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Its a gas by Deke Cutter

It was the early 70s and I needed a summer job. I had just passed my driving test and I needed to make money for car insurance and gas. My father said I could use his station car some days if I paid for my insurance. We live in the suburbs of New York City. My dad's car usually sat at the train station all day so, as-long-as I agreed to pick him up in the evenings, I could either drop him off or walk the three miles to the station and get the car to use during the day!

With a month left to the school year, I had been searching everywhere for a job, but no luck. I had stopped by the gas station to get some air in bike's front tire and I saw Joe Tornello, the owner. He was known as the most honest mechanic in town and we always brought our cars here for repair and to get gas. He asked how I was doing, and I told him about my job search. Just then a car pulled in and a guy I knew slightly, a Senior at my school, came running out to pump the gas for the customer (that's how it was back then, they'd check your oil too!). Joe pointed to the guy and said "Brent's family is getting a vacation house out East for the Summer, so I'm going to need somebody here at the garage. If you like, you might even learn a little bit about how to keep a car running. There is one thing though, you'll have to get your haircut pretty short and keep it that way. During the week most of my customers are housewives and senior citizens and they feel more comfortable with a clean fellow servicing their car." Joe, himself, always looked like he had just stepped out of the barber's chair.

My hair was typical for a 16-year-old boy back then, fairly long and shaggy. It fell midway between the bottom of my ears and my shoulders. I parted it on the left and my bangs were very long. I looked over at Brent, I knew he was on the wrestling team and played some other sport, so I'd always figured he just had short hair because he was a jock. I told Joe, I would love to work for him, and that the haircut would be no problem. "When can I start?" Joe suggested that I check with my parents and if it was O.K. with them, he'd like me to come in for an hour on three nights the week before school ended so that I could observe and get trained by Brent and meet some of the others.

As I was about to leave, Joe asked me if I knew what size trousers and shirts I wore (for my 'uniform') and what name I wanted on my shirt. I went with Danny, rather than 'Daniel' or 'Dan'. Then he reached in his pocket and gave me $6.00. "Go over to Sal's and tell him you're coming to work for me, and he'll set you up with a nice haircut. Don't worry, you can trust Sal." I knew that was true. Sal had been cutting our family's hair forever. He was a nice man and he never gave me more than a trim when I asked for one and he had supervised my dad's growing his very tight brush cut into a more relaxed style in recent years. Back then, $5.00 was the new high price for a haircut and a one buck tip, by the way!

My parents were happy to hear about my job. They had never been too hard on me about my hair, but my dad seemed pretty pleased that the job required a short haircut. Dad had always been a sports nut. He was still in good shape for an old guy and he played golf and loved to watch games of all kinds on TV. He joked that "well, at least the haircut will make you look like a varsity man." Then he messed up my hair and gave me a bear hug. That's my dad.

Well, the day for my haircut arrived and I was really nervous. I washed and blow dried my long hair one last time. I put on my favorite bell bottom jeans and a cool shirt with a wide collar and headed over to Sal's. You have to understand that a short haircut back then meant your ears were showing, your hair was off your collar and your bangs didn't cover your eyebrows. It didn't mean clippers or a taper or lots of skin. Only a few of the jocks would get crewcuts at the beginning of the season and a few guys with strict fathers had very short hair.

Sal greeted me with a big smile. "Hello Danny, your dad told me you would be coming in. Hop right up in the chair and I'll have you looking like one of Joe's Texaco Boys in no time." Sal must have seen that I was nervous because he said, "this is going to be a big change, Danny, but you just sit back and let me do my work, I know what Joe expects. With that he turned me away from the mirrors and went to work. I heard the clippers switch and Joe pushed my head slightly forward as the clippers went to work on removing the length from the back of my head. Wow he was going up pretty high. All the sudden the back of my head felt lighter. Sal took a brush and brushed some hair off my shoulders. Some of it fell onto my lap. Holy crap! It was long. Next, I felt the clippers coming up behind my left ear and cutting away all the hair that covered it. Wow, this was pretty short, but at least he wasn't having me clipped down to. the skin. Then he took out a comb and moved up the side cutting it clipper over comb, flattening the hair down but leaving it a bit of length. Then he did the same thing on the back and repeated the process on the other ear and that side. Sal then started on the long hair on top of my head. It seemed like he was cutting pretty close to my head. He started at the back and moved forward. When he got to the bangs, he combed them forward and quickly snipped them off way above my eyebrows (Holy cow, I was not going to look cool). Then he started with those thinning shears. "Joe likes his workers to look nice and neat," Sal said as he ran through my hair, diminishing the bulk. Then he finished cleaning up around my ears and neck. Sal turned me around to the mirror as he combed my hair over with my same left side part, but my short bangs just sort of disappeared and formed my hairline in front. He'd let me have a little bit of a sideburn, just to the opening of the ear. He showed me the back in the mirror. It wasn't a brutal taper, but it wasn't the "natural hairline" all the guys wanted. Then Sal's 'coup de grace,' "I'll just spray on some of this 'Dry Look' men's hairspray on your hair. You'll want to get some so you keep your hair looking neat at work."

