An Appointment at Bill's by SteveT
Author's Note: I posted this years ago on the Male Short Cuts site and thought I would add it here as well, in case it is new to anyone here.
During the long drive home I had run my hand through my hair several times, gradually realizing how long it had grown. I had not gotten it cut all semester, being under a heavy course load and not really wanting to put the effort into finding a decent new haircutting place in the city. I had just finished my third semester at the State University, majoring in both English and History. I had not had much free time, especially lately. This was partly due to my own procrastination but partly due to a stressful final exam schedule that had consumed much of my free time.
But that was all behind me now, and I felt a mixture of relief and relaxation as I neared my parent's home in a small town about four hours away from the University. I was looking forward to a few weeks spent with the family over Christmas and New Years, as well as catching up with friends who were also home over the holidays.
I really needed a haircut, though. I had not had it cut since August, when I had gotten the usual trim at a chain place in town. Trimmed, my dark brown hair was buzzed on the sides with one of the longer guards and scissored on top to a few inches long. Now, after a good five months, it was beginning to creep over my ears and truthfully it looked pretty bad. It was at that awkward stage between short and long where it stuck out and did not lay well over the ears.
On the drive home, I mulled over where I would go to get my hair cut. From early childhood until about the age of 14 I had been subjected to quite short haircuts at a barbershop called Bill's Clips. I had been marched in dutifully by one or the other of my parents every month and a half or so, and Bill clipped my hair down into something between an ivy league and a crew cut. That is, buzzed with the longest guard on top and tapered down to nothing at the hairline. As I grew older I had been allowed control over my hair, and while it had fluctuated in length between long and short, I hadn't been back to Bill's in years.
As I remembered him from my childhood, Bill was a stern, no-nonsense barber with short dark hair who was friends with my parents before I was even born. He runs a small one person barbershop that has seen better days. I remember that it seemed run-down and ancient, even by small town standards. You know what I mean when I say it had seen better days: the upholstery was cracked, the walls were covered with the type of fake wood paneling that was popular decades ago, it was impossible to tell the tile floor's original color, and the magazines in the waiting area were nearly antiques. I remember one of the issues of Sports Illustrated had a feature on what was then the biggest contract in baseball history, Alex Rodriguez's 10 year, 252 million dollar deal with the Rangers in 2000.
I never remember seeing a woman get her hair cut in Bill's shop. In fact, I somehow doubt that he has ever cut a woman's hair in his life, aside maybe from his wife's, who I had met once or twice and had short hair.
Since they are his entire clientele, Bill really knows men's haircuts. I remembered that he could cut a perfect taper and wasn't afraid to clip hair really short, unlike most salon stylists. Anyway, I can't say I really hated my haircuts at Bill's - it was more resentment at my parents for not letting me choose my own style. Actually, I have to admit, the haircuts he gave were really good quality (though always on the short side) and the price was very reasonable. He seemed rather severe and stern and didn't have the gentlest touch, but not so much that it really mattered. As a kid and teenager I didn't really like the short haircuts I had received, but as an adult, after I realized I had a "thing" for haircuts, I had found myself wanting them again. Besides, I thought, the chain places were all so impersonal and the quality really varied based on who was working that day. Surely, I was now an adult and I could get over my childhood discomfort with Bill's. After all, he did do good work.
So as I pulled into my parent's driveway and carried my bags inside, I made the decision to call Bill's and make an appointment. Bill always took appointments - he worked by himself and he did not work fast. I imagine that if he didn't take appointments it would be impossible to get a haircut from him. My parents were both still at work and I had the house to myself for the rest of the day. After unloading my clothes and books I flipped through the yellow pages until I found his ad and phone number. I dialed the number and listened to the rings.
"Hello, Bill's Clips. How can I help you?" said the voice on the the other end.
I took a breath and said, "Hi, this is Steve - Jill and Ron's son. I'd like to make an appointment for a haircut, if you can fit me in." "Oh, hello Steve," he said, his voice seeming to perk up as he remembered my name. "Let me check my appointment book...just a minute." "Sure." I said, casually flipping through a golf magazine I had found on the kitchen counter. After a minute or so, he was back on the line. "I'm booked up pretty solid next week...but I can fit you in today in a half hour or so, if that works for you." I thought for a few seconds before answering. "Sure, that sounds good." I said, not having anything to do for the rest of the day, and genuinely needing at least a trim. "Ok." He said. "A half hour it is." I thanked him and hung up the phone.
