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Everything In Its Right Place by Digitalshave
The bell on the door rang as it opened. ‘Ting, Ting, Ting.'
The shop was dimly lit by the overhead fluorescent lights and the afternoon light pouring through the shop window. It was very much a time capsule, the floor was covered in black and white ceramic tiles. The walls adorned with barbershop memorabilia; posters depicting classic haircuts, vintage advertisements for razor blades, shaving creams, cigars and pipe tobacco. The shop's single barber chair, regal and solitary surrounded by the remnants of the day's trade. Black, brown, yellow and predominately grey hairs littered the floor. Spent offerings to the haircutting gods served up by the shop's tonsorial priest. Behind the chair stood the tools of the trade clippers, combs, razors, bottles, and most notably a pipe rack with various briar pipes surrounding a jar half-filled with tobacco. The shop was empty save for the smells of powders, aftershaves, creams and the fragrant aroma of pipe tobacco. From the back of the shop came the voice of its proprietor. "Have a seat, I'll be with you in a minute.”
From the back of the shop could be heard a toilet flushing and the unmistakable sound of a faucet turning on and the click of a soap dispenser. I paused for a moment to look at my reflection in the mirror. For an older gentleman I have to say I looked particularly striking with my grey hair just covering midway over my ears and laying just below my collar, paired with my full beard and handlebar mustache. All told the hair covering my head was just shy of six inches and the hair on my face was nearly half that.
"I don't need a haircut, I just stopped in for some directions to get back to the highway” I said to the voice at the back of the shop.
With the water still running; a more forceful, slightly annoyed voice echoed from the rear of the shop. "I said, have a seat and I'll be right there.”
Reluctantly, I took a seat in the chair as I heard the water shut off and the sound of paper towels rustling. Emerging from the back of the shop was a thin man with muscular arms, he had a close cropped salt and pepper flattop and a neatly trimmed mustache. He was wearing an immaculate white barber's tunic that buttoned on the side, pressed black slacks, and black shoes with a shine bright enough to make a military drill instructor blush with embarrassment. Clenched between his lips was a reddish brown smooth straight briar pipe, its color was a stark contrast compared to the rest of him…but it fit. With little effort he deftly crossed the distance to the chair and placed the cape around me before I really registered what was happening. I awoke out of my admiration of this very handsome specimen of a man as he was running a comb through my hair. "What are we doing today?”
"As I said before, I don't need a haircut. I just need directions to the highway.” I proceeded to try to get up, and he placed his muscular hand on my shoulder and gently, but firmly, pushed me back into the chair.
"Since your already here, how about a trim on the house and I can tell you the best way back to the highway during it?”
I didn't usually get my haircut in a barbershop, but I was a little overdue for a trim so I decided to take him up on his offer.
"It's just about time to lock up, I'm just going to close up shop as your my last customer for the day” He then walked to the window and pulled the blind down, flipped the ‘Open' sign to ‘Closed', and slid the door locked.
"Don't worry about the lock, I get stragglers from time to time who just barge in at the last minute.” He returned to the chair and took up his comb and began combing through my hair. Just then I noticed he still had his unlit pipe clinched in his teeth.
"Could you get rid of the pipe while you're doing that?”
"Oh, does my pipe bother you?” He placed the pipe on the counter as an odd look passed over his face. Almost immediately his face resumed its normal composure. He picked up his comb again and turned to resume combing out my hair. Just as he turned, the comb slipped from his fingers and came to rest on the floor by my right foot. He bent forward to retrieve the comb placing his hand on the armrest for support, while his belt buckle brushed the cape away from my hand as he rose from retrieving the comb…at the time I thought nothing of it. He muttered his apologies as he turned again and placed the comb in the jar of barbicide.
"I have nothing against pipe smoking, I just believe people should focus on one activity at a time…I tend to dislike things that could serve as a distraction.”
He fiddled with the tools on the counter for another few seconds. Suddenly I heard the flick of a lighter being struck and smelled the sweet but acrid smell of cherry vanilla pipe tobacco as a wave of smoke wreathed my head. I had to admit the smell was very attracting and I felt a slight twinge stirring in my pants. He grabbed up a comb and turned back to me.
"I asked you not to mess with that thing while you're cutting my hair.” At this moment I had decided free haircut or not I was not going to put up with this type of treatment. As I tried to get up I realized that my right arm was strapped to the armrest of the chair. "What the hell is going on here?” I asked suddenly afraid of the answer.
"You agreed to a free haircut. I was just going to give you a trim, give you your directions and let you be on your way, but then you had to insult me in my own shop. Now I think you're overdue for a man's haircut.”
