Fred's Son Knew Best by Manny
After our little town -- nestled in the foothills of the Alleghanies -- was featured in the travel section of the Post, we started seeing a steady stream of vacationers from the capital. Words like "quaint, unspoiled, simple, and charming" were on the lips of those who visited. Before we knew it, the place started going upscale. Bistros with sidewalk cafe's sprouted up next to designer boutiques and novelty shops that marketed local products, including the tasty vintages from local wineries. Old homes were converted into B&B's. An annual music festival drew in hundreds for across the region. My place was one of the few establishments on Main Street that did not change an iota in the midst of the metamorphosis from countrified to gentrified.
From the large plate glass window of my barber shop, I watched the parade of well-heeled families, decked out in their outrageously priced "casual wear" enjoying a get-away from the hustle and bustle of city life. Of course, many of them were glued to their smart phones and crack-berries -- texting away or watching the fluctuations of the stock market from afar.
One man, in particular, caught my attention as he sat in the cafe next door, tethered to his iPhone. His thick mane of of beautiful blond hair glimmered in the warm sum. The top was dense and crowned with a massive forelock that swept back into an elaborate pomp. The sides appeared full, but trimmed tidily around the ears. Yes, there was no doubt in my mind, that this young executive had a very high-paying job on K-street. Banker? Consultant? Lobbyist? Undoubtedly, he was part of the 1% everyone seemed to gripe about while working hard to join.
As I watched him, I noticed that from time to time he would look up from his phone and sneak a glance into my shop. At first, I thought I was imagining that he had anything other than a mere casual interest, just because of where he was seated. But, after our eyes locked momentarily a second time and he shifted his gaze away nervously, I thought perhaps he had developed something more than a fleeting interest in my small-town, traditional barbershop.
Yes, the shop looked like it was right out of Mayberry, with its huge throne-like chairs and all the instruments necessary to give the standard "short back and sides" and other traditional haircuts. One thing was certain: no one had ever left my shop with a massive forelock like the one the businessman fondled occasionally as he passed time in the cafe next door sipping his latte.
While I was imagining what I might do to that pompous forelock if the man should entrust it to me for "just a trim", the rest of his family strolled up. Seconds later, the mom walked away with the two young girls in tow. She had dropped off "junior" -- a lad who sported a thick, droopy bowlcut that fell irritatingly in his eyes and totally covered his ears. He had very thick, shiny hair -- brown and straight, unlike his father's fussy blond waves.
To my surprise, the dad pointed to my shop and whispered something in the boy's ear. There was a bit of a sour-face reaction, followed by a few more words of cajoling. Then the duo walked towards the shop. I heard the father saying sweetly to the boy, "If you cooperate, I'm taking you to watch the Nationals play next week."
The fellow's eyes lit up. "Cool! Can I ask Jimmy to come with us?"
But, by then, the father had turned his attention to me. "Hi, there. Quite a little gem of a shop you've got here! Quaint. Real quaint."
"My grandfather opened -- first and only barbershop in this town for decades. I'm a third generation barber. Now which one of you two will be first? Sir, perhaps you?" I said, inviting the father to be first under my cape.
I fairly doubted whether that forelock would be entrusted to me, so I wasn't too disappointed when he noted, "Oh, just my son here for a bit of a trim. The teacher complained that he was having trouble seeing the board at school."
"Have a seat, young man," I said warmly.
The boy climbed up into the chair which faced away from the mirror, and I fastened the cape snuggly about his neck. The veil of hair hung well below his eyes. "I can see why you're having trouble seeing the blackboard," I said as I wet the lad's hair and combed it straight down.
"We have smartboards in our classroom," the bratty kid said, correcting me.
I reached for the shears. If "junior" expected a trim after mouthing off like that to me he was a bit mistaken. The great thing about these day-visitors was that since it was a one-time visit, I could inflict whatever I felt. Generally, they ended up with a much shorter-than-request cut. The shears slid into the thick bangs half way between the brow and hairline. Snip! The first clump of long wet bangs fell to the cape. It contrasted wonderfully well with the snowy white cape. My only regret was that the clumps had not come off his father's pompous pompadeur.
The father glanced up momentarily from his cell phone just in time to see me snip off the last clump of the fringe. It was a ramrod straight line midway down the forehead, and the sight of very short bangs clearly agitated his father. "I did say 'a trim'," the man in the waiting chair mentioned nervously.
"Yes, along with the problem of seeing the blackboard. That's taken care of now," I said, further spraying the thick bowl of hair with water and considering what else I might be able to inflict on the brat.
"Why can't I get the same kind of haircut as Jimmy?" the caped lad whined as he fondled a clump of wet shorn hair that was in his lap.
"Because your mother doesn't want her darling boy looking like he's just been inducted into the army, Zach -- that's why!" the father replied calmly.
