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Dylan And The Flattop by Joshua


We all know that admirers of the traditional flattop haircut for men often wonder, "When will the flattop return to popularity?"

I know, I know; some of you will reply, "What are you talking about? The flattop has, and always will be, popular!" No, not so! I’m not talking about the sighting of an occasional police officer, military service member, or balding, gray-haired retiree sporting a flattop. I’m talking about mass, broad-based popularity, the kind where flattops have the type of appeal that the notorious Justin Bieber-inspired shaggy sheepdog hairstyle and its variations such as the "emo" look held over so many misguided males for so many years. I’m suggesting a day when fresh flattops can be spotted on the streets of any town almost daily, and where Youtube would regularly have new, eager transformations to flattops by the dozens, if not hundreds.

Surely the day must be approaching when barbershops will be filled with customers requesting flattops at the level seen in the 1950’s to early 1960’s and, to some degree, in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. That time must come again… won’t it? Recently I had an inkling that this might be so…


It was early in June on a hot, humid day holding the promise of a long steamy summer ahead. The temperature was topping ninety, and it was still only morning. I was sitting in a barbershop, waiting my turn, as my regular barber finished his current client. It was a multi-chair barbershop with several barbers who took appointments, but it had an old school feel with several shiny chrome and red leather barber chairs and a big picture window for passers-by to glance in at the action (if they were so inclined).

Suddenly I heard a sound coming from down the street: a rollicking skateboard clattering and whizzing down the sidewalk. I looked up and out the front window. I saw the skateboarder was a youth, maybe fifteen or sixteen years old, hurtling past the shop. His longish hair, brown and thick, fluttered proudly in the wind behind him like a flag. I figured he was on his way to the neighborhood skate park about six blocks down the road. Then I was startled to see the young man bring his board to a quick halt, flip it up, and, to my surprise and delight, turn to open the barbershop door and step in!

"Good morning!" said the barber nearest the entryway.

"Hi," the youth said, politely but without enthusiasm, in that lackadaisical, almost tranquilized way that so many teens have these days, as he took a chair, apparently to wait his turn.

I wondered if perhaps this hair rebel had been ordered here against his will. He seemed a bit gloomy. His hair certainly had not seen the inside of any barbershop for some time indeed. I examined his magnificent mop. It cried out for haircut discipline. It was somewhere between straight and curly, swirling down into his face but with just enough wave to keep it one millimeter above his eyelashes. I saw him frequently toss his hair to the side, and now and then lift his hand to push his bangs just a little out of his face -- but not too much, no, not too much -- because, of course, exposing his forehead might not be "cool."

On the sides, his ears were completely hidden, with flowing locks falling to his jaw line. In the back, the brown waves rested defiantly on the nape of his neck, almost to the top of his shoulder blades. He was dressed casually in the typical "uniform" of his generation: colored t-shirt with graphic designs, tan cargo shorts, and beat-up blue and white sneakers. This wardrobe, I reasoned, would give his barber maximum access to his head for cutting. If he’d worn a collared shirt, the collar would be buried underneath a waterfall of hair. Overall, his hairstyle was an enormous bird’s nest, looking like a comb had not touched it in weeks, but then again, the outdoor wind and the rapid skateboard ride had probably contributed to giving him a definite tousled look.

I could not help but wonder: Surely this boy is here for an appointment, but what kind of style could he possibly ask for? Just a slight trim, I’m sure, to appease the parents? Then it occurred to me: this was the first week of summer vacation " the best time for a timid lad to try out a new fashion without fears of schoolyard teasing.

The barber who had greeted the boy finished up with his current customer and turned to his appointment book. He read from it hesitatingly. "Dylan…?" he asked, and then, with a slightly sinister smile, glanced quizzically at the boy.

"Yeah," the skater replied, standing up and heading toward the now empty barber chair. He paused for just a moment in front of the chair, as if not quite sure how to get into such a contraption, but then clambered into the chair and sat back, looking a bit uncomfortable in what, for him, might have been a new environment.

The barber reached for his pinstriped cape, gave it a hearty snap, and covered the boy’s body with it. The barber grabbed a white tissue and began to prepare the boy for his haircut, squeezing the cape firmly around the slender neck. Dylan’s shaggy head looked quite small and vulnerable now that it was perched atop the big sheet.

"So," the barber said, "you ever been here before?"

"No," Dylan replied.

