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Jim's Detour - Part 2 by Manny
Jim left the shop feeling like a bundle of nerves. He looked back and waved at the barber, Mr. Lee, who was still smiling and watching him as he got on the down escalator. Mr. Lee had put a definitive end to his coiffed, pretty boy hair style. Despite that, the old man had still lobbied to take Jim's transformation to another phase of manliness. Jim felt sad because he knew if he ever returned to the Ballstone Station Barber Shop, Mr. Lee would impose a high and tight on him. That was something he just could not imagine, much less experience! However, Jim could already feel himself wanting to return....
As Jim rode the escalator to the first level he thought about his new reality. He had no idea how he was going to cope at work with the very shorn, barbered look he now sported -- a full short back and sides reminiscent of a strict boys' school in the 1950s. Would his colleagues and subordinates snicker behind his back or laugh at him to his face? Jim felt the back of his head -- it was virtually bare. He remembered how the newly exposed scalped virtually glowed in the neon of the barber shop. Momentarily, Jim felt a bit nauseous.
But, stepping off the escalator, he spotted someone that immediately took him mind off his own brutal haircut. Sitting at a table in the donut shop and having a cup of coffee was the other client who had ditched his business cut for a H 'n T! Even though Jim knew it would make him late for work, he decided to engage the man in conversation.
"Are you the guy that was just upstairs in the barbershop?" Jim asked.
The fellow looked up, somewhat taken aback. "Yes, uh...." Then he recognized Jim and commented, "Oh, you're the man who came in while I was getting my hair cut." He rubbed the bristled top. "I'm still trying to adjust." The fellow let out a nervous chuckle.
Jim pulled up a chair. "What ever inspired you? Do you go ultra short from time to time?"
The fellow's face reddened. "No, it was a moment of madness, I guess." Then, after a pause, he continued, "No, actually it was planned. There's this fellow, a good friend of mine, who's been after me for a long time to get a high and tight. Told me I looked too whimpy with mousy brown hair and a standard business cut."
"So he wanted you to get a military look like his?" Jim surmised.
"No! He wears his hair down to his shoulders. That's why I thought he was ribbing me for a long time -- just trying to put me up to doing something crazy. But he kept insisting -- even recommended that I visit the Ballstone Station Barber Shop."
"And finally you did it -- just like that," Jim remarked.
"Yep, finally I did it -- just like that!" the fellow answered.
"And you like your H 'n T?" Jim asked.
"It was a real adrenalin rush when the barber took the clippers and ran 'em straight across the top of my head!" Again, the fellow felt his shorn head. "Unreal!"
Jim replied, "Ironically the old barber tried to talk me into getting the same cut as yours. I felt tempted, having seen your makeover, but I settled for letting him shear me down something fierce -- my hair's never been cropped as short as this before."
The fellow studied Jim's clipped head. "It does look rather drastic....especially since you came in with a floppy salon style."
Jim blushed in embarrassment. "That bad, huh?"
"Yep, that bad. You can always head back up there and get the high and tight!" he said with a laugh. "Well, I've got to go...."
"Me too," said Jim awkwardly, realizing the fellow was through talking about haircuts in an abrupt, almost rude, way.
"Don't feel too bad," he chirped as he walked away. "In four or five months, it'll look fine."
Jim watched the man walk away, admiring his courage. He admired the man for having just walked into the shop, having told the young barber to give him a high and tight, and voila! The business cut was a thing of the past.
During the whole train ride into town, Jim observed the various men's haircuts that paraded before him. Two older teens with long floppy shag cuts -- hair half covering their faces....but nice, youthful, shiny hair (like his own). A few MPB guys that had gone for the chromedome look, but the telltale old man's receding hairline was apparent. He thought they should shave fresh each morning. Then, a young stud with wonderful silken blond hair -- very full on top -- but tapered short around the ears and at the nape. He ran his fingers through the abundant forelock and seemed to enjoy the sensation.
As Jim neared the Pentagon, a group of young officers got on -- it was a feast for his eyes. Each haircut shorter than the next, including a marvelous beveled flattop. That was the cut Jim had always wanted if he could ever work up the courage to get one. He thought a man who wore a flattop was brave and bold and very masculine. He'd practiced the instruction many times, "A flattop - leave the pile deep on top, no landing strip. Oh, and bevel the top a bit. Tapered to zero along the sides and back. Nice and short, but not extreme."
And then his stop came. Oh, he was only minutes away from a possible (probable, knowing his friends!) world of ribbing and catcalls. He dreaded going in. Jim checked out his new haircut for the umpteenth time in the car window's reflection. He looked ridiculous. As he was emerging from the car, he saw one of his colleagues -- his rival who was always looking for a way to put him down publicly and humiliated him. Jim quickly darted through the crowd to get away from the jerk. He simply could not go through with it. He simply could not go to the office feeling the way he did. He'd have to work up some courage.
Jim began heading up the escalator towards the station exit, but froze in his tracks at the platform just above the track. He couldn't go into the office looking the way he did! Jim pulled out his cell phone and sent a text to his boss -- "not feeling well today; email me if anything urgent develops." He quickly pressed send. There! That put an end to him having to face ridicule at the office -- at least for one day.
And so, Jim began the long ride back torwards home....retracing his steps....his heart began pounding wildly....retracing his steps at the Ballstone Station....retracing his steps up the escalator....retracing his steps to see the neon light of the barbershop come into view.
And, as if in a dazed parallel universe, Jim found himself stumbling off the escalator right near the door of the barber shop.
The same two barbers were in the shop and both had clients -- plus there was another gent in the waiting area whose hair was so short he didn't look like he needed a haircut. Perhaps a friend just there to chat with the young barber? They looked the same age.
