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Bad Weather, Good Haircut II by P.J.
Derek walked into the shop just before closing time, Friday night. It had been nearly three and a half months since that rainy night before school started. The kids were now getting ready to head home for semester break and the holidays. I'd been extremely busy with guys getting last minute haircuts , not to mention my regulars getting theirs trimmed up for the holidays. Derek had not been in since he'd dropped my loaned sneakers and umbrella off back before school started. His hair indicated that he hadn't paid any more attention to it than the cut I gave him back then either. It was long again, especially the top and bangs, I hadn't had a chance back then to really take them down as short as I wanted to. What really caught my eye though, was the guy that appeared to come in the shop with him. They we chatting back and forth. This guy had an amazing head of tawny blonde hair, bordering on a mane. He didn't look happy to be here either.
Derek smiled at me and said hello, remember me? I smiled back, and said, of course, I never forget a good looking head of hair. Derek, Right? Of the rainy night home haircut fame. He laughed, yep, one and the same, sir. I haven't seen you since then, I quipped. Must have been a busy semester then? He replied, you have no idea, pushing the thick heavy jet black bang mop out of his eyes. I brought along my friend Josh here this time. We'd been talking, and he needs a trim before he goes home for the holiday. I told him I knew just the place, and I was heading there myself before I left for home if he wanted to come along. Josh now smiled shyly at me from under his thick thatch of bangs. He had huge overhangs on the sides, clearly an undercut, grown out along time though. His ears were nearly covered and he had a nice thick hank covering his nape generously. OH, man, this was going to be fun I thought to myself. I said hello to Josh. I'll be happy to accommodate both of you gentlemen, you'll be my last customers of the day. I walked to the door, locked it , and flipped the closed sign facing out.
O.K., who'll be first I said, patting the big leather chair back. Josh quickly sat in one of the waiting chairs, clearly nervous. Derek said, I guess it's me then, hopping into the chair. I taped and caped him, trapping my victim, I mean, preparing him for the haircut, ahem, sorry. I ran the comb through the dense thick shaggy bangs, combing them down, and combing the rest of his overgrown thatch out all around. the bangs were well past his nose now. All of it very healthy looking and well cared for. I spun him away from the mirror and asked, well then, what are we doing today for you, Derek my friend?
Josh, meantime was looking around the shop, taking it all in, I had a single chair shop, antique chrome and leather chair, complete with leather strop for my straight razors. The back board and mirror we also antique, highly polished and fit the look of the shop well. The black and white checkerboard tiles completed the look. All the antiques camouflaged all the modern conveniences necessary to keep guys of today in tonsorial splendor. Josh didn't seem to really care though, he looked more like he was searching for a hole in the wall to crawl through. Wonder what's up with this guy I thought to myself.
I brought my focus back to Derek, who said, do you remember how you cut it the last time sir , he replied. ( I'd almost forgotten how polite and respectful this guy was.) Yes, sure I said, only I really didn't get to finish the top and bangs properly last time though if you remember. Well, can you cut it the same again sir, he asked. But use a longer guard this time so it doesn't look quite so shaved looking? The 1 and 1/2 was a bit too short for me sir, I didn't care for it until it had grown in for a month or so, sir. And, I don't know what you mean by not finishing last time, sir. I ran my hand through the dense, silky bulk on top, letting it slide through my fingers, gently slapping him in the face as it fell away. God, he had gorgeous hair! I replied that I had been going to reduce this down to about an inch or so long, and trim the bangs up to about there, I took my finger and indicated a spot about half way up his fore head, and give you a hard left parting. Derek, flicking his head to one side to get the bang mop out of his eyes, then looked at me wide eyed. You really were going to cut all that off too sir, he asked, wide eyed and panicked. Sure, I said casually, it'll look great, you'll see, I can do it this time for you, I said picking of the fast feed Osters.
Well, ah, you see ah sir, he began. My girlfriend really likes the shaggy bangs look, and she doesn't know I'm coming here today either sir, so I'd just like to have you trim them up like last time if you could sir.
