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The Prodigal's Buzz by Deke Cutter
This is a story of two brothers. Their father owned a very successful business that included construction, maintenance, road building, and other services. Both brothers knew that they would go into the business eventually. Their father always said that they needed to understand the business and get a good education, but they would never succeed without understanding the company that he had built from the ground. John took his father’s words at face value and from his teenage years took every opportunity to work summers for his father. He took menial jobs, laborer jobs, mechanics helper job. He learned to drive dump trucks and heavy equipment. He was always respectful of the men and women he worked with. Although he could have shown up in expensive boots and designer khakis, he dressed as the workers did. He also never was fussy about his haircuts. Like his dad, he got what his father called a reasonable short haircut that never really varied. He commuted to a local college and started as a junior executive right out of school, going for his MBA at night. Everyone in the company liked him and respected him and knew that he had earned his position of trust.
Luke, on the other hand, liked living the good life. He never asked to work for the company when he was in high school. He was a bright and very good student and decided that he was the brains of the family. So, he went off to a posh Ivy League school and got great grades. When his father told him that he would have to work for the company in the summer, he came up with his own academic research projects that gave him no practical experience or opportunities to know the workers. He pranced around in designer suits his overly long straight dark hair swept back, but with annoying locks always falling forward. He graduated with honors and went on to get his MBA at a top school. When he was finished, though, he was shocked to find that even though, he knew his future was secure, he was not recruited. He had no experience, no internships, nothing practical on his resume.
His father, of course saw Luke’s day of reckoning coming and had planned for it. The week after graduation, Luke told his father he was ready to start and assumed he would be starting in the same position as his brother. Luke had seen his brother’s nice office and, even though, Luke had his MBA, he was willing to start at the same level as his (in Luke’s mind) underachieving brother who still had three night courses to finish. His father agreed that he would start where his brother did. His father told him that they would meet at the site of his first project. "It’s a construction site, so wear a pair of old jeans and tee shirt and you’ll want a ball cap if you have one to keep the dust out. I’ll leave out a pair of your rother’s old work boots for you to wear." Luke rolled his eye, but agreed. His father met him at the "shack," the trailer where the site manager ran the project.
"Well, dad," Luke began, in his superior way, "I didn’t expect to be managing from a site, not really my wheel house but…"
"Son, wake up! You will not manage any part of this company until you put your time in learning about this company and its people. Your brother John took every opportunity to do so and it shows. He knows out what we do, how we do it, and can fill in for almost any job should he have to do so. Our employees respect and trust him. Those that know you think you are a rich fop who only has a job because you are my son. Now, you make up for lost opportunities. You will be working at this site for six months because there are many parts of our company participating in this project, but the only time you will be in this shack is to report to your bosses, as you will when you start work tomorrow. No remonstrations son, I gave you every chance along the way to make the decisions on your own. Now its my way or the highway. OK, then, lets, go, we have much to accomplish.
Luke was dumbfounded. He timidly asked his father what would happen in six months. His father explained that he would be assigned to other parts of the company to learn how they worked. If he did well, at the end of the year, he might have a chance to take on some more responsibility. Luke was so engrossed in his misery that he didn’t realize where his father’s car had taken them. "Come on Luke, lets go. "
"Are you still getting your hair cut here dad? Gosh, this is where we went until I was old enough to make my own ch…."
Life lesson, son, your brother understood instinctively that a simple honest haircut could help a man be accepted by simple honest people and any people of substance. You need a recalibration and this is where you get it. Luke stepped inside of the shop, not surprised that it had changed so little. He was relieved to see that there was only one customer in the second chair from the front. Mike, the owner, greeted Luke’s dad warmly and welcomed Luke’s "return to the fold." Then, he directed Luke to the last chair in the back. His father pointed to the ball cap, still on Luke’s head. Luke sheepishly removed it and sat in the large barber chair. Mike walked into the small back room and returned with a very young- looking man, barely out of his teens, it seemed. "This is Rico, my apprentice. He has finished his barber school classes, but is working on his practical experience. Since you mentioned that Luke would be getting a simple clipper cut, I thought Rico col do the job." Luke visibly blanched, but said nothing.
