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Bret's Cover-up Uncovers at new Look by Manny

Bret pleaded with a total look of panic engraved across his face and begged me to help him out of his bind. The thick blond locks that hung past his huge blue eyes only partially concealed his obvious distress.

I'd never seen Bret in such a sorry state. Usually, he was the confident one -- cocky, actually would be a better word to describe the self-satsified, proud braggart. How many times he'd made fun of my social awkwardness and lack of athletic skill, even when he knew that type of "kidding" really hurt.

Of course, he was everything I was not -- tall, skilled, handsome....and oh so proud of his thick locks of blond hair that tumbled down towards his shoulders. "Natural wave and highlights," he would purr as he preened in the mirror. Then he would casually ask what it felt like to suffer from premature MPB. "So you were only just finished with puberty when your hair started falling out. Poor guy....especially with that pea-sized head of yours," he'd say with a clearly affected tone of sympathy. Occasionally he would rub my ring of fringe and quip something like, "Looks like this little bit is still holding on for dear life -- keeping you from that chemo-look!" To rub salt in my emotional wounds, he would usual toss his own thick mane as he made these remarks or say something condescending, like, "You really should count your blessings. Hair like mine -- so thick and long -- can be a pain to maintain. I'm sure you don't spend more than 10 seconds a day on that whispy fringe of yours....."

But here he was, virtually on bended knee, imploring that I help him. Bret needed an alibi. He readily confessed to me that he had in fact slipped out of the boring business conference to spend the afternoon at a nearby casino. He thought no one would notice his absence. When confronted, he'd told his superiors that he was meeting a potential client, and they asked for proof -- a name they could call to confirm his story. And he'd given mine! If I would cover, he'd be fine. If not, he'd be fired!

As I watched him squirm, waiting for my reply, I thought how fun it would be to watch him squirm under a barber's cape as a huge, heavy-duty electric hair clippers were taken to his glorious tresses. Yes, big Bret needed some cutting down to size -- starting with that mane of hair he was so proud of!

"I don't know, Bret....." I started out, prepping him for an agonizing realization his being a fairweather, mean-spirited friend did had consequences.

"It won't cost you anything to just say yes," he reminded me.

"My integrity? I'm not used to lying....and what if they start asking me questions about my business and what exactly we were discussing during our meeting? I'm just not sure I want to go down that road," I said, toying with his emotions.

Bret's panic switched into overdrive. "But if you don't, it'll be the axe for me! Do you want me fired?!"

"Wait a second! Don't start blaming me for your predicament. And, this isn't the first time you've had a little incident that involved a casino on company time, is it?" I asked, knowing full well that it was not.

"And that's why I need you to cover for me. Please! I'm begging you," he exclaimed as he mopped the thick forelock back from his face. He ran his hands through his lush locks as he generally did when he was nervous.

"Well, if I cover for you....and I say 'if' because I still haven't decided...you need to learn a lesson somehow so that you can get a grip on your life and stop gambling. You're gambling with your career, you know, every time you zip into the casino. Not to mention your personal finances!" I said in a preachy tone.

"That was the last time, I promise. No more casinos," said Bret, encouraging me to agree to cover for him on the basis of those easy words.

"Okay, I'll cover....on the condition that you get a little daily, visual reminder of your promise to forego casinos and not involve me in your dealings," I said.

"You're a saint!" Bret said as he clasped a huge bearhug on me. "I could kiss you!" he laughed jokingly.

I pushed Bret's massive forelock back from his eyes and gently caressed his golden hair. "So, I'm going to take you to my barbershop, for a little something to help you remember your promise," I said cooly, as I eyed his long, glossy hair.

Bret froze. He dropped the embrace. He squirmed. My heart surged. Oh, it felt wonderful!

"Now, wait a minute, I really don't think my hair....." he stammered.

His stuttering sentence was cut off by the ring of my cellphone. I flashed the screen toward him so that he could see the call was coming from his company. "Should I cover for you or not?" I demanded.

He stood frozen, stunned.

