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The Mistake By The Lake by Deke Cutter

“Maureen, clippers, towel, comb and scissors.

“Come on, Dad, you re not going to do this to me."

“Did you or did you not promise me that you would maintain your grandparent’s lake house if you were permitted to live there rent free while you finished your dissertation?"

“Yes, but how was I to know that…"

“Did I not repeatedly ask you if you were keeping up and offer to help you if you needed it?


“Did you lie to your grandparents about ‘co-habitation, knowing their strongly held beliefs?


“And did you not involve your younger brothers in this charade?"

“Yes, but dad, leave them out of this, please?" At 23, Brian was three and a half years older than cautious, but easy going, middle brother Matt whose unruly mass of curls was so like their mother’s. Baby brother Michael was two years younger than Matt, but his straight blonde hair was worn in center part and usually reached well below his ears. Like Matt, Brian’s hair was blonde, but a bit darker and he wore it in that floppy kind of style favored by academicians like himself, with a thick forelock flopping down into his eyes and wings on the sides that refused to stay behind his ears.

Brian’s two brothers had been frequent visitors to the lake house during his tenancy and had enjoyed his hospitality and kept his secrets with the understanding that once his thesis was done, they would pitch in and get things up to standards before anybody else was the wiser. Things had gone swimmingly, he finished his thesis and defended it in May and had even been offered a position at the university for the fall. An ill-timed visit from his father had destroyed his carefully made plans, catching his brothers in the act of helping him clean up from a celebration of the successful defense of the thesis.

“You all acted dishonorably, and you all know the price that must be paid, you have all paid it before, but its been years for all of you. 10 years, for you, I thought you had grown beyond such behavior. I was going to make you watch your brothers submit to their punishments here in front of you, but I decided that, in all likelihood, they would not have been involved in this sorry business except out of misplaced admiration for you." This came as something of a relief for Brian as he did not relish sharing the embarrassment of his brothers that came at the result of supporting him. He had not seen his brothers since he arrived at his parents’ home for what he knew would be a “difficult conversation" with his father. At this moment his father called to his mother “Maureen, bring me your hair dryer too."

The mention of the hair dryer reminded Brian of what his father had planned for him and what he and his younger brothers had endured growing up. His father would study the guilty party and then somehow choose the most embarrassing haircut he could execute for a young man of that particular age. His father believed in a code of behavior and it generally served them all well. There would be no escaping what awaited him today. He worried what it would be and how long the punishment might last. Serious infractions sometimes had resulted in maintaining a punishment haircut for several months until Dad was sure a lesson was learned.

Just then, a car pulled into the driveway and two car doors slammed.
A moment later, Matt and Mike entered the kitchen and stood silently before their father. Matt’s curls were gone, the sides and back of his head were tightly shorn. The curly hair on top had been cut to a little over an inch and was combed straight back so that the curls formed little ridges along the top of Matt’s head. It was a haircut that made the fun-loving Matt look like a junior accountant and the look on his face suggested that he was working 18-hour days during the tax season, and was that…yes, it was, Vitalis, Matt would recognize that smell anywhere. Then came Mike, always rail-thin, but wiry. Mike’s blonde hair had framed his face and given him a certain vibe somewhere between 70’s soccer star and 60’s folk singer. Now Mike was transformed, the barber had cut the blonde hair faded the sides very tightly and left the hair on top carefully cut from tight to gradually lengthening to enough hair to comb over and flip up in the front, finished also with Vitalis. The cut made Mike look ridiculously young. “Good job boys," their father said, with a grimace of satisfaction on his face, “Al followed my request exactly." Their father was right and as much as the young men disliked the cuts, they were professionally done and much better than what they would have received from their father. “Now, you can stay while I clean up your brother, or not, but don’t go far, I will be wanting to speak to you all together." Brian was very grateful that his brothers decided not to watch his humiliation.

His mother, having returned, with the items his father had requested, plus a small bag with the logo of ‘Sally Beauty Supply’ on it, came into the kitchen. “Now, make sure you put that old sheet down under the chair before you start. I’m going upstairs to my office, I have a proposal to finish," his mother said, glad to have her role in this sordid drama over for the time being.

