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The end of the day by P.J.
Good evening folks,
It's Pete, from Pete's cuts. Greetings from the New York North country.
I'm sitting on my terrace above the back of my shop, having a glass of wine at the end of a very long Saturday, and contemplating all that encompasses being a barber.
I've just finished up for the day on the first Saturday after the local schools get out for the summer. Translated that means it was one of the busiest Saturdays of the year for me. I've been settled here for 4 years now and have developed a loyal local clientele as well as the endless stream of cadets from the nearby army base and the young guys from the three colleges/universities within a stone's throw of here. Life is good.
This Saturday in particular is always busy as it's the first opportunity that the moms and dads have to bring their little darlings in for their semiannual, or in some cases annual, haircuts or shearing's as the case may be. Believe it or not I look forward to this day. As a closet hair fetisher, I relish the opportunity to shave down some amazing heads of hair for sometimes less than enthusiastic clients. Sometimes a half year or full year's growth removed all at once.
There are limitations to the amount of fun I can have, as a single chair shop I can only move so fast and still enjoy the day.(if you get my drift).
I'm sitting here and sipping, reflecting a bit on the fact that barbers are really multi faceted individuals. Equal parts barber, psychologist, counselor, sometimes mediator, mind reader, confidant, and last but not least, fashion consultant. And at least in my case, a smidge of sadist thrown in just to keep things interesting. I think we must share a lot of the same characteristics as bartenders. These traits tend to come into play with our consistent longer term clients more than with the occasional type customers. You get to know a loyal customer, including his quirks. People will tell their barber things they wouldn't dream of telling their spouse.
I'm always fascinated by just how influential I can be with respect to someone's near term appearance. Sometimes strange things can happen on this particular Saturday, especially later in the day as my tolerance for rude or bad behavior gets a bit short. That usually brings out the sadist in me, sometimes a little, sometimes a lot.
As an example of just how much the sadist can slip out, I'll relate one particular instance that happened late into the day today. A harried mom brought in her early teenage son for his summer cut. This lad had an amazing dark brown mane. He'd probably not been under a cape since last year at this time. It was obvious there had been a couple of minor attempts to trim him up but generally he had shoulder length dense somewhat wavy locks that had been washed earlier in the day, and it was evident the boy took pride in his mane. He also clearly did NOT want any part of being in the shop or getting a "Summer Cut" as mom described it. He was being quite disrespectful to the mom, and generally being somewhat of a s**t. He carried on all the while he was sitting waiting too. I can't abide bad behavior from kids or young adults, especially toward parents so..... When his turn came up, he reluctantly sat in the chair and I was capping him up I decided on a little barbers discipline. I can be so devious sometimes it scares even me.
The waiting area was full, lots of chatter and banter and general background din, so I motioned the mom to come up to the chair for a consult with the three of us. So mam, what are we doing today, I inquired. The lad held his breath, and gave me a surprised, then annoyed look, as if to say, what are you asking her for, it's my hair. The mom replied well, he's got to get a shorter haircut as he has an outside summer job this year, and the weather man says it'll be a hot one this summer. I don't want him to be a sweaty mess. Without missing a beat, while I was combing out his heavenly locks, I said, well then, I'd suggest a nice crew or the ever popular butch. I can take it down with a #1, that'll be nice and cool for him. I don't think I'd recommend anything much longer for an outside summer job, I calmly stated, looking her in the eye. (I don't normally like to traumatize a young teen with an amazing mop like he had but....this one had it coming) Out of the corner of my eye I could see the kid squirming at the mention of a crew or butch. I glanced over at him then, he had a pleading look on his face, and cried, No Mom, can't I just get a trim, take off an inch or so, clean it up, please, not a butch. Nonsense Jake, the mom replied, the barber has suggested a very sensible haircut for you with your new job. After it's cut today, I'll allow you to let it grow out till school starts, unless you find you like it of course, or it gets too hot she said, giving him a do not argue with me in here or you'll be sorry, stare. Jake sat, clearly horrified at what was about to happen to his amazing mane. Very good mam, I said, smiling at her, a #1 butch it is then, always a good choice.
I reached for the fast feed Osters, and snapped a #1 guard on. Now then Jake, I said, addressing the lad directly for the first time, you'll have to keep very still and follow my instructions so I don't hurt you, these clippers are very sharp. ( I couldn't really hurt the kid unless I tried very hard but I wanted to establish the fact that I was now in charge and his fate was in my clippered hands.) The #1 will be short, so if you move and I slip, I will very likely have to shave your head to even it out. I thought the kid was going to pass out. (O.K. I might have been laying it on a little thick but the kid deserved it in my book) I combed his heavenly locks out for the last time, combing them down covering his face too. I proceeded to push his head down tight, chin to chest, fired up the hungry clippers and pushed them in under the thick shank hanging below his nape.
