The Prodigal's Buzz Part II by Deke Cutter
Luke lay in his new bed in his new apartment trying to get comfortable. The stubble on the back of his head, from the brutal number 1 buzz cut he had received from the apprentice barber earlier in the day, rubbed uncomfortably between his head and the pillow. He knew his father was testing him and forcing him to understand the company he would one day co-own in the way that he feared most. Unlike his down-to-earth, tough, but easy-going brother, he was sensitive to slights and ridicule. He needed to feel like he was one of top cats. He awoke with a start from a dream in which his ears had doubled in size and all the construction workers were laughing at him. Only his brother John was there to comfort him. He rushed to take a shower to wake himself up and was shocked at the feel of the water on his nearly naked scalp. He noticed, with resignation, that none of the shelf of hair products he used had made their way to his "new life."
By the end of that first day, Luke exhausted. He hadn’t ever worked that hard. But, most of the guys were, he had to say it, great. A few teased him about being the boss’s son, but it was pretty good natured. When they were eating lunch, the talk turned to the hot weather and one of the guys, Don, with a thick mop of wavy brown hair said "the newby sure has the right haircut for this job and this weather." Luke smiled and explained that until yesterday it was longer than his and (stretching the truth slightly) that he was glad his ’old man’ suggest he get it cut. He said he went to Mike’s and the cut was pretty reasonable-$10.00.
The guys all were impressed that "the rich boy" got such a bargain price haircut. Luke, feeling more confident explained the pricing of one blade buzz cuts and the discount for letting the trainee cut your hair. Luke said: "I let Rico practice on me, we all have to learn our jobs, right?" Several of the guys nodded in agreement. Luke was learning, and he slept well that night. In fact, his entire first week was better than he expected, sore muscles aside. But, then came the weekend.
The party with his MBA friends had been set weeks before his father had upset his plans. Luke thought he would be an executive In the family firm in designer suits, with a large office, and his well-pampered hair. As he showered and dressed in his one pair of good khakis and sport jacket, a button down white shirt and a very pedestrian striped tie. One could almost see the cartoon devil and angel, one on each shoulder. Would he go to the party as Luke, the humble man he was learning to be or would revert to cynical academician Luke? Luke still had enough of his old self inside him to look in the full-length mirror and not see the somewhat ill-fitting jacket, the stubble on his head, the roughed workman’s hands and the sunburned neck of a laborer.
Luke received some very strange looks when he arrived at the posh hotel lounge where the party was held. He had to remind the hotel concierge that it was he who had booked the party. The concierge looked suitably chastened and made some comment about not realizing Luke served in a military reserve unit. Upon walking into the party, Luke’s ‘friends’ stared, snickered, and pointed. This sent Luke into overdrive. He ordered a Manhattan and made his way toward a few of his friends with reputations for gossip. Jessica, who had been a "friend with benefits" at one point pouted "Lukey, what have you done to your lovely hair? And dear, those things your wearing!" Martin, another scion of wealthy parents was wearing a suit that cost about a month of a workman’s wages. Luke proceeded to spin a tale of having noticed cost and payroll irregularities upon "taking over the Construction Division" so he decided to go undercover. Thus, the haircut and the clothes.
Martin piped up "So you’re actually getting your hands dirty with the plebeians? How distressing." Luke explained that this was probably a six to twelve-month project that may take him around the company as his father has so much faith in Luke. Jessica was dragged away by Marcie who just had to hear the latest on Jessie’s new condo. Once they were alone Martin put his arm around Luke, rubbed Luke’s head and said, well, buddy, looks like you won’t be getting laid with this jarhead cut. I’m finally going to get more action than you. After a few more encounters with people who suddenly seemed a lot more superficial to him, and feeling strangely annoyed with himself for his "cover story" Luke headed home.
That Saturday, Luke had been fretting about the party he was to attend, Mike’s Barber Shop received three new customers, all Luke’s co-workers and all looking for the $10.00 special. Don led the guys in and told Mike that "our new buddy Luke told us we could get a ten-buck buzz cut from your apprentice Rico."
