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State Champion by Jack


John Spencer rounded the corner and dumped his varsity jacket and knapsack on the same bench that he had every morning and every afternoon for as long as he could remember. A very familiar baritone greeted the young man. He spun around expecting to see the same guy he had been training with for the past hundred years and did a major double take, `Coach? Wow, that is some rocking` haircut, Dude.` He moved closer and ran his hand over the stubble left on the top of the head, `um, somebody really did a number on you, huh?`

The one with the fresh haircut blushed and attempted a smile, `it feels great, and it`s gonna be really low maintenance.`

`Ah, no maintenance.` The laughing that began slowly built to the point where he was completely doubled over, trying to speak, but about all he could manage to do was point and continue laughing almost uncontrollably. Finally the jeers began, and then the all too familiar baldy jokes and finally the very silly military salutes.

The coach threw his broad shoulders back and pulled his sweatshirt over his buzzed head then wadded it up and hurled it in Spencer`s direction. `I think it looks kinda hip.`

`Yeah, if you`re some big time,` he lifted his right arm toward his forehead and adjusted the thumb and index finger to make the letter L, `LOSER`.

As the rest of the team started dribbling in Coach Larsen prepared himself for the fresh onslaught of barbs, but by comparison, Spencer`s reaction was definitely the most outrageous. Mr. Johntson, the typically offbeat art teacher and somewhat reluctant assistant coach, skulked into the locker room from the back entrance wearing the same scarlet and silver swim trunks and St. Ignatius tee shirt he wore everyday but that afternoon he had a baseball cap pulled down almost to his ears. The coach playfully yanked the cap off exposing the identical, extremely short, marine-style haircut. Everyone stopped undressing and just gawked at him. This was the man who they teased relentlessly about his wacky, long hair. They all started joking around with him asking what had happened to his sweet, dark curls. He tried to play along, but seemed almost embarassed and kept self-consciously stroking the little hair that remained.

The coach shoved the cap back on his assistant`s head and attempted to quiet the rowdy mob down, then asked everyone to get serious for a few minutes. Spencer continued sliding his jeans down his legs and tucked them into his locker. From the expression on his face it was easy to tell that the guy in charge was especially excited about something and quickly announced that he had some pretty important news to convey to the `Next State Champions`. Those three little words brought on a major bout of uncontrolled screaming and applause. Their enthusiasm was well warranted as this was the absolute first time in the entire history of St. Ignatius High School that any team, football, basketball, wrestling, any team, had made it all the way to the State Finals.

`Spen-cer, Spen-cer, Spen-cer,` the chanting only got louder as John Spencer raised his arms in an attempt to quiet his teammates down. Standing there in just his boxers he looked incredible, like one of those pretty boys from an Abercombie ad. While sweeping his sandy blonde hair away from his forehead he flashed one of his winning smiles. This was the guy everyone wanted to be, attractive, smart and athletic. Being the oldest of six kids had prepared him well for his leadership roles as team captain and class president. It also didn`t hurt that with his long, lean body he was a natural in the pool and the recipient of way more swimming medals than anyone else in their division. He seemed pretty unaffected by it all even as his team members continued chanting his name.

The celebrity of the moment finally succeeded in calming them down and turned the crowd back over to Coach Larsen whose little speech began in much the same way as usual, `you know, men, I always want the absolute best for you guys.` John had heard all this countless times before and found it really difficult not to drift off that afternoon as his mind was on way bigger things than another pep talk. Seven events, less than fifteen minutes in the pool would pretty much determine whether or not he went to Stanford in the fall. Besides that everyone was counting on him, his family, the school, the team and especially the man speaking.

`And I want us to have every possible advantage this weekend, nothing holding us back.` They had known each other since John was five. Mark Larsen`s six foot four frame hovering above was pretty intimidating to the scrawny tadpole shivering at the side of the community pool the day they met for the first of what would turn out to be hundreds of swimming lessons. John remembered sitting there all curled up inside the oversized beach towel watching water drip down from the new insturctor`s wet swim trunks hoping this guy wouldn`t be as mean as the last two.