"Almost all my friends have buzzcuts," he pouted.
"How old are you, Zach?" I asked innocently.
"Ten -- almost eleven," he replied.
"Oh my, I thought you were seven or eight -- still stuck with a bowlcut. I guess in the city, parents don't turn their kids loose as young as we do up here in the mountains -- let them make decisions for themselves about what to wear, haircuts, etc."
The boy grimaced and looked helplessly at his father, not knowing how to respond to my subtle taunt.
I continued with a suggestion, "What do you say, I take you half way between what you want and what your mom wants -- the bi-level undercut. I'll clip off everything on the sides and back to the crown and then have a short bowl of hair on top that laps down.....sort of like a mushroom cap, what do you say, Zach?" .
"I'd like that, but you need to ask my dad," he replied glumly.
The father was in a quandry. "Well, normally, his mom is in charge of his haircuts as I'm never off work at a decent hour. She just didn't think this was the type of shop a woman should enter...."
"So the decision is with you today! Men can wear the pants when it comes to family decisions, on occasion," I said reaching for the clippers. "You can blame it on me -- country barbers not being the most sophisticated."
"Go for it! Since that's what the boy wants," the father replied.
I snapped on the machine and ran the clippers straight down the top of Zach's head. Hair fell off in massive amounts to the cape. "What the...." the father shrieked, jumping to his feet.
"Yes!!" the boy exclaimed. "Finally!" He seemed excited beyond belief.
"Go for the buzzcut, you meant, right?" I said innocently.
"NO! I meant, go for the bi-level bowlcut. Jean will kill me!" he said, looking at the vast amount of shorn hair on the cape.
"And your son will adore you," I added. "Well, there's really no choice now...." The clippers went into overdrive and little Zach was on the receiving end of a tight butch cut. I gripped his head and mowed his thick mane off to a tidy eighth of an inch all over! The heavy duty, fast-feed clippers stripped away the troublesome moptop. His hair was so long and dense that a veritable carpet of shorn locks collected under my feet by haircut's end.
When I spun the chair around for him to see his buzzcut, Zach was ecstatic! "Jimmy and I will look like twins at the ball game!" he giggled. I took out a huge duster and tickled him in the ears and all around. He continued laughing and seemed to be on cloud nine.
Just as I pulled off the cape, the mother stormed into the shop. "Zach! Your hair! Fred!! Explain yourself. Were you on duty or were you glued to that iPhone?" she scolded.
Then, the domineering shrew glared at me. I deflected her anger with an apology. "Sorry, Ma'am. You can blame me. The kid wanted a buzzcut and I went to town on him -- not realizing, well, uh, that it would be such an issue for a ten year old to determine how he wanted his hair cut."
"I'm almost eleven!" Zach piped in triumphantly as he ran his head up the back of his buzzed head. He was bouncing around the barbershop in high spirits.
"Well, you, SIR, will hear about this in the car!" the hag snarled at her husband. "Oh, my poor darling boy, shorn like...... Come on now, the damage has been done. How long with this take to grow back?" she muttered angrily.
Fred looked at me half way between irritated and despondent. "How much do I owe you?" he asked.
"Zach, you run along with your mom and sibs. It's your Dad's turn in the chair. Today's our special on father-son cuts. Two for the price of one. And if you don't mind, Ma'am. In our town, women are not normally seen in men's barbershops," I said, nodding toward the door.
She got the hint and gathered her brood. "We're going to go get ice creams and will meet you at the car in half hour, Fred," she snapped.
Fred smiled at me after the door closed. He looked relieved she was gone. He might be a high powered executive boss at the office, but at home he was nothing more than a hen-pecked hubby! "Thank you so much for running interference with her," Fred said as he pulled out his wallet. "Hopefully she'll cool off in the half hour...."
"And when she sees how happy your son is with that butch I gave him....." I stated.
"....and how much more practical it is than all that hair in his face...." Fred continued.
".....she'll be praising your stroke of genius!" I exclaimed.
I motioned for the man to put his wallet away. "Here, now it's your turn in the chair. You can pay after I finish cutting your hair. I insist on the two-for-one deal, especially since I created some hot water for you with your wife," I explained as I dusted some clumps of long hair off the seat where Zach had been shorn. "Looks like you're in need of a good trim."
Fred seemed extremely on edge about my invitation. He peered nervously out the window and saw his wife and kids across the street in line at the outdoor ice cream stand. "Well, I suppose, since she's been told I stayed behind to get a bit of a haircut, that's what I need to get...."
My heart skipped a beat as the handsome man mounted the footstool of exactly the same chair his son had been given a surprise butch. The thick, shiny, golden locks -- including the pompous forelock!! -- were within reach of my shears and clippers. It would be fun to ease Mr. Corporate Executive into a false sense of security before administering the brutal chop. I'd humor him and snip away like a dutiful barber fulfilling the "just a trim" instruction....and when he least expected it....the forelock would be amputated, severed at the hairline!
