Chapter 2 - Leo Loses his Locks by Manny
I woke the next morning feeling quite different. The initial thrill of finally getting the "big chop" had withered and now I found myself dreading the need to face the world -- especially the office. I felt my shorn head as I headed to the bathroom. The sharp stubble and bristled top were tactile testimony that Scott had really scalped me. Why dreamy silken tresses were probably languishing in the dumpster behind the barbershop at this point.
I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror. It looked like I had been inducted into the army! The visual was of a lowly recruit, not a business executive with a well manicured executive style. Then I caught a glimpse of the shorn bangs that I had deposited in my bathroom trashcan. I pulled out a wad of silken hair and mourned the loss. To think, that for years, that very clump of hair had been my crowning glory, swept back into an elaborate, fussy pomp.
I headed into the shower. At least, my morning routine would be vastly more simple. Washing my hair was a snap, and virtually no shampoo was required.
Getting dressed posed another problem. The tight ivy looked great with a polo shirt and jeans, but as I pulled on my conservative business suit I was very unsure. I looked vulnerable and almost boyish....and the dark suit and muted tie made it seem like I was trying to compensate and over-dress. Should I totally change my look and wear something bold -- even flashy?
Finally, I decided to wear the suit I felt best in to help boost my confidence. However, I spent so much time in the process, that I was running very late. As I raced to the office, it hit me! It was the first Tuesday of the month. Our whole corporate team met with the Board of Directors and CEOs in the executive conference suite. It was a command performance situation. The executive elite would all be assembled well in advance...and my chair would be empty. I was 30 minutes late!
Sweat was pouring down my body as I pushed the door to the conference room open. All eyes turned around, and there I stood -- shorn and the object of amazement with 50 sets of eyes staring at me. I saw my closest friends surpress a laugh. The other senior execs were clearly not amused at the interruption. I tripped on the chair as I tried to discretely slide into place.
I tried to seem invisible as the meeting progressed. I struggled to refrain from squirming uncomfortably and to sit still.
Slowly I regained my composure. I needed to embrace my new reality. I thought about what Scott had told me while I was under his cape: "You strut in there tomorrow with confidence, let them get a look at the new you and stare 'em down. Act like a frigging man! If anyone gives you mouth, just tell 'em it's the cut you wanted, it's the cut you asked for and it's the cut you're going to keep!"
Just as the meeting was drawing to an end, my division colleague (and office rival), Jack, set me up as the butt of his joke.
He cleared his throat and gained everyone's attention, "I just wanted to congratulate my colleague Colin here for going the extra mile as we angle for that lucrative military contract! Seems as if he's been checking out the barbershops on base....." Everyone laughed.
I decided to join in and playfully rubbed my own head, "That's right -- I'm a company man to the bone. My esteemed colleague Jack certainly wouldn't put his fussy executive hairstyle on the chopping block, but I did. Told the barber to shear me down military short -- got what I asked for too....and absolutely rock the makeover! Less time fussing around on haircare and more time devoted to advancing the interests of the company."
The Chairman of the Board himself nodded approvingly, "Well said! I admire that young man. I admire your initiative, dedication and most of all that sharp crewcut! Had one just like that when I was climbing up the ranks back in the 1960s."
I was the instant hero. Lots of guys came up to me afterwards to congratulate me -- and the lady execs too -- not only about the way I handled Jack, but also about my new bold look!
Only Jack was irritated that his attempt to sabotage me had fallen flat and that I actually gained a lot of mileage out of it. As he strode past me, Jack snorted, "If you're spending less time on haircare and more time on company business, why did you stumble into the meeting half hour late and cause a scene?"
I watched his thick, full locks ooze with body and bounce as he walked down the hall. The black mane was sleek and lovely. It was no secret that Jack was very vain and meticulous about his hair. I chuckled to myself, thinking how Scott would pare that down into one amazing flattop.
Back in my office I sent Jack an IM, "Shall I run you by my new barbershop before our Friday meeting with the military brass? My new barber cuts a sharp flattop if you think the crewcut might not be right for you."
In a flash the reply came back, "LOL. No thnx, Jarhead!"
Just then one of the interns that was working in our office popped his head in. "I heard you made a splash at this morning's meeting. Wow, look at you!"
