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Mark 2: From Budget Cuts to Free Cuts by Manny (recovered)
Mark 2: From Budget Cuts to Free Cuts
Mark could not help sneaking looks at himself in the mirrors and anything else around the house that reflected his radical new image for most of the weekend after Bud the Butcher had scalped him, shearing off the plush overgrown business cut that he’d sported for almost his whole life. He could not believe that scalp and stubble was virtually all that was left around the sides and back of his head and that the top had been cropped down so short it could hardly be combed to the side. Of course, what tormented him most during those initial hours after his eye-popping makeover at the hands of a neighborhood barber who should have retired years ago, was the fear of what others would think when they saw him shorn.
The other issue driving the knots in his stomach was the promise he’d foolishly made to Bud to return to his barbershop in just two weeks for a “clipper over comb” divestiture of the remaining remnants of his once plush mane. Bud had expressed great enthusiasm about administering a short crewcut on his newest client during his next visit to the shop. What had ever inspired him to agree to that, Mark asked himself? Of course, he was in no way bound to that promise made while the cape still had him firmly tethered to Bud’s big barber chair.
Why had he said he’d return for an even shorter cut then the brutally short cut he’d already endured?! Mark slowly came to the realization that he rather felt turned on by the butterflies and knots in his stomach; the dread of returning there to get his short taper cut down radically shorter surprisingly appealed to him. The agony over this commitment was only intensified as Mark trolled through websites and image searches using the terms “short crewcut” and “clipper over comb”.
Sunday was a trial balloon in what Mark hoped would be a sympathetic environment: church. “What do you say we go to church tomorrow, Ann. It’s been ages since we’ve been. The pastor might start wondering if we’ve abandoned the faith!” suggested Mark.
“Anxious to see how others are going to react to your new barbershop look?” dead-panned Ann who could see through the root of Mark’s sudden religious revival.
“Well….the thought did occur to me,” began Mark apologetically.
“Oh, stop worrying honey. You look fine! Okay, so it’s very short. So what? Who hasn’t gotten a little too much taken off the top at some point in their life? You know, ears lowered a bit too far? Your friends will razz you a bit – jokes about getting run over by a lawn mower – and then that’ll be the end of it,” Ann concluded and easily contained her smirk. She was glad about Mark’s discomfort with this new haircut. Now maybe he’d lay off the sermons about not blowing the budget at the nail salon. Sure, he had money enough for his sports and tools and other gadgets. Why should he have made such a fuss over her shopping bills? Her idea that he try a barbershop to save money had been a tactical triumph.
At church, Mark got a taste of how people would react. The vast majority said nothing about the scalped band of virgin white skin around his ears and nape. Then there were the “correct” and “diplomatic” comments from those like Pastor Jim who greeted Mark with, “Good to see you again. Been a while, I think. Well, you’re looking good. Looking sharp. I like that new haircut!” Boy, weren’t preachers plastic and phony sometimes?
It was Vince, Mark’s buddy who also worked with him, that gave him grief as they were leaving the church. He pointed and laughed – dramatically mocking the haircut, little to Mark’s amusement. “What happened to you?!?” Then he added in mock horror, “Oh my goodness. Did you enlist? I hope we get to finish that project we’ve been working on before you ship out…. Shall I have the church put you on the prayer list for those overseas in service?”
Mark took the middle road – somewhere between truth and fiction. “It’s a little too short, isn’t it? I tried out a new barber – closer to my house – and I guess his idea about ‘shorter’ and mine….well, we weren’t quite on the same wavelength. But I really like it. So does Ann!”
“Right! Uh huh. You don’t have any choice about liking it, I guess. Just wait till they see you at work tomorrow. Tell ‘em you got hit by your neighbor’s hedge clippers.” Vince was one to talk – his severe Male Pattern Baldness had divested him of any pretense of a full head of hair prematurely and left him with that ridiculous wrap-around fringe looks. It occurred to Mark that Vince had hair in exactly the place where barber Bud had clipped him down to the scalp. Ironic.
Well, Vince was right about one thing. The folks at work gave him a lot of razzing about his new haircut. Before the day was over, Mark determined he would not go back to Bud’s – ever! His hair would grow out again soon enough and it would be back to the mall periodically to get his shaggy businessman’s cut trimmed.