"Didn’t think so," the barber said, with just a hint of sarcasm in his voice, obviously in reference to the boy’s extraordinarily disheveled hair. He sprayed the boy’s head with what appeared to be water, and began to try to comb the boy’s hair into something approaching a style. The comb got stuck in Dylan’s hair at times, causing Dylan to wince a bit as the barber forced it through. Dylan’s hair looked even shaggier and longer after its bracing encounter with a comb.

The barber slowly twirled the chair away from my view and around toward the mirror behind him. He and Dylan looked at each other in the mirror. "Well, Dylan, what’re we going to do today?" the barber asked. The next words shocked me.

"I want a flattop haircut," Dylan said with perfect calmness.

"A flattop?" the barber asked, nearly as stunned as I was. "You do know what that is, right?"

"Yeah," Dylan continued, and then went on to be quite specific. He pulled his arms out from underneath the barber’s cape and began gesturing with his hands to demonstrate just what he wanted.

"I want it, like, shaved on the back and sides," Dylan said distinctly, waving his hands over the sides of his head, "with the top, like, flat and square, but short." He passed his hands over the top of his head, back and forth, suggesting a "plateau" effect, then made little square angles out of his fingers on the sides. This kid knew what he wanted, alright. And it must be his choice. He showed no reluctance or nervousness at all.

"Okaaaay," the barber said. "I think I know just what you want. I give that same haircut to two other clients of mine."

The barber picked up a hefty set of electric clippers and snapped them on. They whirred like a lumberyard band saw. Dylan, satisfied that his instructions were understood, placed his hands back underneath the cape and rested comfortably in the chair, completely nonchalant about the transformation awaiting him. I envied his coolness. This was obviously going to be his big summer haircut. The barber twirled the chair back around, facing me again, with Dylan’s back to the mirror. Dylan would not see a thing now until the haircut was done. Dylan gave his beloved bangs another flip -- it would prove to be their last.


The barber reached out and held the top of Dylan’s head. The clippers roared into the side of the glorious brown mop top. Despite Dylan’s admirable calm, I could see that his legs, extending out from under the cape, trembled just a bit as the first swipe took its toll. Soon all of it would be on the floor (where it belonged). But I wondered why Dylan went for this particular change.

So did the barber. "So," he said, trying to make conversation as barbers do, "thought you’d go short for the summer?" he asked Dylan. He flicked the clippers out and away from Dylan’s head, sending a fistful of brown curls tumbling to the floor like a boulder.

"Well," Dylan said, "yeah. I guess." His voice now had a tiny touch of regret as he saw the hair mounting up before him. He struggled to maintain a steady, solid voice, obviously a difficult thing in view of all his hair coming off so quickly. "But I might keep it if I like it."

Again and again, the clippers plowed through the sides, then the back, of Dylan’s crown of gorgeous waves, leaving masses of hair cascading into his lap, exposing pure white virgin skin to the air that it was hidden from for so long.

"Gettin’ tired of the long hair?" the barber asked.

"Yeah," Dylan answered. "I wanted it short but didn’t want a buzzcut." I looked at the barbershop floor beneath Dylan and could tell that the amount of Dylan’s shorn brown hair promptly exceeded all the other clipped hair on the floor, most of it gray, combined!

"Well, don’t worry, I’ll fix you up right," the barber joked. "Like I said, I got two other guys who get flattops. One of them comes in every week! They’re both Marines. They do like it short."

I knew this to be true, since this barber had mentioned this before -- actually several times before. He had once told me that he hated giving flattops when he started cutting hair, but now liked to do them.

A look of apprehension briefly flashed on Dylan’s face, and he seemed to gulp at the news that he was getting the same haircut as a United States Marine. Was that really what he had intended? But as far as the barber knew, there was only one kind of flattop, and that was a Marine flattop: nothing but skin on the sides, and the top, well, let’s find out…

With Dylan’s sides clipped, the barber now attacked the top. He grabbed his faithful jar of pink Krewcomb (that I knew kept handy for his other flattop customers), scooped out a big glob, and worked it thoroughly into Dylan’s still sizable remaining hair. He brushed the top up and, with a blow dryer, fluffed the mane back and as straight up as it would go. Then came the flattop comb, inserted at what looked like just an inch above Dylan’s hairline in front.

Dylan’s eyes popped a little as the clippers ran efficiently over the flattop comb. He somehow knew he had better sit perfectly erect for this, or the whole haircut would be ruined. He was properly submissive to the slow shearing, as each pass of the clippers brought another chunk of hair flopping over the side of his head. I saw his eyes look straight up as he felt the clippers proceed over and over the top, again and again and again. He was as passive and immobile as a manikin.