I answered the call and identified myself as I switched on the speaker so that Bret could hear. As the fellow explained his reason for calling I held up my fingers as if they were a set of scissors and began snipping the air in the direction of Bret's might mane -- at the same time silently pressing him to agree to the barbershop visit. He nodded yes, unenthusiastically....in fact, with the most miserable look on his face imaginable. Not even when I gave him the perfect cover and his boss seemed satsified did his eyes brighten up again.

After I hung up, I sought to comfort the miserable chap. "Look, I know how attached you are to your hair. You've probably never had a clippers taken to it....."

"Clippers?" Bret howled. "You don't think I'm going to let you...."

I snapped back, flashing my upper hand with relish. "Do you want me to call that man back right now and tell him the truth? Let's see, incoming calls.....ah, here's his number."

"No!" Bret gasped, defeated.

"Then you will come with me, right now, to the barbershop! And you will sit quietly and cooperatively in the chair while the barber takes a clippers to this." I grasped Bret by his silken locks and yanked his head firmly, establishing total control of the situation.

"That hurts!" he whined.

"It's for your own good. You need to learn a lesson. And every morning when you look in the mirror and see yourself shorn, you'll remember not to get near the casino, Bret," I said with a honeyed overtone to soften the demeaning punishment I had concocted for Bret the Braggart! I was on a total power trip and felt energized.

I released the tight grip I had on Bret's mane and stroked the soft, silken hair gently. "You might find out you enjoy the barbershop once your hair's been cut by a non-nonsense professional. My barber's been shearing locks for over 35 years and is a whiz with the clippers."

"Not too short, please, buddy," Bret begged.

"Oh, we'll see. Now come on. I'll drive you over there right now. No need to drag our feet on this special outing," I said, urging Bret to get up and follow me. I was going to allow him no opportunity to weasel out of his date with the clippers.

He paused by a mirror in the foyer and stared intently at his thick, stylized mane, pawing nervously at it.

"Once the barber's finished with you, you'll look and feel like a different person," I said with a mocking tone of encouragement.

"I don't want to look or feel like a different person! I want to be myself!" The pout was loud and defiant.

"Well, then I suggest you prance back to your office and pack up your things. You'll have plenty of time to hang out at the salon when you're unemployed, Bret. Now get in the car!" I ordered.

He complied meekly and silently. As we drove to the shop, I gave him a piece of my mind -- about the way he'd treated me, how he'd hurt me with his demeaning comments and self-centeredness. Especially the way he mocked my about my MPB. He listened to my blistering soliloque silently and seemed truly contrite by the time we pulled up in front of the shop with the huge plate glass window and twirling barber pole.

I threw open the door, but Bret remained frozen in the chair. He ran his hand through his locks nervously. I walked around the car and open his door. "Let's not make this any more difficult than it has to be, Bret."

I strode into the shop and Bret followed sullenly.

"Hello, Jerry!" I called out cheerfully as we entered the shop. The old barber looked up from his work and returned the greeting.

"I have a new victim for you today. This here is Bret. He's been putting off his trip to the barbershop for quite some time now, as you can see," I announced and pointed to the embarrassed longhair.

All the men in the shop laughed as I tussled the dense mane which seemed so out of place in the traditional shop that exuded a 1950s vintage feel. The huge chairs with their gleaming chrome bases and aqua vinyl upholstry. The tall jars filled with blue barbicide shining under the neon lights. The linoleum checkered floor, littered with chunks of shorn hair. The matching barber capes and tunics. The line of clippers hanging from the bottom of the counter. The chart of 'official haircuts' on the wall with its vintage sketches.

My eyes locked onto the drawing labeled flattop. Once Bret was safely under the cape, he'd hear my verdict. From a shaggy male model look to a crisp flattop! I'd be in heaven watching the beautiful locks fall to the cape. How triumphant I'd feel enjoying the agony of poor Bret cringing under the cape as his pride and joy was pared down close to the scalp!

During the brief period that I sported a full head of hair, I had been secretly consumed with the idea of getting a flattop -- even though, at that time the long, fluffy, feathered look was still in style. I fantasized about getting caped up by a barber and instructing, "Give me a flattop -- skinned to the crown and a landing strip on top." Of course, the ridicule would be too much for a 1980s high schooler to endure. I put off that dream to when I got to college. And then it was too late -- my hairline receded quickly and I looked like an old man way before my time.

