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A Traditional American Haircut by Shortbacker
Life was going well. Just two years after graduating and starting work in London with a global oil services company, I was promoted and sent to work at the Houston head office. My fiancée was happy to give up her job in order to come with me. We were renting a tiny flat on the outskirts of London which cost a fortune, so neither of us was sad to be leaving for the USA. The last few weeks before we left were frantic with work and packing up, so it was no surprise when Susan, my future wife, commented that I badly needed a haircut. I replied that there would not be time, but I would do it when we arrived in the USA.
Finally, we arrived in Texas and initially spent a couple of weeks in a hotel close to the Head Office, before moving out to a company house in a leafy suburb just outside of town. Again I was busy getting to grips with the demands of the new job and preparing to move into our new home. Susan increasingly nagged me about getting a haircut but there really was no time and my brown hair began to curl over my collar and below my ears. Secretly, I was not concerned. Ever since I was a boy at school I had always hated haircuts.
On the weekend that we moved into our new house, our neighbours, Chuck and Nancy, invited us round for a barbecue by the pool in their yard. It was a very pleasant afternoon with the sun shining and beers and steaks flowing. Chuck, or Charles B. Cooper the Third, was a senior manager at the firm and we talked shop a little. Susan appeared to be getting on well with Nancy, Chuck’s wife, and her two children, Chuck Junior and Bart . We all ended up cooling off in the pool.
Later, sitting around the pool deck, Susan commented on how cute Chuck Junior’s hair was. It was cropped short at the back and sides and longer on top. Nancy surprised her by saying it was far too long because he had missed a couple of regular visits to the barber through illness and sports commitments. However, she added ominously, "it will all be taken care of next Saturday when he goes to the barbershop with his father" I suddenly felt uneasy. Chuck Senior sported a very typical American longish flattop like so many of the men in the new office. Chuck junior’s hair could hardly be described as long, particularly compared to my own lush locks which were now dripping water onto my shoulders. I glanced at Susan who gave a sweet smile before striking her killer blow. " Well you really must tell Peter where that barbershop is. He could do with a trim"
It was a precision strike. "Well sure honey", replied Nancy, " in fact I am sure that Peter could go along with the boys on Saturday so they an show him the way to Jackson’s. it is the best traditional barbershop in the area" She placed considerable emphasis on the word ‘traditional ‘. "You and I could take a trip to the beauty salon, I am due a shampoo and set".
"That would be lovely", Susan replied , "wouldn’t it Peter".
"Ehm well oh yes I suppose it would", I blustered. There was no easy way to refuse.
I studied Nancy’s wet hair. It was permed into tight curls on top and cut very short at the sides and back. It was much shorter than my hair and Susan’s bra-strap length mid-brown tresses.
Susan was clearly delighted with herself and teased me as we walked back to our house, "Someone is going to get a proper traditional American haircut on Saturday morning". I said nothing but my trepidation increased steadily throughout the week. I was almost wishing that Friday would not come but inevitably it did. In bed on Friday evening, Susan ran her fingers through my long and silky hair and then whispered gently into my ear "bzzzzz" before rolling away in fits of laughter.
In the morning, after a sleepless night for me, we got up early, showered and breakfasted. At around 9am there was a knock on the back porch from Chuck, " Ready to get down to the barbershop Pete. The boys are in the car".
I rose slowly from the table and said with more enthusiasm than I felt "Sure Chuck. Let’s go". I bent to kiss Susan and again she pushed her fingers into my hair and whispered "bzzzz"
Jackson’s barbershop was indeed a very traditional establishment. It sat in a parking lot just off the highway in a row of wooden fronted shops selling hardware, car tyres, and coffee and donuts. It was announced itself as a barbershop with a large red, white and blue striped pole outside the building and frosted windows that bore the sign ‘Jackson’s Barbershop. Haircuts and Shaves since 1946’. It was nothing like the modern unisex shop that I occasionally frequented in London.
I was nervously aware that I had hardly spoken since we left the house but the boys in the back had maintained a constant babble and Chuck had been happy to point out landmarks along the way. My anxiety levels increased as we entered the shop. A bell rang as the door opened and Chuck ushered the two boys in, holding it open for me, I was immediately assaulted by the high testosterone atmosphere of chatter, shaving soap, hair oil, loud buzzing and large clumps of hair on the floor. The shop was busy, with two barbers working on two customers and three more seated on wooden seats along the back wall. The four of us took our places in the waiting area and I began to take in my new surroundings. The older of the two barbers said, " Hi Chuck. We’ve not seen you and the boys for a while"
" No sir - we are way overdue", replied Chuck. "But I have brought you a new customer, Ed. This is Pete from England"
"Pleased to meet you Pete", said Ed as he nodded towards me. "Don’t they have barbershops in England any more? I guess you’ve come here to get a proper haircut"
The comment raised a ripple of laughter from the other customers and I smiled and shrugged sheepishly. This was not going to plan. I had intended to ask for a light trim. Slightly shorter at the back and sides Not too much off the top. Clearly Ed had other ideas. However, there was still time to effect a tactical retreat with lots of other customers in front of me.
I watched as the two barbers brushed shaving foam onto the necks of their two customers and then shaved high all around with straight razors. Capes were removed with a flourish and more hair dropped to the floor. Both customers stood and felt the backs of their heads which are now completely bald. They seemed satisfied and as Ed walked them to the cashier desk by the front door, the younger of the two barbers shouted "Next!"