As Ann predicted, within days, all comments about his haircut virtually had ended. And, Mark actually started thinking the new shorter hairdo, especially once it had grown out a bit and those white bands of skin faded from prominence, suited him. For starters, short hair was a lot more practical in the mornings. He also enjoyed feeling the buzzed back as he sat at his desk. Running this palm up the bristles felt, well, relaxing and stimulating at the same time.
Although he determined not go back to Bud’s Barber Shop, Mark decided he would keep his hair cut into a much shorter businessman’s haircut than before – tapered very close up the back, but not scalped down to the skin. He definitely missed the buzzing sensation on his nape and was eager to once again feel the clippers moving up through his hair. No more scissors cut….
But, a week and half after Bud scalped him, a monkey wrench was thrown into his plans for how to handle haircuts. When Mark walked in from work, he saw something on the kitchen table that sent a huge chill down his spine. A small box with an old-fashioned drawing of an electric hair clippers and a picture of a man under the cape with his wife cutting his hair in the kitchen. It looked circa 1965. Oh no! He told Ann he was not going to allow the home haircut routine, even if it meant saving them a hundred bucks or so each quarter. And she’d benefitted from her part of the bargain by not eliminating her trips to the nail salon. So, what was that box doing there??!
“Hi, Hon. Home a bit early tonight, eh?” She said breezing in casually to the kitchen. “See what Betty dropped by while I was at the grocery store this afternoon? I forgot to tell her that you’d found a good barbershop that you were happy with.” Mark felt relieved, until Ann continued, “That is, unless you want to give me a chance….”
“Oh, Ann, I’m so happy that you’ve been considerate of our budget these days….” Mark thought he’d drive home a domestic point in their squabble, but it turned soured quickly.
“Perfect then,” chirped Ann enthusiastically. “What about Saturday? I’ve already read through the booklet. Should be easy as there’s not a whole lot to cut! On Betty’s note she said I could practice on her sons who are sporting very easy to maintain buzzcuts. Would that make you feel better? That’ll give me the feel for the machine before I have you in my chair here….” she said patting the kitchen chair and reaching towards the box on the table. “Betty says giving a buzzcut is a no brainer – how about your first this Saturday?”
“Ann, I told you that I promised Bud, the old barber, I’d come back again this Saturday. I really felt awful about using that free coupon you found. He’s struggling to keep his shop open in these hard times. It’s only $12 too.”
“Oh Mark, that’s what I love about you. You’re so sensitive to the needs of others….You must have been paying attention in church yesterday to that wonderful reminder about how the golden rule can take us through the 21st century!”
Mark felt relieved he escaped the horrors of a home haircut. Ann was tenacious, and if she had insisted Mark knew the odds were against him being able to writhe away from her amateur “haircut in the kitchen” hour.
Then Mark realized that meant he would be back at Bud’s after all. Oh my! A short crewcut and clipper over comb would be awaiting him. Suddenly, Mark grew giddy. Instead of the dread of submitting to Ann, Mark felt energized by the decision that was made for him by the circumstances to return to Bud’s.
A remarkable confirmation of his sure return to Bud’s happened the very next day in the office. One of the young new-hires that had just returned from training approached Mark near the cafeteria. Jed had a fantastic shock of wavy blond hair that he brushed straight band and wore it piled high in a bit of a retro-pompadour. He looked like something out of the fashion pages with the long top contrasting to the short taper at the nape. He was extremely handsome too – and single. Mark had only a few briefings with Jed when he’d first been hired, but now here was Jed coming up to him smiling and greeting him like they were fast friends.
“Wow, a lot happened while I was away. You look fantastic, Mark! I really like your haircut. It’s so modern and edgy. Do you mind telling me where you get it cut?”
Mark was a bit taken aback and flummoxed. Modern and edgy – that was a joke considering the circumstances of the severe cropping?! These younger kids. They were so bold and casual towards their superiors. But, he couldn’t help smiling and trying to conceal a blush as he received the great compliment handsome Jed had paid him. “Actually….oh, I….um….just a barbershop near my house, owned by a guy named Bud. I was looking to go shorter and well, glad you like it.”
“Bud’s, eh. Where ‘bouts do you live? I might want to give him a try.” Jed beamed as he took a close look at all sides of Mark’s haircut.
