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First-time Flattop - Part 8 by Tate

The question lingered in the sweet smell of the barbershop: "Flattop, right?"

Barber Clint looked at my brother's reflection in the mirror and straight into his blue eyes.

Doug looked at me. "Luke, are you ok if I copy your haircut?"

"Fine with me, bro."

Clint winks at me and taps my brother on the knee to get him to put his leg down. "Feet square on the footrest."

I'm nervous. Doug is cool.

He has very thick blond hair. It's mostly straight, but has a lot more body than mine does. My parents and I are brunette, but somehow my brother was born a towhead.

Clint flips the metal toggle switch at the base of the cylindrically-shaped Oster 76 clippers. He sprays the blade with oil and flicks the huge clipper to the side.

Then he turns them off.

"Luke," he says looking at me now, "do you want to cut your brother's hair?" Doug shifts in the barber's chair but then grins.

"Sure!" I say.

I hop up, stand beside Clint, shoulder-to-shoulder, and he hands me the Osters. They are as heavy as they look. I flip them on. The vibration emitted runs up my arm and tingles my spine, then travels down into my toes. I look closely at the metal oscillating blade. I turn the black clippers off.

"I'm not going to cut off all his hair with this, am I?"

"No, we're not going to shoe him." Clint laughs.

"Shoe me?" Doug asks, sounding perhaps a little nervous, but even more curious. "What do you mean?"

"If I shaved your sides to the skin and buzzed the top down extra flat, you'd be left with nothing but a horseshoe of hair on top."

Clint demonstrates his explanation by rubbing his hand along the side and over the top of Doug's head.

"The marines that want it cut this way ask me for a horseshoe flattop, or just say 'shoe me.' It's a cut that really commands attention."

Clint takes my hand and points the end of the clippers towards me, showing me an engraved "2" on the silver blade.

"With the Oster 76, you swap the entire blade to change the length of the cut, rather than adding a plastic guard to the clipper."

I know exactly the guards he's talking about.

"A #2 leaves the hair a quarter of an inch long, like the sides of your haircut, Luke. I've also got blades that cut shorter, actually much shorter."

He picks up one from his organized assortment laid out on a white linen towel on the counter. "This is a 5-ought"

I see "00000" engraved on the blade.

"It cuts so short you'd almost think you were shaved with my straight razor."

I turn the clippers back on. Clint puts his left hand on Doug's head and gently pushes it forward. He takes my hand with his right and guides it, and the clippers, straight up the back of Doug's head, pulling out when we reach the crown.

A large swath of Doug's hair falls to the floor. I can't believe I'm doing this. Five or six more strokes and Doug is relieved of the hair on the back of his head.

Clint tilts Doug's head to the right, and together Clint and I make quick work of the hair on the left side.

Clint tilts Doug's head to the other side and releases his hand from mine, letting me finish this side on my own.

"Ok, Luke. I better take it from here. Doug, your brother did a perfect job. Next time I'll give you a turn."

I sit back down in front of the barber chair, as Clint runs the Osters over the sides and back of Doug's head one more time. He pulls a large black comb from his shirt pocket, and lifts the remaining hair from Doug's crown. The Osters glide across the horizontal comb. I hear the motor of the clippers slow down, apparently bogged by the thick thatch that covers my brother's head. But I see no signs of a delay, as Clint flicks the comb to the side and several inches of my brother's hair shake off.

The comb is moved forward and the process repeated. Until finally Clint lifts six inches of bangs, and returns at most one and a half to my brother's forehead. Doug blinks to adjust his eyes to the brightness of the fluorescent lights overhead and then looks back down at the piles of his own hair on the striped cape intended to protect him.

Out comes the spray bottle to wet and stand the hair on top of my brother's head, followed by the blow dryer that leaves him looking more like Billy Idol than the Doug Baker I know.

The dryer returned to its hook, Clint returns to perfect the flat. He runs his Osters freehand down the middle of Doug's head, front to back, leaving a smooth row behind and almost touching down at the crown. As this step is repeated, widening the path, I see a crisp flattop begin to emerge.

Clint wets the hair and blow dries again, combing it up this time with a now familiar round plastic pocket brush.

"Doug, you've got a great head of hair, one of the best I've seen," says Clint, "and just the right shaped head for a flattop. You're going to love the way this looks." I can already see that he is right. Doug's going to love the way it feels, too.

As the Osters return to his forehead, I notice Doug take a deep breath and straighten his guise.

Clint freehand clippers the top once more, softly squares the corners. and then steps back to admire his work.

"Doug, I've cut your hair just like Luke's, but I have a suggestion that I think will make it look even better."

My 15-year-old brother looks at me and then up at his new barber and teacher. "What is it?"

Catching myself, I suddenly realize I've scooted to the very edge of the seat now serving as my vantage point for this first-time flattop. I scratch the stubble on my right temple and lean in to hear what's coming next.

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