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Mark: Budget Cuts and Hair Cuts by Manny (recovered)

Mark: Budget Cuts and Hair Cuts

By Lox

"Here`s something that might interest you," Mark`s wife said as she slid a slip of paper across the table. She had a smug look on her face as she continued sorting the mail. "Free haircut is something one shouldn`t pass up with our budget so tight these days." There was a tinge of bitterness in her voice. Clearly, she was still smarting over the lecture Mark had given her the day before about needing to reign in their spending. Mark eyed the paper warily -- the big striped barber pole on the sides of the coupon immediately let Mark know that it was no fancy salon or even a medium-priced chain making the offer. No, the deal came from Bud`s Barber Shop. And it was for new customers only. After an awkward silence, Ann spoke again. "You were saying the other day that you needed a haircut."

"Yeah, you`re right," Mark responded without much enthusiasm. Mark hadn`t been to a traditional barber shop since he was a boy, and his visits during his pre-teen years in the 1970s were always rather traumatic. He hoped his wife wouldn`t press the issue.

But, she continued to insist. "So, this coupon, then, is just perfect. Great timing!" It seemed like she was intent on badgering him into going to some unknown barbershop named after some old geezer.

Mark resisted the idea all together. "But what if ole Bud there cuts my hair too short...barbers do that sort of thing...."

"Well, then it`ll last you a good long while. Think of all you`ll save." Ann looked like she had just played the trump ace card, and she enjoyed her husband`s unease with the proposition.

Realizing she would not relent, Mark gave in without an additional objection. Time to practice what he`d preached. "What I save with this I`ll apply to that new leaf blower I`ve been wanting to buy." Mark studied the coupon again. "Bud`s Barber Shop. Well, I might as well go today. The hair is rather long," he commented as he ran his hand through the overgrown businessman`s cut he sported.

"I noticed it keeps falling in your eyes, honey," said Ann a little more sympathetically. "Maybe you`ll like Bud`s. If it`s economical you might think about switching from that place in the mall you`re going to now." The she added hastily, "That is, if the barber does a good job. I noticed the shop is a lot closer too -- factor in the savings on gas, and you`ll have paid off that leaf blower sooner than you think."

Mark left the kitchen still irritated that he`d been pinned into getting his hair cut by an unknown barber. He logged on to his computer to mapquest the address. Anne was right -- it wasn`t that far away. To think, within 10 minutes he could be enterering a barbershop for the first time in some 35 years. Bad memories of the barber threatening to use a set of clippers on his hair as an adolescent crowded Mark`s memory. His dad always got a good laugh out of Mark`s reaction when the barber would hold up the electric hair clippers, snap them on and ask, "How about it? Suppose I ought to give you a crewcut today?" Then his father would "rescue" him with some remark about not wanting to see grown boy cry....

As Mark was printing out the driving directions, he noticed that one person had "reviewed" Bud`s on the map website. He clicked on the link. The anonymous post read: "Bud needs to retire. Bud is past his prime, his hands shake way too much to hold a pair of clippers. He should stick to cutting the hair of his old-timer friends. He cut my hair way shorter than I instructed him to -- did not use scissors at all on top, just buzzed the top right off. He rushed through the cut and now I look scalped."

Mark panicked. What could he possibly do? He`d already told his wife he was going to use the coupon she found. No wonder the barbershop was trying to drum up new business -- with reviews like that one, they couldn`t possibly have a growing clientele. Mark tried to imagine himself "scalped". What if his hair got butchered, like had happened to the anonymous website reviewer? The horrible dread of having to go to the barbershop, which had been such a constant during his junior high years, flooded Mark`s mind. To think, this time he`d be driving himself there! He paused for a moment. The last thought began to precipate a bit of a change in attitude. History did not have to repeat itself. And, maybe anonymous just got a bad cut. Yes, there was a bit of a new dynamic this time around. It didn`t have to be like Jr. High he told himself. Mark determined to face this trip to Bud`s as an adventure -- maybe even one of his own making, and not cajoled into it by his wife.

