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The Intern, Part 1 by Jack
The Intern, Part 1
William was staggering toward the corner as the bus sped past him. Even with the cloud of fumes obliterating his flailing arms his long legs sprang into action and sprinted full throttle ahead. Not the day to f*** with him. For one thing it was 4:30 in the morning, and for another, he hadn’t made it home until after half past two. Probably not the best decision he’d made since beginning Barber School, but then when he ordered his fifth Apple Martini he wasn’t really thinking a lot about his first day at Roy’s Barber Shop. Somehow, prior to hitting the club the night before, he’d had the foresight to plan what he’d wear his first day behind the chair. His decision to skip the skinny jeans and tight fitting polo in favor of the chinos and a button-up would hopefully pay off. The placement office had warned him that he’d be assessed not only on his skills but also his professionalism, and considering how borderline his grades had been to date, he was trying to at least take the professionalism part sort of seriously. Too bad his head was pounding and he was having a hard time holding it up. Besides jolting him out of his coma, the bus screeching to a halt didn’t do much for his mood. When he pried his eyelids open enough to see where he was he caught his reflection in the darkened window. He was now awake enough to realize that his hair looked like he’d just rolled out of bed. He had. And although he was notorious for his trendy, disheveled look, that morning, even he knew it crossed the line. He rummaged through his messenger bag and unearthed a jar of hair wax and a Red Bull. Before dealing with the mass of unruly curls he downed the energy drink.
By the time William got off the third bus he was more convinced than ever that he’d been assigned to this shop, in this remote neighborhood on the other side of town, because someone, probably the loser-teacher in charge of the student internship program, was pissed because he’d blown off so many of his classes the semester before. Irregardless, William commended himself for arriving early, a significant accomplishment for someone who considered early to mean twenty minutes late. The place was still dark and the sun was just coming up. He shielded his eyes and peered into the long, narrow space and counted out six chairs. While trying to imagine himself standing behind one and not hurling his two a.m. grazing at Taco Bell, he felt a hand clench his shoulder. His throbbing head twisted seventy-five degrees. Lurking above his coagulated mane was a husky, bald guy, probably just a little younger than his grandfather. With his best, forced smile William introduced himself. Roy’s giant hand bore into William’s shoulder, “this ain’t some fancy salon downtown, son. Just a neighborhood joint. Told that t’the guy from yer school when he come by and asked if I wanted to take on a intern.” He fumbled with his keys, “yep, told that fellow this is just a old fashioned barbershop. No appointments. Basic clipper cuts.” Roy growled at his new intern and shook his head, “And I ain’t got no time for nobody who ain’t into bein’ here.” He stared William up and down, “William? No way. So long as yer here, yer Bill. Got it, son?”
William nodded and forced another smile. The proprietor shoved the door open with his shoulder, flipped over the open sign and hit the light switch. Fluorescent light flooded the storefront. No lie, the place was definitely not some fancy salon downtown, more like one of the last survivors of the early seventies remodeling craze, but not in a cool, retro way. The word bleak pretty much summed it up from the super dark MDF paneled walls and water stained drop ceiling right down to the patchy linoleum floor. Even in his blurred state of consciousness William was able to scope things out; hard as he tried he couldn’t spot a shampoo sink anywhere. One by one the other four barbers began dribbling in. Just like Roy they hovered around sixty, sported beer guts, and were pretty much bald or had super short buzzcuts. They trudged to their stations without acknowledging their new coworker. Before the first customer arrived Roy pulled Bill aside and handed him a cardboard sign. William glanced down at the crude lettering then placed it in the window. The admonition, STUDENT BARBER FIVE BUCK HAIRCUT, made him a lot less concerned about screwing up some guy’s hair on his first day.
“Yer chair’s in the back, son.” The chair in the far back corner had another sign, written in the same crude hand, suspended above it. These letters boldly stated, FIVE BUCK HAIRCUT OF THE DAY, and had an arrow pointing straight down at the chair. Roy shoved a styrofoam cup under Bill’s nose and motioned to the folded papers inside. “You’ll pick one every day til ya’ get the hang ‘a things. Learn t’cut a real man’s haircut, not like them sissy cuts they teach ya’ at school.” He scowled, “when ya’ leave Roy’s yer gonna be a real barber.”
After he was done rolling his eyes, Bill fished one out. He looked up at Roy and mumbled, “H&T Crew?”
There was a little snickering from the others, then one of the barbers stepped toward William. He smirked and tugged William’s hair, “this is gonna be worth watchin’.”
