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Chet Inspires a Makeover by Manny
When the fellow at Home Depot suggested I visit the local hardware store for the brush I needed, I never imagined I'd find something else that would impact me much more personally than an ideal cleaning utensil.
The place he'd suggested was family owned and operated. I'd passed it many times before on the old main street, but never actually gone in. As the bell on the front door signaled my arrival, I heard a call from the back of the shop, "Be right with you. Feel free to look around!"
My first impression was that I was not going to find what I wanted -- something stiff enough to clean but not so stiff that it would scratch the copper I needed to clean. The shelves were dusty and many of the products looked dated -- like they'd set there for decades!
I meandered around trying to find the section where brushes might be located when I turned at the sound of a voice right behind me saying, "Tell me what it is you're looking forward."
I turned, a bit startled, and then was startled a second time by the site of a fellow my age with the most fantastic flattop I'd ever seen! His thick brownish-blond hair protruded from the top of his head with the intensity and presence of a nuclear cloud. Every hair standing straight up from the scalp, meticulously cut to the same level, like a brand new deep pile carpet. His deep green eyes sparkled as he waited for me to respond.
"Brushes, I'm looking for a good quality brush," I said, still staring at this haircut.
As if acknowledging my interest, the man bowed his head so that I could get a full view of the splendid top -- it was so dense that no scalp was visible. Then he leaned down to the bottom shelf and gestured, "My best ones are down here. What's it for?"
I explained my need, all the while, telling myself to stop staring at the haircut. Once I'd selected the brush I needed, the fellow, who told me his name was Chet, led me through the check-out process.
"Can I help you with anything else?" he asked.
Then, impulsively, I blurted out, "Where do you get your haircut? That's the best cut flat I've seen. A masterpiece!"
Chet broke into a huge grin that showcased his pearly white teeth. "Al's Barber Shop -- other side of the street. Same block. I just got this tidied up yesterday," he said, as he ran his hand up the back of his head and across the top.
"Well, the barber did a great job -- and it's a perfect cut for you," I blabbered on, semi-embarrassed that I was so focused on Chet's haircut.
While I loved the manly way flattops looked, I'd never had the guts to get one myself. My nice, thick hair was styled into a generic "executive" look. Longish on the top, full on the sides and back. Scissors cut and blow dried. Most of the other fellows at my office sported similar looks. I suppose if I owned a hardware store, I'd get the haircut I really wanted -- a flattop. At the office, no one wanted to look different or stand out.
The image of Chet stayed with me as I left the shop. I decided to walk past Al's Barber Shop, just to see what was going on. No plans to enter of course -- just check out the scene. As expected, it looked frozen in time, circa mid-1950's. A sign in the front announced, "We specialize in flattops and military haircuts". I walked on by quickly.
I found myself wanting another look at Chet's flattop. So, I decided to return to the hardware shop for another product "I forgot" to purchase during my first visit.
This time, Chet was in front when I walked in. "Back already? I hope nothing is wrong with the brush!"
"No, it's that I forgot to pick up some copper polish. I'm trying to clean this antique kettle I bought at a flea market," I said.
This led to a discussion about antiques, with Chet and I discovering we had the same hobby: rummaging through flea markets and re-selling antiques online. Chet invited me into his back office to show me what he was currently selling on eBay. As he sat at his desk scrolling through the pages, I studied his amazing flattop. Every detail of it. I desperately wanted to reach out and stroke the soft bristles, but resisted the urge.
As I was staring at Chet's flattop, I made the decision that I would transition gradually to one myself. It would happen over a long time....maybe a year or more. But I would get there! I would gradually go shorter -- first to a taper, then to an aggressively short taper, the take the top down very short, and finally to a flattop.
Chet broke my thought process by commenting, "Look, here is one of the things I specialize in -- stuff coming out of old barber shops. Hand clippers, barber poles, and this is my crown jewel -- a Koken barber chair circa 1923. I restored it myself!"
"Oh, that's amazing. Those huge chairs are so comfortable -- real works of art too with their fancy foot rests," I gushed.
"Do you want to see it?" Chet asked. I keep it in the back warehouse here.
We scampered to the warehouse together and the chair was on full display when the door was pulled open. "Wow!" I exclaimed.
"Really, I'll be sad if it every sells," he admitted. "Go ahead take a seat in it."
I did so gladly. Chet spun me around. Then he reclined it and began pumping it up. "I could be giving you a good shave right now," he said as my reclined body moved up closer to him.
"I'd rather you try your hand with one of those manual clippers to cut my hair into a flattop just like yours!" I exclaimed.
Chet smiled, and I watched him reached out and begin stroking my hair. "Yes, this would work very well as a flattop. Thick and healthy. But, if you want a great cut, you need to go to Al's. I'd butcher you and you'd end up needing a baldy to erase the damage."