Mark’s heart skipped a beat as he thought about Bud fastening the cape around Mr. Male Model Jed. “Uh, I’m not sure that style of yours is on Bud’s chart. It’s a pretty traditional place – only 12 bucks too.”
Jed quickly explained his interest in Mark’s short haircut. “Well, I joined a new rugby league when I moved to this side of town for the job here, and the captain of the team has been after me to cut my hair short. Says their league is more rough-and-tumble -- that they actually grab and pull hair down in the middle of the scrum. This,” Jed said lifting a huge lock straight up from the top of his head, “is a huge liability!” Most of the guys on the team have hair more your length.”
Mark’s heart beat more quickly as he plotted a makeover for Jed. “Well, the barber told me that to keep this nice short edgy look, I needed to come more often. I’ll be going on Saturday morning to get it shaped up. Maybe we can go together. How about it?” Jed looked definitely interested. Mark quickly continued, “Meet me at the Walgreen’s near Green Street at 10:00 a.m., what do you say?”
“I’m game!” replied Jed, with his crystal blue eyes sparkling. “This is as good as gone,” he said, running his hand back through his magnificent shock of blond hair.
Mark could think of little else the rest of the day than poor Jed, caped in Bud’s Barber Shop, waiting for the clipper-over-comb to reduce his beautiful locks to stubble!
Saturday morning came soon enough. Mark looked at himself in the mirror. There was no way, under normal circumstances, that he’d be remotely considering a haircut at this point. He still looked excessively trim and tidy. But these weren’t normal circumstances. There was Ann’s desire to give him a kitchen buzzcut “pushing” him towards Bud’s and the date with Jed “pulling” him in the same direction. He was desperate to see Jed under the cape and how he’d react to Bud’s scalping.
The two pulled into the Walgreen’s lot nearly at the same time – Mark guessed that Jed was probably drumming up some excitement over the impending makeover. He looked, as always, the glamorous movie star with his blond tresses glistening in the morning sun. “You made it!” called out Mark. “We can walk from here – it’s not half a block. How are you feeling about visiting a traditional barbershop?” asked Mark.
“Hey, it’ll be a relief to get this over with. Ed – he’s the rugby captain – was so annoying at practice last night. He kept pulling my hair on purpose in the scrum – told me that’s what I was to expect if I didn’t cut it. Well, he’s going to see a new me at our game tonight, that’s for sure.”
Mark could hardly believe he was returning so soon to Bud’s, but the whirling barber pole announced his whereabouts with no uncertainty. The fake wooden shingles and the large plate glass window were the hallmarks of this suburban holdover from another era. “So, here we are. Looks like there will be no wait today,” noted Mark as he saw Bud at his usual post sitting in one of the big leather and chrome chairs staring aimlessly out the window.
As soon as he saw Mark reaching for the door handle, Bud’s eyes lit up and he almost jumped from his seat. “You came back! Just like you said you would! Come in, come in. I was wondering if you were serious about the crewcut. You know, after you left, I was thinking that we should have just done it right then – why wait two weeks? I know it’s going to suit you perfectly. Clipper over comb used to be my signature technique,” said the barber.
As the two shuffled in, Mark grew a bit worried over the “used to be” part of the comment. He remembered the online review about Bud’s shaking hand and his need to retire. But, there was nothing else to do about it, so Mark turned to the introductions, “Hey, I’ve got another new client for you – see you’re advertizing has paid off! This is a friend of mine, Jed, and he needs something done with the girlie hair of his.”
“No problem,” said Bud as he dusted off the chair he’d previously been sitting in. “But you’re first! Come now, have a seat!”
Jed began closely examining the shop as Bud wrapped the tissue around Mark’s neck, followed by the cape. Jed’s eyes locked closely on the haircut chart which displayed the cuts Bud was competent to administer.
