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Tom's Regrets by Deke Cutter

Tom looked in the mirror and admired his reflection. Dang, he looked good for a man of 35, smooth skin, clear complexion, blue eyes and great hair. His hair had shine and volume. It was a deep brown and he swept it over and back from his forehead. A light product allowed him to keep it brushed back off his ears. It fell just to his collar. "I look professional, yet classically fashionable." I’m so glad I have a reliable barber who I can trust. In fact, normally, he looked forward, to his visit to the shop later that day for his usual trim and facial. But today would be different. His mind suddenly took him back two decades ago to a time when years of hair woes had begun for him.

He had never seen his mother so angry. "Vandalism, truancy, and lying. Your father is going to be furious, I am beside myself. I have tried to mediate on your behalf to temper some of your father’s more dire intentions, but this time, Thomas, I am leaving him to it. Now, go to your room and wait for your father to get home."

"Thomas! Down here now! His father’s lecture had been brutal. Sanctions were harsh, and, Tom admitted, even then, deservedly so. But the one that was going to hurt the worst and for the longest was the last to be imposed. "Now get your butt in the car."

20 years ago, there was only one "real barber shop" in their town and the barbers were known to be competent with most simple styles as well as traditional cuts and that is what worried Tom. Tom loved the then popular Grunge music and wore his hair long and with no real style to it. His mother had, indeed, run interference with his dad, convincing him that Tom was just trying to fit in. As they pulled up to "Modern Gents Barber and Style Shop," his father broke the steelie silence that had lasted throughout the brief journey. He grabbed Tom’s long locks and said, "you can kiss this goodbye for the foreseeable future, and I don’t want a word or any back-sass in there. Understood?"



This took Tom by surprise. He paused.

His father in barely a hiss said "address me as sir. Now say it."

"Struggling not to cry, Tom got out, "Yes sir."
They entered the shop and his father walked up to the older of two barbers, the man that cut his hair and said to him: "Mario, I am so angry at my son right now I can barely look at him." His father then went through the litany of petty crimes and misdemeanors his son was involved with. "Had old man Wilson not caught them and got his son Jerry the cop, who was off duty, to come down and put the fear of the good Lord into him and his butt-hole buddies, they’d all be in "Juvie" right now. I am leaving him with you to give him a short neat haircut. Its one he is going to be keeping for a good little while. You choose something as different from that mess on his head now as you want. I leave him in your hands. And if he gives you any trouble, you can strap him into that chair and shave him bald. I’ll be back in an hour, have him sweep up, mop the floors or do any other jobs you have until I get back."

After his father left, the barber directed Tom into his chair. "So, you are Tom. Your father has spoken about you with both pride and concern, more concern in the last year. I have never seen him like he was just now Tom. For your sake and his, I hope you change your ways. He then taped and caped Tom and continued. "I can remember a similar situation to this one back when I first started barbering 25 years ago. I am going to cut your hair the way my boss cut that young man’s hair. You will be leaving here with a short haircut, but one that requires daily care and regular maintenance. It is a haircut that will test your fiber, test your character and help you decide what kind of man you want to become. If you don’t believe me, ask our governor, he was that young man." Mario the barber then picked up his clippers and began running the clippers tightly up the sides of Tom’s head. 30 minutes later, the barber was directing Tom to tilt his head forward so that he could get a good view of the landing strip that was now to be a part of his "look." "I’ll be suggesting your father bring you in every two weeks. Give me your hand Tom." He took Tom’s hand and brushed it up and down the back of his head. Get used to this feeling Tom." Tears started to slip out of Tom’s eyes. The barber handed him a towel to wipe his eyes.

"I’m sorry sir, I’ve been an idiot and I’ve got what I deserve, but it’s been a rough day." And Tom found that becoming Flat Top Tom for the remainder of his high school years was tough too. His hair was cut every two weeks. He waxed and brushed it every morning and again before dinner each night.