"I think I'll try him out. But, a flattop isn't in the cards right now," I admitted.
"Why not?!" Chet asked. "If it's what you want?" He sat me up straight and then lowered the chair.
"Maybe it wouldn't work for me the way it does for you?" I argued.
"And maybe it would. There's only one way to find out," he concluded.
Just talking about it and looking at Chet's awesome haircut gave me the resolve I needed to go flat. And I would get there in less than a year. In fact, I would get there by my 30th birthday -- in just four months. My heart beat wildly as I affirmed my decision. On my 30th birthday I would tell Al the Barber to "give me a flattop".
And, today, I would take the first step. I would get my first barbershop taper at Al's!
I crossed the street with an excited nervousness and walked directly to the shop, pushing the door open before I lost my courage. The two barbers were both busy and I was directed to take a seat in the waiting area. They were both working on older men with thinning hair. Nothing very interesting. Next to me as a lad with a bit of a sloppy shag. He desperately needed a turn under the cape. And then there was me with my executive business coif. It had been trimmed recently and wasn't in need of a cut. But there I was in line, waiting for a haircut! I would get my first barbershop taper. The thought of the clippers creeping tightly up through the nape and shearing off my executive look sent shivers down my spine.
When one of the barbers finished with his client, I was surprised that he called me to take a seat.
"Uh, he was here first," I noted, pointing to the lad.
"Him? Oh, he's just here with his grandpa who doesn't drive anymore. Heaven knows he needs a decent haircut, right Gramps?" the barber asked the old geezer who was receiving his change. The lad rolled his eyeballs and sauntered toward the door.
I took a seat in the big barber chair and looked at myself in the mirror. I was very excited to get the transformation started.
The barber caped me up and asked the inevitable, "So, what'll it be today, sir?"
I took a deep breath and then spit out my rehearsed line, "I want it cut short. Very short. Tapered around the ears and up the back." I couldn't believe I had said exactly the line I'd been rehearsing since I left the hardware store.
The barber worked a comb through my hair. "A number 2 taper short enough, or do you want to go all the way to zero?" he asked.
My heart beat wildly, "How about a #1, but tapered fairly high up the back and sides?"
"Got it!" he replied. In an instant, the barber had my head cocked to the side, and I watched him take the clippers right up through my sideburn and peel off a chunk of hair very close to the scalp all the way through the temple.
A large shank of hair fell off. I watched with apprehension as it came the cut wad came to rest on my shoulder momentarily before sliding down the cape into my lap. My stomach lurched. Ouch! It was going to be cut incredibly short! I could see my scalp fairly easily where the barber had tapered it down to a #1.
"Seems like it's been a long while since you've had a haircut," the barber noted as he began a second drive.
"For ever, a good six months, I think. No need to be timid with the clippers," I said to goad him on, knowing full well in had only been a week since my last trim at the salon.
"Not to worry, I'll have this shag clipped off nice and tidy," the barber replied as I watched a second shank fall away. "First time here?"
"Yep, I was at the hardware store across the street. Chet recommended this place to me," I said.
"He's a fine fellow, that Chet," the barber noted.
"I wished I could sport a flattop like his," I said, testing the waters.
The barber paused. "Who says you can't?" He combed through my hair again, then scooped up the thick bangs and held them up from the forehead with the comb. "I'm ready if you are!" he exclaimed, holding the clippers in a 'ready to strike' pose.
The air was pregnant with silence. I could feel my heart beat. I clenched the arm rests. Oh, how I wanted one!! Chet's manly look had totally inspired me to stifle my fears about what people would say.
"Go for it! Give me a flattop -- just like Chet's!" I blurted out.
Instantly, the clippers flew across the top of the comb, sending most of my bangs to the cape. I looked at myself in shock and disbelief! The executive look had taken a big hit. I was on my way to a flattop waaaay ahead of schedule! The clump of hair that lay lifeless on my chest was like a billboard announcing, "No Turning Back!"
"Best decision you've ever made!" the barber chortled encouragingly.
My stomach was aflutter with excitement.
I watched in total awe and dread as the barber clipped away the bulk of my executive hairstyle. Shorn hair rained down in torrents to the cape. The clippers moved tightly up my scalp, peeling away the sides completely. I was mesmerized by the transformation. I could not take my eyes off the mirror. Every move the barber made took me further from my old self and closer to the new me that I'd always longed for but never had the nerve to pursue.
He clipped and clipped and clipped. No strand on my head was longer than an inch, and much of my hair had been taken off at or very near the scalp.
The barber's skills were put fully to the test when it came to flattening out the tufts that remained on top. After a few blasts with the blow dryer to get the tufts totally erect, the barber used a stead hand to clip the pile down to a precisely level plane. Over and over and over he ran the clippers, carefully clipping my hair down shorter and shorter. While I loved the look that was developing, I began to worry. What would people think when they saw me at work tomorrow?!
