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Ricky's commission by Manny

I watched him painting a seaside scene with water colors. His talent was apparent, but the half-finished work of art was not what captivated my attention. Instead, it was the mane of shimmering, silken blond hair that rippled in the gentle breeze. The shoulder-length tresses dangled in a tantalizing manner as the artist leaned forward to add a few more brush strokes to the scene. I decided to engage him in conversation.

"It's coming out very nicely. You definitely have talent," I commented casually.

He looked up and his twinkling blue eyes told me he appreciated the compliment. "Thanks, I think so too. Unlike many starving artists, I make quite a decent living selling my paintings. Actually, this one is turning out better than I expected," he replied in a smug tone.

He was a cocky thing, who thought a bit too highly of himself! He needed a few lessons from me!!

"You've handled the various shades in the sand so nicely....some brilliant white, other streaks of a yellowish color, like the highlights in your hair." There was a golden aura emanating from the silken strands as the sun shone through them.

The artist instinctively pulled his long hair back with his hand and tucked it behind his shoulder. "Yes, there'll be a lot of white and light in the finished product with the clouds and wave caps and cottages down the beach."

I thought how beautiful another scene would be -- the scene of his striking hair decorating a big white barber's cape! The sandy locks strewn about artfully....that was my objective in praising his painting.

"Do you accept commissions? You're a very talented artist," I noted.

"Depends," he replied. "On my schedule and the subject matter. Some scenes don't interest me at all. What did you have in mind?"

"My barber is retiring after 50 years in business. I thought a painting of him working in his shop would be a nice gift. The way you're handling the whites is so skillful. He's a traditional barber whose outfit is white from tunic to shoes, with a shock of white hair to match. Throw in the huge white barber capes and the white neon lighting, as well as the red and white checked floors....it's a lot of white and the artist needs to be particularly skilled. Like you!"

The young artist basked in the praise. "You're envisioning a type of Norman Rockwell scene? Old time barbershop with a dignified man standing by a chair, striking a dignified pose?" he asked as he continued painting the seascape.

"Not just standing there, but working. Giving a haircut. A shaggy lad....half the hair still long and the other part transformed by Jim. Blond hair like yours on the cape -- see, like this part of the painting where the yellow and white meld together." I pointed to a portion of the painting where the yellows infused the white of the sandy beach.

"This size painting of your barber and client....how much would you be willing to pay me?" he asked.

I was flummoxed. I hadn't thought of the cost! And there was no guarantee that if he painted the scene, the young artist would actually end up in the chair.

While I was trying to decide on what to offer, the artist continued speaking, "Are you talking about that barber shop on West Main Street? The old geezer....you said Jim is his name?" I confirmed; then he added, "He was my father's barber. Jim would be a great character to paint. I could even paint you as the client in the chair," the artist suggested.

It seemed like money was no longer an issue. "I want to make it a real treat for good ole Jim. His absolute favorite is to take a young longhair like you and to drive the clippers up through the mane. His eyes absolutely sparkle as he watches a harvest of lush silken hair falling in sheaves to the pristine white cape. I'm sure it would delight him to have that exact scene memorialized in a painting."

"You mean, paint the scene with me in the barber's chair?" the artist asked, a bit taken aback.

"Exactly!" I replied.

The artist squirmed as he sat at his easel. "Would I have to imagine what long blond hair like mine looks like on the cape? Or....perhaps Jim would run the clippers up through this and I'd see for myself in the mirror the artistic display of hair on the cape?" The artist pawed at this long hair nervously.

I could not believe where this conversation was going!

"That would be perfect! And I'd spring for the price of the haircut if you wanted a very realistic picture of the proposed scene to copy. And, how about we end it with Jim's signature haircut -- the flattop?!" I imagined what the cocky longhair would look like shorn and smiled at the thought!

"Just like my father sported his whole life. He used to beg me to go with him to the barber shop, but I was fond of my long hair!" the young man replied in an animated tone.

The longhaired painter sat, lost in thought for a minute. Then he said, "My name is Ricky, by the way. And I'm going to do it!"

"What? Get a flattop?!" I stammered.

"No! I mean I'm going to paint the picture," Ricky replied. "I might not let old Jim take the clippers to me, but I definitely want to see myself caped up in his big barber chair. If we told him it was for a painting, do you think he'd let me just sit there for a bit? You could snap a few pictures of my caped up."

"Oh, but I wouldn't want to ruin the surprise....tell him what we're up to. This painting will be a surprise retirement gift. The only solution is for you to go into the shop with me and climb up into the chair for a real haircut." Things were going my way; I struggled to contain the slight grin.

Ricky got solemn. "My father would turn over in his grave if he knew I was considering a haircut at the West Main Barber Shop.... You have no idea how many times he badgered me to go there with him. Called me a sissy or pretty boy. Mocked the salon look and all the time I spent in hair care. 'You're worse then your sisters, fussing over that girlish hair the way you do!' he would chide me mercilessly. I was only surprised he never dragged me in there by force and had old Jim shear me like an army cadet."

Ricky paused for a bit and ran his fingers through his beautiful long hair. "You know, I'm going to paint the scene with THREE men in it -- not two."

"Let me guess. Jim the barber. You in the chair. And your father hovering close insisting the cut be tight! Down to the scalp!"

"Exactly!" Ricky assumed his father's voice, "Give him a flattop, just like mine. Sides and back shaved. Landing strip on top! Hell, Jim....shoe him! Make him look like a real man. Having a patsy for a son is a miserable thing...."