I took a quick shower, re-dressed, and combed my dark brown hair, which hung over the tops of my ears, before I grabbed my coat and got in my car. Bill's was about a ten minute drive away and I got there right on time. I opened the door and noticed that he was still cutting another guys' hair - pretty short, by the looks of it. Since the door chime had alerted him that I was here, I took a spot in the waiting area around the corner, hung up my coat on the rack, and waited for him to finish. I flipped through an old magazine, not really reading it. Gradually, the nervous excitement built as I remembered all the short clippered haircuts I had gotten here years ago. Soon I heard him finish with the other guy and I heard the "ching" of his old fashioned (it wasn't an antique, it was just old) cash register. I looked up as his customer, a bigger guy about my age that I didn't recognize, came around the corner. We nodded to each other as he went out the door. His hair was clipped super short, buzzed from nothing up to an inch long on top at most. I gulped nervously as I got a good look at the back of his head as he went out the door, and I realized how short it really was.
"Come on back Steve!" I heard him say, loudly enough that I could hear around the corner in the waiting area. I put down the magazine and got up, walking around the corner. I noticed him sweeping up the previous customer's cut hair.
Bill really hadn't changed much in the five years or so since I had last seen him. He was about 55, thin and average height with sharp, angular features. He was wearing black jeans and a blue button down short sleeve shirt with a comb in the front pocket. Bill's most notable feature was his black hair, which was cropped super short, even by men's standards. It was clippered pretty much to nothing on the sides and back, and was it was blended into a top that was just long enough to style, which he accomplished with a generous amount of what appeared to be hair gel. I wondered absent-mindedly if he was such an expert that he could cut his own hair into that style, or if he went somewhere else to have his own hair cut.
As I walked the ten feet or so to the old blue upholstered barber's chair, I noticed Bill look up at me. The look on his face instantly turned from a smile to a more sour look. "My god Steven," he said as he scooped the cut hair on the floor into a dustpan and dumped it into the trash. "You sure have let your hair grow out of control!" His tone contained a combination of frustration, annoyance, and anger, like I had somehow personally failed him. I attempted a weak smile but soon realized it would do no good as he shook his head and made a "tsk, tsk" sound. "I guess I just couldn't find the time..." I began, but he cut me off. "Couldn't find the time? You hair is a shaggy overgrown mess! Take a seat and I'll take care of this." He patted the back of the barber's chair. "Your aunt was telling me just last week at church how you looked so much better with a nice short haircut, and I must say I certainly agree!" I hesitantly approached the chair and sat, resting my feet on the little metal footrest under the chair near the floor.
Bill let out a deep sigh to further show his displeasure as he disappeared briefly into the barbershop's back room. Alone for a moment, I took a look around the shop. Below a large mirror directly in front of me, there was a chipped, faded laminate counter top. On the left were Bill's clippers, with the guides neatly set out in order of length, his small cordless trimmer, scissors, and thinning hears. On the other side were an assortment of miscellaneous barber shop staples - a jar full of several combs and blue liquid, containers of gel, shaving cream, other products, and a small sink.
After a minute or so, Bill re-appeared with a fresh dark blue cloth cape. He moved behind me, sweeping the cape around me but not fastening it. He rummaged in the top drawer under the counter and pulled out a white neckstrip, which he fastened around my neck a bit tighter than was comfortable. He then fastened the cape and pulled its edges over my arms.
I watched in the mirror as he ran his hand and comb through my hair, examining it with his trained eye, but with an obviously disapproving look on his face. "How long has it been since you had this mess cut?" He asked. "Um...about four months, I guess." Bill scoffed at this. "Well you obviously are not responsible enough to get it cut regularly!" I was surprised to hear him admonish me like this - I attempted an explanation. "I...um...know I need a tri-" "Trim!? You need more than that!" He exclaimed. At this, I saw him reach for his clippers. He plugged them in, and snapped on the second smallest guide - what I assumed was the #2. "You need a haircut young man, no ifs ands or buts about it!" I sat, dumbfounded and unable to move.