The guy sitting next to Bret in the waiting area, struck up a conversation with the newcomer. "So, fellow, what's the occasion -- having Jerry there making an honest man out of you?"

Bret shifted nervously. "Oh, nothing special. Just was sort of time to get it cut. My friend there, actually, talked me into coming here." Bret glared at me.

"That's right. I was telling him how good my barber was with the clippers and it perked his interest. He said he'd been really hoping for a good clipper cut so I suggested he come here with me."

Jerry perked up and waved his clippers as he spoke, "I'll be sure not to disappoint with these. So, you're going for something short and tidy? Tired of the hippy look, eh?"

"Well, uh," Bret stammered.

"He wants a flattop!" I exclaimed. It just sort of slipped out on the spur of the moment. I had planned to spring the news on dear Bret once he'd been caped, but this way his dread of the impending haircut would be intensified!

Bret whipped his head around to face me -- total panic in his eyes.

Jerry commented cooly, "I'm an expert when it comes to flattops. And I really enjoy taking a guy down flat for the first time. Sometimes they're unrecognizable. Walk out of the shop transformed."

The guy next to Bret piped in. "And you can go in front of me. I like to watch transformations. Jerry will be like Michelangelo taking his chisel to a huge shapeless hunk of marble when he tackles your mop."

Bret pawed nervously at his hair. His leg shook. Then he stood up and bolted to the door. Before I could say anything, the blond locks were safely outside. The men in the shop seemed confused. "Oh, he probably went outside for a smoke if he's to be next in the chair," I explained. "Terrible nicotine habit. He's addicted, I'm afraid."

"Perhaps a bit of a Nervous Nelly? Cold feet?" the guy in the waiting area suggested with a chuckle. "No wonder -- he's going to shed a ton of hair...."

"Well, I'm finishing up here, so if he's not ready in a few minutes, he's going to lose his spot," said the barber.

"I'll go let him know, Jerry," I replied, exiting the shop.

Bret was pacing around the sidewalk, nervously, just out of the sight of the old men in the shop. "I am not going to get a flattop!" he hissed defiantly.

I just stared at him with my arms folded.

"I'll get it cut short, but not a flattop. Please! I will look like a total nerd," he insisted with slightly less determination.

I pulled out my cell phone.

"Why are you doing this to me?" he pleaded. "I thought we were friends."

"We are, and I am going to teach you a lesson. An enduring lesson. Oh, yeah, I forgot to mention. This isn't a one time thing here today. You and Jerry will become very good friends -- every other Saturday, under the cape, the old man tidying you up with his clippers, leveling out that flattop of yours." That development was totally spontaneous, and I loved it! The misery would be repeated week after week! He would be forced to return to the place where his beloved mane was butchered, again and again.

"This is so unfair," Bret muttered as he hung his head and the mounds of shimmering locks tumbled forward.

"You will walk right back into that shop. You will hustled over to the chair when the barber calls you. You will tell him to give you a flattop. If he asks for any specifics, you will point to the chart on the wall and say 'just like that one'. Is that understood?" I said curtly.

Bret didn't answer. He clenched his fists and then walked silently back to the shop. As he walked in, the barber closed the drawer of the cash registered and bid his previous client farewell. "Just in time," he said, inviting Bret to take a seat.

Bret moved slowly to the throne-like chair that was turned away from the mirror. He hesitated slightly before mounting up the fancy wrought-iron foot rest that said Koken on it.

I saw Bret studying the chart on the wall nervously as Jerry fastened the cape around his neck. He struggled to secure the huge metal clip in place with the copious waves to glimmering blond hair obstructing his view. Jerry surveyed the dense mane with a bit of amusement as he swiveled the chair to face the mirror. "So you're going for a different look today," he said, understating the matter as he tried to drag a comb through the wavy locks. "This hair here takes me back to my early days as a barber -- got my start in a bootcamp in the mid-70s. Don't know what the boys were more afraid of -- getting the induction haircut or getting shipped off to Viet-nam?!" Everyone in the shop laughed except for the caped fellow in the chair who sat almost catatonic. "So, young man, any special instructions?"

