Same Shop, Different Barber by Joseph Murray
This happened the summer right after eighth grade. My name is Kyle and I’m a fairly shy kid. I have friends from the activities and classes I’m in in school, but I keep a pretty low profile. Stay in most weekends, reading or watching marathons of movies by myself or with a friend. I don’t know if this introvertedness comes from my parents split or not. That happened six years prior, and it wasn’t a messy divorce. In that sense I was lucky, they still get along, but I am an only child so I never had another sibling to have right by my side. And while I’m close with some cousins, they’re all far away (or at least to me, since I can’t drive a car). So a lot of the time it feels like its only me. Mom likes to do things together, like bringing me grocery shopping or going on walks or to festivals and fairs. Dad likes to play sports with me, but simpler sports like going for runs, golf, swimming or tennis. Dad also lives with his now fiancé, Meredith, but she’s actually pretty nice. Now she joins us for some activities and trips and you could say it took her some time to warm up to it, but she’s gotten a lot better. She doesn’t have kids of her own though, so no one for me to run off with and play. Constantly a third wheel for them.
On the other hand, Mom has a boyfriend. His name is Hank and he’s the Chief of Police. Whereas Meredith doesn’t particularly enjoy sports but has a carefree-fun attitude, Hank enjoys everything that makes a man a man and can be strict at any given moment. Oh, and Hank has a son of his own, Andrew, who’s a kid in my grade. Now your probably going to think that Andrew is a big bully or something from the sound of it, but he really isn’t. He’s pretty quiet himself, has a good core group of friends, and is into a fair a mount of sports, but more like football, basketball and baseball. Hank is pretty tough on him with sports and competitions, but then in the next second he could be bear hugging him and saying things like "I’m so proud of you son," or "That’s my boy". When Mom and Hank would go out or do something on the weekend, Andrew and I would tag along. We got a long well enough, but like I said before, he’s pretty quiet too.
Back to the point of the story: after middle school graduation, Mom and Hank decided to go on a vacation, and they wanted us to come along. We were just going to go to Myrtle Beach for a week in July. "It’ll be great, the beach will be nice and warm, you guys can play in the ocean all day long, maybe mini golf and ice cream at night," Mom said.
"Will just need to make sure you both keep putting lotion on," Hank added. "We’ll also need to make sure you boys get your haircuts too."
Oh boy, I thought to myself. Hank was a police officer, he kept his hair really short. Hopefully he means that I wouldn’t have to go with him to get a haircut. I’ve been going to the same barbershop since I was pretty much a baby. I went to Towne Barber Shop with my Dad, and Pete (Mr. Pete to me) always cut my hair. He was an older gentleman, probably in his early sixties, but he looked pretty good for his age.
I looked over at Andrew in this moment, to check him out. He really didn’t have super short hair, it wasn’t long though either. Just a medium length you could say, little shaggy at the neckline and around the ears, but that was typical for boys our age, the sort of skater boy or surfer guy look. Alright, maybe I shouldn’t be nervous then. But wait, would I actually have to go get my haircut with Hank?? Hopefully that’s not what he meant.
That weekend I stayed at Dad and Meredith’s. Mom and Hank were going out for dinner on Friday and Andrew was going to go stay over a friend’s. But then that friend had to cancel on him last minute, so he was just going to join Mom and Hank for their date. Meredith was the one who offered for him to stay for dinner, that way Mom and Hank could have some time alone. I think they were shocked by the offer, but they took it. So Andrew joined us three for dinner, which allowed Dad and Meredith to get to know him. Eventually he got picked up for the night, and I went straight to bed.
The next morning, Dad and I went to go have our haircuts. At Towne Barber, there was probably 12 different barbers, it was a pretty big shop. We got there a little ahead of our appointments but Mr. Pete was wrapping up with his client, a father who had his young son go ahead of him and was waiting by us. When he was wrapped up with them, it was our turns. Well, my turn first, Dad usually let me go first. I had thick hair that was sort of wavy. I never really let my hair get cut short. Mr. Pete was really nice, making small chat with me, knowing as a young fourteen year old I didn’t want to talk too much. Usually starting with wetting down my hair, coming through it a bit. He mostly used scissors on my hair, cutting away at my waves. Since my hair was thick, it made a huge crunch noise every time he sliced through it. At the end he’d use the little clippers to clean up around my edges and sideburns. They always tickled when I was younger, but I’d gotten better with age. Then Mr. Pete would brush back my hair on top, maybe throw a little product in it to hold it up and back a bit.