I rubbed my hand up the back of my head. "So, what do you think? Good riddance?"
Leo stared at me with his piercing blue eyes, "Not sure....turn around."
I swiveled in my executive black leather office chair to show off the back. "Did the barber cut it short enough? Would you believe, I almost got a flattop?" I laughed.
"No way!" Leo gasped. "Geez, you are a risk taker!"
"I like that a whole lot better than what that asshole Jack called me," I said ruefully. "He just called me a jarhead."
"Jack is a jerk! I overheard him in the hall. He is so pissed about what happened at the meeting -- mad that you turned that situation around. See, that's what I need to learn from you, Mr. Berhner," the intern said. "You are a man who knows what you want and knows how to get it."
I eyed the head of copious blond curls that only a 20something could sport. They fell in a shaggy mass all about his head, framing the intense blue eyes. "Want to work more closely with me on this military project? I need someone to run the logistics for me at our Friday presentation. Our shop is coming up with a presentation, and Jack's shop will contribute the concept packet. In other words, Jack will do the leg work, and we'll do the selling of it and take credit for securing the contract!"
"That would be fantastic!" Leo exclaimed. "Are you serious?"
"Definitely. I've been impressed by some of the ideas I've heard you put forward in the few weeks you've been here, Leo. I want you to be a key player on my team through the duration of your internship." I pulled the barbershop's card from my pocket and tossed it on the desk. "When you get there, ask for Scott," I said curtly. And with that, I swirled away toward my computer and left poor Leo totally befuddled. "I'm emailing you what I have so far on the project; let's meet at 3 to discuss your ideas."
I could tell Leo was frozen, standing there, not knowing how to react. I imagined his eyes glued to the red and white striped barber's pole that ran up both sides of the card. Those adorable blond corkscrews falling in the wake of the clippers. I wondered how I might manage to get myself a front seat to watch as Scott stripped him down to the bare essentials. Finally I heard Leo shuffle out of my office.
An email flashed on my screen entitled, "Bios for Thursday's Meeting". I clicked open the document. My eye immediately focused on the half dozen photos of the officers we would meet -- tightly shorn heads, everyone of them! And the lead decision-maker was a Major General who sported a salt and pepper flattop!
A few seconds later an IM popped up on the screen from Leo. "Thanks again for letting me work directly with you on the project! I'm psyched."
I forwarded the email with the bios on to him, along with the note. "Check out General Wright -- he's our main target. I should have opted for the flattop yesterday!"
Leo sent me a quick IM, "Should I invite Jack to go with me? LOL!"
My heart beat rapidly. That was my first indication that Leo in fact really might to end up in Scott's barber chair! Or was he treating this barbershop thing as a joke?
Before I could decide, my door swung open and in stepped my boss. I stood quickly and asked what the honor was that he should come to my humble, moderate-sized office. Usually, I was summoned down to his spacious corner suite when he wanted to talk to me about something.
"Our esteemed board members could not stop talking about what a nice young executive you seemed to be, Colin. The remarks were coupled with how dependent the company is on securing the military contract if we are going to meet our yearly profit forecast. I've decided to give you full authority -- and responsibility, I might add -- for our corporate pitch and presentation. If you snag the contract for us, I can guarantee you'll be sitting pretty for a VP slot and an office next to mine. If you don't....well, figure it out. I'll announce you're in complete charge at our divison staff meeting tomorrow," he said with an air of finality. "Do you have a game plan -- other than that sharp haircut you surprised us all with this morning?"
"I will by tomorrow morning's meeting, sir!" I said as my mind struggled to come up with a quick course of action. "I'm honored that you have enough confidence in me to give me sole authority." The wheels in my mind spun quickly. As my boss turned to leave, I added, "There's something I'd like right from the start. Pull Jack from this project. I'll run both branches of the division directly."
"What?" my boss gasped. The request was totally unexpected. "That's a lot to run alone."
"I've recruited Leo Harvey to assist me," I said.
"Leo, the intern?!" he questioned skeptically.
"He's an 'all but dissertation' doctoral candidate and a total genius. Up to date on the latest. Not like that douche bag, Jack. A lot of hot air and retro-fitted ideas. Struts along feeling cute and taking credit for everyone else's work," I said, voicing for the first time what many of us had felt ever since Jack had been hired.