“You know how t’cut one,” Roy asked.
“A-hh, umm.” William shifted his weight from one leg to the other, “I guess. I mean, I’ve never really done one, but how hard can it be to give a crewcut, duh-h-h?”
“Ain’t just a crewcut and ain’t so easy as ya’ think, boy, but you’re gonna give a great one by the end’a the day. Guaranteed. And you’ll pick up speed the more y’do ‘em.” Roy pointed toward the sign above the chair, “that’s all yer doin’ t’day, the o-fficial, five buck haircut a’the day,” he laughed, “some just call it a induction cut, we call it a H&T Crew.” This time Roy pointed at the chair, “and I’m gonna show ya’ how we do ‘em here at Roy’s right now.”
William’s scrunched up face didn’t deter Roy. He blew air out of the side of his mouth and raised his voice, “sit, boy.”
After William lowered himself into the chair he noticed the other barbers circling. Roy moved behind it and spun Bill around to face the mirror. “Start with a #2.” He held up the clippers and grinned down at them. “Put ‘em front and center just like this.” William stared into the mirror and saw the clippers positioned right where Roy had said to place them. “Then y’glide ‘em straight back, all the way across the top. One clean move. Understand?”
William jerked out a nod.
“Now look ‘n learn, son.” William’s heart started racing as he heard the clippers roar to life and watched them move straight back and efficiently plow a wide path through his thick hair. “Nice clean cut, see?” Roy let a chunk of Bill’s hair sail to the floor then placed the clippers just right of the first swath. “Move it over, then do it again, nice ‘n easy, straight t’the back.” Another clean sweep. Another chunk of hair sailed to the floor. “Now you try.” William stared into the head of the clippers like it was a snake about to spew venom. The barber guided them back in place, “now shove ‘em, boy.” They got nudged about half an inch. “Not like some f***in’ mule yer draggin’ up a mountainside.” Roy seized the implement and in less than ten seconds all the hair on top of Bill’s head was reduced to a uniform quarter inch. William glared blankly at his reflection and petted the stubble.
“We do a lotta military here. Some guys call this a high reg. They expect ya’ t’use the 00000 on ‘em less they say otherwise. Gets it nice ‘n tight. Right down t’the wood.” Roy chuckled and reached for another pair of clippers, “just like b’fore, start at the front. Right here at the temple. Then glide ‘em straight back again.” William stared into the mirror. Sweat was beading up on his forehead and he could feel it trickling down the back of his neck. “This’s a important cut. It’s gotta be straight. Nice ‘n clean. Sets up the line for the sidewall. Best t’do it in one hit. Ya’ screw it up ‘n yer gonna have t’go higher.” William gulped. “Secure the head like this.” The barber placed his hand on the stubbly top of Bill’s head and forced the blade straight back. A band of white scalp peaked through. “Once y’get that, the rest’s a breeze. Just buzz it off.” The 00000 blade zipped around William’s ear and efficiently cleared the entire right side of his head. “Some do the back next. Me, I like t’get the other side done.” The blade landed on William’s left temple, “make sure it’s at exactly the same height as the other side. Y’don’t want some poor sucker leavin’ here with a lopsided H&T.” The blade buzzed over William’s scalp; the stark sides of his head glistened back at him. Before he had a chance to react Roy eased the young man’s head into his chest. The clippers zoomed straight up the back all the way to the crown. “Now the last step. Use the 1A t’blend the sidewall inta’ the top. Don’t be s’quick t’finish this part.” He maneuvered the clippers meticulously around Bill’s head. “Use the 0A if y’need to. This here’s the dif’rence b’tween a good cut ‘n a not-so-good one. We take pride in our work here at Roy’s, son.” Roy looked at Bill and smiled, “take a look.” The chair was spun around to face the other barbers and William was handed a mirror to examine Roy’s expertise. He took a deep, deep breath and shuddered. Roy glanced down at Bill’s flushed face, “ya’ okay there, son?”
William caressed the bare scalp on the sides of his head with his palms while his fingertips explored the stubble on top and tried his hardest to force a smile through his clenched teeth.
“Ya’ look like ya’ fit in here now, huh, Bill?” Roy chortled and swatted the back of his new intern’s head. “Now when they start coming at ya’, just point t’your noggin ’n let ’em know it’s the five buck haircut a’the day.” Just as William was about to pry himself out of the chair a wadded up ball of red fabric came bounding toward him. “and, loose the pretty boy shirt, son.”