Bill turned on the clippers with a SNAP and a low hum. he roughly pushed my chin to my chest and before I knew what was happening I felt the clippers moving up my nape. Bill held my head firmly as he buzzed upward to my crown. he worked quickly, seeming to know exactly what he was doing. After the first few passes up the back of my head, I began to feel the shop's cool air and realized just how short he was going. At this point, I began to recover my wits a bit, but it seemed better not to risk objecting and getting an even shorter haircut than the one I was already receiving.
He soon roughly bent my head to the side and began buzzing away there. Holding my head at an angle he ran the clippers upwards again, and long lengths of hair slid down the cape into my lap and onto the floor. he repeated the process with the other side and I was left with the sides and back buzzed to a number two and still a rather long top.
Just as I was beginning to think I might not be getting a super short haircut, Bill placed the clippers at my forehead and pulled them back, leaving a buzzed patch in the otherwise long top. he quickly reduced the rest of the top to a mere 1/4 inch, and I was left with a 1/4 inch buzz all around. "Now we're getting somewhere." he stated matter-of-factly as he snapped off the #2 and replaced it with a #1.
My chin was pushed to my chest once again as he began on my nape with the #1, quickly reducing the back down to an eighth of an inch. he again tilted my head to the the side, buzzing off the back and sides to the shorter length all the way up to the crown. he seemed satisfied with this and I watched through the mirror as he inspected his work. "Feeling much better, aren't you Steven?" he asked, not really expecting an answer. I managed a nod in agreement as he picked up a comb and removed the #1 from the clippers. "Hold very still!" he instructed as he began to blend the #1 sides and back into the #2 top. He expertly combed up what seemed to be a very short length of hair and zipped it off with the clippers, blending the two lengths seamlessly together. This took only a few minutes, and soon he set down the comb.
He pushed my chin to my chest, and the nervousness returned again - what was there left to cut? He buzzed up about an inch or so with the clippers, the bare clipper blades warm on my skin this time. I could feel the bare blades clipping me cleanly around the edges - thankfully not buzzing up too high. After more blending of the sides, I turned my head from side to side and looked in the mirror at the new me. "You can't go wrong with a nice short crewcut." Bill said this like it was something that he assumed was true and said every day. I merely nodded weakly again, resisting the urge to run my hands over my new haircut. Bill turned off the clippers and put them down, picking up his cordless trimmer in their place. he erased the stray hairs at the base of my neck, and buzzed away what was left of my sideburns.
He next turned on a small vacuum like device and went over my head and neck to get rid of the tiny clippings. he gave my haircut one last once over, and, satisfied with his work, he unsnapped the cape and let the remaining hair on it fall to the floor. He removed the neck strip and tossed it into the trash. I finally ran my hands over my head, feeling sandpaper at the bottom blended seamlessly into the soft buzzed hair on the top. "What do you think?" he asked, eyeing me as I followed him to the old cash register. "It looks good." I managed to say. "Thanks, you always do a good job." Bill nodded as if I was confirming a fact he already knew. "That'll be $15.00," he informed me. I fumbled my wallet out and paid him. The cash register chinged as it had for the guy before me. I heard the door bell chime at the front of the salon as Bill gave me my change. That must be his next appointment, I thought.
"Now you need to come in every three weeks for a trim Steven, hair this short needs a more regular clipping then you've been used to." He said this in a much warmer tone then when I had arrived, although I noticed a little disdain left when he said "then you've been used to." "Call ahead in a few weeks to make an appointment." he gestured to what appeared to be his appointment book and I nodded. "And say hello to your parents for me!" He said this as he made a quick notation on the appointment book. "Ok, Bill, I"ll do that." I said this while heading around the corner towards the door. Sitting in the waiting area thumbing through a magazine was another guy with what looked to be a rather shaggy ivy league. He looked up and we exchanged the awkward smiles and slight nods of strangers. I put on my coat and opened the door. As I walked out, the door's chime signaled my departure.
Out in the cold December air, I ran my hands over my head again, realizing that was the shortest my hair had ever been cut. I walked down to where I had parked my car on the street and got in. I started the engine and reviewed Bill's work in the rear view mirror as the heater warmed the inside of the car.
I smiled to myself as I examined my crewcut again. I took my smart phone out of my coat pocket and punched up the calendar app. I wanted to see exactly how long three weeks would be.
Comments and feedback are welcome - thanks for reading & I hope you enjoyed it.