"Colin, this project is a major part of Jack's portfolio. What'll we do with him if he's pulled from the project?" he asked.
"That's above my pay grade, sir!" I laughed.
My boss smiled. "OK, I guess if I'm turning control over to you, I need to trust you. But, are you sure about that moptop grad-lad?" he asked one final time, referring to Leo.
I ran my hand up the back of my shorn head, "Not to worry. You won't recognize him in the morning...."
"Very well. I'll give Jack the news in advance so it doesn't shock him at the meeting tomorrow. I am going to recommend he throw himself at your feet and beg for you to find a way to keep him attached to this project. Special advisor, or something. I'm afraid, if he ends up without enough work, he's going to end up without a job. But it will be your call, and I'll respect whatever you decide about him."
"Fair enough. And I'm sorry if I sounded too harsh about Jack," he said, with a bit of an apologetic tone.
"Colin, you spoke the truth -- clearly and plainly. I like that. Wish more of my staff had the balls to do that instead of all the ass-kissing and groveling I have to put up with on a daily basis," he said.
At 3 pm exactly, a tap came at my door and in popped Leo with his mass of curls springing about in every direction. He had a bunch of things to go over. The busy bee had thrown together more in half a day than Jack and his whole division of 45 employees had come up over the past three months. "Excellent work, Leo!" I said congratulating him.
He blushed a bit at the praise. "I'm just so grateful for the opportunity, Mr. Berhner."
Then he stammered awkwardly and averted his eyes. I saw a patina of sweat seeped onto his palms. As he mopped back the mass of curls, I knew exactly where he was going to move the conversation.
Leo cleared his throat nervously and then began an eloquent appeal for a stay of execution, "About that card you handed me earlier -- your new barbershop."
"Yes, Scott is the barber you should request," I said curtly. I cut his appeal short before he even had a chance to make it!
But Leo persisted. "It's just, well, I'm not sure my girlfriend is going to find a military-style haircut all that appealing," he said. "What should matter is my work. You seem pleased with that, sir," he said eager for my agreement.
"Well, I'll be damned!" I exclaimed. "Who would have thought you were a hen pecked, subservient wannabe house-husband!" Then I stared him in the eyes, through the mass of corkscrew curls that looked absolutely savage, "Of course the work matters, but so does the presentation. We have to sell this project. It's about packaging, about image. We won't show up in jeans and flip-flops, will we? The military will be there with the medals shining, snappy epaulettes and crisp haircuts. That means you won't show up looking like little orphan Annie! You're head smart, but the real world is a lot more than getting good grades on your exams and research projects, Leo."
"I understand, sir," he gulped.
"Now, please don't feel like I'm forcing you to get a haircut. If you're happy for your internship to be some odds and ends, a bunch of clerical stuff like shredding old files in the service annex, well, your girlfriend can continue admiring your thatch of curls and watch them bob around all evening long," I explained.
Leo steeled himself and replied, "You're totally right. And thanks for speaking directly and even sternly with me, sir. I appreciate it. It's just that well, I'm a bit....uh, anxious myself. Never been in a barbershop and certainly never had a clippers taken to my curls!" Leo laughed nervously.
"Would it help if I took you to the barbershop myself?" I asked, trying not to sound too eager.
He nodded yes, albeit still with a solemn, defeated look on his face.
"So log off your computer. Let's head over there right now before Brunhilda gets wind that you've decided to shed the shag," I said.
Leo hustled out of my office tugging on his precious ringlets.
On our drive to the shop, Leo joked nervously, "It's almost like you're my father, dragging me to the barbershop!" Then he added in almost a whisper, "I never had a father of my own. My mom raised me on her own...."
When I turned off the engine, I gave Leo some advice, "Look, Leo. I'm coming in with you for moral support -- I'll tell Scott I gave you ride as your car is in the shop and you were desperate for a makeover. But, when he capes you up, you take charge. You look at him in the face, give a firm calm instruction and brace yourself for a once-in-a-lifetime feeling. There's nothing like clippers ripping up through your nape, stripping the thatch down to the scalp! Would you believe that just yesterday was the first time for me too? I was a nervous wreck, just like you, but that didn't stop me, buddy," I said, tenderly.