I watched carefully to see his reaction. A slight quiver of his lower lip and then a forced tightening of his jaw before he forced himself to say, "Give me a flattop -- just like the one on that chart up there."

In a flash, Jerry snapped on the clippers, snagged the heavy forelock with a comb from beneath, held it up from Bret's deer-in-the-headlight-eyes and ran the clippers over the plastic teeth. The severed lock fell quickly onto the clean, white cape.

"No turning back now," the man in the waiting area commented wryly, obviously entertained by the start of Bret's makeover.

"Why should he want to turn back?" asked the barber rhetorically, snagging and clipping off the other half of the immense forelock. Bret's mighty fringe had been reduced to an inch-long tuft protruding awkwardly from the hairline as mounds of the glorious blond hair collected in his lap.

"Well, he was rather nervous about losing so much hair in one sitting," I said to animate the discussion.

Jerry took the clippers and plowed it straight up the side of Bret's head, reducing the long sideburn to stubble before the clippers emerged through the temple. "I should charge him twice as much -- look at all this hair," chuckled the barber, winking at Bret, while a second drive straight up the side of his head exposed the ear. Then he manipulated Bret's head so that he was forced to look down into the lap where a huge collection of shorn golden locks had already collected. The clippers finished peeling away the flowing locks from the left side. Bret's head of hair was so dense, though, no scalp could be seen -- just a plush velvet-like layer of darkish brown hair.

"Young guys getting flattops much these days?" asked the man in the waiting area.

"Not really. Flattops look sharp, but they require a fair amount of maintenance. Most young guys are too busy or too poor to get bi-weekly haircuts. Old geezers mainly are the ones getting flattened on a regular basis. Cops too. But, I have to admit, the best flattops are cut on head of hair like this -- dense and healthy," Jerry said as he began tackling Bret's nape. The steel teeth chewed a pathway through the virgin locks of uncut hair which fell in a torrent to the barber's feet. He eased up on Bret and let him sit up to see himself with one side clipped short and the other side like a new-aged musician with flowing locks to the shoulder. "Dr. Jeckyl and Mr. Hyde?" Jerry laughed. "So what inspired you to go flat?" the barber asked as he began swiveling the chair away from the mirror.

"Oh, Jerry, if you don't mind. I'd like to watch the haircut," said Bret, offering the very first comment in the barbershop that seemed on this side of either total dread or panic.

"Be my guest. It's quite a show. How is your Michaelangelo doing with his trusty tools?" he asked displaying the comb and clippers in front of Bret's face with a flourish.

"So far, so good. Actually, better than I expected. Oh, I don't mean your work, but how I'm looking -- better with short hair than I anticipated," said Bret. "I've always worn my hair on the long side. But, this short cut is already looking pretty good...."

The barber ran the clippers up the other side of his head until the thick long locks fell from the temple to the shoulder. "Right now I'm just removing the bulk. The real haircut has yet to start!" said Jerry.

That comment sent a surge of worry over Bret's face. But he recovered quickly. "I noticed on the price list, you charge a dollar extra for flattops," said Bret.

"Cause of all the extra time I'll need to spend getting it just right. Every hair in place. Like I said, you've got the ideal head of hair for a flattop -- real thick and with just the right amount of body!" said the barber.

"My hair is my best asset -- always get a lot of comments about it," said Bret warming up to his new look considerably. "Although, I see with it cut this short, it's a lot darker than those sun-kissed clumps in my lap," he said, staring down.

"My bet is that you'll get plenty of comments on your hair -- or lack of it! -- once ol' Jerry is finished with you!" quipped the geezer in the waiting area.

I felt a little torn about this turn of events -- Bret seemed to actually enjoy his drastic makeover. Leave it to him to get the upper hand over me, even when I was in theory controlling the situation! I could see how handsome he was becoming as the girlish hair was stripped away. Bret had a manly jaw and perfectly shaped ears. And without the distraction of all that hair, his blue eyes were like two gleaming sapphires.

Jerry turned to the next stage of Bret's haircut. "So, you want it about the length of the flattop on the chart?" he asked, nodding towards the vintage chart on the wall. "I'll leave it a little longer at first and then we can go shorter if you'd like," offered the barber.