Mike who was always grateful for customers who would go to a trainee introduced Rico who he told "your customer Luke recommended you to these fellows." Don was the first in the chair and asked for a number 4 all over. Rico quickly obliged, and Don’s wavy blonde hair was soon gone. The other two younger fellows, Don jokingly called Oasis because they both had straight brown bowl cuts like the Gallagher brothers, were incredibly talented masons, who argued incessantly, but unlike Noel and Liam were best friends. After a long argument they agreed to get Number 2s. All three men left, delighted to be rid of their heavy pelts for the summer, and saying how glad they were that Luke had told them about Mike’s.
When Don and the Oasis boys had left the shop, Rico told Mike that he was surprised that Luke would have given them a recommendation. "That big wuss was crying over losing his girly locks."
Mike sat Rico down in the visitor’s chair and explained to Rico that Luke had had his life turned upside down that day. "He was confronting a whole lot of stuff. We’re here to cut their hair and give them confidence, not to judge them. You were merciless on Luke and it wasn’t your best work, but I knew that was what he needed, and you needed to get that anger out of your system. Mark my words, Luke will be back next Friday, or Saturday and you are going to give him the best buzz you have ever done."
Luke’s second week was physically less challenging, and he grudgingly admitted to himself that not having hair was a real benefit in this kind of work. He was also amazed at how much he did not know and how well integrated a job had to be to make the whole thing run effectively. Don and the Oasis boys had included him as one of the for ‘buzz bros,’ something that made him feel strangely pleased. He had also struck up a couple of conversations with one of the young guys, Max. He had noticed that Max was a real team player and that the foreman and even the site manager would assign Max to the more complex or precision tasks like shooting grades or working with various expensive gauges. Max learned that he and Luke lived in the same apartment complex. Max and his girlfriend shared a ground-floor unit, three buildings away from Luke. Unlike many of the guys, Max was quiet and thoughtful. Luke was touched when Max invited him over for supper on Thursday. "Nothing fancy, just burgers and salad." Luke agreed and insisted on bringing some beer and some corn on the cob.
Luke walked over to Max’s place and was met by Janie, a teacher who was working part-time at a daycare over the summer. Luke heard the familiar sound of a blow dryer coming from the bathroom and unconsciously rubbed his shorn pate. Just then the blow dryer was turned off. A moment later, Max came out of the bathroom, his floppy brown hair looking shiny as it covered his ears and fell below his collar. "Hey Max, you clean up ‘real nice’" joked Luke. "I was just telling Janie how much I appreciate this invitation."
Max smiled and said, "I have classes Monday and Wednesday. I’m trying to get an Associate’s Degree in Construction Management. I couldn’t afford to go to college, Janie is the brains of this team, she got scholarships that let her get her degree. "
"Luke, Max has a 4.0 G.P.A. in his program. I wish he had the opportunities I had, but he is amazing."
"Well, I can tell you Janie, Max is well liked and respected on the job by everybody, including the bosses."
While they were eating, Max brought up Luke’s haircut. "Luke, this is kind of embarrassing, but, I, well, I really think its time to ditch this shaggy hair, at least for the summer. I’ll finish my program next semester and I think its time." Janie shook her head in agreement. I heard you and the guys talking about Mike’s Barber Shop and um, well, I was thinking, do they do flat tops? Janie thinks I’d look good with a flat top."
Luke again unconsciously rubbed his head, this time running his hand up and down the back. "Mike is a flat top expert. I’m going in tomorrow after work to get this shaggy mess tightened up (in his mind he thought ‘did I just say that?’). Mike stays open until 6:30 on Fridays. How about we go together, lets come home shower up and go."
Friday passed uneventfully. Luke was thrilled to get a second opportunity to work with the Oasis boys, learning about brick-laying, concrete mixing, etc. Those guys really took such pride in their work. He felt bad for slowing them down, but both guys agreed that it was important to have backup who understood the job, so this was time well-spent.