The last week of school was brutal, with my friends busting my chops about my new "GI Joe" haircut. A couple of the jocks actually came up to me and said "looking good" or "good job." My new boss Joe liked the haircut and Brent, the guy I was replacing, turned out be a good guy. He told me that he really wanted to grow his hair, but his dad made him work to "learn the value of labor." He told me that he found that working for Joe made the haircuts worth it and "not to sweat them." Working for Joe is great! I worked some days, some nights and every other Saturday. Every three weeks, Joe would send me off to Sal's. I did learn a lot about how to maintain a car and how to treat people. Joe also talked a lot about the importance of respect. A couple weeks before school started, Joe told me that he needed somebody to work a couple of late afternoons and evenings and was I interested (with my folk's permission and if it wouldn't affect my school work). "You can even grow your hair a little longer, if you really want to," Joe said with a twinkle in his eye, "but only until the summer." My folks were O.K. with me working during school. So, I was able to use dad's car during the school year.

Growing my hair out a little meant Sal let it get a little fuller on the sides and an inch or so longer on top. It was still definitely on the short side, but somehow, I felt more confident now that I was a "working man." One afternoon, a VW van pulled into the station and I was up, so I ran out to pump the gas and service it. "Fill it sir?" I said automatically as Joe taught us. The driver had hair down his back and was wearing on of those vests with the fringes hanging from the sleeves. His passengers were similarly clad in typical "hippy" gear.

"Hey man, what gives with the 'Opie Taylor' haircut? You just move here from Mayberry? Are you a Tricky Dicky supporter?" Normally, I would just shrug this off. I got this at school before people knew why my hair was always so short. I don't know why, maybe I had a bad day, maybe I was just in a bad mood, but when I finished servicing the car and gave him his change and the driver said "thanks haircut," I lost it, just a little.

I raised my middle finger to him and said "you know what this is? Half a peace sign." I then raised my other finger and made the universal peace sign and said: Have a nice day asshole." The guy gave me a nasty sneer and drove off.

When I got back into the service station, Joe was waiting. "Danny, what were you thinking. You gave that customer the finger and called him an asshole."

"But Joe, he was busting my chops about my hair and…."

"BASTA," Joe said in a loud voice. When Joe resorted to Italian, we all knew he was angry. What have I taught you about respect for yourself and others? Joe, then took me into his office for about 5 minutes more of 'counselling,' concluding with "you go home now and think about whether you can live up to the standards I expect and pay a visit to Sam before you come back to work, if you come back."

I told my folks what happened and while they sympathized with me, they also agreed with Joe. "That's his business son and he can't afford to lose a customer over your hurt feelings", dad said. The next day, dad came home from work with a fresh haircut. "Danny," he said, "Sam's expecting you. I told him I'd bring you in for your back-to-work haircut today. He's waiting for us."

On the way to the barbershop, I told my dad that maybe I should get another job. Maybe I didn't have what it took. Dad said, "let's talk about it when we get home. We're here and Sam's waiting for us." Sam greeted me with his usual warmth and I was soon in the chair. Looking in the mirror, I thought to myself that this haircut really did suit me, even if it was short. Sam really made me look good. I was pretty sure, I'd be getting my "summer work cut" again today, but it wouldn't be too bad. Sam got me caped up and then said to my dad: "as we discussed?" And my dad agreed. With that, Sam turned on the clippers and ran them straight up the back of my head all the way to the crown and over.

"Dad!" I yelled.

"Calm down son. Sam told me that Joe as expecting you to return with your summer haircut, but I decided that I was going to take this decision into my hands and asked Sam to give you a crewcut. Now, whether you decide to stay at Joe's or not, it will not be about Joe's haircut policy because you are going to have this crewcut until school ends this year." And so, Sam continued to shear off my dark hair, leaving me looking like the guys on the baseball team who had all just got cropped for "team solidarity" last week.

I learned an important lesson and I kept working for Joe. That summer, I got to "grow my out" to my summer work cut and never complained or lost my cool about it again. Of course, the end of Freshman year of college was a different story. I had a year's hair growth when my first day at Joe's approached. But, that's a story for another day.

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