"Yes indeed, Luke is also starting a sort of apprenticeship. At long last, he has finished his formal education and now is going to learn what our company does from the bottom up. He’s starting as a laborer in our construction division, so we thought a nice simple number 1 buzz would suit him. And let’s make sure those sideburns are gone. Rico’s eyes lit up. This was the kind of thing a poor kid dreamed about, scalping some rich dude who looked about ready to cry. He got his clippers, put them right to the middle of Luke’s hairline and pushed straight back.
"Good job Rico, nice straight line, steady pressure. Luke heard this, saw the stripe of very short stubble and thought he was going to cry. But Rico, was relentless, once, twice, three times more and the top of Luke’s head, even his pretentious floppy locks were history. As Rico started on the sides, he saw his right sideburn all but disappear. Gawd, he hated the feel of those damnable clippers against his skull. Mike who continued to watch the haircut progress was not without sympathy. He saw a single tear drop escape when Rico drove the clippers up the back of Luke’s head for the first time. He quickly produced a tissue for Luke to get "those little hairs out of your eyes." Luke smiled weakly in thanks. When the buzzing was finished, Luke looked in the mirror and saw a rough looking head, nothing distinctive, academic, or stylish. Then he felt Rico applying shaving cream to his neck, around his ears and over what stubble remained from his sideburns. Mike counseled Rico to take his time. When Rico was done, Luke had rather noticeable arches around each ear, no sideburns at all, Rico having to "even them" to the top of his ears, and a new high neckline. Luke’s father beamed. As Rico, removed the cape, Mike said "there you go, a nice simple Number One buzz. All one blade cuts are $5.00 cheaper than regular cuts and until Rico finishes his hours, his cuts are another $5.00 off, so this cut will only be $10.00. That’ll be handy if you want to keep this tight."
Luke’s dad told Mike that he was sure Luke would be pretty regular now. Back in the car, Luke’s tears welled up. "Dad, that young barber enjoyed scalping me, I could see it in his face."
"Son, that is what I have been trying to tell you. For a smart man, and you are that, you don’t understand or empathize. Your mother and I are prod of your academic achievements, but you have to get out of your ivory tower and that privileged world we’ve let you live in. With that, he rubbed his son’s stubbly head and said "you’ve got this son. Let’s get you home now." And for the last time that day, Luke was in for a surprise as his father drove into a sprawling late 20th century garden apartment complex. He pulled into a parking space next to a very basic looking late model compact car. "That is your car. Now let’s go inside to your apartment." Luke was so shell-shocked that he simply followed his father inside to a second story one-bedroom apartment, furnished simply, but with his mother’s good taste. "This is the kind of place your ’co-workers’ live in, although, its probably furnished and decorated a bit better. Still, this is another way for you to meet and learn about the real world. I want you to do your best. This work will be hard. You will get dirty, your muscles will get sore. Some of language you hear will be crude and sound crass. Don’t speak down to people, listen and learn. I know you hate that haircut, but take a look at yourself in the mirror when I leave an when your dressed for work in the morning. Your mom has got you all you need (and don’t forget your gloves and cap). You’ll look like your trying to fit in. Some of the guys will tease you. Don’t take it to heart and I will see you at Mike’s in two weeks. Don’t worry we have all of your clothes and other possessions safely stored away until this is over."
When Luke’s dad left, he went into the bathroom and looked in the mirror and saw a vaguely familiar young working-class male. What would his friends think? His friends…the bash at Chez Jacque next week. He went to his closet and found he had one off-the-rack sport jacket and one pair of beige dress-up trousers. He rubbed his stubbly head and sighed.