Tom also remembered how thrilled he was to finally be able to grow his hair out when he started college. But then he remembered how bad an experience that had been. Over three years of flat tops had trained his hair on top and on the top of the sides to stand to attention. It took for ever for the sides and back to grow in and he looked like a mess for all of first semester. When he went home for Christmas, he decided to get it trimmed to show good faith to his dad. Things had changed a lot since he last got a haircut, anywhere but Mario’s and he had seen all these commercials for this new place called "The Hair Cuttery." This cute girl shampooed his hair and listened to him ask for her to just even it up a bit. He left horrified at the mess she had made. In a panic he returned to Mario’s and threw himself on Mario’s mercy. Mario, barely suppressing a laugh, did feel sorry for him and secretly felt happy for the progress he’d made, but the truth was, there was only one thing he could do. "I’m sorry Tom, that young cosmetician made a mess of your hair. Its different lengths everywhere. I can give you a short, layered cut, sort of like your dad’s. I promise, it will grow in better for you." Tom agreed and ended up losing much of the progress he had made. But Mario proved right, and his hair did eventually grow into the lush mane he had today.

Oh today. Tom had one huge step to take on his way to redemption. How had he let things get so out of control? He thanked God Megan, his wife of 10 years, had not left him and taken the kids when he told her how foolish he had been. Instead, cool-headed as ever, she had taken control. "You fell for a scam, it cost your business and your family a great deal of money. Luckily, we can recoup. You know they want me back as full-time legal counsel at my old firm. The kids are both in school, I know we were going to wait until they were both out of primary but needs must. We have four very healthy parents who would fight death cage matches over who will watch the kids for us if they are sick or we’re both out of town for work or working late and no day care is available." Megan was going back to work and tomorrow he was facing his folks to explain the situation, even though, Megan’s first year full-time salary would pay back his parents and what his company lost.

It was the very moment that Megan mentioned their parents that Tom knew what else he would have to do. It had been years since he had been to the strip mall a few miles from his parents’ home. The lettering on the window had changed "Marconi’s Barber and Shave Shop" and underneath "Mario and John Marconi " Licensed Master Barbers." Mario appeared to be 75 and while his hair was now grey, he looked remarkably the same. A younger taller man who appeared to be in his 40s with a faded pompadour was obviously Johnny. At a third chair was a young man who looked to be just out of school, he jumped up and said, "yes sir what can we do for you?"

Tom smiled at his eagerness, "actually I am here to see Mario, I’m guessing he is your grandfather."

"Yes sir, and I am a Mario too, Mario John, third generation, so we won’t have to change the window if ‘pops’ ever retires." Mario came over and playfully cuffed his grandson’s ear.

"Retirement, bah. Its Tom, I haven’t seen you in years. It was when you were just starting college and got that terrible cut from the establishment we will not name. I see your hair recovered nicely. Tom, you look troubled, is your dad OK? Come into our little back room so we can speak privately."

And so, Tom explained the whole sordid story of how he had fallen for a con man’s pitch and the results. He ended stating, "I’m going to explain the whole thing to my folks tomorrow, including how Megan’s incredibly generous plan is going to get us all out of a terrible hole I dug, but I need to go over there with the haircut that shows my serious regret and one that will require daily attention and regular maintenance until we have made everybody whole again."

"Tom," Mario said, "Your father is proud of the man you have become and has nothing but praise for your wife. The first time he met her, he told me ‘Mario, I’m hoping Tom realizes this one’s the keeper.’ Your dad will really appreciate this gesture. Let’s go out there and get this done."

For the first time in almost two decades Tom felt the clippers push up the side of his head leaving nothing but a trail of stubble behind. He felt his vanity being stripped away. As Mario began "taking down the top," he remembered how awkward he had felt those first days of school, but then how the flat top had become his norm. He knew he would face a great deal of whispers and jokes at his expense (after all, he was still ‘the boss’), but he knew his father (and Mario) had seen that he had the strength of character to withstand it.

"OK Tom, I’m going to finish this off with a nice outline and get rid of those shadows from your sideburns," Mario said. A few minutes later, Mario turned the chair around and Tom was reintroduced to an older version of himself as Flat Top Tom, complete with a landing strip!

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