When I was all done, I hope off the chair after Mr. Pete brushed me off. Then it was Dad’s turn. Similar to me, Dad usually got the same haircut every time. His hair was a little different than mine, it was parted to the side, and graying a bit. As I was sitting on the bench, rubbing the back of my neck every few seconds, I was looking around at the other barbers. Most had clients in their chairs since it was a Saturday morning after all. It was scary looking around, thinking about what if I had my haircut by one of these other barbers. If I sat in one of their chairs, was caped up, what would happen? I don’t really know what to say for my haircuts. Dad usually does it or Mr. Pete just knows what to do. What if I said something wrong, or what I said the barber interpreted wrong.
Dad was eventually done with his haircut and we went out to run a few more errands before we went back home and hung around there for the rest of the weekend. By the time I got back to Mom’s home Sunday for dinner, I had to talk about my weekend and what I did. When I mentioned I’d had my haircut on Saturday, Hank eyed me up and down. For a few minutes mind you, then he finally exclaimed, "Yeah, I guess you did. Could have fooled me though."
Andrew could tell I looked uncomfortable, so he quickly, softly added "It looks good man" which made me grin a bit.
Summer went on as it usually does, various different camps. Andrew and I both attended the same day camp that most kids in town went to. After the regular 8AM to 3PM hour part of camp, there were usually other camps and activities to be a part of. This is when I would usually go to a track camp or tennis lessons. Andrew usually was roped into some basketball or baseball camp, but this summer, Hank wanted him to play in the junior football camp, to apparently get ready for high school football. I think Andrew was only excited about football for school because most his friends were doing it for fun. Otherwise I’m sure he would want to focus on a different sport.
July came quick, and the Fourth of July was pretty fun. Meredith was kind and invited not just Dad and I, but Mom, Hank, and Andrew to her sister’s beach house for the weekend. Mom seemed pleasantly surprised and Hank took up the offer too, but seemed a bit awkward at times around Meredith’s family (they might be a bit too fancy for him at times). Andrew was really happy though, it allowed him to skip camps on the Friday and he got to hang with me and some of my future step-cousins. After that weekend, the month went really fast. Before you knew it, it was the last couple weeks of July. Our Myrtle Beach trip was upon us. I was still dreading the thought of having to go to the barbers with Hank. I didn’t even know where he and Andrew went to get their haircuts. What if Hank cut his and Andrew’s hair himself?
One Saturday morning I woke to mom not down in the kitchen for breakfast. Andrew and Hank were already in the kitchen. I asked where Mom was and Hank responded, "Out," as he sipped some of his coffee, "She had some errands to run. We do too. Grab yourself some breakfast," he pointed to behind him, as if I didn’t know where to grab breakfast. I got myself some cereal and sat down at my usual spot. We ate in silence as Hank was reading the paper and sipping at his coffee. Once both Andrew and I finished eating and Hank noticed, he told us to go brush our teeth and get our shoes on, we’d be leaving in about ten minutes.
We went to the bank, then the post office, then had to stop at a CVS to pick up a few things. It was still before lunchtime, not that I was hungry or anything, but Hank then said, "We’ll stop for some food after we get our haircuts, boys." Oh boy, this was it, it was actually happening. I didn’t know if I should say something to Hank, like that my Dad could take me before vacation. "We leave next Friday for Myrtle Beach so I figured this will be a good time, I already made us all appointments." Looks like he had this planned, he really wanted to trap me in I guess. But I looked over at Andrew, he looked somewhat frozen, which did not help me feel any better. "Whatcha thinking of getting this summer Andrew? A nice summercut?"
"I don’t know Dad," he said, almost a mumble.
"You don’t know? Well, gotta make up your mind before we getting there soon," Hank said with a laugh.
We pulled into a strip mall, a strip mall I was all too familiar with. And typically, a strip mall or plaza wouldn’t have two of something. This was the same strip that Towne Barber Shop was in. I gulped as we pulled in, holding my breath. Hank parked the car and said "Let’s go," as he unbuckled and let himself out. I let out a deep breath, and Andrew quietly and calmly let himself out of the car. We started walking to the barbershop together, the three of us, in the midst of some hot sun on us, Hank blinding it with his sunglasses, Andrew and I having to squint our eyes. Thankfully we were wearing light t-shirts and gym shorts.
