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Neat, Clean, and Tidy by Deke Cutter

It wasn’t a hard decision to move from the cold Northeast winters to the paradise of Southwest Florida. Hurricanes aside, it is a pretty great place to live. I’m a certified Heat, Ventilation and Air Conditioning technician, in addition to me being an electrician, so steady work is no problem. I got a job with a great company, great benefits, including health and dental, generous vacation and a decent pension plan. I remember asking my friend who had moved down a year ago what the catch was. "Well", Zack had said, Don Morton is a great boss, but he is all about customer service and customer feedback. You’ll see, we have a laundry service do our uniforms, so we start each day looking neat, clean, and professional. And he’ll ‘ding’ you, if you get feedback below ‘excellent’ on "personal appearance just as fast as getting a gripe about service." I thought that sounded like a good policy. I disliked sloppy looking techs, with stains on their clothes, dirty nail, shaggy hair or men with unshaven faces. My own light brown hair was kept to mid ear length, just touched my collar and neatly parted, I made sure the bangs never reached into my eyes.

The first few weeks of the new job went great. I rode along with Zack and two other guys to make I understood all the procedures and then was let out on my own. Our customers were mostly real nice folks. Some were retired, but many were younger families. During the third week, I visited the home of a gentleman in a condominium development for a routine service call. He was very pleasant and because he had a service contract there was no charge. I thanked him for choosing our company and asked him if there was anything else we could do. He said no and wished me a nice day. A few days later, I was called in to Don’s office. "Mark," he said, "we have a problem. Mr. Harrelson marked us down on personal appearance on the customer survey. I know for a fact that you are one of the most fastidious associates I have. I’m afraid it must be your hair. Most of the fellows on the team have nice short haircuts, much more sensible for this Florida weather. Can I count on you to be a team player?"

I was pretty surprised by this, but I remembered what Zak had told me. "Yes sir, first chance I get."

"No time like the present, if you hurry you can make it to the barber’s up in strip mall." This was not good news. The place advertised $10.00 haircuts and that worried me. But, I just agreed and headed out the door.

I arrived at the shop that appeared to be called "Barbershop" and found two women barbers sitting in their chairs. The older one stood and motioned me to her chair. "Regular, crew, or buzz?"

I was used to a greeting, some preliminaries, but not here. I should have got up and left but figured maybe Don got his crewcuts here. So, I said, "just a regular, not too short please".

Then she asked, "what number for the sides?"

I replied, "the biggest you have."

"OK, number 8." She turned around, clipped the plastic guard on her clipper and started pushing the clippers up the side of my head. I was stunned to see her pushing the clippers all the way up to the part! This carnage continued on both sides. She then started clearing the back. I was feeling sick.
When she turned the clippers off, I reminded her, "not to short on top." Without missing a beat, she picked up a comb and turned the clippers back on and began cutting the top sing the clipper over comb method so that she was both cutting and thinning the top. When she was done with the top, well over two thirds of my thick hair was gone. She then picked up a smaller pair of clippers and started cleaning up my neck and around my now-uncovered ears. Without asking, she removed my sideburns, leaving just small tabs at the top of each ear. She combed m remaining hair over to the side, took off the cape, led me to the register, and said "$10.00 without tip." I gave her $11.00 and got out of there. I got into my truck, looked into my visor mirror and wanted to cry. The sides were an inch-long stubbly mess. The top was short, flat and lifeless. I hated the no-sideburns and didn’t think I looked "neat and tidy." As soon as I got home, I went into the bathroom to really examine the damage. Man! It was bad. I ran my hands through what was left on top, it was a mess. The sides and back had no taper to them. I took a shower and tried putting a little bit of gel on my hair and blow drying it to give it some volume. I still looked like a guy with a cheap haircut.

The next day was Friday, and boy did I take a load of ribbing! Everybody laughing at me, Zach teased the heck out of me. "You went to that crazy woman at ‘Barbershop’ didn’t you? Dude, I could have given you a better haircut." (Now he tells me!)

Don took one look at me and shook his head. "Mark, this simply won’t do."

"Don, I went to the barber you told me to visit."