Mr. Lee looked up, puzzled to see Jim back in front of the shop. "You forget something here, mister?"
Jim felt a faint swoon. His mouth was dry. He knew he was back for another round under the cape. But he had a chance to wriggle off the hook. Say he was looking for his cell phone. Perhaps he had left it on the counter.....
Then the young barber flashed a smile and seized the moment to reel Jim in. "No, Dad. He's back for the H 'n T! It just took him a bit of time to think about it. But I can see from his face that's what he wants. Come on in. I'm finishing off here now and I can give you a very sharp new look. That schoolboy haircut my father left you with doesn't suit...."
Mr. Lee's face turned angry and he let out a brief tirade in Vietnamese that wiped the grin off his son's face.
Addressing his friend in the waiting area, the young barber said, "My father will handle him. It's time for my break anyways. We can go get a donut downstairs."
Mr. Lee motioned for Jim to sit in the waiting area. He was still very agitated about his son criticizing the haircut he'd given Jim.
Jim watched Mr. Lee whittle away the hair on the young man he had under the cape. Each swipe of the clippers took the lad's hair down another fraction of an inch. Shorter and shorter he cut the wirey thatch. Silence reigned in the barbershop, except for the whirl of the clippers. By the time Mr. Lee finished with his client, the unruly mane had been tamed into a very clipped, scultped cut, very close to the scull. The lad looked approvingly as Mr. Lee held up the mirror.
Once the client had been dispatched, it was just Mr. Lee and Jim in the shop. Mr. Lee moved very quickly, as if eager to ensure that Jim did not change his mind and leave. "Into the chair, now," he said in a clipped voice. Was it that he spoke broken English with a heavy accent, or was Mr. Lee commanding Jim to move his tail and hustle?!
Jim felt taken aback, but dutifully climbed up onto the heavy duty foot stand and took a seat. This time the chair did not feel as comfortable. Jim felt as if there were an electric current pulsating through his entire body. He was going to try to Mr. Lee to give him the long-desired flattop and avoid the H 'n T.
"You back sooner than I thought," said Mr. Lee as he fastened the cape incredibly tight around Jim's neck. "Two haircut in one day. That's good!"
Jim cleared his voice nervously. "Yes, I got to thinking that perhaps that flattop you were suggesting earlier would be better for me than this cut. But, please leave the pile deep on top, no landing strip. Oh, and bevel the top. Tapered to zero along the sides and back. Nice and short, but not extreme."
The old barber's response surprised Jim. "No that is not best cut for you. I start cutting hair for U.S. marines on base in Vietnam fifty years ago. I know American heads and what looks good." He snapped on the clippers.
Jim's heart raced.
Mr. Lee took control of the haircut. The clippers sailed straight down the middle of the top of Jim's head, pushing the plastered schoolboy look right off the back and to the floor.
A huge wave of relief swept through Jim, rather unexpectedly. The vibration of the clippers on his scalp produced the effect of a deep tissue massage. He could feel the tension drain away. His fate was in Mr. Lee's hand. He would accept whatever the old expert barber had in mind for him.
As Jim relaxed, it seemed like Mr. Lee relaxed too. His grip loosened and his speed declerated. He continued clipping away all over Jim's pate. Nothing was exempt. The cape quickly loaded up with stiff shiney bit of shorn hair.
"You want to watch?" Mr. Lee asked. It was more a statement than a question. "I turn chair to mirror so you can see my work."
Jim saw himself in the mirror with his head reduced to a thick stubble all over -- it looked as if Mr. Lee had used a #1 on him to strip away the schoolboy look. Jim was glad that akward slicked to the side haircut was gone. And he smiled a bit to himself that he looked rather manly.
Then Mr. Lee swapped the clippers for a smaller set that had a higher pitched purr. He began caressing the sides with the steel teeth, carefully stripping away the hair into an incredibly close fade. Over and over and over he went until the skinned sides blended uniformly into the #1 top. Mr. Lee concluded the haircut with a fit of a flourish, carving a side part right above the crown at the left side of Jim's head.
Jim looked like a dude! A manly macho man!
Mr. Lee tackled him with the duster that was loaded with talcum.
"Oh," Jim squealed.
"You like?" Mr. Lee stated. He poured another generous amount of powder into the duster and began a furious whisking, removing stray hairs from ears, the tissue casing around the neck and even Jim's nose!
Then Mr. Lee got a huge dollop of lather and began caressing it into Jim's neck and around his ears. Very carefully he carved and shaved away any hint of hair along the perimeter.
"You look like a man now! Not that girly look you come in with this morning. This is Mr. Lee's special haircut -- for the customers I like the best. What's your name?" the barber asked.
"Jim," came the response.
The cape came off. "Mr Jim now my steady, loyal client. You come every ten days, okay?"
Just as there was a little kerfluffle over whether or not Jim should pay again, the young barber came back into the shop.
He looked at the shorn man in the business suit. "Hmmmm. Not my idea of a business man's haircut. I would've gone with a deep pile flat -- a little full on the sides and a polished beveled edge on top."
Jim's elation over his minimalistic bald fade suddenly was punctured. Oh, to think, if it hadn't been for Mr. Lee getting his way, he'd be sporting the flattop he'd always dreamed about.....
Jim gulped and ambled out of the shop confused. Then he felt his stubble. Ah! That stimulate him. He took a deep breathe and stepped onto the down escalator. As the barbershop disappeared from sight, Jim texted his boss. "Began feeling better, so I'm coming into work. Should be there in about half an hour." Jim pushed the send button and felt confident about his new look. Maybe Mr. Lee's intinct was right.....