An Actor and a Veteran Walk into a Bar by Zero
The audition was taking longer than he expected and as he waited for his turn, Thomas couldn´t stop eyeing the guy next him.
He had an athletic build, enough that the sleeves of his perfectly white t-shirt hugged his biceps like it was sewn around his arms. His legs were something out of a runner´s magazine or a professional soccer player, all muscle and defined lines. He wore pitch dark sunglasses. Even his hands seemed something out of a Renaissance sculpture. His dark hair, even close cropped as it was, was dense and thick. Clean shaven, but he looked like he could grow a full beard if he wanted to.
The guy was a walking textbook example of a perfect male specimen, the kind he would show aliens if they happened to arrive on Earth and ask for what was considered ideal for his biological sex.
In short, he made him feel completely and hopelessly inadequate.
Thomas tried to keep himself fit and he didn´t consider himself scrawny, but this guy… well, he had never experienced a drop of his self-esteem like this.
It was like his self-esteem had decided to jump down the Angeles Falls.
No. Wait. Down the Everest. That was more accurate in terms of instant, devastating, lethal fall to imminent death.
The moment this guy walked in, he wanted to walk out in retreat. But then he tried to be rational.
So, what if the guy next to him had a body that even Michelangelo´s statue of David would envy. This casting wasn´t about his looks, it was about his acting skills. That´s what he had to focus on and with a couple years of theater experience, Thomas was sure of himself. It didn´t matter if… oh… s**t.
The guy had a motto tattoo.
Right in the inner part of his arm.
A clear, gigantic and unmistakable Semper Fi.
He was a marine. A. Goddamn. Marine.
So he was auditioning to play a marine in a military drama, and sitting next to a GODDAMN MARINE that was also going to audition for the part.
Well, screw his life.
He crossed his arms and leaned back on the chair. This was something out of a joke, really. Something among the lines of ´an actor and a marine walk into a bar´ kind of thing. Thomas couldn´t believe it.
"You´re next, please come with me!" the girl turned around to see him "And please, if you can put your hair up so we can see your facial expressions better".
"Yes, of course" he tied it back quickly in a half ponytail.
He always had long hair. He was used to it brushing his neck and girls playing with it, stroking it with a mix of lust and envy. For long as he could remember, it had always been that way. His parents just got him used to regular trims and his mother always insisted that not too much of his hair was cut every time.
He didn’t think too much about it, but he also knew that his genes had given rather amazing hair that almost supernaturally never looked dull or greasy, despite his sloppiness when it came to taking care of it. He would either wear it loose or keep it off his face with a hair tie or a messy bun and call it a day without any gel or other products.
And he knew that if he landed the role, he would most likely have to cut it.
Suffice to say, it wasn’t something he was terribly eager about.
As he walked away, he swore he could feel the marine´s eyes in the back of his head.
Thomas didn’t hear anything back from the casting for the following week and just when he had forgotten about it, his phone rang.
They offered him to play the main character´s younger brother. One of the few characters that were civilians. He appeared in only a couple of scenes in the script, but he figured the consolation prize was still a prize and acting experience wasn’t something he could turn down, so he showed up for the first meeting with the rest of the cast and…
And obviously the goddamn marine was there, obviously he had landed the leading role, Thomas didn’t have a doubt about it. The role was tailored for someone like him, who knew drill and who was already familiar with all the crazy acronyms from the military and pronounced them out loud naturally.
Also, the goddamn marine had a name. Pierre.
He learned it after he overheard a guy he recognized from the casting (he was almost certain it was the director) calling him by it.
"Are you Thomas?" a young girl with glasses approached him.
"Yes, that’s me".
"You’re playing Derek, right?" she paused to clarify "The main character’s brother".
"Okay, they told me to let you know we’re only reading act I today and since your character’s not in it, you can leave if you want to and come here tomorrow. No pressure, okay?" she told him.
"Okay, cool" he nodded "Thanks for letting me know. I’ll be leaving then" he smiled.
As soon as Thomas turned around and headed towards the door, he saw a girl he recognized from yesterday at the audition staring at him wide eyed.
"Where are you going? We’re going to start already" she asked in a rather abrasive way.
"I thought I wasn’t needed today?" he raised an eyebrow in confusion "That chick over there with the glasses told me so" he pointed behind him.
