The Hot Smell of Manliness (Part 1) by BuzzmeHT
I was frigging sweating. I tried to swat a fly that was buzzing around my head, shaking my hair to try and get my massive bangs out of my face. It was hot, but again linen suits where not created to be hanging around under the scorching Texan sun. I looked down from the small, claustrophobic balcony of the only run-down hotel in town, surveying the main street. Everything was shiny and well-kept, but it looked like that little city had been somewhat frozen in time since the 60s.
My phone buzzed in my pocked, jolting me back. Mr. Anderson apologized, he was coming late, again. I looked at the time, I had an hour to kill at least, and I was in the only unit without AC of the whole damn modern era. I went into the bathroom and splash some water on my face. I looked damn miserable.
There I was, in a tailored suit that should have been dry-cleaned at least a week ago, travelling across the South trying to buy ranches to squeeze the last drop of oil from the American soil. I surveyed the damage of the last three weeks, fixing my collar and adjusting my tie. I had developed a nice tan on my face and my neck, specially where my skin fade used to be. My hairline had grown with a mind of its own, as usual, and now it disappeared deep down my collar. I touched that hairy mess, bringing my hand up the disconnected sides and meeting my long, full floppy top. My plush chestnut quiff was lying down, lifeless. Since I left New York, I had discovered that hair product can actually melt, and that keeping a fade and a full beard on the road was a nightmare. I wasn't my best self right now, but I guess it would do for that redneck farmer.
I dried my patchy beard and decided to go for a walk, maybe try to find a cool place to think my strategy. This was the last deal I had to make, then I could fly back home and fall back into my stylish Manhattan lifestyle. I hadn't instagramed for two weeks and it was killing me. I might as well be dead to the world.
I spotted a little diner across the street, I could see a waitress prancing around in roller-skates. I decided to pass. Suddenly, I caught a whiff of a strong intoxicating scent. I turned around and saw a spinning, classic barbershop pole right there. It brought back a wave of memories of going to the barbers with my father. I remember waiting in the pleather chairs, looking at the pole in a trance, wondering how the stripes managed to move around like that. It was like watching a magic number every time. My father was a kind man that always allowed me to ask for a trim and that chuckled when I asked for some aftershave at the end. I loved the smell of that deep blue liquid, it made me feel like a full-fledged man. I just kept staring at the pole. I took a deep breath, it smelled just like that.
I surprised myself crossing right into the shop. A bell announced me as I took in the place, also part of the overriding 60s-theme of the town. Immaculate Formica countertops, barbicide jars, chromed chairs and fake leather waiting chairs. A row of clippers hanged before the one lonely station in the shop, all of them classic Osters. My NY barber faded my hairline with those, it was probably the only authentic thing about the whole new old-school experience.
A big, imposing man in his fifties entered from the bag, greeting me with a big Southern smile.
- Hey, there. Name's Randy, are ya new in town? -- I stood still for a beat, looking at his severely short, perfecting groomed Ivy League. It was buzzed really tight on the sides and back, with just a short salt-and-pepper bumper on top that was gelled to his right side.
- Hi, I'm Nate. I'm just passing by, on business. I arrived last night.
- Welcome then, where are you coming from?
- New York, Manhattan actually.
- A big city guy, it must have been a drastic change for you.
- A little, I've been bouncing through Texas for some weeks now.
- I can see that, plop down in my chair, I'll get you cleaned up in a jiffy. -- I stood there, looking like a deer in headlights. Still looking at Randy's tight Ivy and his clean shaven face. Thinking fast, trying to decide if this was a good idea.
- Oh, I'm just looking for a light beard trim. -- Randy grinned a little, giving me a once-over.
- You sure? Son, you're looking like you could use a good clean-up all around. But whatever you want. The customer's always right. -- That put me at ease, I was in control of this. I sat down, examining Randy as he bustled around. For a man his age he appeared to be quite fit, I could even clock the peak of his biceps, peeking from under the white tunic sleeves. He pulled a neck strip from a roll and tightly secured it into place, then he returned with a polyester cape with stripes, shaking it over me, and he meticulously snapped it closed around my neck.
- So, just a quick beard dusting?
- Yes, please.
- I'll also shave down your neck to make it tidier. Is that OK?
- Sure. -- I looked in the mirror as he fumbled with his tools, turning my head to the side, thinking about the real mess behind my head. Randy seemed like a trustworthy guy. He came back with a huge Classic 76 and spun me away from the mirror, then he reclined the chair back to have a clear view of my beard.
- Actually, Randy, my fade is quite grown out. Do you think you could tidy up the back and sides for me? -- Randy looked down on me with an enthusiastic smile.
- Now we are talking! OK, young guy, let's get you ready for business. -- He promptly returned me to an upright position and I heard him scrambling behind me. I wonder what he was doing, it made me nervous not watching what was going on. How the heck was I supposed to give him instructions on the haircut without a mirror? My guy Chet always told me the plan step by step, and he asked for feedback. God, I missed the city. Thank god the barbershop had a working AC.