Mark thought perhaps he could find a few other reviews online for Bud`s Barber Shop -- hopefully better ones. He typed in a few search words but found nothing else specific to that shop or barber. However, a few other websites caught his attention -- including a few that were dedicated to very short haircuts on men and one that had hundreds of stories about men getting haircuts in barbershops. He began reading through a few of them and was transported into a whole other world. The stories were amazing -- sometimes the protagonists enjoyed their new short looks and sometimes they regretted their decisions to visit the barbershop. And there was more than one story where the man with the "boring businessman`s cut" made a decision (or had the decision made for him...like Ann!) to go radically short. Mark liked one story in particular, about a guy whose car broke down in front of a barbershop. The character, Mike, went in to use the phone sporting a grown-out business cut, but by the time his car had gotten fixed the barber had shorn him down into a very short "ivy league" haircut. According to the story, Mike loved the new cut.... Mark wondered if he`d be so fortunate with Bud.

By the time Mark was actually en route to Bud`s with the coupon in his pocket, he had generated enough enthusiasm in his mind and was actually looking forward to visiting an old fashioned shop. When he pulled up to the small, stand-alone, storefront, Mark thought that Bud`s turned out to be just the sort of place that many of the stories on the website had portrayed. Seeing the old man sitting in the chair -- no customers -- dressed in a professional blue smock, Mark remembered the first line of the real review. "Bud needs to retire." Mark panicked! Hey, this wasn`t some fantasy story on a website, this was him putting his hair in the hands of someone who scalped unsuspecting fellows in their chair. He took one final look at himself in the rearview mirror -- the long bangs swooping down across his forehead and falling in thick layers just below his eyebrows -- tantalizingly ready to partially block his line of sight. What would Bud do to that forelock? He was rather fond of this lush bangs and always told the stylist to just trim their tips. Would he have the courage to give Bud a similar instruction? Mark told himself to stop thinking and just go and get the dreaded haircut. (Ah, his true feelings revealed!) He steadied himself as he pushed the door of the shop open.

Bud stood and greeted him. "Haircut?" the barber asked. Duh! What did the old geezer think, Mark thought somewhat disdainfully? Mark stole a glance at himself in the mirror as he confirmed to Bud the barber that his trip was more than just a casual visit. Somehow being inside the barbershop made Mark`s hair seem exceptionally overgrown. Not only was it pushing the limits above his eye, but it grew bulky over his ears and hung down towards the mid-point. Same in back -- fully and quite long over the collar. The barber dusted off the over-sized chair and gestured for his client to take seat. It was just the two of them in the shop. Strangely the barber did not swivel the chair around to face the mirror after Mark was firmly enthroned. The cape was fastened quite tightly, and Mark felt a bit short of breath. Probably just the level of apprehension making him tense up and not a physical blockage caused by the cape, Mark assured himself. The barber began combing Mark`s hair. "New here?"

"Yeah, first time in this shop. I`ve seen it before, driving by, but never had my hair cut here before. I got one of your promotional ads." Mark stopped abruptly. Oh my, perhaps letting the barber know he wasn`t going to make a cent on this haircut might make negatively affect his chances of a decent cut. On the other hand, the barber might do an extra-careful job in order to secure a new regular at the shop.

"So, any special instructions?" asked the old man.

Well, if there was ever a time to instruct him to simply trim the long bangs, that was it. But Mark felt timid. The question was asked in a way that really did not require a detailed answer. So, instead, the nervous Mark eeked out, "No, not really. Just been a good while since I`ve had it cut." Again he panicked -- was that the best thing to say? Oh well, too late now.

"I can see that," the barber said as he began combing the long bangs forward -- straight down. Ironically, Mark couldn`t see anything for the veil of thick hair that completely covered his eyes. The he heard the barber snapping a pair of shears open and shut. Mark felt relieved. Great, it would be a scissors cut -- no electric clippers!

But the relief soon turned into horror. The shears slid through the long bangs far above the eyebrows and then crunched shut. A huge tuft of long hair fell past the incredulous eyes. Chop, chop. Chop, chop. More clumps fell under the weight of their gravity. The shears were very near the top of his forehead! Mark`s heart plunged as he gripped the arms of the chair for support. The barber finished them off, less than an inch from the roots. Mark looked in disbelief at the huge mounds of shorn dry hair on his lap. The precious bangs lopped off -- and they were only the first part of Mark`s mane to fall victim to Bud`s instruments of torture.

