Right Time Right Place by Deke Cutter
This is based on Digitalshave’s great story "Everything In Its Right Place"
We didn’t see a great deal of our neighbor Jerry. He seemed to travel a lot for work. When we first bought our house, Jerry was an amiable figure with a thick head of grey hair a full beard and a rather exaggerated handlebar mustache. Jerry helped us when we moved in and seemed like a regular guy. I knew he was divorced, but my wife, Diane told me that the neighborhood grapevine said he was quite popular with the ladies. About a year after we moved in, Jerry came home from a trip, a changed man, literally. Gone was his proud mane of hair, his thick beard, and (mercifully) the mustache). He now was clean shaven and wearing (what I learned was called) a high and tight flat top. I knew that Jerry had been quite proud of his sartorial splendor and Diane and I were both wondering what had cased him to go for such a big change. Diane, who was on the neighborhood Listserve, a lot more than me, mentioned that Jerry’s scalping was the subject of some derision. We decided to invite Jerry over to dinner. Our kids (ages 5 and 3) liked Jerry and we thought he might like a night with friendly faces.
As I brought Jerry into the living room, Danny, my five-year-old looked up and shouted: "Jerry Claus, where’s your beard and hair?" Danny had thought Jerry was Santa, despite his lack of extra pounds, the first time he saw him. He had called him Jerry Claus ever since. His three-year-old sister Tina looked quizzically at Jerry and decided she did not know who he was.
Jerry, got down on his hands and knees so he was on Danny’s level, and said: "I just got a shave and a haircut Danny, a very shot haircut. Do I look like your GI-Joe?"
Danny giggled, gave him a hug and said to his sister: "Tina, its Jerry Claus, he just looks different." Seeing her brother getting more attention, Tina deigned to allow Jerry to give her a hug.
Diane apologized for Danny’s forwardness, but Jerry, though obviously embarrassed, brushed it off. We had a very nice dinner. The kids were quite well behaved, and Jerry agreed to stay while we got through the bedtime routine. Tina even wanted to give Jerry a good night hug and ran her hands up and down the back of his head and said: "bristle head." She loved it when I let her run her hands on my face before I shaved, and she would call me "bristle face."
After the kids were down, we all sat down with coffee and brandy. Jerry decided to address the elephant in the room. "So, I expect you are wondering if I joined the Marines while I away." I laughed and noted that it was quite a significant change. Jerry then explained the whole story of the small-town barber, the barber’s choice haircut, the mustache law, and the pipe and how the barber made it clear that he expected him to keep this new look. "You’re the only people in the neighborhood I trusted with the story. Please don’t tell anyone. I told my boss about everything, but that implied threat. My boss told me he was a bit shocked, but that he thought it suited me and kind of hoped I would keep my hair short and stay clean shaven. He said to see if it helped or hurt my sales targets."
Diane was fairly exercised, "But Jerry, aren’t you going to take action against that barber? He held you against your will, he assaulted you, he…"
Jerry held up his hands. "I was furious when he strapped me into that chair and held me down. But something happened to me, by the time he finished with me, I was so ashamed, I decided that I would remain looking this way. Nobody can ever make me feel like a failure as a man again. Oh, the pipe, is a nonstarter, I don’t want mouth cancer, but this is who I am now. I unconsciously began running my fingers through my own long blonde hair that fell into my eyes and covered my ears and collar.
"Well Jerry, I hope you find a good local barber, I suspect you will be needing fairly-regular visits to keep a haircut like that looking neat."
"Already done! I saw a couple of fire fighters at the diner yesterday, they recommended the place they go to, plus, they told me to stop by the station anytime I needed a trim."
Over the next few months, Jerry was in and out of town. Each time I saw him, his haircut looked sharp and he seemed more squared away. I noticed him going out with his gym bag when he was home. A really hot looking lady of his age seemed to be coming around a lot more too. As Spring came around, I noticed a couple of guys in the neighborhood started showing up with shorter haircuts. I started feeling shaggy.