“No need for instructions, because I know exactly why you’ve come back so soon, my friend.” With that the barber took the comb straight up to Mark’s bangs and lifted them gently off the forehead. In one smooth swoop, the barber snapped on the huge set of Oster clippers and ran them across the top of the thin black comb, sending a huge clump of hair onto the immaculate cape. Mark was taken aback as he saw the only part of his hair that had any claim to bulk or length deposited on his lap. Quickly Bud snagged the next line of defense in what was a diminishing amount of hair on top and ran the clippers over the comb – then he combed the hair on top forward to send a second, equally large clump of shorn hair, to the cape. Mark gripped the chair handles and avoided eye contact with Jed – he didn’t want to betray any insecurity or nervousness. On the third swipe, about nearly in the center top portion of his head, Mark’s stomach knotted into a tight Gordian mess. Bud’s comb was resting on his scalp just as he could hear the metal teeth of the clippers clattering over the plastic teeth of the comb. Bud was cutting that hair off so close to the scalp!! The third clump on the cape looked significantly longer in length than either of the first two. Then, on the fourth swipe, the comb was nowhere near the scalp. Mark began to worry that the top was being cut extremely unevenly. He looked at Jed whose eyes were locked on the barber’s clippers – an aura of concern enveloped his face. Silence reigned in the shop as Bud finished shearing off all the hair from the top of Mark’s head. Then he put the comb down and forced Mark’s head forward with an uncomfortable grip. The bare teethed clippers were run repeated up from the nape to nearly the top of Mark’s occipital bone. Same rhythmic clipping went on around the ears and up the sides of his head. This went on for quite a bit. Then the barber stopped and changed the clippers for a different set. Mark sensed that the barber was beginning a tight taper from that point up to the crown.
Jed’s attention, meanwhile, returned to the haircut chart on the wall. Finally, he broke the silence. “How long you been cutting hair, Bud?”
“Oh, a good 45 years! Seen a lot in my life time – styles come and go and all. But, this crewcut I’m giving your friend here is my all time favorite.” Bud was in high spirits, administering his once-upon-a-time signature cut.
“On the chart here, the crewcut seems to have a bit of bangs, though,” said Jed a bit puzzled.
“Well, yes, I guess sometimes that’s the case. Got a little carried away here with Mark. But, he’s paying this time, so I wanted to make sure he got his money’s worth!” If that was intended to be a joke, it certainly did not amuse Mark. For one, he was intently trying to follow Bud’s movements in his mind as he wielded a very small, high pitched set of clippers that were, in a very wobbly manner, being moved around his ears in an ever expanding arch. Bud would trace an outline on one side and then do the other and then return to the first. Left, right, left. Each time the boundary was extending. Jed’s eyes conveyed more than concern now – bordering on panic. Mark felt the clippers on his scalp extremely war away from the top of his ears. His nerves had sunk into near total despair. He could only imagine how hideous he must look at the present. Bangs accidentally taken off, ears framed by gigantic white swathes….and who knew what it looked like in back.
“Now for the big moment,” announced Bud. “The new you!” he said swiveling the barber’s chair to face the mirror for the first time.
Mark suppressed a gasp. He hardly recognized himself with hardly any hair left at all. Although he couldn’t see so well, he also thought the top looked somewhat irregular. What Mark was most curious to see, though, was out of sight – what had the barber done in back? “So, how’d do you like the crewcut, a la Bud?” the old man asked.
Mark could not bring himself to praise it. “Can I see the back?” he asked impatiently.
“Mirror’s right here, and there you have it.” Bud was still hoping for a positive assessment.
Mark could not believe his startled eyes. His hair had been blocked two inched above his natural hairline! He looked almost freakish. And then he caught a more revealing look at the sides. The arches were grotesque! Mark struggled to comprehend the absurdity of his haircut. The top was wildly irregular with gouged out swathes that all but exposed his scalp and the natural hairline had been put through a sort of holocaust. It amazed Mark that with so little hair left on his head, it could look so bad.
“Now let me just lather you up and shaved you a bit with an old fashioned straight edge and we’ll be finished,” promised the barber.
Mark feared another slip of Bud’s hand could sever his jugular. “I think it’s fine like this, Bud, really. Now it’s Jed’s turn. He’s been quite anxious to get that thatch of his reduced to something more practical,” said Mark, hoping to turn his mind away from his botched haircut. Bud began removing the cape reluctantly, but he saw there was no other choice.
“Actually,” began Jed, launching a campaign to get out of his date with the clippers, “I remembered an important errand I forgot to run and I really need to be going….”
“Oh, I can cut your hair rather quickly. Come now, you’re already here,” protested Bud.
Mark hurried to pay. Jed was right, there was no need to subject himself unnecessarily to torture at the shaking hand of Bud the Butcher.