Once my flattop was fully formed, the barber paused and asked, "How is this length looking? Perhaps take it down a little shorter? Long flattops like this are very difficult to keep groomed and in place."
I loved what I saw, but wondered how I would feel pushing the envelope a bit. "What do you think?"
"I shorter cut would be very nice and easier to maintain. If you want a very crisp look, I'd suggest lather shaving the sides all the way up to the crown," he suggested.
"Really?" I muttered, my heart pounding.
"And, on top, I'm partial to a nice landing strip," the barber stated. "Haven't convinced Chet to let me carved one into his top, but it gives an extra-manly look to the cut."
Chet had a fantastic deep pile on his top, very plush that made you want to run your hand across it.
But, it seemed like the barber was itching to take me down closer, to a very short flattop. My heart pulsated wildly.
The barber continued his sales pitch, "The only thing I like better than carving a broad landing strip is to shoe a handsome man like you! When one sees a virile man with a well cut horseshoe flattop, it's a visual treat. Takes guts and good looks to pull it off. You have both, I think!" The barber's suggestion made me break into a cold sweat. I should stop while I was ahead.
"For today, I think the way you have it is short enough," I noted nervously, wondering how I'd feel if the barber shoed me. He certainly had flattered me....and perhaps I should go with his suggestion. Walk out of the shop with a shoe on my head!
"Then just a little lather and clean-up around the ears and you'll be finished," he said, resigned to not taking me any shorter.
Oh, he was giving up! I felt disappointed. I decided to revive the possibility of going shorter. "Well, if you're going to use lather, go ahead and skin the sides and back all the way to the crown." My heart pumped rapidly as I gave the instruction.
The barber smiled. "What about the landing strip? You want to rethink the top as well. It's quite long up here," he noted, grasping at my erect, plush top.
My heart pounded. "Not today. Maybe in the future..... But, why not take the length down shorter. You said it would be more manageable at the shorter length, right?"
In and instant, the clippers were on, and the barber boldly plunged the clippers right down the middle of my plush top, taking off half the length! It was going to be ultra short!!
"Ah, yes, this is much better," the barber murmured to himself and me reassuringly as he took me down incredibly short. "You and Chet come back together, and we can shoe the pair of you at the same time, right Cal?" the barber said to his colleague.
Then, I watched him skin my sides ever so carefully. My thoughts wandered.....if I was going to shock the people in the office, why not....my heart pounded....why not blow them away and arrive with a shoe?
"Can you show me how it looks in back?" I asked the barber.
The barber held up the mirror. "What do you think? I could shave it up higher, reduce the foot print on top too."
"I was thinking about the landing strip," I said nervously.
The barber picked up the clippers and snapped them on. "Son, you are ready to be shoed. I sense it in my bones!"
I gulped, "I think I am." The words sneaked out of my mouth; I felt overcome with weakness and dread.
The clippers were all over me in a flash. The metal teeth cutting off my hair at the scalp down the top of my head jolted me back into reality. I was getting shoed!
I watched with anxious resignation as the barber stripped virtually all of my hair off, save the slightest rim around the crown. I would never live this haircut down at work!
The end was finally in site as the barber began to massage a thick dollop of lather into my scalp, including on top, when he would scrape away all remnants of my executive cut.
"So, got any plans for the weekend?" he stated nonchalantly as barbers are apt to do with mundane chit-chat.
I was too weak to reply.
He wiped away all the lather with steaming warm towels and arranged the slight fringe that was left. I gulped at the site in the mirror. Why hadn't I stopped with the dense plush flat he'd first carved from my executive style. "How quickly will this grow out?" I asked with a hint of remorse.
"I recommend a return trip here every two weeks to keep you looking sharp," the barber said, not understanding my reaction to the horseshoe.
As I paid, I felt completely numb. I glanced into the mirror and saw a nearly naked head. What had I allowed to happen to my hair?
I staggered out of the shop. I needed to see Chet, to show him what transpired since I bought the copper polish.
The door chimes announced my arrival. Chet was standing right there as I walked in. His eyes grew wide with wonder. He gasped, "Is that you?!"
I nodded bashfully, "What do you think?"
"OMG. You got shoed!" he exclaimed. His eyes explored my tender, naked scalp. "Al's been after me for years about a shoe, but I've never had the courage...."
"Do you like it?" I asked, hoping to hear an affirmative.
"Well, it's certainly more eye-catching than that nondescript business cut you sported a few minutes ago," he replied, without affirming whether he liked it.
I gazed at Chet's beautiful, thick, full pelt -- the sheen of the pelt in the plush, inviting top. His hair looked wonderful. And I hardly had any left!
Then Chet added, "In a few weeks, it'll look much better."
I gulped and nodded in agreement. Then I shuffled out of the shop, paralyzed with fear about my return to the office in the morning with my new shoe.