`As you all certainly know,` he noticed the glazed over look on Spencer`s face, `especially you, Mr. Spencer, the school has no money to give us and, as it is, your parents are pretty much tapped out.` He put his arm affectionately around the art teacher`s shoulders, `so, Mr. Johnston and myself have `unselfishly` been out scouring the streets and have found you an incredibly generous sponsor.` A fresh round of cheering interruped him again. When they quieted down he told them that the day had finally come when they could retire their prehistoric swimsuits because they were moving into the new millennium. He opened a box and held up a bright red jammer with a wide silver band running up the one side. There were also parkas, warm-up pants and new goggles. Spencer now understood what Coach Larsen meant earlier as he was pretty confident that none of their parents, especially his own, would ever have come up with the kind of cash nesessary for them to have such great stuff. That didn`t seem to prevent one of the guys from voicing his concern about not getting new swim caps as well. Without missing a beat the coach retorted that he would focus on his concerns `momentarily` but in the meantime suggested that it was probably a good idea to loose the old suits and test drive the new ones right away.

Saggy suits were immeadiately yanked off and hurled up in the air and then lockers were slamming shut and towels were snapping bare butts and everyone was hooting and screeching. The coach attempted to quiet them down once more this time to introduce the sponsor. This older man who had snuck in earlier and had been lurking in the corner, waddled forward. He was rather stocky and pretty much bald, maybe around sixty. He was wearing sensible shoes, dark, dress slacks and a brand new St. Ignatius tee shirt that fit pretty snugly across his more than ample paunch. He greeted the team with a broad, toothy grin that semed pretty forced.

The stranger was introduced as Bob Barnett, the owner of `Bob`s Barbershop` which was just a couple of blocks from the school. Now John was able to place this guy, this was `Creepy Bob`. He had only owned that shop for a few years but was already notorious. Many of his friends had been forced into going there a couple of times after the old barber retired and they always made fun of this guy. Not only did Bib typically cut their hair way shorter than instructed, but he also had this weird thing where he stood around and leered at all of them especially the really good-looking ones. John thought it was a major victory when he finally convinced his mother to spring for the extra few bucks and let him go to Supercuts. Suddenly he felt really uncomfortable standing there completely naked and discreetly slid back into his boxers.

Bob continued smiling. Everyone applauded. Spencer held back thinking that gifts like these from people like Bob were rarely bestowed without a major hitch and that `hitch` was soon revealed. Coach Larsen carefully chose each word as he divulged the barber`s little scheme. It was explained that as part of Bob`s `very generous and supportive gift`, he would also include and admisnister his brand of a team haircut to each and every swimmer. Although it was not mentioned as part of the original deal, it didn`t seem at all coincidental that almost everyone on the team was pretty much naked. Coach Larsen stroked his head while proclaiming that they would all proudly be wearing one of Bob`s special haircuts this weekend with their new, super fast suits, then addressed the earlier concern about swim caps guaranteeing that they would be totally unnecessary once Bob was done. He laughed uneasly, then went on to add that after the haircut it would be nice to take the opportunity to shake Bob`s hand and thank him for everything he was doing. The swimmers nervously looked around at each other. The room was stone silent. Before closing it was pointed out that both he and Mr. Johnston had `chosen` to support the team by going ahead and getting haircuts first. While running his hand across the top of his head one more time, he testified that the haircut felt terrific and futher commented that Coach Johnston was quite looking forward to experiencing its time saving value the following morning. The shorn art teacher raised his thick, dark eyebrows and looked the other way.

The speaker asked for the first volunteer to come forward. No one budged even with their benefactor standing right there. They were reminded that Bob had put out a great deal of money for this, really showing a lot of faith in the team, and that it was important to show him how much it was appreciated. The last few words were deliberately annunciated very slowly, but still no one stepped forward, and all eyes were now fixed on the floor. He went on about how generous this was and finally ended this part of his discourse with the not so veiled threat that everyone was going to leave with a nice short haircut just like his, and that those who were not into it would not be joining the rest of the team for the finals. The quiver in his voice made it painfully apparent that he was growing increasingly uneasy and quickly running out of ways to deal with the total lack of enthusiasm. His eyes moved through the crowd until they landed on John Spencer. Suddenly he lit up, `ah, yes, Mr. Spencer,` he moved closer to his target, `the one who laughed the loudest and the longest.` John felt the big hand grab his left bicep and begin massaging it. `I know that you are aching to get rid of that mop and I have this idea that you are about to volunteer to be our first haircut of the afternoon.` The team captain turned his head and looked up into the coach`s eyes. Sweat started beading up on his forehead.