"Well, I am sorry, I had no idea the place had gone downhill. "Here is $30.00. That should allow you to get a decent haircut today or tomorrow. I’ll tell you what, I know the best barbershop in town, I’ll get you in there, and he did.

Palm Drive Barber and Shave was pretty unprepossessing from the outside, but when you went in, they made you feel right at home. The waiting area had comfortable chairs and the shop was roomy and bright. There were 5 chairs and 4 barbers busy. The barbers ranged in age from 20s to around 50. All seemed to know how to cut hair well. My barber was a guy named Joey. He was in his late 20s, I guess. He came out, to the waiting area, introduced himself and invited me back. I told him what had happened and showed him my I.D. picture from work and a couple pictures of me from my phone. Joey said, "that woman really made a mess man, I can give you a fade, it will be tight. The top is tougher, I can leave it alone or take it down pretty short and give you sort of a funky high ‘n’ tight. Don’t worry man I’ll make you look good."

Looking at mess on my head, I said, "oh what the heck, let’s go for it!" Joey went to work. I’d never seen so many different clippers and such precision. It was a little scary seeing more skin being exposed on my sides and lined out. He was so precise with the shears on top. During the haircut, the barbers were involved in banter: joking with each other, talking about their social lives, music, sports and such. Clients joined in. I liked this place. He used a foil razor on the sides and back and then a straight razor. He took some pomade ad rubbed in his hands and worked it lightly into the hair left on top of my head. Then he combed my hair so that I had a neat short quiff in front. I had various shades of stubble on the sides and about a half inch on most of the top. It was not a look I would have picked, but, I had to admit, I looked good, definitely ‘neat, tidy, and professional.’ "Wow, Joey, that’s really different, but it looks good." Thanks.

Joey replied. "If you want to grow it out, just check in with me next month and I’ll clean up your neck and we’ll work out a schedule for growing it and keeping it neat." I paid Joey and tipped him and bought some of the pomade.

Don, of course, loved my new haircut and most of the guys gave me props for doing it. I thanked him for getting me into Palm Drive Barbers. As we got into warmer weather, the shorter hair was a nice thing, but I was intent on growing my hair back to a reasonable compromise length. The high ‘n’ tight was so short, that it was taking a long time, so I was seeing Joey regularly. After about four months, Joey asked me if I had a girlfriend. When I told him that I had ended a long-distance relationship recently. He asked me if I’d like to meet his sister. She was my age and she was an optician. I agreed to having dinner with Joey, his girlfriend and his sister. Melissa (call me Mel) was pretty, smart, and funny. Joey’s girlfriend, Mindy, was, like him, salt of the earth, with tattoos and an anarchic sense of fun. Mel and I quickly became a couple.

Six months, after my initial scalping, Joey was able to create something that looked like a regular haircut for me. It was still not quite where I would like it to be on top, but I was liking it better. I hadn’t had a single bad mark on my appearance. But, I was starting to worry about my upcoming visit to Mr. Harrelson. I needn’t have worried. It turned out, he was a snowbird and arranged for a neighbor to give us access to his unit. The neighbor was a pleasant young nurse, who arranged the appointment just before her shift and promised to send the survey. I quickly. She gave me all ‘excellents’!

Mel and I were real tight. Joey was my barber and like a brother to me. After a year, he had my hair looking great again. The sides were tapered but the back had a nice full look to it. My hair on top was nice and full and lay nicely again. As the year since my visit with Mr. Harrelson came around, I was talking with Mel about it. I told her how he had requested me specifically. She told me that Harrelson had come to her shop for glasses. "He likes to stick the knife in like he did with you. He kept coming back for minor adjustments just to annoy." I asked her if she thought I should get the back and sides tapered up tighter before seeing him. "Babe, its up to you, but if you think he is going to mess you up again, I’d suggest having my brother give you a shorter cut, then show it to your boss before you go to see Harrelson."

So, that’s what I did. I could tell Joey was itching to give me another short cut anyway. But I told him I didn’t want to top thinned or reduced. "You can taper the sides tight but leave enough on top, so it won’t take a year to grow it out." Joey went to work, and I ended up with a tight taper and about four inches on top. He even showed me how I could comb it over for work and make a nice pomp at other times. Don agreed that I looked neat, tidy and professional.