"Christine! Come here a sec!" she called her "Why did you tell him to leave?"
"You told me so!" the girl with the glasses defended herself "You asked me to find the guy who was going to play Derek and tell him he could go if he wanted!".
"He’s not the one that’s going to play Derek!" Ashley gestured at Thomas.
Now he was way more confused.
"Wait. I think I know what’s going on" she put both her hands up "You’re confused. The guy that’s going to play Derek is called Harry Thomas. And this is Thomas Frederiksen, right?" she looked back at him.
"Yes, that’s me. But wait a sec" he stepped forward "I was told I was playing that character. But if he’s doing it, then what’s my part?".
"You’re playing Jake!" she raised her voice "You’re the lead!"
"What?" he couldn’t believe it.
"I’m so sorry for the confusion" Ashley looked at him and then back at the other girl "You find Harry Thomas and tell him he can go if he wants, I’ll take Thomas F. to the reading, okay?"
Before he could get a better explanation, she led him back to the empty auditorium. As they entered, he noticed the marine staring his way.
"Pierre!" she called his name.
"Ashley!" he replied with a smile.
"Thomas, this is Pierre" she introduced him "He’s our resident military advisor".
Thomas shook his hand like in trance, still processing the information. So Pierre wasn’t an auditioning for any role?
"And Pierre, this is Thomas, our lead" she said to him "You two are going to have to spend a lot of time together".
He actually got the lead role? He felt his head was spinning now.
"Nice to meet you" Pierre’s smile didn’t fade and Thomas noticed that even his teeth were perfect, was this guy even real?
"And Thomas…" Ashley touched his shoulder briefly "We´re going to have to cut your hair later, are you okay with that?"
Right. He had forgotten about that.
"Ye-yes" he heard himself stammer and cursed in his mind.
Now he was nervous.
Being forced, suddenly, to spend several hours with someone he barely knew was typical for Thomas. As an actor, for him it was just part of his job. But it was the first time he had worked with an advisor of any kind and while the four intense weeks of rehearsals with the rest of the cast had flown by, his training with Pierre seemed to end way too soon.
Maybe it was because, as the veteran pointed out, at best an attempt at cramming basic training language and mannerisms in a month when it was usually three. Or maybe, it was because Pierre had a way of bending time to his will and make it go faster.
As Thomas stared at himself in dress uniform in the mirror the day before the premiere. He didn´t have the physical build of a soldier, but it fit him right. Sure, the fabric was a little too pressed in some places for his liking, but it added to the aura of discipline and sacrifice he had to project on the stage.
"Stand at attention" he heard Pierre behind him and moved to his command "Four weeks and your feet are still too apart, you boot".
Thomas corrected the angle of his heels with a sigh of defeat "I keep forgetting it".
"Hey. Relax" the veteran came closer and inspected him with his hands behind his back "I admit that the dress blues suit you… but there´s one thing that´s still off…" Pierre reached for the side of his head, digging his fingers in his hair slowly.
"Yeah, I know" Thomas ran his hand through his mane, thinking how much shorter it would be the following day.
"I can´t wait to see all of this gone" he added in a softer voice, with a smile on his lips.
Was Pierre?... No. No way. Thomas discarded the thought immediately and watched him leave.
Don´t ask. Don´t tell.
He silently wondered what Pierre looked like in dress blues.
Thomas could hardly sleep that night. He always had trouble sleeping the night before a play, but right then his mind kept replaying all the military slang he had learned over and over, and his lines and the body postures, he had to get them right.
As if he was waiting for him, he was greeted by Pierre when he arrived in the theater. Thomas thought he seemed in an awfully good mood that day, but promptly forgot about it as they walked to the dressing room downstairs. He greeted everyone they encountered on the way and everyone was rushing from one side to the other.
"Pierre!" Christine stopped them in a hurry "Please get Thomas to get his makeup done as soon as you’re done, okay?"
"Yes, mam" Pierre opened the door to an empty changing room and turned on the light.
Thomas stepped inside "So, are you drilling me one last time before I screw up out here? Because I could really use that".
"Not exactly" the marine closed the door behind him.
Putting down his backpack on a table, Thomas saw the military advisor take a chair and place it near the place he was standing. He heard him ask him to sit down. Thomas removed his jacket and did so. In front of him was a mirror.
"You have a lot of hair…" he heard Pierre say "You must really be passionate about acting to give it up like this".