While he was still recovering from the shock of losing his precious forelock, Mark felt a slightly tremulous hand clamp down on top of his head and forcefully incline his head sideways. Then that dreaded sound -- click, followed by a sharp, whirling hum. Mark felt the cold steel teeth of the machine on his cheek, right at the base of his sideburn. The hum turned into a piercing howl as the barber drove the clippers straight up the side of Mark`s head, obliterating his carefully cultivated sideburn and sending another huge clump of shorn hair to the cape. The barber carefully folded down Mark`s ear and brought the clippers quickly up through the lush mane that had hung from the side of his head. In an instant it was off. The poor man cowering under the cape thought back to the online review -- "he rushed through the cut." What was the point of going so fast, especially when there was no one waiting in line for Bud the Butcher`s services?! But the old man`s juices were fired up. He pumped the clippers vigorously up the sides and back of Mark`s head -- gradually going around the head until he had clipped off the opposite sideburn. The clippers were certainly a heavy duty set, as Mark`s thick hair offered no resistance to the unforgiving metal blades.

Finally silence reigned and Bud set the clippers down. He picked up a spritzer and briefly wet the long hair that remained on the top of Mark`s head. Moving into this stage, the pace of the barber slowed a bit. Bud seemed less forceful as he sectioned off lock after lock and snapped the shears shut on the captured prey. The damp, shorn hair cascaded on top of the dry clumps. Mark`s eyes bulged. The severed wet locks on his lap had to measure at least three inches in length! Would Bud leave him anything much to comb?

Just then the door was pushed open and a small tinkling bell announced another customer -- an old geezer in Bud`s age bracket. "Howdy, Bud? How are ya? How`s business?"

"Oh, not bad. Can`t complain. That mail out promotion`s worked a bit. Like this fellow here...."

The new customer addressed Mark, "First time in a barbershop, young man?"

"Well, not really. Used to go as a kid," he answered.

"Go, or get taken by your old man?!" he retorted. "You can believe I took my sons on a regular basis when they were under my roof. No longhair hippy stuff in my house when all that was in style. Bud here was cutting hair back then."

Bud interjected, "Just starting as a matter of fact. Those boys would squirm in the chair -- especially when I gave them a clipper-over-comb. Much easier than this lift and cut I`m having to do on you today -- on account of the length and bulk. Clearing away this thatch....but it`s been cleaned up nicely. So, on your next visit..."

"...Bud will clipper-over-comb you too," the geezer waiting his turn said to finish out the barber`s thought.

"For today, though, I`m about finished. Just clean up the neck here with a straight edge razor -- barbershop special for the new client. I`ve given you my best in hopes of seeing you here again. And don`t wait so long that I`ve got to take that much off," the barber said pointing to the huge mound of cut hair in Mark`s lap.

Then Bud spun Mark around to see his handiwork. "This should make you want to become a regular," the barber said as he brushed the mounds of shorn hair of Mark`s shoulders and whisked the brush around his forehead and ears. The old man grinned for the first time. Either he was pleased with the severe crop he had administered or he secretely enjoyed watching Mark`s attempt to control his reaction to the new, thoroughly shorn look.

Mark was aghast -- especially seeing the sawed off bangs for the first time. Mere stubs protruding awkwardly from his hairline.

"Howdya like it?" the barber asked.

Mark hardly knew what to say. Finally, he replied with a non-committal, "Well, I`d like to say I got my money`s worth today...."

"...but since this one is on the house, I guess that`s not possible. Here let me show you the back to see if I got it short enough. You did say you wanted it tapered short in back, right?" The barber seemed to genuinely have remembered that instruction.

Mark was speechless. There was really only one word to describe what he saw in the handmirror. SCALPED! In fact, he could see is white scalp clearly along a two-inch wide swath that began right at the nape. The hair had been tapered up quite closely almost all the way to the crown. Nothing in back, or the sides for that matter, was longer than an inch, perhaps not even as long as three quarters of an inch. Before the new look had enough time to register, Bud the barber was forcing Mark`s head to bow again while he scraped the whole neck area clean. Then the sting of witch hazel announced that it was all over.

Mark eyed the jar of lollipops as he fished for a tip to hand the old barber with the coupon. Before he entered puberty he`d like going to the barber to get the candy.

