Spin Cycle by Crew Cub
My fondest memories from childhood were my summer vacations. My cousin and I used to spend them together at our Aunt Rosa`s. We both lived in the city. But come every June, our respective parents would ship us off to the Jersey shore to be cared for by our eccentric old aunt. She adored us and since she lived alone in a sprawling Victorian home in Sea Bright, with the ocean in front and the Navesink River in the back, both sets of parents agreed the invitation could not go unaccepted. Besides as we grew older, Matt and I loved the freedom of getting away from the adults. Aunt Rosa only imposed a few rules on us. Otherwise, she allowed us to spend our days carefree on the beach, fishing on the river, or just hanging out in town.
We knew she had been married at one time. Our only reminder of Uncle Lindsay was a few black and white pictures scattered throughout the house, most of them showing him wearing a crisp clean uniform, a tight flattop, and always a smile. They only had one child, our cousin Lindsay Jr. Several color pictures of him were scattered throughout the house. He grew up to be a spitting image of his father, right down to the uniform, a tight flattop, and an similar eerie smile. Unfortunately, our Aunt Rosa would explain he died during the Vietnam War. It wasn`t until we were older that we found out he shot himself in Germany while he was cleaning his gun. But Aunt Rosa would always say like father , like son as if teaching us some kind of lesson.
Anyway, usually in the last week of June, our parents would place Matt and I onto a train at Penn Station, and we would ride in excitement over to Aunt Rosa`s. As always, she would be there at the train station waiting for us with the car. Her greeting was always the same, she would tousle our hair and give each of us a peck on the cheek. She`d guide us quickly into the car and started on her way towards Sea Bright. She would always asks us about our year. How was school, where we good at sports, and so on. Then the car would always stop in town. Sea Bright only has one main road, Ocean Ave. It had a grocery store, a couple tourist places, a few bars, and an old fashioned barber shop. And of course, that was our first stop each and every visit.
She would scoot us out of the car, and walk us in to the shop, one arm around each of us. Old Mr Benton was always cutting somebody`s hair, usually some older man. The bennies (tourists) would soon fill the town up by early July. But for now, the island was the home of the locals. She would sit us down, approach Mr. Benton and drawl out some complicated sounding instructions. She would pay him. and admonish us to come straight home when we were done for an early supper. She would then walk out and drive the few blocks home.
Matt and I would wait patiently of course. Sometimes we`d plan out what the next day would be like. We`d talk about all the fishing we would do, maybe this year we`d even sneak into the nude beach on Sandy Hook. We always had such adventures on our mind. When Mr. Benton was done with his customer, he would always pick Matt first. I guess its because Matt always had longer hair than I did. Although none of parents were strict in any way about haircuts, mine always made me get one before a major holiday, even if it was just for a little trim. It was important that I was neat looking, they would say. Length made no difference. But Matt seemed to always get away with not getting one. In fact for our first communions, I remember the priest having to snip his bangs out of his eyes, because Matt kept missing the kneeler.
Anyway, Mr. Benton would beckon Matt to take a seat in the big red chair. He would always prop him up. Then carefully prop some tissue around his shirt collar. Afterwards, he would drape a pure white cape around his neck. It seemed to cover the whole chair. Matt`s fringy blonde hair would always get caught under the cape. the barber would tug at it until it come loose, then make sure the cape was tightened.
Mr. Benton was always a no nonsense kind of man. He was very friendly, like a grandfather type. But haircutting was his business, and he never let you forget it. He would take a comb out of a blue liquid canister, always on the counter then try to comb out Matt`s hair. Matt always fidgeted in the seat. Mr. Benton always had to hold his head into place with his hand. Then he`d grab a big, round pair of clippers, flick them on, place them on Matt`s forehead, then plunge them into Matt`s hair. From the front towards the back, the long tufts of blonde hair would fall and cascade all over the back and sides. He would keep doing this until the top of Matt`s head looked like a mowed lawn and the sides of his head looked like bozo the clown. The barber would quickly remedy that, as he would maneuver the clippers up the sides to meet the baldly on top. First the right, then the left side, then the back.