Giving it up? Well, that was a dramatic turn of phrase (and it didn´t help with his nerves at all). He had spent the last hours mentally preparing himself for this. He knew it was going to be a lot shorter, but it was going to grow back anyway.
He had already imagined himself with the back and sides of his head cropped short and maybe a couple inches left longer on top, maybe some reminiscence of very short bangs. It was just a haircut. He was going to be okay.
Then he saw Pierre extracting a black cord from a bag he was carrying, followed by a big pair of hair clippers "Pierre, what are you doing?".
"Helping you get in character" he saw him plug them in the wall and place an attachment on them "Don’t worry, I was my units’ unofficial barber back when we were deployed" he tried to reassure him as he turned them on.
Thomas wrapped his fingers around the armchairs, to try to fight back the unconscious order his brain sent his legs to jump out of the chair. He tried to calm himself down and keep his hardly contained terror from taking over him.
Okay, maybe he was attached to his hair.
Maybe more than he wanted to admit.
"Pierre, are you sure…?"
The veteran turned off the clippers for a second and locked his eyes with Thomas "You want to be a marine?"
Thomas stopped to think when he heard Pierre’s question. He was an actor and he had agreed to this, he had accepted it and said he would do it. If he was going to play a marine, he had to look the part.
He could do this. It was going to be okay. After all, it was just a haircut.
"Yes" he replied clearly.
"Focus on my voice" Pierre came closer to him. Thomas could see him in the mirror. He nodded and began to take deep breaths.
Pierre noticed his gaze, it was no longer in the mirror in front of him, he could tell he was truly concentrating, just as he did when he rehearsed, when Thomas Frederiksen stopped being himself and transformed into raw emotion and burning passion.
The marine held the back of the chair where his apprentice was sitting, holding the hair clippers on his right hand and lowered his body so his face was at the same level as the actor’s.
"You´re young, fresh out of high school… a hard-working student who rose to the top of his class on sheer willpower and nothing else" he whispered and let his breath caress Thomas’ ear, carrying the words he pronounced to him.
He glanced into the mirror, and noticed Thomas throat moving, contracting, his gaze no longer held by his or anything in the room. He continued reciting the lead actor’s character arc "You want to go to college, but you´re also desperate to support your mother, who raised you alone. So one day, you learn about the G.I. Bill and after much thinking, you decide you want to join the US Marine Corps. Your mom resisted the idea at first, but then says she supports you".
He held a lock of Thomas’ honey brown mane in his fingers, marveling at how it glistened, at the silk it contained. He tried to fix the memory of what the looked like right then in his mind. Surrendered at the command of his voice, with that beautiful mane of his reaching the base of his neck, completely his to take.
A metamorphosis was about to happen.
With a quick movement of his thumb, Pierre turned on his hair clippers. They hummed in his hand, inches away from Thomas’ gorgeous hair. With his opposite hand, he lifted a section of his soft bangs and placed the machine right on his hairline and pulled back towards his crown. The actor’s eye twitched in response to the change of the mechanical growl for a louder noise as they encountered the dense forest of his mane.
The first locks departed from his head and Pierre held them for a instant in his hand, before dropping them to the floor, lifeless and useless. He secured in this hand another handful of Thomas’ hair and made the second pass.
"So next week, as they cut off your hair, you think of her and what you´re leaving behind and think that this could be the greatest thing you do with your life or the greatest mistake you commit".
As he began buzzing his right temple, Thomas´ eyes began watering. Then, a single tear rolled down his cheek, almost in synchrony with the hair falling to his lap.
If this was for a film, it would be beautiful. The thought made Pierre feel a rush of ecstasy and the image instantly rooted itself in his mind.
He could hear Thomas´ sharp intakes of breath underneath the hair clippers´ ferocious sound.
"Despite what everyone says, deep inside you know you´re an ill fit for the military, an impostor, and it´s only a matter of time before someone notices and calls you out on the failure you know you are" he resumed his description as he finished running the clippers behind his ear. An 1/8 inch was left of his thick mane in their path.
"And you suspect that at least the drill sergeant knows already, and you wonder why he doesn´t give up on you. Sometimes you wish he did. But you can´t fail your mother and her unconditional love and her faith in you" Pierre maintained his voice low and sultry as he lowered Thomas’ head to access his nape.