My appointment with Mr. Harrelson, again, seemed to go well, though I caught him eyeing my hair with disdain. I had two more clients in the same complex that day. The first, Mrs. Maxwell, was waiting for me. "Mr. Harrelson told me you were on your way," she said. Unlike Mr. Harrelson, her A/C unit was in bad shape and it took me time and effort to get it patched up. When I was finished, I checked my hair in her bathroom mirror, when the utility closet was located, and everything looked good to me. I took her credit card payment and went to Mr. and Mrs. Perez. They were a very kind couple in their early 70s whose home I had visited before. Mrs. Perez was bustling around in the kitchen and Mr. Perez was just coming back from the gym.

When I was done with their system check, Mr. Perez said to me, "crazy old Harrelson, you know he has a thing about men with long hair."

I looked at him and pointed at my tightly tapered sides and jokingly said "long hair?"

"He got a bug up his ‘you know what’ about you last year. Everybody here likes you. I told him that you had cut your hair after he marked you down last year. But he had seen you driving around and saw you had grown your hair back some, so he and that ‘loca’ Frances Maxwell that he goes around with are going to mark you down again, but I have an idea. At this point, Mrs. Perez came in with some freshly baked cookies and nodded her head as he explained his plan.

"And everybody else is going along with this? I asked in wonder. They shook their heads affirmatively.

So, as it was lunch time, I called Joey and told him it was an emergency. He said he would fit me in if I came right now. I got to the shop and Joey had me in the chair and I explained that I needed a fade like last year, only tighter on top. "Are you sure, bro? That will mean another year man before you have some hair back" I said yes and as he started scalping me told him the whole story. When he was done, my hair was so short, that it couldn’t even hardly be combed, just a brush could push the little bristles to the side to lay down. After last year, I knew I didn’t look terrible. I had joey take a picture and I sent one to Mr. Perez and one to Mel with a note "I’ll explain later." Don was gone that afternoon when I got back to the office. But that night Mel and I had quite an exciting night as we explored all the new sensations that went with my having basically nothing but bristles on my head! Our explorations went on all weekend. Mel was really enjoying this new look and I have to admit, it wasn’t as bad as I thought.

On Monday, Don was waiting for me when I came in wearing one of our company hats. He had a frown on his face and told me to come into his office. "Mark, we’ve had two complaints, one from Mr. Harrelson and one from Mrs. Maxwell about your appearance."

I chose that moment to remove my cap and say, "what now, is my hair to short to be neat and tidy?" Don seemed momentarily speechless, so I continued. After work on Thursday, I was thinking about that talk we had last year, so, I called Joey, my barber, and asked him if he could take my hair down real short that night, just so there could be no problems for the company’s reputation when I went to Mr. Harrelson’s."

"But these two surveys?!"

"Well, I also went to the Perez’s right after Mrs. Maxwell and had three afternoon appointments, any problems there? I can’t imagine why, but do you think maybe Mr. Harrelson just doesn’t like me?" I decided to play this up real big. Don, I feel terrible. Maybe you should call all three of them and figure out why two had a problem with me and one didn’t.

So, he did. Harrelson hemmed and hawed and went on about "all that junk in his (my) hair." Adding that his "good friend" Mrs. Maxwell happened to be with him for breakfast that morning and she agreed." Next Don called and spoke to Mr. Perez who told him what a nice fellow I was, how respectful, eat and clean. Oh, and how "my wife and I were asking him what happened to his nice thick hair. He always kept it so neat looking, but yesterday there was almost nothing left! You must be very strict with those boys, Mr. Morton." Don stammered a bit and thanked him and rang off.

Don said to me, "Mark, I think your right, this Harrelson seems to have something against you. I am going to make sure you never have to deal with him or Mrs. Maxwell again. As for your hair, well you know I prefer a neat, clean and tidy look. But, if you take away these two’s ‘crank’ complaints, your slate is clean, and you are free to wear your hair as you did when you started with us."

As I left Don’s office, I was rubbing my head and thinking of my wild weekend with Mel. Maybe there were going to be some annual growing and mowing sessions in our future, as long as Joey keeps me neat, clean, and tidy.

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