We now had Josh's full attention from the waiting chair too. You didn't tell Maddie you were getting a haircut Derek, he said questioningly. Derek, now looking decidedly panicked, said no, but I know Pete'll do a great job here, he won't go crazy on me, will you Pete, he said, looking at me with questioning eyes. He continued, Maddie doesn't mind the clipped sides and back, she just likes to play with the long thick bangs at certain times , sir. That, I know for certain, Derek said, with a twinkle in his eye.
So, just like last time then, or are we going for broke, and surprise Maddie then, I teased him a bit. Just like last time sir, but with the longer guard on the sides and back, Derek replied , I don't need a fight at holiday time over a couple of inches of hair sir. Well, he'd just given me permission to take a fair bit off of those bangs, I think, I said to myself.
All right, I said, mock dejectedly, you're the customer, and the customer is always right, right? I quipped with a smile. So, if the 1 and 1/2 was too short, and you liked it after a month, how about I use a 2 then I asked. I was pretty sure that he didn't realize the 2 was only 1/16th inch more hair, but it would sound longer to him. Well sir, shouldn't it be a 3 or even a 4, isn't a month's growth equal to about a half an inch sir, if I remember our conversation last time about guard lengths sir, He replied. S**t, I wasn't going to be able to get away with anything this time, drat, he remembered. Ah, we'll yes, perhaps a 4 would be a good compromise then, if you're O.K with that I replied, defeated.
That agreed upon, I set about clipping the dense jet black bulk off the back of his head. Clipperfuls of hair started raining down on the cape into his lap. I noticed the Derek's friend Josh had hung on every word of the conversation, paying particular interest to the guard and hair length parts. He was playing with his huge dense forelock, flipping it around, and feeling the back of his head, stroking the shorter, but just as dense hair that hung down below his nape. HIs eye never left the clipper though. As I cleared off Derek's bulk in the back, and came around the sides, folding his ears down as I did each side, plowing off the thick bulk and letting it slide free, I stole an occasional glance Josh's way. Josh and Derek seemed to be having a non verbal conversation with their eyes and facial expressions. Josh was becoming decidedly more nervous as Derek's haircut progressed. He was watching so intently that he'd slid forward and was now on the edge of his seat. Derek now had a good amount of hair in his lap.
I finished cutting the upper sides and back of Derek's head with scissor over comb, removing the remaining shag, and producing a nice tapered look from the #4 clipper work up to about an inch at the parting and a bit longer at the crown. I finished up around the neck and ears with a nice low close taper down to a zero.
Now for the top and bangs. I thoroughly dampened them down, combing them straight down over his eyes. As I suspected, the almost touched his upper lip. Wow Derek, this is some forelock you have here. I think we're going to shorten it to about here, I said, sliding the shears in about an inch and half above his eye brows. Right? I said. What!, No! Sir! Remember, long bangs sir, he yelped, catching his breath. Oh, I sighed, that's right, you did say keep them just as last time didn't you. I slid the scissors in just below his eye, and sliced straight across. I'd shorten them a bit more as I layered the top. I used that length as a guide, and over directed all the hair on top to reduce it down and for him to be able to slick it back. Handfuls of thick locks were coming off with each snip. Boy, I'd really had left this long last time, I thought to myself. He sighed audibly as he saw how much hair was coming off the top. Wow sir, I hope your leaving some for Maddie, he commented. What, Oh, yes, it's still quite long by my standards son, I replied. I ran my hand through the top, ruffling it, see, I said. He still wasn't facing the mirror, so he had to rely on feel alone.
O.K. sir, I guess, that feels so short, but I guess it'll have to do right, he said, half smiling at me. Can't put it back on, right? Derek my boy, we're almost done, don't fret. You'll look handsome, I can assure you of that, and you won't look scalped either. O.K., if you say so sir. And Maddie will still be amused, too.
I noticed that Josh didn't look well, and he had a stricken look on his face. Derek quietly said to him, don't worry man, I'll talk to him, it'll be O.K. you'll see. I got in front of Derek, between him and Josh, and gave him a what's up look, while combing his bangs again. Derek whispered, I need to talk to you privately when you finish with me, before you call Josh up sir. I mouthed O.K. and kept working.