"You can't do this, it's illegal to hold someone against their will and give them a haircut they don't want”
"On the contrary, when you sat in that chair and agreed to the free trim, you gave up all your rights to dictate your haircut. Check out that sign on the wall.” Sure enough, on the wall next to the door was a sign that stated "By accepting a ‘free' haircut customers are advised that it may be ‘Barber's choice'.”
At this point his strong hand grabbed me by the shoulder and pushed me back into the chair. "Sit your ass down and we'll get you looking like a real man.”
I'm not sure when he had picked them up but the comb was suddenly replaced by the largest pair of clippers I had ever seen in my life. He raised them toward my right sideburn. "Don't worry son, this won't hurt a bit.”
He flicked the clippers to life. The initial clacking sound was almost deafening and then they settled into their hungry buzzing. He plunged them into my sideburn and deftly worked them up the right side of my head. I could feel the chill of cold steel working as it cleared a path through my hair. At the end of his first pass he flicked the 3 inch swath of shorn hair down on the cape in front of me. He took a couple of triumphant puffs from his pipe. "See that didn't hurt. If you're good I might just let you keep that beard and that very handsome mustache.”
With that he resumed working the clippers around my head changing guards and clippers one after another, each pass revealing scalp that hadn't seen the light of day since the forced haircuts I suffered at the hands of my father when I was a child, each pass met with a contented puff from his pipe. I was in a state of shock. He stopped momentarily, turning to sort through some clipper guards and relight his pipe. He turned with a new set of clippers and began working on the top of my head removing large chunks. My hair was about a half an inch, never in my life had my hair been cut this short. I felt scared and strangely excited. The clippers stopped and I breathed a sigh of relief, maybe I could still walk out of this with some dignity intact. Just then he began rubbing some cream into my hair. Suddenly as he lifted the next set of clippers it hit me that he meant to give me a flattop. He plowed the clippers down the center of my head, each pass reducing what little hair remained to orderly soldiers standing at attention. He worked back and forth for what seemed like an eternity shearing any stray hair. He put down the clippers and stood back admiring his handiwork puffing his pipe. He turned me around to face the mirror. Staring back at me was a vaguely familiar sight, it was my beard and mustache but attached to it was the ramrod attention of a Marine Corps high and tight. Over my shoulder I saw the barber clenching his pipe in one hand and adjusting its placement in his mouth while taking slow puffs, with his other hand he casually stroked his chin thoughtfully.
"It looks good, but there's just one little thing we have to deal with. Do you have a license for that beard and mustache?”
"What...a license…are you crazy?” I stammered my mind confused and reeling. "What kind of crazy ass bulls**t are you spouting…there's no such thing as a license for beards and mustaches?”
"This town has an ordinance requiring all men with beards or mustaches to have a license for them or be clean shaven by any means necessary. We got tired of so many of our young men not taking an interest in their appearance and looking so unkempt and slovenly, so we passed a law to force them to pay attention to how they look. If a man doesn't shave for more than three days without a beard or mustache license he is brought to the town barber, which happens to be me, and we get him squared away.”
He pointed to a small sign on the mirror with the stem of his pipe. It read ‘This shop complies with town ordinance 554 - the licensing of beards and mustaches.'
"That is the craziest thing I have ever heard. There is no way you are shaving my beard or mustache. I'll buy a license.”
"Well, that's where we have a problem. All beards and mustaches have to be approved by the town council which meets once a month and the person seeking the license has to have approval before any growth can be permitted, so they have to be clean shaven when they appear before the council. The next meeting is in two weeks, we wouldn't want to grant anyone an unfair advantage by allowing additional growing time.”
"Are there no provisions for tourists or visitors? You don't expect everyone just passing through to comply with something so stupid and asinine?”
"Sadly…that's up for debate at our next meeting. Many of the council members feel that we are setting an example, that over time this initiative will spread elsewhere. And I for one tend to agree. As it stands now anyone who spends more than half an hour in town is subject to the ordinance. And by that clock on the wall over there you've been in my shop for just over forty-five minutes….and it looks like you're long overdue for a good clean shave.”
At this point he spun the chair back around and I decided that it was my one and only shot at freedom. This was my last chance to leave with my beard and mustache intact. I lunged forward struggling to gain my footing as my right arm was twisted behind me still lashed to the chair. I pulled with all the strength I could muster hoping beyond hope that my bond would break. The strap strained biting into the flesh of my wrist as a pain shot up my arm. I could feel the strap beginning to lose purchase it would only take a little more until I was free. Quite suddenly, it felt like I had hit a brick wall. The barber was in front of me pushing me back toward the chair. After he succeeded in pinning me back into the seat he wedged his knee into my crotch so his hands would be free to re-tighten the strap on my arm. With the strap tightly secured he drove his knee further into my crotch as he leaned across me to grab a pair of clippers from the counter behind.