"What instruction should I give him?" Leo asked.
"You say very clearly, 'Give me a flattop, and make it tight -- landing strip and shaved sides!' That will set you up to impress the military brass," I said, providing him with an emotional jolt! He was not expecting a flattop to be inflicted on his precious curls!
Leo wanted to protest, but he surpressed the desire. "That's exactly what I'll say. Sir, you'll see that I am going to take every bit of advice you give me. Down to the last detail! You are a true role model; I so much admire your leadership. I've learned more today from you about life than I've learned in a lifetime....."
"You're a good kid. Play your cards right and I'll be in a position to install you into Jack's job when you graduate," I said with a wink as I pulled open the door to the barbershop.
Scott looked up from his newspaper as we entered the shop. "Back already, old friend?" he asked me.
"Yep, when Leo here saw my new haircut...." I began.
But Leo took over, ".....I said, 'Whoa! That was one fine barber who gave you that haircut!' My car's in the shop, so Colin offered to bring me right over. I can't wait to shed these curls!" he said convincingly.
I was so proud of Leo as he walked right to the chair and sat down like a big, brave boy. Scott had him caped in no time, and Leo betrayed no outward nervousness.
"I'm not even going to try to comb through that," Scott said dismissively as he glared at the mop of curls and reached for the clippers. "So, what'll it be, young man?"
Finally I saw the first hint of fear. Leo's lower lip quivered, almost imperceptibly, before he cleared his voice and said in a firm voice, "Give me a flattop, and make it tight -- landing strip and shaved sides." I watched the cape ripple as his huge adam's apple bobbed awkwardly as the command was issued.
Surprisingly Scott did not sping into action! He shook his head in disapproval, "Curly hair doesn't make for good flattops. Sure, I can give you one that'll look okay, but after a day or so it won't be crisp and tidy."
Leo seemed surprised and relieved, as if a last minute stay of execution had been received. "So what do you recommend? I need something that will give me a very groomed look."
Scott glanced at me, "How about just like your friend's there. A classic crewcut."
"Hey, I thought I got an ivy," I interjected.
"Well, you got more than you asked for. No extra charge either! In the end, I was enjoying giving you a much needed makeover so much that I got a bit clipper crazy -- that's more of a crewcut than an ivy," Scott explained.
Then he turned his conversation back to the moptop sitting patiently under the cape. "You should have seen him yesterday, so nervous in the chair. I thought he was going to pee in his pants!" the barber told Leo gleefully. "That fussy metro-sexual look stripped off....it was so much fun! Now look at him, all relaxed there in the waiting area. For now, anyways...."
"Okay, then, give me a crewcut -- just like my boss got!" exclaimed Leo.
In a flash, his head was forced to bow low and Scott brought the clippers to Leo's anxious nape. In an explosion of energy, the ringlets flew from the wake of the clippers like fireworks on the 4th of July! The curls almost bounced as they hit the floor. Scott drove the pulsating machine like a maniac -- taking off the whole collection of curls down virtually to the scalp. Leo sat stoically and watched as best he could in the mirror. I felt totally energized and excited by the dramatic makeover that was unfolding before my eyes.
The mountains of hair that collected on the floor brought back to mind the visual I kept from the day before. I could still picture all my beautiful shorn hair around Scott's feet as I grabbed the business cards on my way out the door.
I touched my clipped scalp. It was an awesome feel! But what had Scott meant, "for now, anyways...." It made me feel slightly uncomfortable.
Then I had the idea to check my online review via my iPhone. See if anyone had found it useful or liked it. There were four "likes" and one comment! I quickly opened the comment, and my blood ran cold. It was a return message from someone named Scott Taylor, "You'll love the shoe -- once you get used to it! Hugz, Scott."
I was sitting in Taylor's barbershop! Were Scott and Al, the old man, a father/son team?! That was probably it -- and Scott intended to shoe me after he finished clipping down Leo!!
As if he were reading my mind, Scott swiveled Leo's chair around so that the caped client faced away from the mirror and directly toward me, "Now, sit up," he instructed. Then he snagged the curls that hung in Leo's eyes and held them up so that the clippers had access to the hairline.