I slicked Derek's bangs and top back, giving him a 3/4 part on the left, and spun him around. I said, I'll take you in the back and show you where the bathroom is in a minute O.K. , loud enough for Josh to hear, and winked at Derek. Oh, that would be great sir, thanks Derek said.
O.K. son, what do you think, I said as he saw his reflection in the big mirror for the first time. I haven't put any product in it in case you want it shorter, I quipped. ( A guy can dream, can't he) Can I touch it sir, he said quietly. Why, of course, mess it up if you want, I said, laughing. He ran his hand through the top, then pulled the bangs down, they came to mid eye now. Wow sir, that's kinda short, but I guess a lot longer than you first indicated that you wanted them sir. Yes, that true I said, smiling ruefully, and how about the sides and back, long enough then I said, gently running my hand up through the velvety soft pelt in the back. He turned from side to side, and ran his own hand through it. He raised his eyebrows and said, well, I definitely don't want it any shorter sir, but its O.K. ,thanks. I'm just not a buzzed head kind of guy sir. I understand son, to each his own, I sighed. At least he wanted to look a bit different from the current style crowd of bald fades , long tops and shaved sides. That was getting a bit old.
I got a dab of lather out, touched his sideburns, and nape below the hair line, and gave him the straight razor treatment on his neck and side burns. He about flipped at the first sight of the straight razor. Wow sir, I've never had that used on me before sir, is said, relaxing as I shortened his sideburns. Maybe one day, you can come in and experience a good straight razor shave, my boy. I'm very good at them too, I said smiling. I toweled him off, and said, I think it all looks good, If you do too, I'll dry it completely and add a bit of high shine paste to it to help hold it in place, the shine will compliment your jet black locks. O.K. let's do it, Derek said, nodding in the affirmative. I dried his top almost completely, then worked in a bit of paste, finally slicking it all back and parting it again. Josh was decidedly anxious now, constantly feeling his sides and back of his hair, and pushing the great forelock around. Casting worried glances Derek's way. I unsnapped the cape, and said, come on, I'll show you where the bathroom is. Be right back Josh, O.K.? I said smiling at him, your friend here needs to water his horse.
We walked into the back room of the shop, I spun around to face him , and quietly said, O.K. what's up?
Well sir, it's like this. Josh is my roommate at school. When we arrived in the fall, he had hair looking about like it does now. A few days later, he showed up with an almost shaved sides undercut style, with decidedly long overhanging top and bangs. At first I thought that he had unique taste in haircuts, the top was somewhat exaggeratedly long. Hmm, O.K. I said, nothing wrong with that, I can cut it like that again if that's what he's so nervous about, Is that what's the problem. Well sir, the issue was, and still is, Josh was in a bad car accident earlier, in the spring, and he has several scars on his head, actually on his body too, they're still quite noticeable and unattractive. He returned from that haircut, quite upset, I immediately noticed the scars on the sides and back of his head, and asked what had happened. He said he thought he had been very clear talking to the barber about what kind of cut he wanted and the fact that he didn't want the scars to show. Apparently either the barber didn't really pay close attention to the conversation, or didn't realize what guard he had on the clippers, but he started clipping right up the back, with a 1 and a half guard on, immediately exposing one of the larger scars. He realized that he was going to have to do the rest of the sides and back that length in order to have it look half way decent, and it would be way too short, exposing all the scars in their angry glory. After Josh finished telling me this, he went into our dorm bath, and completely broke down. Even a hat wouldn't cover this damage, he sobbed. He was mortified. He had to spend a good month and a half explaining to anyone who was crass enough to ask, what had happened to cause them. I'm pretty sure the accident has caused some sort of PTSD with him sir. I know he's been going to counseling while we've been at school this fall sir. I can attest to the fact that he still has some sort of nightmares too, bad ones. He won't talk about what happened to him though, not yet anyways.
