talk, so I gathered the team together for a meeting before the end of the shift, and provided coffee and donuts. Always one for a challenge, I decided to start with the biggest problem.
Roberto was in his late twenties, and supposedly trying to save so he could move back out of his parents’ home, and finally become independent. He was just over 6’ tall, close to 200 lbs with the start of a good-sized potbelly. When I told him to tuck in his shirt the waist band of his underwear was revealed over his belt which was fastened around his hips rather than his waist causing his pants to sag. Normally, I hate saggy pants, but in Roberto’s case they hid most of his shoes which were a pair of sad looking black sneakers. All the same, I had to instruct him to pull his pants up and tuck his shirt into his pants not his underwear. I told him he could either wear his tie with the shirt collar buttoned, or he could remove the tie and leave the top button unfastened. Then came the biggest challenge of all. He had a kind of full mustache with various lengths of patchy stubble over the rest of his face. Curly sideburns, one longer than the other with no shape. Most of his hair was pulled back into what he called a manbun. It was a short ponytail. Not all the hair at his hairline was long enough to reach the ponytail so some of it curled around his ears, and the rest of it kept falling on his face causing him to flick it back or push it back with his hand. There was the start of some receding at the temples. He was a hot mess.
I reminded him that TSA requires its agents to be neat and tidy, and that I didn’t think he met that standard. Surprisingly, he agreed and explained that he was still in the growing out stage. Once his hair was longer, it would all be in his manbun. Patiently, I informed him that the grooming policy does not allow for a "growing out stage" and he would have to neaten the appearance of his hair, and his beard. He assured me he would take care of it after work. I suggested he might want to take advantage of the airport employee discount at the barber shop. He laughed, and said he wasn’t planning on a haircut; maybe just some product to keep it under control. The discount applies to products as well I told him, and he would benefit from a professional tidying up his facial hair as he seemed to be challenged with getting it even. He acknowledged that was a good idea, but he wasn’t a huge fan of Ted’s work. He didn’t seem to be up to date with all the latest trends and styles. I empathized and told him I’d heard there was a new barber starting today just graduated from barber school and supposedly very up to speed on modern barbering. He seemed interested and said he might check him out.
After rallying the team to a commitment to improve our punctuality, the meeting was over, and I focused in on my target telling Roberto I was headed to the barber shop and I could make sure he didn’t get stuck with Ted. He looked at me rather nervously, trying to figure a way out, so I shot him a broad smile and looked him right in the eye with my best drill sergeant look. Roberto gulped, and unconsciously mouthed yes sir.
I held the door open to the barber shop and Roberto shuffled past me clearly a little rattled. Ted welcomed me, and asked if I was ready to get started to which I replied I was more than ready, and had even brought my very first customer. Roberto turned around to look at me completely confused as to what was happening. I put my large hands on his shoulders and told him not to worry; that I would take great care of him. It was easy to guide him into the large, open, leather barber chair. I got him caped up and told him I’d be right with him as soon as I changed my uniform. It took me less than a minute to peel off my TSA shirt and slip on my barber crisp, white barber smock. I knew I had to be quick before Roberto changed his mind. Fortunately, my quick text to Ted 15 minute earlier meant my station was set up and ready to go. Before he had a chance to say anything I leaned Roberto back and started to massage his face with menthol shaving crème. The steaming hot towel enveloped his face and I saw the tension in his body begin to dissipate. I pressed on the towel to give him the full effect and tried to soothe his nerves. I joked about the surprise I had sprung on him, and began to describe how I planned to clean up his face. I think a well-groomed mustache with tightly shaped, even sideburns would be ideal. After thinking about it he nodded from under the towel. Barber’s choice had begun. He just hadn’t realized it yet.