I had to reflect on how open today’s younger generation was to differing hairstyles. In my day (many days ago), any teenager with hair like Dylan’s would have had to be dragged, with fingernails carving grooves in the linoleum floor, before consenting to a flattop haircut like this. There might have been tears as well as hair falling in his lap. Now Dylan was kissing his mop goodbye with relative ease, becoming a virtual replica of a clean-cut 1950’s teenager.

Other customers waiting their turns for other barbers also viewed the ongoing spectacle and could not keep quiet (as I was). One said, "Now that’s what I call a haircut!" Another: "Wish I could get my son to get a haircut like that!" Another youth who had entered the shop: "Dude, you got balls of steel!" And the predictable: "Now that’s a haircut you can set your watch to!"

The barber took his time from then on, taking great care to make sure Dylan’s top was truly flat and square, since Dylan was so precise in describing that was exactly what he wanted. I should say that my own haircut, a few chairs down, began and finished while Dylan’s was still in progress! All in all, the barber took forty (!) minutes to "fix him up right."

The top of Dylan’s head was now a square from every possible angle. The barber tilted the boy’s head forward and down a little, towards me, so that the barber could see the shape of the top of Dylan’s head from behind, and I could see the marvelous landing strip, or "skunk stripe," as the barber liked to call it. The strip stood out boldly, and the remaining flat hair glistened beautifully in the light from the excess wax. Dylan had not requested it that short, but that’s what he got, and it looked sharp. The question arose in me: when he felt those bristles, would he be hooked on flattops for good? Could there be any turning back from such an audacious change?

The barber laid down his clippers, and there was a brief moment of silence. Dylan took a careful, deep breath, which I took to be a great sigh of relief. The haircut was done, and he had survived getting his flattop! Oh, but not so fast, Dylan! This barber was not done, not by a long shot. I could see the barber pick up his new Wahl balding clippers, especially made for haircuts just like Dylan’s!

The balding clippers were pressed firmly against the sides and back of Dylan’s head, humming smartly and doing their dirty work. The shop was filled with the sound of crackling and popping as any tiny leftover shafts of hair were sheared off as closely as haircutting science could manage. After several moments of this unique sound, there followed only the lone sound of the buzzing clippers themselves, so that anyone, even a short haircut newbie like Dylan, could only take to mean that his scalp was now bare and smooth, with no hair left to cut.

The completed product was breathtaking. The barber finally brushed all the remaining hair from Dylan, and he looked like a new man: fresh-faced, wholesome, and handsome. I half-expected that he would now address his elders as "sir" and "ma’am." And there was no wave left in Dylan’s hair at all. The hair was just too short to wave. What little remained now stood as stiff and shiny as little soldiers on parade.

"Well," the barber said, as he rolled the barber chair around for Dylan to see his finished haircut, "what do you think? Like it?"

Dylan tried to keep his cool demeanor, although his jaw dropped a little at the sight of his shorn head. He turned his head slowly from side to side, obviously examining how short, or rather how bald, the sides were now. Then he nodded his head down to look at the top, barely suppressing a gasp at the sight of the white landing strip. But he expressed satisfaction to his barber, with his generation’s ultimate compliment: "Awesome," he said. "Just like I wanted it."

"Great!" the barber said. The skater boy was now a flattop boy. "You said you might keep it if you liked it, so…"

"Um, yeah," Dylan said, now sounding a tad hesitant. He did say that, didn’t he? "I guess I’ll see."

"Most guys with flattops come in about every two or three weeks or so," the barber advised, trying to press the point. "Do your parents know you’re getting a flattop?"

"No," Dylan said. "But I think they’ll like it. They wanted me to get a haircut." Yeah, probably hounded him for years, I’ll bet.

"I think they’ll like it, too," the barber said happily. "They might think you joined the Marines, though!" Like it? They will fall to their knees and weep for joy is what they’ll do!

Dylan, liberated from the barber cape, leapt from the chair, stood up, and could not resist turning around to take another admiring look at himself in the mirror. He lifted an arm and ran one hand up the back of his head. Then, down. Then, up. Then, cautiously, so as not to mess up the waxed perfection, a gentle hand touched over the flat top. Admit it, Dylan, your shaggy days are history! You might as well make another flattop appointment right now!

Dylan paid the barber, picked up his skateboard, and left the shop. There would be no unfurling flag of hair dangling behind him now. He rolled on down the street, on his way to the skate park to show off his new haircut, I thought. How could any youth gaze on such a haircut and not think, "I want that!" Or maybe he’ll stop by the drug store on the way to pick up some butch wax. One can only hope he will keep his flattop, and that this sweet example will prove to be the beginning of the



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