Consequently sir, he's a bit gun shy to be here in a barber shop even, sir. He even asked me if I'd trim up his bangs a bit for the holiday, and I said first let's try coming here and see what happens. He's VERY jumpy about being here sir, but I think you will be able to help him, can't you sir. Wow, Derek, that's quite a story, I know some of the guys in this profession can kind of be dicks sometimes, and play barber know best.(myself included ). Let's go talk with him together and see if he'll get in the chair. We walked back into the shop proper, and approached a now nearly sweating Josh. He looked like he wanted to bolt out of the shop.
Josh, I said, extending my hand to shake his, I'm Pete, the owner, by the way. Derek has explained what happened last time you were in a barber shop. I'm terribly sorry man. If you can have a seat here, I said, indicating the big barber chair, I'm sure I can take care of you to your satisfaction, and I promise to listen to every word regarding what you want me to do. Josh, looked pleadingly at Derek, and began to get up. Don't worry man, Derek said. Look how great a job Pete did on my hair. Derek really did look like he stepped out of a GQ photo shoot, long bangs and all, I thought to myself. Josh, up to now hadn't uttered a syllable. He said, more to Derek than to me, O.K. I'll give this one more try, if you insist man. He stood , wobbly kneed, and made his way to the chair, I noticed the limp for the first time just then.
O.K. Josh, let's get a cape around you first, I said. I quickly taped and capped him with a fresh cape. Derek, didn't go sit down, he stood quietly by the chair, facing Josh, who was practically vibrating, he was trembling so badly. Wow, I thought to myself, I never knew a barber could inflict such trauma on a person over a bad haircut. Josh, I said, take a deep breath for me and let it out slow. He complied, O.K., now another one. This settled him a bit. O.K. I want to comb your hair out. Please tell me if it's at all uncomfortable for you, and can you indicate where your scarred areas are for me first. He spoke again, voice trembling, it doesn't hurt to touch them with a comb or brush sir, I just don't want to be able to see them, sir. Feeling them is enough of a trigger right now, seeing them is almost too much, sir. I hoped this kid was getting some good counseling for this accident. He had clearly been severely traumatized.
I was as gentle as possible, combing this thick tawny blonde mane down all around. His bangs reached just below his lower lip, huge and thick. the longest hair on top, originating from the cowlick area, was at least 9 or 10 inches long. The sides and back, were a good 2 inches long, more than hiding the scars now. O.K. Josh, how are you doing son, I asked quietly. I'm O.K. so far sir. God, another polite kid, two in one day, I should buy a lottery ticket tonight, I thought to myself. So, I replied, what exactly would you like me to do then son. You have amazing hair by the way. Clearly in need of some attention, but very well taken care of. Thank you sir. Well, Josh began, What I really want to have cut is just shorten the bangs, I like the delta swoop kind of style, the thick overhang on the left, the sides and back shorter, and tapered. Can you do a long taper, with scissors, not clippers sir, he asked shyly. Ordinarily, I'd be campaigning to clip off as much of this mane as I could finesse from a guy, I'm a barber after all, and this kind of mane didn't come along very often.
Yes, O.K., I think I have an idea of what you want Josh, how short do you want the bangs though, I said, running my hand through the dense plush locks, god, this felt amazing. Part of me wished I could take the clippers to him and clip it right down. A nice short back and sides, or even a butch. ( sorry, a little barber fantasy digression ) That wasn't going to happen though. I can cut them as long or as short as you wish, and still give you the delta swoop effect. It will just affect how much, and how far down the swoop is on the side. Do you like your bangs to completely cover your forehead, or shorter than that, I asked, pulling them up and pushing them back, exposing another scar on his forehead. O.K. dumb question, I stated. You want them covering your forehead, covering that scar at least, I assume. Yes sir, and I don't mind them being a bit over my eyes sir. I love to play with them while I think and study sir.
I think I know what you want then son, I replied, can I start cutting and we'll see how it goes? I turned the chair to face the mirror this time and looked questioningly at his refection in the glass. O.K. sir, but show me how much you're going to cut before you cut it please, sir. Of course Josh, as you wish. I looked at Derek and he nodded his agreement. While I got scissors and comb out, Derek asked Josh if he was doing O.K. Josh replied yes, O.K. so far, but he hasn't started cutting yet. I noticed that while we were talking he'd calmed down some more but was still clearly on edge.