My soothing voice purred, "Don't worry, I'll take the full half hour with you. No quick butch cut that ends in three minutes flat." I patted him on the shoulder to reinforce the sense of calm I was keen to instill.
However, the mention of a butch made Fred tense up in the chair. But by then, the cape was already sailing into place, settling him into my chair for round two of dramatic father-son makeovers! The big metal clip that secured the cape snuggly at the neck acted like a set of handcuffs restricting his movement. The plain white cloth covered up all evidence of his high power persona -- the gold watch, professionally manicured nails and designer clothes. Only his pompous hairstyle -- now on the chopping block -- hinted that he was no local yokel.
"What sort of haircut did you sport when you were your son's age?" I asked as I began combing back the thick forelock and smoothing down the glistening hair. It felt wonderful -- so soft and silken. I finally got a good view of the back too. Full and liberally spilling over the collar until about mid-length. Soft, lovely waves added to its fullness. I wondered if he'd every had a clippers plowed tightly up the back. My hand nearly itched with anticipation as I listened to his response.
"I grew up in the 90s. Remember Uncle Jesse on Full House? Big hair! Real big hair! And I was as vain about my hair as my TV idol Uncle Jesse was -- and it was as full and long as his too!" he said animatedly. From all appearances, nothing had changed. The man seemed every bit as vain about his precious forelock as the preening TV actor.
"It still is on the long side, especially this forelock," I said as I began combing the massive thing straight down. It reached below the tip of his nose. I desperately wanted to hack it off right at the hairline but remembered my plan to calm him into a state of relaxation before I jerked the rug out from under his fussy executive style. "Yes, that was a great show, Full House -- do your kids watch the re-runs of it?" I asked as I began snipping at the tips, creating a very fine mist of blond snippets of hair floating down to the cape. Then I combed the massive lock back. Oh, he looked so handsome....and unsuspecting! The natural waves gave his pomp a splendid, sculpted magnificence and lifted his pomp to a dramatic height.
"No, they just stay on those damn computers all day long texting and doing what tweens do nowadays," he replied.
Hmmm....like father-like son with those electronic addictions. We chatted on amiably for 10-15 minutes with me snipping away at the tips ever so carefully. I gathered up a soft lock of hair in my hands and hold it prisoner between my fingers before trimming the tips off.
Finally, I could not bare it any longer. Fred was on the verge of a huge shock. I moved the conversation back to his son's sudden, drastic makeover. "How did you like Zach's butch cut?" I asked innocently, as I continued trimming the golden waves.
"If that had happened to me when I was his age, I would've freaked out! The idea of a barber shop like this was the worst kind of purgatory imaginable. My father used to threaten me, as a joke, that he was going to have a barber cut my hair..... But kids these days are never how you think they should be. Zach's been whining forever about getting a crewcut like his friends. Look at him over there on cloud nine rubbing those bristles. Hey, at least my wife seems to have gotten over her snit -- she's laughing and rubbing his head too!" said Fred, excited about possibly not being in the dog house on the way home after all.
"Have you ever had the clippers taken to your head?" I asked, while clandestinely reaching for my heavy duty Oster's.
"Hell, no...." he said, chuckling.
Without warning, I gripped the top of his head firmly and pushed it down firmly towards his chest. It was a wonderful feeling of control and dominance over him. The startled man was too stunned to say a word.
In an instant, the machine had been snapped on and screamed its intention of brutally butchering off the pampered mane. I drove it quickly up the back of his head, pulled off a huge wad of his cherished blond waves and flicked it to the floor. And, in the wake of the unforgiving metal teeth of the clippers? Stubble! From nape to crown!!
"What the hell are you doing?" Fred gasped breathlessly, still forced into a penitent position with his head bowed low.
"I saw your kids over there finishing up their ice creams and thought it was time to move onto the real haircut. You're going to be one happy family on the way home. The two fellows with matching butch haircuts -- and Mom pleased as punch to rub the stubble of both of them!" I chirped cheerfully as my clippers quickly moved forward across the top of his head from cowlick towards the massive forelock. And then I pushed the whole thing off in one swoop. Fred watched aghast as his cherished forelock fell to the cape like a mighty sequoia crashing to the forest floor!
"Are you insane?!" he shrieked.
I stopped and adapted my innocent pose again, struggling to contain my glee at seeing the massive forelock on the cape and a mere stubble of bangs left. "The two-for-one, father-son haircuts....valid for exactly the same cut. I thought you knew that. At least the folks in town here know that. It was featured in a local article....boys bonding with men, stengthening father-son relationships while getting matching haircuts." I had done it! The precious, pompous forelock lay in his lap!
