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The Pine Ridge Barber-Part 2 by Kaleb McKinley

Billy’s eyes locked with mine. I think if he could have asked for help, he would have. He was trapped in the barber chair and about to receive a haircut that he didn’t want. He’s not restrained, I remember thinking. He could leave the chair, but there was something powerful about this barber. She had some sort of authoritarian control, plus she was a formidable woman, physically speaking. Even given her age and her gender, I know she could have given Billy a run for his money despite his physical stature and gender. As I looked at him, draped under that rustic American flag cape that seemed to accentuate his maleness, I likened his situation to that of an insect trapped in a spider’s web. He was held hostage and no amount of pleading, begging or struggling was going to help him. The spider, in this case, Brunhilda, or whatever her name is, had caught him and had him virtually immobilized. In nature, when you see a creature ensnared with the spider moving in for the kill, you feel pity and part of you wants to help, but no matter how good of a person you are, there is still a morbid part of you, even if it’s a very small part, that simply has to watch the deed unfold. That’s how I felt about Billy. I wanted to walk across the street and ask this woman who she thinks she is, dictating which cuts these men receive. I wanted to take that cape off of him and say "come on, Billy. Let’s go have a beer." The good part of me wanted to free him from his plight. However, that sadistic part of my brain couldn’t wait to watch the carnage.

The old lady turned, leaning in while saying something to Billy, grabbed the silver handle that was sticking out from under the cape and pumped the chair twice, jacking up her customer another inch or two. The somewhat dull chrome on the chair’s hydraulic lever, footrest and caps of the armrests created a great contrast to the worn black leather. It was a perfect pairing. Of course, at this point, I really couldn’t see the armrests since they were covered by the cape. I imagined that Billy had those clutched pretty tightly, right about now. His dusty, well-worn brown work boots were planted firmly on the footrest. Brunhilda stepped back slightly, giving Billy a quick once over, and gave a slight nod as though she were approving the work she had just completed. The stage was set.

The barber reached over to the backbar and picked up a black comb. Billy’s hair wasn’t really long or excessively thick. It appeared, in my opinion, to be about four or five weeks since he had last received a haircut. One thing I was sure of was that it had not been at the hands of this emasculating barber in Pine Ridge. I had a feeling that this use of the comb was just another formality that she enjoyed performing. She ran the comb roughly through his hair and from her vigorous motions and the squinting of Billy’s eyes, I was assured the teeth of the comb were being raked across Billy’s scalp. She placed her left hand on the back of the chair and tossed the comb back onto the counter with her right. Everything she did was brusque. The gaze that Billy and I had shared was broken as she turned him to face the empty chairs of the waiting area and the mirror that stretched across that back wall. From what I could see, the wall was adorned with traditional things that you would expect in a small town barber shop. Pictures of old shops and barber tools, replicas of barber poles and framed newspaper clippings of small town life, especially area high school championship victories, which, as one might know, is a focal point for areas like Pine Ridge which is steeped in Americana. Hunting and fishing, not to be left out, were represented, as well.

The barber picked up her huge Oster Progienic clippers which appeared to be the Classic 76. Despite it’s large size, it fit well in her strong hand. With swift movement, her left hand landed squarely on the top of Billy’s head. Her fingers made their way through his slightly sweat-dampened hair and gained traction against his scalp. She effortlessly pushed his head forward and made his chin touch his chest. The back of Billy’s head and his neck were totally vulnerable and the hair in that area would be the first to succumb to the shearing. Brunhilda’s face never seemed to show emotion, but even through a lack of facial expressions, her demeanor was clearly intensifying. This, friends, was going to be brutal!

Just as she switched on the clippers and the motor roared to life, someone entered from the back room of the shop. The barber glanced over to see a girl of about sixteen or seventeen come into the room and walk to the chairs of the waiting area. I was confused, but, through the actions of the barber and the girl’s physical responses, I soon deduced that she must be, in some way, connected to the cruel barber of Pine Ridge. Could she be a daughter? No, it couldn’t possibly be, I thought. The barber just doesn’t seem like the kind who would have children. There must be some other explanation. Meanwhile, Billy’s head never moved. I suppose it couldn’t, as it was still subdued by Brunhilda. He did shift his eyes to see who had entered. Upon discovering that it was a girl, Billy felt a bit of embarrassment at the thought of having an audience, even a small one, to witness his dilemma. The barber spoke and the girl obeyed the command by going to the back and returning with a basket full of folded white towels. Some of the towels had one thin blue stripe on one side while others had a similar stripe, but red instead of blue. She placed the basket on the second unused barber chair and put away the towels in a cabinet behind Brunhilda. The girl retrieved the empty basket and returned it to the back room, then retained her seat almost directly across from Billy. Throughout this entire process, the barber and the girl were having a conversation, but Brunhilda hadn’t starting clipping Billy. The clippers had been running, its sharp teeth chattering just behind his right ear. Listening to this dangerous weapon during this extended period, his fear had grown. As the girl sat down, the haircut commenced. The metal head of the clippers was growing very warm and Billy felt the heat as the old lady placed it on the base of his neck and sent it traveling up the back of his head. Billy’s breathing and heart rate quickened. The barber, while she didn’t show it, was evidently excited about her work. Hair was literally flying. She moved the clippers so fast that Billy’s hair didn’t have a chance to spill naturally in smaller chunks. Instead, due to the quick movement, the hair built up on top of the clippers and back toward Brunhilda’s hand. As she reached the crown, which was her stopping point, she would pull the Osters off of his head and flip her hand up sending the clump into the air and down to floor or, in some instances, onto the front of the cape. Over and over, this happened as she separated Billy from the majority of his hair. As she went over areas that were essentially balded by the first, hard passes of the clippers, shorter clipped hairs showered her barber’s jacket. She didn’t seem to mind. In fact, she appeared to wear it as a badge of her profession.