I gently rubbed his shoulders and said, O.K. here we go, I explained what I was going to do on the left side, and proceeded to start to remove most of the hair overhanging that ear, trimming gently. I gave the section directly above the ear a bit of a taper and asked is that what you were thinking son? Josh, brought out his left hand , ran it through the cut section, and nodded yes. Is it short enough for you son, I asked. I can always cut more, I just can't put it back on, I said, smiling at him. That's good for now sir, at least my ear is showing and not the scar above it sir. I moved around and duplicated the cut on the right side, Josh nodding approval again. I'd sectioned him off, and clipped the massive forelock up out of the way for the moment, so he had a clear view of my every move watching intently in the big mirror. Now, normally with this cut Josh, I'd bring the back up pretty much right to the nape, and then taper it up from there. How short do you want me to do it for you though, I asked, running my hand slowly up through the plush tawny rug on the back of his head. It was soft and thick, wow.
Josh frowned. Well sir, I think one of my scars comes down just to, or a bit below my nape if I remember. I lifted the thick shank of hair up and sure enough the scar extended just to where his nape began. Can you cut it so that stays covered sir he asked. Yes, sure, and then I'll taper it up to here I indicated his crown/cowlick area., same length up here as what I did on the sides., O.K. , maybe a bit longer at the crown so it doesn't stick up. Yes sir, that should be O,K, sir. Good thing you have very thick hair son, the scars don't really show much at all, even as I comb up to taper with the scissors. Yes, the doc said the same thing after the accident sir, he said, they'll fade some too, with time, but will never completely disappear. That's a shame son, I said, because as a barber, I'd love to take the clippers to you and give you a very nice clipped taper, you have great hair for one, even with the delta swoop style. I quickly added, as I saw the panic rise in his face, but I'd never do that to you Josh, knowing what's happened, don't worry.
I snipped and cut my way up the back, copious quantities of hair hitting the cape. Producing a nice soft shear cut up the back, I'd left about a half inch overhanging his nape to hide the scar. From What I'd seen of the scaring so far, I could see why he'd be so upset having them exposed. they were significant, and still fresh looking. This kid wasn't going to ever get a tight clipped cut again and be able to hide them. I hoped the barber that had gone at him before had learned a lesson from that experience.
Sides and back finished up for now, I unclipped and plunged my hand into the huge shank of top and bangs and said O.K. what are you thinking for this? Josh said, well, I know it has to be cut sir, but please don't cut it so it is so short it doesn't swoop sir. I smiled. I hadn't had a request for a delta swoop in quite awhile. I had to admit, this kids mop was perfect for it though.
I laughed, and said, O.K. guys, I totally respect that you were raised properly and are being very prim and proper with me but, can we dispense with the "sir". My name is Pete, and I feel we all know each other well enough now to be on a first name basis all round. Josh smiled for the first time. O.K. sir, I mean Pete. Derek spoke up and said, yes, he would be O.K. with that too. Derek then asked, Pete, can you explain exactly what is the delta swoop style you two keep referring to? I smiled, Josh laughed. Well, he was finally relaxing a little, good to see at last. I looked at his reflection in the big mirror, and smiled at him.