- You have some thick hair, young Nate. And it likes to run down your neck quite a bit, doesn't it? -- I involuntarily blushed, a little ashamed. I was full-on Wolverine, he was right calling me down. I felt a bristle brush going through my back. I noticed Randy's hand feeling the hair on my nape.
- OK, pal, your hair is about a #2 on its shortest. I can work with that, tidy up the whole sides and back for you. I'll have to take the top down 'cause there'll be a good difference. -- He assessed. I thought of asking for my regular skin fade, but I knew those were more difficult and I didn't want to test how skilled Randy was. He continued the inspection, now right in front of me, combing my bangs with his hand. Well, trying to. He snorted a little, trying to hide it with a cough.
- Is it supposed to do that? I mean, do you like it right in your face or...? - He teased. I felt like he was being a little disrespectful. But again, it was called for.
- No. I- I usually slick it back in a quiff with some pomade, but with this heat it's not working properly. -- He nodded, knowingly.
- Yeah, toupees don't work down the South. There's way too much sweat, sand and sun.
- I'm telling you, it usually stands up almost on its own quite easily.
- Well, we have different rules down here. I think I can make it stand on its own though. It will have to be shorter, but it's summer anyway. I tell you what, I'll start on the sides and back and go up from there. -- I was reeling, how shorter would that be? I didn't want to end up with old Randy's haircut.
- Sounds good. Just don't take too much off the top.
- Don't you worry, pal. I'm a pro, nobody walks out of my shop looking less than perfect. Let alone a big town tourist like you. Uh? Just relax. -- He put a reassuring hand on my shoulder. I though again about asking him to turn me to face the mirror, but he was being nice, and he seemed to know what he was doing. I didn't want to make the big guy angry.
I heard some clicking and a loud snap as the Osters came to life. I felt the cold metal sliding up my skin, vibrating. The buzzing stopped.
- I was wrong, it's not catching it, I'll have to go with the #1.
- That's ok. I usually go shorter.
- Really? I usually don't go shorter than a one for businessman cuts, but you do have thick hair. -- I cowered a little. At least, if he screwed up the fade Chet could go skin tight and fix it when I got back.
- No, please. I’ll trust you. Let's try with number one.
Randy flicked the clippers back on and started going up the nape, a little too high. He made a second pass, almost to the crown. I panicked a little, I remembered I hadn’t told him...
- I didn't tell you, I guess you've seen it, I usually go with a low fade.
- What's that? - He replied, not hearing me over the clippers. He made another pass, I felt it going even higher than the last one, straight up to the top.
- I said I usually get a low fade.
- Yeah, I saw it. This is going to look better with your head shape. Trust me.
- Are you making it a high fade?
- Son, I don't do no fancy fades. I'm giving you a classic haircut, a number one on the sides and back. Like we discussed. Of course, I'll taper it down at the hairline, you're getting the full barbershop experience. -- I froze in shock, getting a tingling sensation in my mostly naked scalp. Randy registered it:
- I'm sorry, do you want me to go down to the zero? You said you like it shorter…
- No, no. I mean I usually get a shorter fade.
- Most guys here get these. They last longer and look better, even when they grow out. This haircut will last you, believe me, you're getting more bang for your money. -- I sat in silence, as he peeled all the hair off my back, moving to the right side and plowing up from the middle of my ear. His words still ringed there, of course this haircut was going to last, he was fricking scalping me!
He continued cheerfully working around my head. Stretching the skin and carefully checking against the grain, for what seemed like an eternity. Well, at least the 6 inches on the top were still virgin and I'd tell him to cut as least at possible. I could still do damage control.
- OK, young man, chin to your chest. Deeper, I gotta get to all that naughty back hair. -- I was feeling a little humiliated, again, but complied as he pushed the clippers hard against my nape, making sure they got every last millimeter. He forced my head down, firmly grabby the top of my head and testing how far my chin could go. He turned the clippers off.
- Keep the head down for me, will ya? -- I heard a higher pitch and felt the pression of the trimmers high up my neck. Too high, what the...?
- You know you have a nasty cowlick right down there? - Randy was shaving a straight line at least two fingers over my collar.
- Yes, that's why I get it down to the skin.
- And I've seen you are wearing one of those shirts with a high collar. Don’t worry, I'll block the hairline a couple fingers above it, so I'll look nice and clean and there's no cowlick to speak of. Anyway, yours is so pronounced I recommend you shave it down weekly. Tell you what, if you are still here by the end of the week, I'll trim it for free.
- Thanks, I don’t think I’ll stick around that long. -- I answered, not that thrilled and rather focused on trying to feel how high he was going and how much of a disaster this would be. He continued to scrape my neck clean, dutifully. He went over my ears zealously cleaning the arches. Finally, he put down the trimmers and I felt a plastic comb racking back through my plush, long top. Randy kept going for a while, taking the hair between his fingers, evaluating it.
- OK, let’s make this top stand right up and proud.
(To be continued... on Part 2).