I started hanging out more with Jerry. I noticed how neat his home was. Everything in its right place. Jerry started was about 12 years older than me. He’d got into the habit of referring to me as ‘son,’ and seemed to be giving me life advice. That was sort of comforting in a way. Being a dad to two young kids was a big burden and it was nice to have a father figure, with my own dad on the other side of the country. I had decided to get a couple inches trimmed off my hair when the weather got hot. Diane thought it looked good. In fact, she said she thought a nice short summer cut made sense. When I went over to Jerry’s next, I wondered if he would notice my haircut. He didn’t. I finally blurted out, "Jerry, what do you think of my haircut?"
Jerry got a wry smile on his face and said, "son, I’ve come to realize that there are men, like I used to be, who value themselves based on their exterior." It does appear your hair is a bit shorter." Does it make you feel better?" I was speechless, and the moment passed. We went on to work on his latest DIY project.
A few weeks later, Diane was taking the kids up to her sister’s for a long weekend, so I was on my own. Jerry’s girlfriend Thelma was also away. Jerry suggested we go out to breakfast and then, if I didn’t mind, run some errands. We had a good healthy breakfast at a new place across town. As we got back into Jerry’s car, he said that this next stop should be real educational for you. We soon arrived at the East Side Barber Shop. "Son, this a barbershop, plain and simple. You can wait out here if you want." Something compelled me to enter. There was a fire fighter and a cop ahead of Jerry in the two-barber shop. The cop was getting a haircut like Jerry’s, the fire fighter, Jerry told me, was getting something called "a bald fade." "No chance of hair interfering with the seals on his equipment," Jerry stated, nodding his head. When the bald fade was completed, the fireman paid, and that barber said he was off on his break. When the other barber was free, Jerry got into the chair, and the barber began working, without a word being spoken. Jerry said to the barber, "this is my neighbor, his name is ‘Robbie,’ he and his wife were the only neighbors who accepted my transition to a tight simple haircut." I wanted him to have a chance to, at least, see what its like to have a haircut in a place that simply completes the task." I felt my face redden slightly, but, somehow felt that I was being offered a chance to enter a special fraternity. My common sense was screaming at me-get out of here, this is not for you, but I felt glued to the chair.
When Jerry’s haircut was completed, he climbed down from the chair. He looked at me and said, "son, how long has it been since you’ve sat in one of these chairs?" I felt like I was in a dream, I was almost floating across the room. I sat down, the barber looked at Jerry who nodded almost imperceptibly. Suddenly, I was caped, the paper was around my neck. Jerry said, "now, son, its up to you." The barber started combing through my blonde locks. I saw him raise his scissors, to about midpoint of my ear, shorter than my hair has been since before college. I could not speak. I simply shook my head affirmatively and saw my hair start to fall. He went slowly around my head. Next, he combed down my bangs and they covered my eyes. He put the scissors at eyebrow level and I swallowed hard. He moved them up to mid-forehead and I shook my head. Snip, snip, snip. Next, he simply went around uncovering my ears completely, leaving me looking ridiculous. "Its still up to you, son." I still could not speak, I tried, I mouthed the words "like you." The barber slipped his scissors into his jacket pocket and picked up his clippers. The clippers began their assault up the right side of my head. More of my beautiful blonde hair slid down onto the cape. More and more hair fell. I looked in the mirror and saw my head looking almost bald on the sides. Then the barber wet my hair on top, brushed it back and began scissoring it down. Then, once it was about two inches high, he wet it again, put some product into it, and blew it dry. Then began the terrible take down. Down the middle, to the skin, slowly, slowly trimming down the sides and front. Lather around the ears and neck. Scrit, scrit, scrit. "OK, son, now you get a barbershop shave." I didn’t even get a chance to look at myself in the mirror before the chair was tilted back. A hot towel was wrapped around my face. It was so relaxing. The shave felt so good, but the feeling of my bare head on the head rest was disconcerting. After the cold towel and the aftershave balm, the chair was raised. I was looking at a stranger, a mortified stranger. I looked like some scrawny actor miscast as a marine. What would Diane say? My design team would give me such a hard time. But then I looked in the mirror and saw myself and Jerry. Somehow, I too knew, this was the right thing, that whatever else changed, this was now who I was.