The clippers seemed to disappear into the thick bulk. I made contact with his neck, and made a slow deliberate ascent up the back of his head, directing the mudslide of thick brown waves down into his lap. As much as I love a good looking head of long hair, I also enjoy the hell out of shaving one off too. I slowly continued several more passes, an almost continuous cascade of hair slid down into the growing mound in his lap. Fortunately the kid had fairly thick hair, and with it being dark brown, he still had a heavy shadow left after the clippers did their work. The remaining stubble was soft and dense. With the back now clipped practically bald, I moved to the left side, the kid was clearly distraught at this point, basically having his head shaved, not quite bald but nearly so. I slowly peeled all the thick bulk off the left side, including the fuzz of sideburns just starting to develop. Was it me or did his ear stick out just a bit more than usual, oh well. Too bad, I thought to myself as sheared away, collecting a handful of beautiful wavy locks as they slid free, and let them sift down slowly into his lap. What a great head of hair I thought, and I get to shave it all off, how hot is this! He might have walked in here thinking he was hot s**t, but he wasn't going to walk out that way, ha. I smiled demurely at the mom. The kid was starting to whimper a bit as he caught the first glance at his new self in the big mirror, seeing the left side now shaved completely off. I moved around to the right side and did the same thing. Yep, the ears definitely stood out a bit. Poor baby, I thought sarcastically to myself. His buds will have something to talk about tomorrow!
The sadist in me was in control at this point, adding insult to injury, I couldn't stop myself. I hung up the Osters, and reached for my favorite pair of Wahl balding clippers. I took the balders and carved nice high whitewalls around each ear, and raised his hairline at his nape up a good inch and a half, shaved bald. I went back to the Osters to finish up and clipper off the amazing top and bang shank. Lip off to your mom in my shop will ya... take that kid, I thought to myself. He'll look like one of the new recruits when I get through with him by god!
Now looking at him at this point, I could have given him a really good looking undercut with a nice thick piled pomp if I'd wanted to suggest it. I felt that look was going out of style a bit, but I bet the kid would have jumped at the chance to keep any of his treasured locks at this point. But no, this brat was destined for a very tight butch. I switched clippers again, grabbing the Osters, and attacked the gorgeous thick bulk on top and the almost lip length dangling bangs. I slid in under his bangs at his forehead on the left, and shaved front to back. He shivered as the first section of heavy bangs slid free, followed closely by the long top locks, landing on top of the sizable pile in his lap. I could now see him glaring at his mom. Spurred on by his arrogance, I attacked the rest of the treasured mane, quickly reducing it all to stubble. He gave a huge sigh as the last of it slid free and landed in his lap.
I decided I'd go for a final injustice, and asked politely if he wanted me to lather shave around his ears and his neck. This was really meant to draw his attention to the fact that I'd shaved bald white walls around his ears already. He looked in the big mirror again, taking it all in for the first time, and got a truly horrified look on his face. He shook his head no, becoming completed deflated, tears quietly starting to flow. I quickly brushed him down, unsnapped the cape, and said, there you go then son, one summer butch, lookin' sharp. His mom smiled approvingly at me and went over to the register with me to settle up. I almost hated to charge her for that one. The kid dejectedly slunk out of the shop, gazing around to make sure none of his buddies was around to bear witness to the carnage. Bet he won't be lipping off to his mom next time she suggests a summer cut.
Now I'm not always that big of a dick with the once a year customers. For example, here's another instance that stands out from today. It was later in the morning a young boy was being brought in by a father who was quite clearly fed up with the lads long hair. The boy, I'd guess maybe 10 or 11, he wasn't quite a teenager yet, had gorgeous auburn hair, thick and wavy, almost to the point of being curly. It was mostly shoulder length, I'm sure if it was wet it would be a good bit longer for sure. It was a gorgeous mane to be sure. It was obvious the kid worked at making it look good. He had it left side parted, and the long bangs pushed back behind his right ear. ( most of the time they were, that is) It looked like a full time job keeping them there.
He'd been quietly discussing his hair with the dad while they waited. Several times the dad grabbed at the thick bang shank and tugging on it letting it hang across the kids face, then making chopping motions at his forehead. The kid was becoming distraught at the idea of getting it all chopped off. It was obvious he was red eyed from crying, and when his turn came, he stepped up reluctantly to the barber chair. I called the dad up and asked what we were doing today. The dad, clearly exasperated said, he needs to have something done with this mess, how about cutting it all off short he said in an exasperated tone. He's always tugging and pushing with it, it needs to go. The kid sagged quietly in the chair during this conversation. Since he was being quiet, and since I have a soft spot as you know for auburn haired individuals, I stepped back for a minute. I studied the kid, ran a brush through his beautiful mane, and studied him. The dad hadn't issued a firm edict on the short cut at this point yet either. I said, If you'd like sir, leave it to me, I think we can make this more manageable for him and be a good compromise for both of you if you're up for it, without cutting it too short. I gave the kid a quick wink. I hurriedly followed up with, we can always do something further if you don't like what I do. The dad looked at the boy, who was still silently crying, and said, sure, if you can sort out that mess I guess it's worth a try. He walked back and sat in a waiting chair.