Brian’s father spread the old sheet on the floor, placed a kitchen chair in the middle of it, turned to his oldest son and said: “sit." Brian sighed, and moved over to the chair, having removed his shirt because he knew from experience, a great deal of hair would be showering down and some of it would end down his neck. His father attached the cape he had picked up somewhere along the line. With surprising gentleness, he combed through his son’s shaggy hair. Then, without further prelude, he picked up his barber shears and beginning at eye level, began cutting away at the long “wings and excess length at the back of Brian’s head. When this job was finished, his father combed Brian’s forelock which had flopped forward, down into his eyes, all the way down. It covered his face-momentarily. With three mighty snips, his father had reduced the length to mid forehead length, leaving Brian blinking uncertainly. Had Brian been able to look in a mirror, he would have seen himself with what looked like a rough mushroom cut or the beginnings of a bowl cut, neither very flattering for a man of his age. He knew, however, that asking for a look, or any conversation was not considered appropriate, so Brian remained quiet.

His father then put down the shears and Brian heard him plug in the Wahl clippers, turn them on, adjust the screw, turn them off. He could, without turning around, picture his father reaching into the box for the tube of lubricating oil, and applying a few drops to the clipper head, then turning the clippers back on to allow the oil to work in. Then he heard his father attaching a length guard and again switch in on the clippers. This time his father went to work straight up the sides to about midway between his ears and the top of his head on each side but up to the top in the back. Then his father put the clippers down and picked up his comb and shears again and began cutting the top down to a uniform length of about two inches. When he had completed that, he began wetting Brian’s hair with water then brushing it back and drying it with a hair dryer, trying to get it to stand up straight, as it got dry, the father spoke, “close your eyes and keep them closed." Brian did as he was told. His father proceeded to coat his hair with hair spray to stiffen it. “Open." Next, the clippers returned, and his father ordered, “keep very still," as he proceeded to freehand the top, just taking it down slightly, but adding a deep rectangular landing strip. He then proceeded to raise Brian’s neck line and completely remove his sideburns, leaving only the smallest of tabs just below the top of each ear. “Now, a bit of wax, I think." His father brandished a stick of “butch wax" and applied it to the front of Brian’s hair and then, brought out a pair of flat top brushes “Sally’s" had found in a dusty storage room. He used them to brush the wax in.

He then removed the cape from around Brian who quickly retrieved his shirt and buttoned it up and went into the dining room to look at himself in the mirror. “I look ridiculous," Brian thought to himself. A very definitely home-crafted vintage 1950s long flat top sat on his head. The sides looked to be no shorter than a Number 3. The top had that long “Poindexter" look of the typical 50s geek. His father was still the master of the punishment cut.
His father then called Brian and his brothers back into the kitchen. He had picked up the sheet and shaken it out in the yard and tidied up his tools, leaving Brian a small bag with the brushes, the wax and the hairspray. “As you are all done with your studies and Brian does not take up his new position until August and you two are working for me, I expect the three of you to spend the next two weeks getting that cottage and its grounds up to standard. You will groom your hair as it was groomed by your barbers each day and in two weeks, you shall all return, Matt and Mike to Al’s and Brian, here to my little shop. We shall all meet at 10:00 AM in to weeks to discuss the final resolution and how this will end. Brian, I want you here at 9:30."

The two weeks passed, and the three brothers worked companionably amidst the smell of Vitalis, butch wax and sweat, as they cleaned and repaired the lake house. The younger brothers bore no ill will toward Brian and in fact teased him mercilessly about his dork hair. They completed their duties and the three celebrated with pizza, Brian’s treat. “Guys, I’m sorry I got you into this mess. I really shouldn’t have.

Matt, who was sitting next to Mike, rubbed Mike’s head and said, “what and miss out on these cool haircuts?"

Mike chimed in, “yeah bro, we’re in this together, I figure you owe me big if I get busted in college, you are going to have to bail me out." And they all burst into laughter.

The next morning, the younger boys went off to Al’s Barber Shop and Brian returned to his parent’s kitchen. His father was waiting for him. “Brian," he said, “there are two ways this can go. I can make you all keep these haircuts and your barbers for the rest of the year, but I do think that is somewhat unfair to your brothers and I do not think you want me as your barber. Or, I offer you this alternative, you agree to go to Al’s starting today and let him give you a proper flat top hair cut once a month until the first Saturday of the new year, and your brothers will be free, after their haircuts today, to grow their hair back. It will take them at least a year, so they will still have plenty of time to consider their actions.

Brian didn’t even need a minute, “see you later dad, I’m off to Al’s."

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