Billy, who had been silently frightened, realized that the back of his head was nearly bald. He tried to say something, I assume to plead his case and ask for mercy, but it fell on deaf ears as Brunhilda just furrowed her brow and turned the chair to the left. She rocked his head to the side and continued Billy’s harrowing haircut experience. As she attacked the side of his head, I got my first good view of the back. I wanted to rub it so badly. The short, brown bristles were a fantastic look on him. I found myself touching my own neck and head which had been cut to a tight fade approximately a week prior. I smiled as I watched the short left sideburn be reduced to stubble with only a faint outline of brown hair remaining. Pulling his ear away from his head, she pressed the clippers firmly to ensure that she removed every bit of hair on that side. Billy’s one woman audience never took her eyes off of the scene playing out in front of us. The girl, perched in one of the chairs in the waiting area, carefully watched every movement that the barber made. She appeared to be college aged and I quickly determined that she was being trained. She was in an observation phase, but she was slowly being trained, not only to perfect men’s short haircuts, but, also, she was being schooled on how to handle men. I had no doubt that, in time, she would be licensed and the two would tag team the guys of Pine Ridge and the surrounding area as a double dominating force. The second chair would be in use and more hair would begin to fly. At least, that was my opinion. Maybe I was wrong. We would see as the days would turn into weeks and I had the perfect view from my office window. At any rate, as the chair swung around again, this time to the right, Billy was, for the second time, looking straight into my office. His head was pushed to the side and the clippers once again assaulted every hair up to the crown. After she was sufficiently satisfied with her clipper work on the sides and back, she turned him away from the window and he resumed his view of the mirror. His face, upon seeing his new look, albeit not a clear look since she was standing front of him, was a sight for any haircut fetisher to behold. With a smaller pair of clippers and the help of a comb, she made some adjustments to his bangs. As she stepped behind the chair, she once again employed her Oster 76's and now her left hand was clutching a flattop comb! I couldn’t believe she was giving this guy a flattop! This was the second one in a matter of an hour or so. Her work was detailed and very precise. The clippers steadily chewed away the hair sticking up through the comb. It was then that I realized I wasn’t breathing. My eyes were dry from not blinking. At this moment, I had the largest computer screen in world and the highest resolution barber shop video that I could ask for.

She put the flattop comb down, placed her left hand on his forehead, applied her trademarked fierce pressure which pushed his head back slightly, then she gripped his temples with her fingers and held him still. I could clearly make out what she said next because of her current position facing the window while standing at the side of the chair. "Don’t move." She had good reason to issue that stern warning. Without hesitation, Brunhilda plowed the clippers up the middle of the flattop. I was so revved up, I couldn’t sit still. She was ‘shoeing this guy, too! Instantly, the white skin on the top of Billy’s head was in full view. His face was red with embarrassment and it further highlighted the exposed scalp. Using three different sets of clippers and some barber’s shears, the old lady expertly trimmed and detailed the horseshoe flattop until it was completely defined and as sharp as one of her razors. Grabbing her Andis trimmer, she went just under the nearly non-existent sideburn on each side and fully disconnected them from the unshaved stubble on his face. She rubbed the area to make sure it was clipped the way she wanted and then she freehandedly trimmed his eyebrows, then his ears to remove any errant little hairs. Placing her large index finger on the tip of his nose, she pushed upward and exposed the nostrils. Billy wished the floor would open up like in the story of Sweeney Todd and swallow him up. He was humiliated in front of this young woman sitting across from him. The clippers rooted around the edge of his nostrils for a moment or two and then fell silent. His head returned to a natural position and he stared at his new flattop. He didn’t know what to think. He certainly looked handsome, but it was a radical change that he had not asked for. He was pissed and scared at the same time. He had been brutalized by an old woman and in front of a girl. This woman was, indeed, a female Sweeney Todd of sorts, without the meat pies, thank goodness. And, little did he know, the humiliation was far from over. She popped open the cape and unfolded the towel around his neck. It was warm from his body heat and he felt the cool air rush into his collar. The mean barber lady spread the towel across his shoulders just as a sign company truck parked near the shop. Thankfully, it didn’t affect my view. As she reached for the horsehair duster on her backbar, two men jumped out of the truck and walked toward the barber shop. The audience was growing as Billy’s appointment with the straight razor approached.

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