I spun the big barber chair around so the boy and I could have a bit of a more private talk, most of the waiting customers weren't paying us any attention anyways. The dad had picked up a magazine and was thumbing through it. I brushed the lads long bangs down over his face, then pushed them behind his right ear and said, well lad, I may have rescued you from a buzz cut but you are going to have to lose some of this you know, I said, tugging gently on the wavy locks hanging over his left ear. Please sir, he said quietly, leave as much as you can sir... please. I'll do my best son, I said.
Are you prepared to get this cut shorter though, I said, unhooking his amazing bangs and letting them slide over his face again, and running my hand appreciatively through the rest of his glorious mane. It was a nice dark shade of Auburn, I would guess it would get some lighter highlights as summer went on. Really sir, my bangs are the only part of my hair that I don't know how to deal with sir. I don't want you to chop them all off short though sir, he pleaded, I'll look ridiculous. Hmm, I said, have you always worn a side part? Yes sir, he replied politely. My parents insist I keep my hair combed and neat, otherwise it gets cut off. I asked if his current look was grown out from a buzz cut or had he had this cut at a salon someplace at some point. Yes, it's grown out from a buzz from last Christmas sir. Do you mean the Christmas before last, son, I asked quietly. This was way too much hair for just 6 months growth. Yes, that's what I meant sir. Wow, this kid had a year and a half's worth of thick wavy mane , basically virgin, no one else had had a hand in it. I was in heaven, it was all mine to do with what I pleased. It's good to be a barber sometimes.
I think I know what I can do kid, I said, do you like it this long, or is it getting to be too much, length wise too, that is . I could maybe do with a bit of a trim off the length sir, he said quietly, glancing back at his dad , it's just that its getting really bushy. O.K. kid, here's what I'm gonna try. I'll remove about an inch all over, layering it as I go, that'll remove the fuzzy clipper cut ends. And I'll remove a bit of the bulk. Let's see how that looks, O.K., then we'll adjust the bangs. O.K. sir, he replied, relaxing a bit, realizing I wasn't going to immediately cut it all off.
I wet his head down thoroughly, and methodically sectioned him off, trimming off an inch or so all over, and evened it up, layered it a bit, leaving the bangs long for the moment. Then I carefully removed a bit of the bulk so the bushy look was reduced. I couldn't go much further over all without cutting it significantly shorter. I didn't really want to go shorter, I liked it as it was. I blended the bangs into the right side just a bit, and showed him that if he combed the top from the left parting, straight over to the right, instead of combing them forward and pushing them to the side, he'd pull the bangs over the top of his fore head, they wouldn't hang down in the front and be a problem. Yes, is forehead would now show, but that would be better than cutting the bangs to eyebrow length wouldn't it, I asked. I brushed it, demonstrating what I was describing. I said, you can also flip it back with your hand like this, and it'll stay back better. Tucking behind your ear won't work unless I cut the side quite a bit shorter and reduce a lot of the thickness, you just have too much hair for it to stay. Want to try it this way first and see, I asked.
His hair was almost dry again by this point. It truly looked good, and there was a decent amount of hair on the cape so the dad would think he'd gotten a haircut, not just a quick trim. I took the balders and trimmed up the fuzzy neck hairs and squared off what little fuzz he had for side burns. I always got a kick out of how the kids flinched when they heard the clippers kick on and I placed them at eh base of the or neck, the perfect position to start clipper shaving all that thick bulk off, then I pulled downwards, shaving only the fuzz. I took a bit of paste, worked it in to my palms and worked it through the top and bangs to help hold them in place a bit. I showed him the back with the hand mirror, it still hung at the bottom of his collar, ears completely covered and down to his chin line. All looking neatly tailored and well cut. If I dared pull the bangs down, they reached his lip still. I told him to always keep his bangs combed back when he was around his folks O.K.? He silently nodded, checking his reflection out in the mirror. Well, I asked, what do you think? He smiled for the first time, and said yes, it looks good. O.K. I replied, now the acid test.
I spun the chair around and looked at dad. The kid had a pleading look in his eyes but said nothing. How's this look sir, I asked. The dad approached the chair, giving the kid a stern once over. Well, he said, it's still a bit long for me. The kid jumped in with, please dad, can we try it, please, my bangs aren't in my eyes, and I don't have to push them around either, he said, looking at me and smiling. The dad looked at the crowed waiting area and reluctantly said O.K. we can try it. I felt really good, I'd saved another auburn haired kid from a brutal unwanted shearing. It was a good day! The kid did look great if I did say so myself.
I'd found, over time, that if I tried to play to what the kid wanted, not what the parent wanted, nine times out of ten, the kid would at some point start coming in on his own and I'd have another loyal customer. If I went with what he parent wanted, I'd always have a disgruntled kid, who never came back on his own later.
Well, I could regale you all night with stories of this day's events, as I said, it's one of my most favorite days to be a barber. It's time to head back into the loft, the skeeters are beginning to bite. I want to hit the sack early, tomorrow is gym day. Us barbers need a bit of time to recharge too ya know.
Have a great evening folks.