Then he looked at me and asked, "Should I do it? Go through with it?! Put an end to this long hair?"

I grasped his silken hair and tugged at it gently. "Definitely! Let's have Jim put a definite end to all this! Your pretty, blond tresses....falling to the cape. And from underneath a manly look will emerge. Yes, Ricky, I will do the honors and assume the father's role. Let's go, NOW! I will have no more pretty boys flouncing about, dreaming of their next trip to the salon!"

Ricky hustled to put his painting equipment away.

I continued using an authoritarian father's tone, "And when we walk into that shop, I want you to be well-behaved, polite and obedient. No hesitating when you hear the barber bellow 'next' and see him pointing at you! Hop to your feet and scampered to the chair without delay. Is that understood?"

"Yes, sir," Ricky replied submissively.

"Now which of us is going to tell him what to do with those flowing locks of yours? You or me?" I asked.

"You, sir," he said, carrying on in his boyish manner. "I will sit quietly in the chair."

We walked quickly and with purpose toward the West Main Barber Shop. The gentle breeze rippled Ricky's mane as we went. Finally the swirling red and white pole appeared. The glow of neon shone through the window despite the strong afternoon sunlight. Old Jim sat enthroned in one of the barber chairs reading a newspaper. He looked up with interest as we entered.

"Ricky here," I announced, "is in great need of your services. I've had it with his girlish hair. 'How is your daughter these days?' my friends like to ask, knowing that it embarrasses me to no end."

Jim chuckled with an understanding nod. Then, he emerged from the chair and pointed to the red leather upholstery. "Take a seat, son. You've come to the right place! The solution to your problem is right there." He pointed to a line of six clippers hanging from the bottom of the small counter mounted beneath the mirror. Ricky's eyes widened in panic. He looked at me, hoping for a reprieve, but I motioned for him to sit. Like a good boy, he complied meekly.

Jim cast the cape and struggled with the flowing locks which momentarily impeded the metal clip from fastening the white cloth into place. Finally, the cape was secured snuggly around Ricky's neck. "There, now he's ready for his haircut. What did you have in mind?"

"The shorter the better," I said, snapping a 'before' photo of poor Ricky looking miserable under the suffocatingly tight cape.

"Well, you know, short is no problem with me," the barber laughed. "I mean, we could scrape him clean!"

I walked over to the chair and grasped the pretty blond hair. "And watch this pretty boy cry? I'll tell you what, Jim. SHOE HIM! No one will mistake him for a girl once you've removed about 98% of this silken fluff!"

"You're the boss, sir. A horseshoe flattop will suit him very well. Although he looks to be of age, it seems he still needs a father to keep him looking presentable."

Jim reached for a large set of Wahl balding clippers. He snagged the locks that covered Ricky's ear, lifted the clump of hair and brought the chattering teeth up through them, sending the first mass of glimmering blond hair to the cape.

Ricky's eyes were wide with fright as he watched the beginning of his transformation from longhaired artist to bootcamp recruit. The photos I snapped were priceless!

Jim gripped his client's head and forcefully pushed it forward to bring the clippers up through the nape. The divestiture continued unabated. Mounds of blond hair piled up around the barber's white patent leather loafers.

"That a lot of hair coming off, Ricky," I commented. "Are you feeling lightheaded yet?

He pawed a handful of cut hair nervously in his lap.

"So you're sure about the shoe?" the barber asked as he got ready to plow through the remaining patch of hair on top.

"Yes, and I want the scalp lather shaved too! This boy needs some toughening up!" I snapped.

Ricky watched his transformation intently. The swirls of cut hair adorning the cape were truly magnificent. I took a few close-up shots of the locks streaming down his chest from his broad shoulders.

Jim was very meticulous when applying the lather and scraping away most vestiges of my silken mane of Ricky's hair. I was mesmerized by the work of the straight edged razor. Periodically, I'd glance up in the mirror and ponder putting an end to my own fussy business cut. 'Shoe me too' I would tell the barber. Oh, if only I had the balls to do it....

Once the shoe was perfected and the scalp gleamed like a billiard ball, Jim set down his tools of trade. "What do you think, young man?" he asked as he took the duster to his ears and nape.

"Amazing," croaked the artist, somewhat stunned and subdued.

The barber removed the cape with a flourish, like he was unveiling a newly painted masterpiece at an art gallery. "There you go!"

Ricky touched his scalp gently and smiled softly. "Thank you for the haircut, sir." He eyed the big jar of lollipops, but the barber offered him none.

Then, to my horror, Ricky commented to the barber, "You are really going to like your retirement gift. I am sure of that, sir!"

"Retirement?!" Jim sputtered. "Who is retiring? I intend to die in the saddle! This barbershop, my clients, they are my lifeline. They keep me going. No, young man, I am NOT retiring."

Ricky stared at me. His face was hot with anger. I blushed and tried to divert his intense gaze.

"Well, since the barber has no intentions of retiring, he's ready for his next client." Ricky stared right at me, "That would be you, sir!" He corraled me with his muscular body towards the chair.

I climbed the wrought iron foot rest and sank into the inviting upholstery. Ricky fingered my businesscut. His fondling of my plush, prized mane screamed out 'revenge'!

The barber cast the cape. "And, what will it be for you, sir?" he asked routinely.

I gulped as I stared at Ricky's shining, denuded scalp. "Uh, um, uh, shoe me...." I murmured.

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