Fred sat catatonic in the chair. Then he looked up at me with that same expression between irritation and disgust, "How should I know something like that -- I'm a corporate banker at a major multinational financial institution!"
Duh! Like that wasn't obvious..... I snapped the machine back on. "Well, there's nothing to do about it now....." I gripped Fred's head and began a quick mow-down. His limp, stunned body was like putty in my hands as I manipulated his head this way then that way to allow the clippers the best angle for reducing the soft waves to sand paper. The proud banker brought low by the barber -- receiving a tight butch, just like his son. Except the reactions of the two couldn't be more different. I loved the look of dread etched all over Fred's petrified face and imagined him walking into the bank the next day shorn! All dressed up in a conservative doubled breasted wool suit, trying to appear executive despite the barbershop butch cut! Feeling so nervous and insecure as he noticed his underlings whispering and giggling about his baldy look! The nice tan he'd gotten on the tennis courts would contrast awkwardly with the virgin white skin exposed by my clippers -- particularly on his neck and forehead.
I resumed my work authoritatively; Fred sat submissively while I clipped away the remnants of his power style. Finally, I spun the chair around to give him the first look of his new persona. "There," I announced, rubbing his stubble lightly with my fingers. "This is a tidy practical look. And won't father and son look perfect together at the ball game?!"
The man under the hair-laden cape grimaced. "I can't believe this....." He slipped his hand out from under the white cloth and felt his stubble. "Yep, there's no denying it -- I got a butch cut!" Then, he smiled sheepishly for the first time -- very faintly.
"Every man should, at least once in his life -- have it all mowed down to the wood. Don't you think, Freddy boy?" I asked. "That was the problem with the era you grew up in -- no annual butch cuts in the garage at the beginning of summer. All the boys lined up and clipped bald!"
"Well, since I've just received my first butch, I agree -- everyone should get at least one! Hell, why not?" he said, smiling more broadly. "I bet Zach is going to flip when he sees this."
"Tell him his cool look inspired you....and that oughta count for some credit with the little lady....." I advised. Then, spontaneously, I rubbed his stubbled head more vigorously with my palm all across the top. He looked surprised that I'd taken such a liberty, but smiled. "You like the way that feels, don't you?" Fred smiled his approval. After dousing the duster with talcum powder, I gave him the full treatment all over the scalp, ears and face. "There, you're a new man! No more fussing about with hair care," I announced.
"Jean will be glad for sure. She's been quite jealous of my hair stylist -- the cutest little flirtatious gal, who's absolutely wild about my hair....." Then he stared down in his lap. "Well, when it was like this," he said, fondling the severed forelock which remained almost completely intact, lying in his lap.
I pulled off the cape and allowed my baldy boy to get up. The pompous pompadour was at my feet. As I stepped on it with satisfaction, I remember what it was like in its glory, reflecting the sunlight from the cafe as the self-confident business executive clicked away on his iPhone.
I loved Fred's transformation from confident and in-charge to nervous and insecure. Fred kept staring with awe and a bit of terror in the mirror as he paid me with a twenty. "Keep the tip. I like the idea you had to promote father-son bonding."
"Well, here comes yours," I said, pointing to the family crossing the street.
Fred rushed out to the sidewalk, feeling his butch. There were shrieks as the kids ran forward and gave their father huge hugs. Then Jean strode up smiling from ear to ear. Father and son posed for a few quick photos together, rubbing each other's buzzed heads.
I heard Jean exclaim as they walked down the sidewalk, "So, no more need for that tart stylist who can't keep her artful mits off you. You'll have to find a good traditional barbershop like this back home."
"Yeah, a real man cave where women aren't allowed," said Fred in agreement, feeling the stubble at his nape for the umpteenth time.
After a few steps, Fred turned around suddenly and returned to the shop. He popped his head in the door and flashed a bit of a knowing look at me. "There really is no such thing as a father-son haircut special, is there?"
I cracked a slight grin. "No, I just thought a bit of a makeover would do you good. Less hair, less focus on yourself -- more focus on your family. You'll get used to the butch...."
Just then, little Zach ran up to the shop and called into me, "Thank you, Mr. Barber!! You made my day -- our whole family's day!! I've never seen my parents so happy together. And I love my butch!!"
"That's great! Your father just told me that the two of you will be coming back regularly to get your butch cuts tightened up. Isn't that right Fred?" I said.
Fred smiled. "You bet! This has been father-son bonding at its best. We'll see you in about two weeks," he called out as he put his arm around his son's shoulder and the two of them strolled down the sidewalk quickly to catch up with the girls. With his other hand, Fred continued fondling the stubble up the back of his head.
No doubt the excitement would wear off in the morning as he nervously examined his brutal butch cut in the mirror, getting dressed for work....