After removing the steamy towel, hot lather was applied and I stropped the new blade in my straight razor. Tilting his head to the side slightly I began level with the bottom of his ear with a straight cut to define the bottom of his sideburn. Scraping away the uneven stubble from his face, I began to reveal a smooth chin. Careful, meticulous strokes gently, but firmly removed the beard, and then edged both sideburns and the top of his mustache. With each stroke he became more relaxed, and the fear in his eyes turned to enjoyment. Having completed the shaving (for now) I tipped him upright in the chair facing the mirror. He looked intensely at himself, angling his chin, and looking from side to side. He couldn’t help but smile as he took it all in. He nodded when I asked if he liked what he saw, and told him we weren’t quite done. I needed to trim his mustache with my edger clippers and his sideburns. Carefully, I sculpted a perfect military mustache using the edgers and mustache comb. Every hair was clipped to perfection. The mustache comb was slipped into the right sideburn and the edgers cruised across it causing the curly, unruly hairs to fall on to the cape. I deliberately held the comb loosely, so the sideburns wouldn’t be "too tight". Taking a step back behind the chair I look at my handiwork in the mirror, put my finger to my lip, and look puzzled. Roberto takes the bait and asks what is wrong. Startled, I tell him I can’t decide if the sideburns work or not. They seem out of place with the straggly hair that isn’t pulled back into the manbun. I pull the hair down that’s tucked behind his ears, and can’t stop myself from sighing. Roberto looks disappointed too.
I decide to try something different and pull off the rubber band that is holding the manbun. My face falls even further, and Roberto has use his hands to pull the hair back from his face to see himself again in the mirror. Ted interrupts to tell me I did a great job. It’s just a pity he’s so wedded to that manbun as it kind of ruins the look. I agree, saying who knew there such a good-looking young man under that gunge. Roberto looks crestfallen, admitting that he was pleasantly surprised how good it looked, and suggesting he should consider cutting his hair. I told him he should definitely think about it, and I’d be honored to help him out if he decided to try a different style. I began to "struggle" to gather up his hair to put it back in the manbun muttering that I didn’t know how he could be bothered with all this hassle every day. That was the trigger, and he swatted my hand away saying I was right and he wanted to cut his hair. I feigned shock and gave just a hint of a smile as I asked whether he meant a trim or a "real" haircut? My eyes caught his eyes in the mirror. He couldn’t look away, and softly uttered "A real haircut, sir". Without removing my gaze from his, I nodded approval then whisked the chair around to face away from the mirror. I planted my big, firm hands on his shoulders and massaged them a bit to reassure him. Once again, the tension in his body dissipated.
Ted looked on in anticipation as I selected my large comb and my Oster 76 Classics which Ted had readied for me with the 00000 blade. I held the top hair back with the comb as I placed the hungry clippers at Roberto’s right temple. They paused for just a second before beginning their first journey straight back, all the way around to the crown. Roberto sat up in alarm. I put my tools down to massage his shoulders some more and tell him how proud I was of him for his courage. He looked up at me and sank back into the chair knowing there was no turning back. In took up my tools again and proceeded to complete the peeled ring from the other temple to the crown. Head pushed down and the Osters made swift work of the hair below the ring. He was doing well until the hair from the sides fell on to the cape on his lap. I took another break to massage his shoulders and reassure him. The comb entered his hairline on his forehead and the clippers ran across it. I repeated this motion all the way back, taking it all down to less than an inch. Roberto panicked as I applied hot lather to the remaining hair on top of his head, but was reassured when I reached for a brush and the hairdryer and began forcing it to stand up tall. It took me a good 15 minutes to freehand the deck of the flattop and getting the fenders to stand perfectly in position. I figured a regular flat with fenders would be a good initiation into the flattop club.
To finish the cut, I faded and faded and faded until there was absolutely no hint of a line. Then I applied the hot lather to about half way up the sides and back. I could tell he was enjoying that part as I carefully scraped the sides and back clean, leaving the sculpted sideburns to last. With two swift strokes, they joined the mass of hair on the cape and floor. My masterpiece was complete and I thrust the chair round to face the mirror, pulling off the cape as it went. Roberto blinked several times, leaning forward to look more closely, and cautiously putting his hands on the fender at the front before running them up the back of head. As his hands reached the crown he beamed the biggest smile, and all he could say was Wow! Wow! Wow!
Ted looked on in admiration, and my eyes caught his; but that’s a story for another day.