All he had in his pocket was a five dollar bill. "Well, thanks," Mark said, eyeing himself in the mirror. He looked like a cleancut lad again, circa 1962.

The barber`s eyes widened as he received the tip. "So, you did like the haircut! That`s great. Now I know for sure I`ll be seeing you again. And, next time, it`ll be clipper-over-comb. Promise. I can take you down a lot tighter on top, make you look a little more youthful, if that`s what you want."

Since he was pushing fifty, what else could Mark say besides, "Yes, sir." Mark was in a semi-daze, thinking how it would be feeling the clipper-over-comb across the top of his head. "I`d like that. Haven`t had a crewcut since I was ten years old. What`d you say, should I come back two or three weeks from now?" Mark was almost on auto-pilot, like someone else had taken over his mouth.

"Make it two. A nice tight crewcut will suit you well for fall." The nippy air stung the newly uncovered skin around Mark`s ears and at his nape as he walked to the car. His head felt extremely light. Finally he had a chance to grasp the nubby bangs. There was hardly anything there. What length had been left by the barber had gotten severely thinned out with the edge of a straight razor. A gust of wind blew, and Mark got a sort of phantom feeling of his long bangs dangling in front of his eyes. He went to mop away the lush forelock, but was reminded that Bud had amputated it right off the bat as his metamorphosis began. Mark re-lived those first moment of sheer panic and horror. He looked at the new him in the rearview mirror. Yes, he did look a lot younger.

And, what would Ann say? His only hope was that she`d feel extremely guilty for forcing him to go to Bud`s....although there was nothing much that could be done about it. No crying over cut hair, he thought, chucking to himself. But why cry? He half-liked the new look. Would he really go back to Bud`s in two weeks? That would be a miracle.... And then he thought that yes, miracles sometimes did happen. But then, if making Ann feel guilty was his end-game then we would have to act truly miserable when he got home. Since he was sort of numb, Mark really was confused about how he truly felt about the haircut Bud had administered.

As Mark opened the kitchen door he heard Ann cry out, "Are you already back Mark? Wasn`t the barbershop open today....?" But as she walked into the room, the image of Mark`s shorn head answered her question. "Wow! Did it ever get cut short!"

Mark felt triumphant -- there was an aura of shock emanating from Ann. Perhaps she did feel guilty! "Didn`t I tell you about barbers...they scalp people."

Then Ann turned the tables on him. "But, it looks great....turn around, let me see in back. Wow - he didn`t leave much."

"Who knows how long it`ll be before I need to pay for the next one," said Mark.

Ann hesitated, then a mean smile crept across her face. "Actually, I have another surprise for you. Better than the coupon I found this morning for that haircut." Mark was intrigued. "While you were away, I got to thinking about how else I could help and remembered a conversation I had with Betty last month. So, I called her and asked if I could borrow the home-cutting clippers she bought to give her boys haircuts. I read in Ladies Home Journal that cutting your family`s hair at home is a great way to cut costs. Budget it so important these days, and every penny counts. You want that new leaf blower, right?"

Mark could not believe that he was getting boxed into another corner. He needed a way out, or it`d be botched kitchen haircuts instead of the nice atmosphere at Bud`s and his firm grip and sharp haircut. "Honey, I promised the barber I`d become a regular there. I so like the way he cut my hair. And it`s only $12 for a normal haircut. I told him I`d be back in two weeks. I so much enjoyed that barbershop, reminded me of when I was a kid. Just think, $12 is less than you get to have your nails painted at the mall each week." Mark paused and decided to go on the attack, "Hey, unless you want to exchange services. I can paint your nails and you can cut my hair."

Ann recoiled in horror at the thought. "Well, the barber did do a great job. I suppose you should go back to him then. There`s something so manly about barbershops, the hang-out for the man set. And that`s what your new short cut makes you look like. A brute. A handsome tough guy!"

"Just wait till you see me next time. Bud`s already told me how much shorter he`s going to take me two weeks from now...." Mark felt the top of his head and smoothed his hair to the side. He took a deep breath and imagine what it would feel like. Clipper-over-comb. Terrific. Followed by a tight crewcut. Divine!

The End

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