Bret readily agreed. The barber wet his client's tufts of hair a bit and the used the blower to get it all to stand up perfectly straight. This began about a half hour's worth of clipping and looking carefully at the result. The barber's hand was steady and precise as he carved the first very flat swath about an inch above the top of Bret's scull. He continued clipping and repeatedly ensured that everything was just right. I enjoyed watching the master barber at work. Slowly, Jerry crafted the most beautiful flattop ever -- a very dense, long pile on top that was gently tapered to zero at the nape and beveled slightly around the top rim for a very finished look.

I felt so jealous of Bret's flattop. My dream haircut had been denied to me. A tall top just like the one Bret was sporting surely would have been the antidote for my "pea shaped head", as Bret called it. He had balked about going flat, yet looked like a picture of manly perfection sitting there caped and on the receiving end of Jerry's clippers. I chafed about Bret enjoying the "punishment" I had inflicted on him. No, he would not get away with it!

"Aren't you leaving it a little too long on top?" I asked the barber innocently.

"That'll be for Mr. Bret to decide," Jerry said with a casual shrug.

"It's looking perfect," said Bret with a smile.

I stood up and walked over to the chair. Suddenly Bret's happy face clouded over. He could see what was coming and he didn't like it. I assumed the role of the stern father who would ensure that the barber's handiwork resulted in a humiliatingly short cut!

"Bret, on the way over here you were so insistant about a landing strip, remember?" I said with an edge in my voice that pierced his new-found enthusiasm for flattops.

"Landing strip....?" he murmured, half petrified. "Uh, well, the barber's worked so hard to get this plush brush cut just right, I don't think it would be fair to ask him to change it...."

Oh, that Bret was a sly one, trying to wriggle out of this. But, my groveling friend was still caped and captive. I fought to regain the upper hand. "Jerry, you wouldn't mind, would you? Bret wants a landing strip on top, and you might as well skin the sides too. Isn't that true, Bret? Don't be shy to tell the barber just exactly what you want. You know, this isn't one of those fussy salons where the stylist dictates what you'll end up with. No, in a traditional barbershop, the client is king! You get just what you want."

"Well, that is, up to a certain point," said Jerry. Once I take you down to the skin, there's no changing your mind about it. I mean, wanting to go back to this length. I think this deep-pile top suits you," he said, indicating a reluctance to savage his masterpiece's plush top. Then the barber added, "But, a landing strip is exciting too. I only suggested we start longer because I know that drastic makeovers can be a little bit unnerving. After all, look at how much hair Bret here has already shed," said the barber, gathering out a handful of shorn tresses from his lap and holding them up and then letting the wads of shorn hair fall to the floor in a spectacular shower of shimmering gold.

"Bret here is a brave, courageous type who wants the full treatment. Skin the sides to the crown and on top.... Better yet, shoe him!" I ordered.

"A horseshoe? That's a little severe for a first-timer, don't you think?" the barber asked me skeptically.

I stared at Bret, letting him know that he did not have a choice. He would be shoed at my command!

After a pregnant pause a soft, strained voice half whispered, "Yes, go ahead, shoe me." I felt a twinge of guilt llistening to the caped fellow eek out the unwelcomed instruction despite a seemingly frozen mouth, throat, tongue and lips.

"I want it all lather shaved, as well, except for the most delicate horseshoe you've ever crafted, Jerry!" I ordered. "Get that clean shaven scalp shining like a lightbulb!"

"Yes, sir!" the barber said swapping clippers and tackling the plush flattop that poor Bret had grown so fond of in its brief appearance atop his once plush mane.

From that point on, the chatter in the barbershop ceased. Jerry was going to make up for all the lost time he'd spent artfully crafting the plush, beveled flattop. He plowed the clippers straight up the back, through the cowlick and down the center of his head, leaving just a wisp at the hairline. His heavy duty balding clippers skinned poor Bret to the bone. And they did it with lightening speed. The remenants of his beloved mane were harshly stripped from his head. Jerry yanked Bret's head this way and that way as he skinned the cowed, caped client.