As the muscular barber stood there with the machine screaming, poised to clip off the curls down to the wood, Scott addressed me, "That was a mighty nice review you wrote about your haircut online yesterday, Colin." There was a hint of mystery in his voice. I squirmed in the hard wooden chair of the waiting area. He knew the message had gotten through to me. I was in line to have my nice, classic crewcut stripped down to a shoe!
Then Scott cut loose on the collection of Leo's curls. The clippers raced through his dense, matted thatch and peeled everything off to a tidy quarter inch. Curls flew everywhere. Long ringlets and truncated sections. My intern seemed to be thoroughly enjoying the feel of the vibrating teeth moving down the top of his head.
My heart beat in fear. Scott thought I was back to get shoed just like I'd written in my online review! I was in deep trouble. The last thing in the world I wanted was a radical horseshoe-shaped flattop.
I felt obliged to say something. I decided to dodge the issue completely, "Well, the reviews I had read were really helpful when I'd made up my mind to ditch the executive pomp and find a good, aggressive barber! Some of your clients, however, aren't too happy with your heavy-handed manner."
"Are you, Leo?" Scott asked, running the machine to peel off the last remaining tuft of curls.
"How am I looking, Colin?" he asked.
"Like a recruit!" I laughed. "That's an awfully short crewcut Scott's giving you! The little lady won't recognize you this evening."
Leo reached his hand out from under the cape, grabbed a huge wad of shorn curls and acted like he was heart-broken with affected sobs. "For 24 years these have been my daily companions...." Then he added, "In my senior year of high school, I grew out the most amazing 'fro. Doubled the size of my head. Had to get a larger size football helmet there was so much wool up there. I was a real dude until Mom made me have it cut down short enough to accommodate the graduation cap!"
Scott buzzed and buzzed and buzzed all over Leo's shorn pate. As short as my hair had been cut the day before, Leo's was being shorn even tighter! The end to his transformation was predictable -- lather around the ears, razor, duster all over and voila!
At the first possible moment after the cape was removed, Leo felt his bristles. "Love it!" he exclaimed. "Look, Pa! No more curls!"
Leo and I both rose simultaenously, and I held out a $20 to cover the haircut.
Scott smiled and stared at me, not accepting the money. "Not yet. I'm not finished with my pair of visitors. Okay, Colin, back in the chair! You know it's time."
"Time for what...." I wheezed through an air-restricted throat.
"How did you put it? 'My only regret was not opting for the flattop he first suggested. Hell, I might even go back tomorrow and get 'shoed!' That was sweet. Now take a seat! I'm shifting into my shoemaker mode!"
"Go on boss!" Leo said, encouraging me to comply. "Remember General what's his name with the salt-and-pepper flattop? We gotta clinch this sale -- for your future and for mine in the company!"
My mind churned back to that photo of him in the email. I had admired the crisp cut....and there was Scott's flat beckoning to me, as well, not to mention his authoritative presence and clear command.
Without realizing it, I found myself walking to the chair!!! It was like I was on auto-pilot or sleep-walking. I blinked and found myself sitting in the huge throne once again. Uncharacteristically, Scott was smiling broadly as he cast the cape. The huge metal clip was fastened extra tight.
"Not to worry," he said, rubbing my crewcut, "There will be no charge for phase two of your transformation from metrosexual to man to real tough man!"
Scott had the balding clippers in hand and was itching to take me down. I made one last attempt, "How about a flattop like yours -- landing strip and shaved sides?"
Before I knew it, the clipper was going tightly back, straight through the cowlick and down the center of my head toward my whispy bangs!!
"How about a SHOE?!" Scott bellowed with a laugh.
I sat stunned, submissive, silent and still. Through all the clipping, lathering up of my head, scraping clean with the razor and sting of witch hazel, I sat stunned, submissive, silent and still. To think, my exquisite executive pomp stripped off one day and all traces of my former self virtually obliterated the next.
Even enthusiastic Leo seemed dumbfounded when he saw the new me stumbling out of the chair in a daze. "Oh, boss, I had no idea what it meant to be shoed!"
oooooooooooooo To be continued