When the two got outside, Mark needed to unload, “It looks horrible doesn’t it. I mean, I look horrible.”
Jed paused before responding, “Honestly, you’re right! That man’s hand was shaking wildly throughout the haircut. No wonder you ended up with…..”
“Jed, I can’t believe you’re going to abandon me like this…” whimpered Mark.
“What can I do about it? That first cut was awesome, but that’s awful.” Jed was unvarnished in his opinion of Mark’s haircut.
“What will everyone say on Monday?” whined Mark.
Jed took pity on the sufferings of his new friend. It was rather cowardly of him to scoot away and let his injured colleague to writhe alone in anxious. Then he got an idea. “There’s only one solution, Mark. Come, let’s get out of here before that man comes after us with his clippers!”
“I think my only option is cue ball,” commented Mark, feeling a pit in his stomach as he pronounced the verdict.
As the two quickly retreated from the barber shop, Mark hoped Jed had some sort of better solution, although he couldn’t guess what. He glanced at Jed whose beautiful tresses were still intact, not knowing whether to feel happy that Jed had escaped a mane massacre or sad that he himself didn’t have a comrade in suffering. He’d so much been looking forward to seeing Jed shorn.
Jed broke the silence as they entered the Walgreen’s parking lot. “I was thinking, Mark, about your…well, uh, your situation with your hair—with what’s left of it, I mean. While you were getting your haircut, I was studying that chart on the wall, thinking about what I might go for. I think you could pull one off and still look great,” he noted mysteriously.
“What?” demanded Mark predictably.
“A high ‘n tight. You’d have to have it all taken off on the sides and back – that would get rid of those hideous and still uneven arches around your years, as well as that terrible block job in back. Then, on top, it would have to be buzzed down to the shortest length that’s remained.” Jed peered at the top of Mark’s head closely. Looks like we’re talking about an eighth or a quarter inch at the most. Boy, does this ever look ragged here. I couldn’t believe what was happening to you at the hands of Bud, my friend! Looked easy enough – I think I could give you one myself if I had a set of clippers.”
A light bulb went on in Mark’s head. Betty’s home-cutting set was still at his house. Why not?! It could even be fun! When life gives you lemons…. “You’re on,” responded Mark enthusiastically. “I’ve got a set at home. If you botch it, then I’ll take out the old Bic and be done with it all. Lots of businessmen are bald by choice these days…”
“Cool! I’d love to try my skills at barbering. Every time I get a haircut I think what a fun profession that would be.” Jed clapped his arm around his new friend, Mark, as he steered him to his sporty BMW.
The two drove over to Mark’s house. Thankfully, Ann was out for the morning. They sat down and read through the instructions together. The shortest would be just the metal teeth with the lever pulled straight back, and for the top Jed would use one of the smaller plastic guards. “Take off your shirt, Marky-boy, and take a seat here. Jed’s Barer Shop is open! Ready for an adventure in home haircutting?”
Mark felt energized by this superior male bonding moment. He was more than happy to let Jed try his hand at obliterating Bud’s handiwork. Funny, considering how much he dreaded and felt repulsed by letting his wife try out her amateur hands at barbering on him. “I’m in your hands, my friend!”
“OK, I’m going to start on top. “ Slowly, but steadily, Jed brought the clippers up past Mark’s anxious gaze and began forcefully and methodically began clipping down the top of Mark’s head to a very, very short length. Irregular tufts of hair and showers of individual strands rained down only Mark’s shoulder, then falling to become entangled in his chest hair. ”You’re already looking so much better. The top is all regular and even. It feels“ -- Jed lightly stroked the top -- “well, wonderful! “Now, the sides. Okay, put your had down. I’m going to tackle this hideous back here and make it disappear. I’ve never seen anything so terrible looking, Mark, sorry to say.” The chattering teeth began moving firmly up the back of Mark’s head. Jed seemed a natural. “Off it comes. I like what I’m seeing….you’ve got a perfect head shape for this cut, my friend.”
“Glad to hear it…but I fear that the guys will all start singing ‘Anchors Away’ or ‘From the Halls of Montezuma’ when I come in to work on Monday.”
“So what?’ answered Jed. “I think you’re more handsome now than ever.” Jed fell silent while he concentrated on clipping to zero all the hair on the sides and back of Mark’s head. “This haircut highlights your facial features so much better. I can’t believe how easy that was, Mark. You look, well, great! Go see for yourself.”