I watched as the young man with hair no more than an inch long sat in the large barber chair. In front of him was an old faded mirror surrounded by wooden shelves on which were various shaving brushes and jars of hairdressing tools in a virulent blue liquid Below the mirror was an old porcelain sink with brass taps and next to the sink, hanging down on hooks, were several sets of hair clippers of various shapes and sizes. I continued to watch as the new customer was quickly wrapped with a paper strip around his neck and enclosed in a cape. His chair was turned away from the mirror and the barber, without a word switched on large set of clippers and began to run them over the top of his head. The loud loud buzzing was interrupted by a shout of "Next!", as Ed returned from the cash desk and beckoned an old man who was almost bald except for a strip of bushy grey hair around the sides and back.
Ed’s workstation was identical to the other and as he turned the chair to face me he picked up a set of clippers and rapidly sheared off all of the grey hair. He then took a shaving mug to a large chrome plated vessel in the corner of the shop and with a loud hiss filled the mug with white foam. I glanced back at the other chair where the barber was now working with small clippers cleaning around the customers ears and neck. The top of his head was a dark stubble no more than 1mm long. As I watched, he was uncaped and rose from the chair which was surrounded by clumps of his dark hair. "That should do you for a couple of weeks", said the barber as they walked to the till. In the meantime, Ed was scraping the last of the shaving foam from his elderly customers head and proceeded to rub it with a towel. The young barber returned and started on his next customer.
It was beginning to dawn on me that time was running out. Only one customer left before us. He was a middle aged man with hair just over the top of his ears and almost touching his collar. He soon moved into Ed’s chair and asked for a businessman’s cut and Ed proceeded to cut small amounts off with scissors. I perked up. Perhaps this was what I should ask for to avoid the clipper carnage that I had already witnessed. I relaxed a bit and was slightly surprised when the young barber shouted "Next!" Chuck indicated to Chuck Junior that he should sit in the chair and said to the barber "High and tight buzzcut with short bangs".
Ed finished with his scissors in the other chair and was trimming the sides and back with small clippers. The haircut did not look too bad and I made up my mind to ask for a businessman’s cut. This was especially true when I looked back and saw Chuck Junior with his head down and clippers shaving the back of his head bald. I watched in fascination as the barber took all the hair off the small boys head right up to the crown leaving a longish clump on top. At that moment Ed shouted " Next!" Chuck took the seat with instructions to Bart that he should follow into the other chair when his brother was finished. His brother was now being sheared on top of his head with large clippers leaving around a quarter of an inch except for a small fringe on his forehead.
I turned back to Ed’s chair and he was chatting with Chuck. He finally said "The usual. Chuck?" I wondered if he would say "yes please Ed, a businessman’s cut". But no, he said " Yes Sir. Flattop. High and tight with a landing strip" The old barber switched on his clippers and began stripping the side of Chucks head bald. There was a reduction in noise as the other barber switched off his clippers and began scissoring at the front of Chuck Junior’s hair He then spread a little shaving foam around his neck and ears and shaved it clean. With a swish of the cape the boy was freed and his brother took his place. It was only then that I realised just how long Chuck Junior’s hair had been compared to his now almost bald look.
Other customers had been coming into the shop as I had watched with increasing anxiety. I knew I was next up, but at least I had a plan. I sat watching as Chuck and Bart were subjected to various clippers until finally Chuck stood up, rubbed the back of his now early bald head and said, "you’re next, Pete".
Ed smiled and turned the chair towards me gesturing with his cape for me to take a seat. The butterflies in my stomach fluttered as I moved towards the chair and I was slightly surprised to feel the stirrings of an erection. Ed caped me and began to comb my lush brown hair with a look of distinct disapproval. "So you’re from England eh? I guess the barbers there must’ve been on strike for a few months. Lucky you’re here and you can get a proper American haircut."
"Well yes", I stuttered. "Could I have a businessman’s cut please".
"Yes, you could", Ed replied,"but I think you need something more traditional. Now you sit there and leave it to me"
At that moment I heard a loud buzz and the clipper comb plunged into my hair causing a wave of hair to fall across my face and into my lap. This continued all around until by the lightness of my head, I was sure that there was no hair left. The chair was turned towards the mirror and I was surprised to see that I now had about an inch of hair all over. Not what I wanted but not as bad as I expected. At that point, Ed picked up another set of clippers and starting at the front near my temple proceeded to shave a bald horizontal strip above my ears and to the back of my head. He repeated this on the other side and then on top from halfway back to the crown. I was too shocked to say anything as he selected a small set of clippers and shaved off all the hair below the strip he had just shaved. He then proceeded to spray the remaining hair on top of my head with hairspray brushing it back as he went. He turned on a hairdryer and continued to brush my hair up and back until it stood stiffly to attention. Ed then fired up the clippers once more and with a straight metal comb as a guide gradually reduced the hair on the top of my head to no more than half an inch at the front and a light stubble at the back. Could feel the comb and then the bare clippers blades working on my scalp as tiny fragments of hair rained down. Despite the shock, the stiffness in my pants continued to grow, especially when Ed took a shaving brush and lathered all around the sides and back and up onto the top of my head. He shaved me carefully gave my remaining hair a liberal application of wax and brushed it to attention again. When the cape was removed I stared blankly at the mounds of hair that had now hit the floor. I gingerly touched the back of my head which was smooth and let my hand drift up to seek out a hint of stubble at the top."There you go", said Ed, "a proper American haircut"". See you in a couple of weeks".
Chuck enthused over my new look as we paid and then drove off home. While we were having a beer at Chucks house, Nancy returned and immediately conducted an inspection by touching each of the heads in turn. She got to me and nodded her approval. "Now you are a proper American couple" I she winked." I could not help noticing that she too had had some clipper attention at the sides and the back with her hair set in a pelmet of curls on top. I hurried home to find my wife in tears at the kitchen table. Her long brown hair was gone, replaced by a short perm with shaved sides. I put my arm around her and whispered in her ear "bzzzz".