I hovered nearby playing the role of a determined father eager to see the rebellious teen humiliated by the barber. All the shorn beautiful hair at my feet was a trophy of my triumph over the arrogant, self-centered Bret. I was having him shoed against his will. He knew it, and he looked miserable! I felt exhilerated.

"Remember, I want him lather shaved, Jerry. And don't worry, you'll be tipped handsomely for all the time spent," I snapped.

Jerry looked at me a little peeved. I speculated that he really didn't like having to destroy the fabulous flattop he had crafted so carefully. Too bad. My intent was to teach Bret the Braggart a lesson. And, judging from the look on his face, I succeeded. He looked wonderfully miserable, especially as Jerry rubbed in the lather and prepared to skin him with the straight edged razor.

Finally, once the 99% of his hair was gone, Bret was given the chance to see himself with a hand mirror helping to show off the finished product -- gleaming white scalp virtually all over, except for a thin strip of fuzz in the shape of a horseshoe around the crown of poor Bret's head.

"What do you say to the barber?" I reminded Bret as he was finally released from his humiliating experience.

"Thank you, Jerry," he said, touching the bare scalp on the back of his head briefly for the first time once the hair-ladened cape had been pulled off.

"We can let it grow out to that longer look you seemed to like better," offered the barber sympathetically.

Bret looked at me, but my glare dashed any hopes he might have nurtured. "I think the 'shoe is a keeper, Jerry," he noted reluctantly.

"Very well, I'll see you in about a week if you want to keep that silken feel on your scalp," the barber said as he collected the $16 fee.

As I marched Bret out the door of the shop to the car, I hissed at him, "Stay out of the casino for a year, and I'll let that shoe grow out to the nice plush top Jerry first cut. You looked so handsome with that silken hair of yours beveled on top and cut to perfection. But it was necessary to have you shoed for the punishment and visual reminder to be truly effective...."

As I turned on the ignition and put the car in gear, Bret felt his radically short horseshoe and stroked his bald head slowly. Certainly, he was pining away for those cultivated locks that were now being swept up by Jerry and dumped into the trash bin, I thought to myself! I felt wonderful that Bret had been subdued and brought low.

As I was feeling on top of the world, Bret lowered his sun visor and looked at himself in the mirror. "You know, this 'shoe really looks macho on me.....I never realized how perfectly shaped my head was...."

With a smug grin he pulled out his cell phone and sped dialed his girlfiend. "Honey, I just got the most amazing haircut.....you won't be able to keep your hands off your hunk of a G.I.Bret when you see me tonight....." He cocked his head to see as many angles of his new 'do as he possible could in that small mirror.

I could not believe it -- Bret was actually excited about having been 'shoed by Jerry! Then, I glanced in the rearview mirror at my MPB fringe. It was as pathetic as I remembered....

Once Bret got off the phone bragging to his girl, he stared at my head. "You know, I just realized that we're both sporting horseshoes -- mine is on top like a macho marine and yours is around the sides and back like an old geezer! That razor scraping if all off back here felt damn awesome," he said, fondling the smooth skin at the nape and back. "I should have Jerry peel you like a grape! You could be the next Kojak or Yul Brenner," Bret joked, exploding in peels of laughter.

I'd never get the upper hand over Bret.....my mouth felt dry. I'd always been deathly afraid to shed my little security-blanket fringe of hair. My hands gripped the steering wheel. I felt dizzy. I struggled to eek out a reply, "I think that one trip to Jerry's today....is, uh...."

Bret zeroed in on my anxiety and fear about having my head shaved clean. "Well, I don't!" As we stopped at a light, Bret grabbed my fringe and yanked it to show he meant business. "Chrome dome, cueball, chemo-look.....ha, ha, ha....won't you look precious!" Then he reached into my pocket and pulled out my cell phone. In a flash, he was clicking away on it.

"What are you doing?" I demanded with as much force as I could muster.

"Erasing your log of incoming calls. There, now you have no way to contact my boss!" He smiled broadly and then snarled, "Now turn the car around this instant! I'm going to drag you're scrawny ass back into that barber shop and have Jerry peel your little pea-head clean! You'll come out of there looking like a real pinhead!"

My stomach churned as I meekly complied and pulled a u-turn. I was completely at the mercy of Bret, my new drill sergeant!

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