He would then always get another clipper and rebut the sides and back all over again. I never thought it was possible, but that machine would cut the remaining stubble in half and leave Matt`s head even paler. Then he`d run the new clippers on top, right down the middle. It always left a skid mark we`d call it. After that, Mr. Benton would draw off some lather from the machine on the counter and carefully touch the hair lines with his long razor, leaving a pure white strip all around his head. Matt never really enjoyed the haircuts. It was an end to a means. He knew if he wanted to stay with Aunt Rosa for the summer, we had to follow her rules.
I on the other hand loved the attention from Mr. Benton. I would eagerly wait and wait all year for this. I once asked for my dad`s hairstylist to give me the same haircut during Easter one year. The girl laughed at me and said no one wears their hair like that any more, except soldiers and old men. But Mr. Benton never laughed at us though. I think this was his favorite haircut from the huge smile on his face after he was done with Matt! When Matt was done, he called me into his chair. He would always sweep some of Matt`s hair away from the chair. He`s let me jump on, and pretty much clipped me bald.
My hair was dark brown and curled slightly. He always cut mine different from Matt`s. He would play with my hair more, clipping off the wavy tufts with the clippers over comb. Finally when it was short enough, he would switch clippers and run it slowly along the top, sides and back. Then he`d switch again, and run the clippers on the sides, back, with the skid on top. I always loved feeling my head for hours. The sides were like fine sand paper, growing coarser as y hand went up, until it turned to a velvety feel. The skid was always smooth in the middle, then coarse, then blended into the rest of my hair. I always liked being different. And I really liked the short hair. And I think Mr. Benton knew it. One year I asked him if he could shave the sides completely then shave the skid. He did. I loved the smoothness on the sides of my head. Another year, we tried going completely bald. Another year, he left a little more on the top and shaved the side low, then tapered the rest. All haircuts my Aunt gleefully approved of. That was our beginning of summer initiation. Our hair would grow out for a few weeks, then Aunt would order us back to the shop. Four haircuts every summer then our final haircut would be on Labor Day weekend. Instead of a crew, we would always get a back to school tapered buzz. Something that would grow nicely during the school year she`d say, for the cold months.
As we got older, Matt became more and more rebellious. Aunt would actually have to wait for our haircuts to get done, because Matt would just walk out on Mr. Benton. But in the end, Aunt would always prevail. She would always drag him back and get his hair clipped to a crewcut as always, no matter how much Matt protested and whined. When we were 16, Matt got really bad. I took up a summer job for extra spending money working for Mr. Benton. He taught me how to cut hair, shave, and lots of other neat stuff. Matt and I were now more estranged. I don`t know where he would spend the days. I would only see him now and then for dinner.
That year my Aunt almost threw him out a couple of times. She was getting older and less tolerable of his attitude as she would put it. Matt missed his other haircut appointments all that summer. But when Labor Day arrived, Mr. Benton went over to the house one morning, taped him up on the chair at the breakfast table. He brought a black bag with him. It was full of clippers and combs and scissors. Mr. Benton wasted no time. He plugged in a clipper I recognized as an outliner, started at Matt`s forehead and slowly cut little swaths of near shaved mows throughout Matt`s scalp until he was shiny bald. And it looked worse than in the beginning of the summer, because he was so tanned all over, except for his scalp!
I remember the pile of hair scattered all over the black and white kitchen tiles. His rightful punishment Aunt said over and over again. He refused to wear his hair properly during the summer and now had to go back to school looking that way. And I felt sorry for him in a way. But deep inside I was actually envious that he got to wear our shiny summer haircut a little longer than me. Later that year, my life was turned upside down. Aunt had passed away of a heart attack. The wake and funeral were being held in Sea Bright. I couldn`t bring myself to cry at all. I was angry at the world and god for taking her away. So the family packed the cars and trains, and buses and headed into Sea Bright. We all found space to sleep at the house. It was like a family reunion. Hundreds of relatives and friends came over to the house. My Aunt had chosen to be laid out in the front parlor as she would call it, on the captains seat, a plushy window seat overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. I met cousins from all parts of the country I didn`t even know existed. They all had nice things to say about my Aunt. But inside I was still hurting too much.