`Um, that`s okay, Coach. Ah, I can wait. I don`t need to be,` he hesitated, `first.`

The same big hand grabbed a huge clump of his pretty blonde hair and began tugging on it, `but, as team captain, it only seems fitting.` Without letting go of the hair the betrayer dragged the betrayed toward the still smiling barber and deposited him in the chair at the front of the room. Spencer slumped down and stared up at Coach Larsen studying his haircut and wondering what he was going to look like once his was cut just as short.

`Now, Bob, this is our superstar. I want you to take extra-special care of him.` His instructions were accompanied by this sinister grin directed toward the guy in the chair, which was returned with a very desperate grimace.

`Sit up straight in the chair, son.` The barber grabbed Spencer`s strong shoulders and adjusted his head. Chills ran through the swimmer`s body. `You`re gonna like this haircut a whole lot, young man.` He flicked the switch. The only sound in the room was the humming clippers, and it only got louder as they touched down on Spencer`s temple and began plowing through the mass of thick, straight hair. At first they went slowly, inching along the side of his head carving a wider and wider channel, but they picked up speed rapidly as more and more hair was cleared away. Bob seemed extremely happy, smiling and buzzing, delighting in every moment of the beautiful boy`s misery. He shoved his victim`s head forward thrusting it into his prefectly defined chest then ran the clippers from the nape of his neck all the way up to the crown. More hair plummeted to the floor. The top was saved for the end, like the cherished solid chocolate in the box of like creams. The barber`s eyes were fixed on the prize and his hand was shaking a little as he placed the clippers front and center ready to savor the last of it. They lifted the hair off the forehead and ripped through it gently, swiping front to back several times and then the humming finally ceased. A little stunned John lifted his hands and let them run across his head. There was pretty much nothing left up there, that was for sure. As we went to get up `Creepy Bob` secured his shoulders again. He opened his satchel and pulled out a second pair of clippers explaining that they would take it down a whole lot closer, nice and tight, guaranteed to make the star charge through the water with lightning speed.

Spencer looked over toward Coach Larsen like some poor, little puppy about to be sent to the pound. The coach hesitated then the ends of his lips turned up and he gave the barber the go ahead. Bob flipped the special clippers on and went through the entire process one more time. The stubble came off just as quickly and then there truly was absolutely nothing left.

`A nice baldy! How`s that feel, son?` He slid his clammy hand over the shiny surface of Spencer`s head looking especially proud of his accomplishment.

`It feels just fine, Sir.` John lifted himself out of the chair, turned around and as graciously as he could shook Bob`s hand and thanked him for everything, especially the `neat` haircut. Mr. Johnston handed him one of the new jammers. The still shocked athlete moved back into the safety of the crowd and let the erection he was trying to hide subside before lowering his boxers and sliding the slick, red fabric up his thighs.

The rest of the guys took their turns although it seemed that Spencer was the only one treated to the `special` second sheering. After practice he held back and waited at the side of the pool. He felt the coach`s bare foot rub against his baldhead, `hey, you`re not soar at me, you know, about the skinhead?`

`Um, sorry for making fun of you. I guess I, maybe, sort of had it coming.`

`Well, um,` he pulled the special clippers out from behind his back, `your friend Bob forgot to take these with him.` He dangled them over Spencer`s head.

John slid back into the pool and stayed under water much longer than normal. When his glistening head finally emerged Coach Larsen grabbed it, `wow, that is close.` He started laughing, `how about we plug these babies in and you run them over my head. I`m thinking a baldy is gonna look way more hip on me than it does on some big time LOSER like you.`

Once the last of it had been cleared from his scalp he pulled his tee shirt off and dove into the pool. His bare head popped up and he ran his hands over it, `feels great, huh?` He pulled his body out of the pool and stood on the deck, his wet trunks dripping just above Spencer`s shiny baldhead.



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