Well, I said, the Delta swoop according to how I was taught, is basically a short back and sides type cut, with a very long top, and long thickly layered bangs, generally over the forehead, and hanging a bit over the eye that the parting is on. The swoop came in referring to the long hair on top, starting at the back, usually the cowlick area, swooping down onto the side a bit, and then back over the fore head and top a bit creating a swoop effect. There's really no actual side parting, just pushing the long top and bangs across the forehead. Do you understand it the same way Josh, I asked. Yes, I typically don't get a short back and sides though, Josh replied, I have it scissor cut, as you just did it, keeping it longer but looking like a taper that grown out a bit. Good barbers can get it right, he added smiling. I've also heard it referred to as the Ol'Miss cut too, I said. Yes, me to, said Josh. We're a long way from Ol' Miss though up here in the New York north country, I quipped. I usually get requests for more of the latest cuts from the city up here, I have to stay on my toes with the trends. I do like how this looks on you though, it just needs to be shortened up quite a bit. You look like I'm in the middle of removing an old grown out EMO cut at the moment, I said, playing with the thick tawny bang shank a bit again. (I could do this all day, I thought to myself)
I gave Josh the comb and said, comb it the way you usually do for me please. He did, the swoop was on his left side, and hung past his ear and still covered his forehead, it was so long. O.K. I suggest we cut about this much off I said, indicating about 4 solid inches of his thick honey blonde locks. He cringed, really, that much, my scar on my forehead won't show will it. I ran my hand through the thick bulk again, playing with it a bit(Wow, I wondered what this kids family looked like, he must have great genes to get this mop, I mused to myself, it felt heavenly) It should be fine, I'm being conservative Josh, I would normally cut it just above your eye ball, and cut all the top hair and bangs that length, then cut a few layers into it to help the swoop effect. I'm leaving yours a good inch and a half longer to start. Sound O.K. ? He sighed and looked at Derek. Derek nodded his head up and down. It'll be fine Josh, let him try. O.K. , he's done fine so far right. I thought to myself, if these two hadn't been discussing girl friends earlier, I'd swear they were a couple themselves. O.K. Pete, let's do it, Josh said, sighing again. I combed the huge bang shank down again, slid the shears in between his eyeball and nose tip, and cut straight across to start. 4 inches of plush tawny blonde locks slid free and landed in his lap. Wow, what a lot of hair that was. I dampened the top and bangs thoroughly now so I could layer them up, and work with them easier. The top hair was cut pretty much all the same length as the bangs in front, no over direction, just comb straight up and snip. Then I dried it to almost dry, and handed Josh the comb. Give it a try, I said. Josh combed it around for a minute, shook his head, and combed it again. It still looked quite long to me, but much more toward the well known delta swoop look than it was when he walked in. Gosh Pete, it looks great. If anything, it's still a bit on the long side. Its falling over my eye almost completely. I can fix that if you want me to, I replied, smiling. It will be shorter though. O.K.? I heard Josh say, take just a bit more off then, but not too much please. Derek and I looked at one another and smiled, Josh caught us and smiled too. Yeah, I know , I just asked you to cut more off, ha, ha, very funny guys. I want to look good for the holidays, I'm just really paranoid, O.K. I knew at that point that I'd been successful getting him to relax.
I totally get it, Josh, I said, and I set about cutting and snipping again for a couple of minutes. It was starting to dry quite a bit now, and there were short bits of hair raining down on the cape now instead of great thick chunks. It was harder to cut it dry, but cutting dry hair was always a safe way to not cut it too short. Wet hair always dried a bit shorter. Now I was happier with the result. I asked, how about now, handing him the comb. He gave it a quick comb, then played with it with his hands. This is good Pete, thanks. I smiled at him and patted his shoulder. Glad I could make you happy son. YOU really needed them bangs cut. I know, Josh said, sighing loudly. The last time at the barbers, I made him stop cutting before he got a chance to do anything with the bangs and top, I was so upset with what he'd already done. That's why they were so long this time.
I got the shaving cream out, lathered him up and cleaned up the sideburns and nape with the straight razor, being careful of the scar tip underneath at the nape. I pulled the cape off, and let him stand up. Josh, you feel O.K., I said. He shook his head yes, pushed his hand up into the still thick bulk, and pushed it across his head, then looked in the mirror, yes Pete, it looks great, he said, finally looking relaxed. I said, you do realize that the great benefit of this cut is that while it looks shaggy and loose now, you can still left part it and comb it over and back, using little product, and achieve a very tailored look if you want. Yes sir, I mean Pete, I've had to do that several times for more formal events. I'm just glad I can enjoy the holiday parties, and not have to explain to everyone what happened to me now, and I still have a neat haircut thanks to you .
Derek got his wallet out, handed me $50, and said Merry Christmas Pete, and thanks, you saved Josh from a very bad trim up from me for the holidays. We all had a good laugh, and shook hands. Both of them saying they'll be back after the start of the next term for a trim. You'd better, I said, smirking.
As they left, I thought to myself, sometimes life isn't always about getting clipped to the wood, sometimes it's just about getting through the moment.