Then Hank opened the door to the shop, letting himself in first, but then holding it open for us two. We paused in the doorway and let him continue to lead the way towards where the benches were in the back, usually where Dad and I sat. Could Hank and Andrew really get their haircut by Mr. Pete? I couldn’t believe it, it couldn’t be this good to be true. We sat down on the bench, every barber was taken and busy with clients. I patiently waited to see what would happen next, who would it be, please let it be Mr. Pete.
It happened at that moment that some of the barbers were wrapping up with their current clients in their chairs, one of them being Mr. Pete, he went to the front to have his customer pay and get tipped, then he walked back to his spot. A gentlemen in his late twenties stood up from the bench and walked over to greet Mr. Pete, a regular I supposed, and Mr. Pete spotted me. I said "Hey Mr. Pete," with a smile, which caught Hank’s attention. Pete followed up with, "Hey Kyle, didn’t see you there before. Do you have an appointment? I didn’t see you on my list earlier. I have John right now."
I wanted to say something, don’t really know what I would say though, but before I could, I was interrupted by Hank, "Don’t worry about that, Mr. Pete" he said in a sort of teasing with around the "Mr." part.
"I think I have an opening next though, I believe." Mr. Pete was aware of who Hank was, not knowing him by face per say, but aware of Mom having a boyfriend.
"That’s alright, I already have Kyle here set up for an appointment with Mr. Mike," again emphasizing the "Mr." as to tease me. Mr. Mike was a barber that had been working here for a while as well. I’d always seen him; he probably was ten years younger than Mr. Pete, but definitely seemed like a different kind of barber.
At that moment, Mr. Mike walked back to his station, looked at Hank, Andrew and me, and said, "Who’s first?" with a flashy smile.
"Why don’t you go first Andrew," Hank said, but not really as a question. Andrew then got up right away and walked up to the chair, said his hello to the barber, and sat down. Mr. Mike was holding the cape, then cracked it in the air before wrapping it around Andrew, then adding the neck tissue. I was watching every moment with careful attention.
"So Andrew, what are we thinking of doing today," Mr. Mike asked.
"Yeah, what are you thinking, Andrew," Hank asked, somewhat taunting his own son. I wondered if that morning before I came down for breakfast if Hank had talked to Andrew about what his haircut should be. And what if that determined my haircut? I would never blame Andrew, but what if that was some plot Hank cooked up?
"Uh," Andrew started to say, looking down at his cape as Mr. Mike stared at him through the mirror. "I was thinking of cutting it short. Maybe a #2 on top, and a #1 on the sides and back."
"Really?" Mr. Mike and Hank both said at the same time. Hank continued, "Andrew, that’s pretty short," but he was all smiles right now.
"I know its short," Andrew said, trying to say with a hopeless grin and almost shrugging it off.
"Alright, if that’s what you want let’s do it, its getting hot out there boy," Mr. Mike said, as he went to his station to pick up his set of clippers and an attachment. "Will be nice and cool for the summer Andrew, think of it that way, a good choice." He attached the guard to the clipper, and then turned it on, "Let’s start with that number two." And without much hesitation, Mr. Mike took the clipper to the top of Andrew’s forehead and started to peel back, leaving short bristles in its path. This haircut was making a lot of noise. And Mr. Mike was being very meticulous about it. Taking his time, making sure every hair was cut right. I was mesmerized by the cut, but had to look away at times to distract myself away from it. But I couldn’t, it was both daunting and enchanting watching it happen. Andrew seemed to be taking it with a brave face. Eventually, the #2 work was all done, and Mr. Mike went to his station to switch out the guard for one number shorter, and he started to peel away at the right side of Andrew, revealing even shorter hair. So short you could definitely see to his skin. By this, you could tell Andrew spent a lot of time outside because where the #1 was now was not as tan.
Mr. Mike was wrapping up with Andrew around the same time as Mr. Pete was wrapping up with John but I hadn’t noticed. I was still watching Andrew for most of the time. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Andrew looked so different, his hair wasn’t hanging in front of his forehead anymore, and his hair around his ears and neck was, well, gone. Mr. Pete then walked back to his station, with no client next on his list. Andrew had just stepped down from Mr. Mike’s chair, felt around his head, mouthed a "Woah" before taking his seat on the other side of me, away from his dad. Mr. Mike asked "Hank?" thinking he was obviously next.