He followed up the curve of his head from the base of his neck, up to his crown and as he flicked his wrist, long locks the color of rich honey tumbled to the floor. He uncovered his hairline, and its rugged natural shape to be sharpened and fixed.
"So, after it happens, after your best friend dies, you sit in front of the court, waiting for dishonorable discharge and you look up at the jury and you think…" he lowered his face to his level again "God, that guy on the right is really f***ing hot".
Still with his face wet with tears, Thomas burst out laughing "PIERRE!".
The marine backed off and unseen by Thomas, he removed the attachment from the hair clippers and left the blades bare "Hey, I just wanted to see if you were in character".
"I was!" Thomas’ voice is full of indignation, but his face contradicts it with light of his laughter still clinging to his features.
"Tell me the truth, Thomas, were you crying because you were feeling the scene or because of your hair?" he looked at him with a grin in his face.
Thomas reached up to his head, his eyes went wide "F***! My hair!"
"Hey, I haven’t finished yet" Pierre laughed.
Thomas turned his head around again to let him end his work without further interruptions. With the zero, Pierre shaved off the pelt left on his sides and on the back of his head. The faintest stubble covered his scalp. He pressed the blades against the actor’s nape and removed uneven patches. Once he was done, he went back to his bag.
"Are you done?" Thomas asked him.
"Almost" he returned with a can of shaving foam and a razor "How do you feel?"
He heard him scoff "Betrayed".
"Really?" Pierre sprayed some foam on his hand and then spread it across Thomas’ hairline with his fingers.
"Well, of course, I mean" he moved his right hand in the air "I was emotionally invested and you suddenly did that to me, you completely changed my signal".
"I was just curious to see if you could cry for a scene"
"Of course, I can cry for a scene!" he sounded offended.
Pierre secured his head in place with his hand as he prepared to use the razor on his neck "Hold still".
In long strokes, he shaved the back and the sides of Thomas’ head, leaving bare scalp and removing the stubble completely "How does this feel for you?"
"Cutting off all your hair".
"Terrifying" Thomas laughed and closed his eyes "Unreal…"
"I´m also f***ing cold".
Pierre removed the bits of foam from his neck an then inspected with his fingertips "You´ll get used to it. I promise" it had been a while since he had last given someone a high and tight, but he was satisfied with the result "I’m finished".
Thomas got up, he felt the clumps of his hair falling off as he did and took a good hard look at himself in the mirror. He was astonished. He didn’t find himself in his reflection. He turned his head from one side to the other and explored its surface with his fingers.
"Oh my God" he ran his hand across the buzzed top of his head, it was the longest hair he had left and it was brutally short.
"Welcome to the corps, Thomas" Pierre punched him in the shoulder.
The round of applauses was deafening and even at the after party, Thomas kept smiling, hearing its thunder inside his mind. His hand kept going up to his head. The play was over and now he felt in a dream like state, like he was going to wake up with hair again anytime.
Having most of his head shaved. It was so weird.
"They want to include us in their spring calendar!" Ashley, the director said delighted "We´ll have weekly shows for four months!"
"Thomas, we need you to keep your hair like that for a while, is that alright?" she looked at him with concern.
He took a sip of his drink "Yeah, no problem"
"Thomas, you didn’t have to cut it so short, you know?" she patted him on the shoulder before moving on towards the sofa. Once she was gone, he directed his attention to Pierre, standing a couple steps away from him.
"I didn´t have to cut it so short?" he crossed his arms.
"Well, technically, I could have given you a low reg instead and leave you more hair" the marine said in an innocent voice "I might have gotten carried away. I hope you’re not mad".
"I kind of am!" Thomas smirked at him and finished his drink "Hey, Pierre... I was wondering, and I hope I don´t come across as rude, I don´t mean to offend you, but even though I´m not really offending you, just thought you might be sensitive about these things, and I don´t want to violate your personal boundaries, and I know how these issues are in the army, I mean, the marines and…"
"Please stop rambling" the veteran walked towards him.
"Sorry" Thomas felt himself fluster "But are you…" he trailed off "Well, you know…".
Pierre laughed out loud "Thomas".
"I´m sorry, I just…".
"Hey" he put his hand around his upper arm "Why don´t we continue this conversation somewhere else?".
Thomas thought about it for a while before looking into his eyes "That would be nice".