"I thought maybe if I took the time to explain things to you we wouldn't have to do this the hard way” he said struggling slightly for breath. Oddly, his pipe seemed no worse for the wear throughout this exchange. Suddenly the clippers sprang to life and he plunged them into the left side of my beard, they carved a path down the side of my face. After the second pass the pressure he was putting against me lessened. He got back to his feet in front of the chair, clippers vibrating in his hand. "Are you going to behave?”
I nodded my assent, resigned to my fate. He cautiously made his way to the side of the chair watching for any sign of a second attempt at freedom. Once he was sure I was going to cooperate he resumed removing my beloved beard. He worked methodically taking great care to make sure that not one single hair escaped. He paused occasionally to relight and tamp his pipe. As he finished removing the last bit of the beard he stopped to empty the dottle from his pipe. After his pipe was relit and he was satisfied with its glowing ember he set about the task of removing the mustache. With each pass of the clippers I remembered all of the training, mustache wax and work that went into cultivating it. As the edger clippers reduced my mustache to stubble I could feel the coolness of the air on my face for the first time in some thirty years. A strange feeling indeed. The barber replaced the clippers and opened a cabinet door searching for something. From the cabinet he pulled out the chair's headrest and fitted it into place on the back of the chair. With a flick of his wrist the chair reclined. He then carefully folded a towel across my chest. I heard him turn on the hot water from the sink and take another towel and run it under the steaming water. He wrung out the towel and turned to wrap it around my face massaging it to ensure that all areas of stubble were coated with hot steaming water. He turned to shut off the water.
"When my daddy was teaching me to shave he used to say that the main reason we fought so many wars was for the privilege of hot water and that, that's what separates us from the savages…on some level I think he was right.” Above me I heard the click of his lighter as he relit his pipe again. The scent of pipe tobacco was muted by the steam but still pleasant. Again I felt a stirring in my pants, in the reclined position it was clearly evident to both of us. "Well…I see someone likes my pipe smoking.”
It was a good thing my face was covered. I was embarrassed. Overhead I heard another gush from the faucet and what sounded like some stirring motion by my right ear.
"Son, there's nothing wrong with enjoying a good hobby like pipe smoking.” Just then he removed the towel and began using a shaving brush to work lather into the stubble. He worked in short circular movements around my face coaxing the stubble to attention. He replaced the brush in the shaving mug and picked up his straight razor. He bent and grabbed the end of the strop hanging from the chair arm. With methodical precision he moved the razor back and forth across the leather surface, occasionally twisting the strop to work the blade back and forth across the linen side. After about twenty or thirty passes he seemed satisfied with the razors edge. He paused yet again to relight his pipe which had gone out during the stropping. He began the task of divesting me of what little remained of my beard. He worked like a man in a trance, the razor masterfully glided over every curve and corner of my face. The smoke streaming from the pipe was just as rhythmic, it was like the pipe was smoking itself. My face was re-lathered and he proceeded to shave against the grain, working his fingers over my face searching for any stray hairs that might be hiding from his blade. After what seemed like a blissful eternity he was done and another towel, this one cold, was placed on my face. After a couple of minutes the towel was removed and he began massaging in the aftershave. After he was finished he returned me to a sitting position and turned me to the mirror and released my arm from the strap. Staring back at me was a middle aged Marine Corps recruit, younger, virile, and I daresay more handsome.
”Looks good” the barber said over my shoulder holding his pipe in his left hand letting the stem of his pipe play across his teeth. "Just one thing missing.” He walked over to his pipe rack and selected a smooth straight Dr. Grabow from the rack and began filling it from the tobacco jar. He worked through the ritual of packing and tamping the tobacco until he was satisfied. He turned and handed me the pipe, which I placed in my mouth with apprehension. He held up a lighter to the bowl trembling in my mouth. I sucked at the stem trying to keep from swallowing the smoke as the tobacco took light. My knowledge of tobacco pipes was limited, but I knew enough to know that the smoke normally wasn't inhaled. He took the lighter away and removed the pipe from my mouth and began tamping the burned tobacco which had risen up back down into the bowl. He replaced the pipe in my mouth and returned the lighter to the bowl of tobacco. I puffed on the pipe until I was satisfied that it was lit. During the first light, the smoke had a strong acidic quality, with the second light the acid taste remained but was balanced with hints of cherry and vanilla. With each puff it seemed as if something that was missing was finally found. I felt like this was something that was meant to be. The haircut, the shave, the pipe…everything was right with the world.