I had to get away from them, at least for awhile. I went for a walk that cold winter day. I wound up stopping in front of Mr. Benton`s shop, staring through his window. That`s when I saw him. It was Matt sitting in the big red chair and he was having his head shaved. I walked in pretty much in shock. I never expected Matt to come, let alone find him in Mr. Benton`s chair. Mr. Benton was crying as Matt got up and walked over to hug me, half his hair shaved, the other half still clinging to his scalp. I wish I had gotten a chance to say I`m sorry. I never got to say I`m sorry, he cried on my shoulders. He returned to the chair, and Mr. Benton finished the job with lather and a razor. When he was done, I followed into the chair and had the same thing done. The hell with the cold, the hell with my classmates, the hell with my parents! This was for Aunt Rosa. Mr. Benton, carefully clipped off my outgrown buzz, then lathered me up and shaved off the remaining stubble until I was extra smooth. When I was done, he asked if I could do the same for him. I was a little surprised, but it seems Mr. Benton was fonder of my Aunt than they let on. Apparently they had started dating and had planned to marry. I tried my best with the clippers, just like Mr. Benton had taught me. I never once thought about my Aunt possibly being lonely. And it turns out she had been for a long long time until Mr. Benton had come into the picture. When I was finished clipping the gray and white hairs off his scalp, he let me use a safety razor to divest the remaining stubble to the bone.
After we were all shorn and shaved, the three of us just hugged, our white scalps shining away! I started laughing, then Matt, then Mr. Benton. We cried again too. So you were going to be our Uncle? Matt and I asked in unison. We laughed some more. Mr. Benton, packed up some of our hair from the floor and bagged it into a small clear plastic bag. Later the next day, we laid the bag on Aunt Rosa`s casket as our final goodbye.
As it turns out, I inherited the house on Ocean Ave, when they read the will later that week. the house along with a considerable trust fund and home upkeep fund. The only provision was that I make a room available for family members each summer for a reasonable period of 7 days, on a first come first serve basis, during the summer months. Aunt Rosa did not want any of our family getting caught up in those benne rental traps. I thought that was actually a pretty good idea. It would give me a chance to get to know the rest of our family. As it turned out, there were a lot of them.
Later that year, I graduated from high school and attended barber school in Manhattan at the urging of Uncle Vern (Mr. Benton). When I graduated, I moved into the house in Sea Bright and Uncle Vern made me a partner in the barber shop. We had a lot of fun until he died about 5 years ago. We used to run a benne promo all summer long. Be a local, get a crewcut. The out of towners really started to flock the shop, we were doing about 50 crewcuts a day during the summer. During football season, we`d offer our team spirit by shaving the football team, and anyone else who wanted to support them. We didn`t make much money, but we had lots of fun cutting those mops of hair off!
One winter, when we barely got a local in the shop, I wound up meeting a real nice benne. Kind of fell in love with his hair, high n tight, shaved sides, landing strip, uniform, and an eerie smile that made my heart flutter. A few months later, Paul moved in after ending his military service at Fort Monmouth. Only fitting that the man of my life followed in the military tradition. Only I made Paul swear he`d be careful cleaning out his gun! Eventually Paul went to the State Trooper`s Academy in Point Pleasant and was stationed to Troop F. He`d always send his buddies in for their high n tights, shaves, and military cuts. Short hair was really popular again. It was almost impossible to be in law enforcement without one.
Now Matt and I kept in touch on a weekly basis. He would come down every summer. In fact he met up with a nice girl from Philly here. Matt eventually got married, became an excellent ad agent and had kids. Two little boys actually. When little Matty and Little Jack were 7, I invited them down for the summer, without their parents. I thought I`d continue the tradition set up by Aunt Rosa. Matt would drive the two down, stop at the barber shop, and let me give him and the kids their summer crews. Of course, things had changed quite a bit. Now his and the kids hair were pretty short to begin with. But tradition was tradition. And every Labor Day, Matt and his wife would come down for the weekend and take them home for school with great high n tights to start the school year off right.
Life is definitely on a spin cycle. Now someday when Paul and I are gone, Matty and Little Jack will inherit the place. Already Matty is showing he has a flair for the clippers...and life goes on in Aunt Rosa`s little seashore town! `The End`