Before leaving for Mike’s, Luke called him and explained that he was bringing a friend in for a first flat top. He wanted to ask Mike tell Max there was a special "first-time flat top" discount on that ended today. Luke would pay the difference if Mike would charge Max the same $10.00 he was charging for Rico’s buzz cuts. Mike smiled and agreed. When Luke and Max arrived, Luke was surprised to see his brother John being caped in John’s chair. John had a huge grin on his face "hey brother, I knew there was a handsome face under that mess. Dad told me you went for the big chop, but I said I wouldn’t believe it until I saw it. And Max, you were just starting with us when I was last working construction. Did Luke bring you along for the ride?"
"Wow John, I’m surprised you remember me! You and your brother are really something. In two week’s Luke’s started the Buzz Club and has three guys join him going short. He’s given me the courage to go for my first ever flat-top."
Luke blushed and sat down in Rico’s chair, acknowledging Rico’s thanks for bringing him three new customers and agreeing that he indeed wanted another Number 1 buzz. John looked in the mirror at Mike and said "I think I’m going to show a little fraternal solidarity. Let’s throw cation to the wind ad go with a crew cut today Mike, Number 3 on top with enough of a bumper to brush over." Luke’s eye’s widened in disbelief, as the clippers ran up the side of his brother’s head, clearing his neat short hair that had been I the same safe conservative style for years. "Dad, mom, and Lucy (John’s fiancée) are going to freak out when they see this."
Meanwhile, Rico was carefully removing two weeks of growth from Luke’s head. This time around Luke was really enjoying the sensation of the clippers against his head. When Rico carefully guided the straight razor around his ears, keeping his sideburns very high. As the cape was removed Luke thanked Rico sincerely and complimented him on the quality of his haircut. Rico beamed. Luke reached Mike’s chair, just as John was getting up. The two brothers embraced warmly, and John playfully rubbed Luke’s head. Luke whispered into his brother’s ear a simple "thanks for this" as he ran his hand up and down his brother’s bristly neck and head." The two brothers each paid, Luke discretely adding to cover the discount for Max. John said his farewells, telling Luke he would see him Saturday for dinner with the folks. Luke walked back, tipped Rico, then took a seat in front of Mike’s chair to view Max’s transformation. "You ready for this Max?"
Max smiled weakly, and said, "any doubts I had went away when I saw your brother take the plunge. Mike ran a comb through Max’s hair and noted he thought Max would do well with a traditional flat top. Mike began running the clippers p the side of Max’s head, letting the hair fall onto the cape. Max’s eyes widened as he saw the pile grow quickly. Luke looked at the transformation and envied Max for his maturity and, for being in the position to make this decision on his own. He thought how smart his brother’s crew cut looked. As Luke mused, Mike started cutting the long hair on top of Max’s head down from the floppy six inches to a uniform 3 inches. He then wet it, used a blow dryer to brush it all back so that it was standing straight. Mike told Max to keep his head very still during this next part as he began to run the clippers over a comb gradually taking the top own shorter and flatter. Max suddenly felt a stirring down below and it made him think of what it would be like to have Janie running her hands slowly across his flat top tonight. He was blushing slightly, but Mike, an old professional knew the signs and made sure that he blocked any embarrassing views from Luke or other customers. After about 20 minutes of detailed work that included taking Max’s sideburns up, nearly as high as Luke’s and a quick tutorial on the proper sparing use of butch wax, Max had his first flat top. Max was thrilled. Luke was torn, where two weeks ago0,he couldn’t wait to grow his long luxuriant locks back, now he was looking forward to the day he could grow out just enough hair for a flat top.
Max couldn’t believe his flat top was on special for only $10.00. Max and Luke headed for their apartment complex. Max was anticipating a night with Janie. Luke was anticipating his family dinner and puzzling over the way his life was changing.