"Nope," Hank exclaimed, "Kyle, your up," he said as he looked in Mr. Pete’s direction. I looked at Mr. Pete too, not knowing what to say or do. I couldn’t tell if he smiled back or not, it seemed like a sad smile, but the kind that he understood my situation.
So I looked over at Mr. Mike who was looking back at me and said, "You wasn’t listening or something?" So I quickly shook my head and stood up and marched into his chair. Similar to with Andrew, he cracked the cape in mid air before dressing me in it, and adding the strip around my neck. "Alright, so what are we doing with you today?" I wondered if Mr. Mike recognized me, he probably did, since on the opposite side of the room from him was Mr. Pete’s station. I wondered if he had always looked at my thick, wavy dirty blonde hair. Confused by Mr. Pete’s weakness to only cut away softly with scissors.
And of course, before I could answer, Hank interjected my daydream, "Well Andrew’s haircut looks absolutely fantastic on him Mike, and we’re taking the boys on a vacation next week. So how about the same as before, huh?" Hank sank back into the bench, crossing his one leg over his knee, holding his hands behind his head. "What do you say, Kyle, a nice summer buzzcut to match Andrew?"
I had never had clippers taken to my hair that often, and now I was getting a buzzcut? This was all happening so soon, a different barber and a whole other haircut. But I was already caped up, with not much an option, in a different barber’s chair, and Hank was definitely paying for this. So, I solemnly responded, "Okay," for everyone to hear.
"Okay? Okay then, Mike, buzz him good," Hank finalized. Mr. Mike had already switched the clippers over to the #2, eager to go. Then, he brought the clippers to the front of my forehead, turned on the clippers, and started to pull back. As he did so, he said "There’s no turning back now," but only loud enough for me to hear. After he made the second strip across the top of my head, that’s when my heart dropped into my stomach. I couldn’t believe what I was looking back at. The wide, buzzed strip was so noticeable against my wavy, thick, now bushy looking hair. I had to force back gasping out loud, but was shaking a little in my feet and toes. Mr. Mike continued buzzing me down. Through his mirror, I could see Mr. Pete watching from his station. His face didn’t move, stood there like a statue He probably was in shock too, watching one of the boys who’s hair he’d been cutting for years. Across the shop, being forced into a buzzcut, looking like a young sheep being sheared. There was nothing any of us could do anymore, except let Mr. Mike continue peeling away at my hair. And peel away he did, he was taking even longer with my hair than Andrew. I think he wanted me to experience the whole thing, since it was my first time. I sat there in shock, I couldn’t still believe it.
After the top was done, he went to switch the guards. I was looking back at the mirror and I looked like Bozo the Clown or something. At this moment, I saw Mr. Pete turn around and sit in his chair, and pull out his book. He clearly couldn’t watch anymore. And neither could me, but it wasn’t over it. Then Mr. Mike was back to action, just like with Andrew, peeling with the #1 on the right side of my head right by my sideburn. This felt really different. I’d had clippers to the side of my head before, but never ever this short. I was starting to look like I would be sent off to military school. Maybe that was Hank’s overall goal and he just hadn’t told us yet.
After all the #1 action was over, he switched over to edging me up and cleaning me up with the trimmers. And finally, it was all done, brushed me off, took of the cape and I was set free. "There you go boy, a new you."
A new me for sure, I couldn’t believe it. Thankfully Mr. Pete didn’t turn around again, I couldn’t bare it. Last thing I needed was for my dad to walk in at this moment. And it really could. Hank looked at me and was all smiles, I could also tell he was trying not to laugh, "Two good looking boys, my boys." Then he stood up and hopped into Mr. Mike’s chair saying, "You know what to do." Hank must come in every two weeks because there wasn’t too much for Mr. Mike to do to his head. But he definitely cleaned him up, bald all around the side and backs. I guess I’m lucky that my haircut wasn’t that extreme. I looked over at Andrew and he looked over at me, smiled a little on one side, able to tell that I was visibly upset. He took one hand and rubbed it on the top of my head. Then said, "It looks good on you man," which made me feel a little better. I touched his head too, felt just the same. At least we were in this together.