Mark stood up and brushed off the loose hair with Jed’s help. Then he hurried to the bathroom. He stood looking in amazement at what he saw. A soldier, for sure, or a sailor or perhaps even a marine – one with a fresh face, at that.” Jed had done a great job as far as he could see. Mark slowly ran his hand up his denuded back. “Wow, that’s quite a feel!”
Just then Jed appeared in the mirror, coming up close behind him. “I like the new you, Mark.” He tossed his blond locks momentarily before catching Mark completely by surprise. “And now it’s your turn to cut my hair – I want something short and sexy just like this!” With that Jed’s hands rubbed Mark’s head from nape to crown and all around. “Very manly, very appealing!”
Jed felt numb and excited all at once. Jed’s friendship and the chance to take a clippers himself to that beautiful blond hair. “Okay, back to the kitchen, bro’ – it’s your turn.” Jed happily stripped his shirt as he studied his long hair in the mirror one last time. “You gotta make short work of this!”
“Happy to oblige you, Jed. Now, Mark’s Barber Shop is open for business. Let’s see, you started with this smallest plastic guard on the clippers, right? It says ‘trimmer’ on it.” Mark’s hand trembled as he fumbled with the haircutting attachments.
“No – not that one. The one I used said quarter inch or was it the eighth inch one?”
“Let’s be daring and go right down to an eighth, okay Jed?” Mark’s heart beat wildly as he snapped the clippers on. Before beginning the brutal mow-down, Mark fondled the wavy, blond locks. They felt so appealing to the touch. “No wonder those rugby boys want to get their hands on this. Feels well, so…”
“Soft? Silken?” deadpanned Jed. “I’m so tired of hearing about my ‘great hair’. Cut it all off, Mark!”
“Bye, bye, then, girlie tresses…” With that, Mark pushed the buzzing machine straight back across the top of Jed’s head. Huge cascades of hair fell from the proud head to the broad shoulders and onto the lap and floor. Jed simulated some crocodile tears as he picked up a severed wad of his former glory and mourned its passing to uselessness. Mark continued the buzz-down enthusiastically. More of the golden hair fell away. After the pomp was completely obliterated, Mark turned his attention to the back. He decided that he was going to give Jed a tight butch cut – a single length all over. And, at an eighth of an inch, it was going to be just a touch longer than a five o’clock shadow. Taking Jed all the way down was like a dream that Mark didn’t want to end. He kept going over and over the entire buzzed pate to ensure that not one strand exceeded the eighth of an inch limit in length. The scene of Jed’s beautiful hair piling up on the floor at his feet was almost indescribable. To think he’d reduced it from a thick, lush pomp to a tight butch in just minutes was mind boggling.
Finally, Mark switched off the clippers. “We’re brothers in arms now, G. I. Jed. Go take a look at the new you.” The two hustled to the bathroom. Mark wanted to be sure he saw Jed catch the first glance at his new shorn look.
Instinctively, the young buzzed blond drew his hand to the top of his head as he smiled at the new him in the mirror. “I love it! All my life I’ve wanted to do this, and now I have you to thank, Mark! I can’t believe it. Feel this.”
Mark complied and rubbed his hand all over Jed’s clipped pate. “That fantastic feel matches your fantastic look.”
“Come with me tonight to the rugby game. I want to introduce you as my new barber to all the guys. Won’t Ed be pleased to meet you? And to celebrate our new looks, I’m taking you out to lunch…”
“Great,” said Mark. “I accept. Just let me close up the kitchen barbershop.” Mark grabbed a dustpan and broom and savored every moment as he swept up the mounds of Jed’s shorn golden waves. In his mind he reviewed every step of the haircut he gave his new friend, relieving the site of each lovely tress falling away. Impulsively, Mark snatched a huge severed wave of soft blond hair from the dustpan and kept it for a tactile souvenir of his first experience as a barber. The rest of the shorn hair was reluctantly discarded into the trashcan.
“Okay, I’m ready to go, Jed. Let’s get out of here before Ann gets home. She was talking about serving me left over macaroni and cheese for lunch….” The two fast friends jumped into Jed’s BMW and sped away for an afternoon of fun, promising each other they’d have no other barbers touch their hair but each other.