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From High Times to High 'n Tight by Armando94
(thanks for the feedback on the last story of mine, The Surprise Barber. I will definitely work on that becoming a sequel or series. But for now, enjoy a heartfelt barbershop trip)
Charlie Shepard had it all. He was a hotshot, news reporter in his early thirties, living in a metropolitan area in one of the finest bachelor pads, on the top floor of his building, overlooking the whole city. It felt like his own domain, his own kingdom he’d secretly think to himself. Everyone in the city knew him from their small screens at home. He’d been at the station and in this location the last five years, after biding his time two previous remote locations. And boy was he happy to have worked hard at these posts that way his agent could get him to this gig.
While Charlie may have felt comfortable and confident at the station, that wasn’t the same for his coworkers. In fact, it wasn’t like he had many friends there. To be honest, his coworkers hated him! After his charm wore off those first two years, everyone could see beyond the veil. They could all see he was a bit pretentious. That he was totally full of himself. And now he was one of the lead anchors and had his own segment during the week. There was no way of getting him to step down from his throne. Like I said, he was comfortable and confident at the station. But nothing gold stays forever, isn’t that what they say?
BEEP! BEEP! BEEP!
"What the--" God, it couldn’t already be time?
BEEP! BEEP! BEEP!
"Fuuuuuuuuu--" Charlie slapped his hand on his alarm to shut it off. He had forgotten to turn off the 7:30 AM wake up call. They didn’t need him at work until later on anyways, or in his opinion he didn’t need to be there till later.
Sprawling his arms out across the pillows and raising himself up against the bedpost of his California king bed, he took a deep breath in as he hit his head against the back board. Staring out his ceiling to floor windows, he could only see the buildings high up in the sky along with his. Little did he care or realize was that the rest of the world was up and moving in the streets down below.
Now that he was awake, he figured he might as well just get up and go and do something. Shirtless and only in his boxers, grabbing a hoodie sitting on the arm chair, he shrugged that on and sauntered to his kitchen to make himself some coffee. Turned on the TV while he popped on the Keurig and started to make himself a bowl of oatmeal. That is one thing for sure, Charlie was very good about taking care of himself. He ate well, regularly exercised and worked out, and took very good care of his appearance. He sifted through his phone on his several social media apps, checking to see what the world was up. He figured after some breakfast, he could hit up the gym in the building and workout a bit. This was also the sort of opportunities Charlie loved, getting dressed up to workout. Whether it was wearing bare minimal clothes while pumping iron, or outdoors for a run with only the coolest looking gear on.
So Charlie switched into a tank top and a pair of shorts, also putting on a hat too to keep his hair out of his face. A full monochromatic black ensemble too, sporting all Nike. At the gym he usually started out on the treadmill to warm the body up, followed by working on the upper body and core. That’s what mattered most to Charlie, that his physique looked amazing from the waist up, since that’s where the cameras were always pointing. And then there was his head, which come to think of it actually mattered more to Charlie. Not only his face which he felt was crafted by a God, but most importantly his hair. Dirty blonde, slicked back pompadour, made by dry pomade to give it that natural, effortless look. Charlie made sure he had the right look, that was how he knew he’d have a successful career. He’d say to himself in the mirror, "How can they say no to this face?" Which actually he’d let the scruff grow out a bit more recently. Tons of guys wore facial hair these days anyway, and Charlie thought it didn’t look so bad on him too. He kept it just right thought, always a nice shade of stubble across his face. Charlie also felt it gave him a more mature look. The pretty boy charm was still there, but the scruff gave him a mature man stature.
After spending a couple hours at the gym, Charlie went back upstairs to his apartment to take a nice long shower. After that, he combed through his hair, blow drying as if he was giving each strand its own five minutes of shine time. Making sure that the blonde highlights and the dark brunette roots were all equally represented across the tops and sides of his thick hair. Once that part of the ritual was complete, he’d smooth his hands through the tops and the sides, making sure it all felt dry and soft like silk before adding some pomade to make it all stick in place. Charlie also looked into the mirror, admiring the scruff he had going, thinking he’d have to trim it again in a couple days time. But in this moment, he could always just shave it all off. How nice and relaxing that would feel, especially to feel his smooth skin under there once more. But nah, he was liking how it looked and wanted to run with it for as long as he could.
Then he put on a casual gym suit, since his clothes for work were already at the studio. Grabbed a pair of sunglasses, filled a bottle of water and made himself an additional cup of coffee, packed a few protein based snacks, and was on his way out the door ready for work and to conquer the day.
He arrived at the studio, not acknowledging anyone or saying hi to a single soul unless he was spoken to first. Then maybe he would say a quick "Hey" but that was about it. However, today was totally different, not a soul said hello to him when he entered. Didn’t bother Charlie, but he just felt odd about it. At least one person usually said hello to him whether or not they liked him or not. So, he went into his dressing room and got himself settled.
Usually, someone would have noticed his arrival and come in to ask him if he needed help with getting ready, which he typically shoo’d away, but then later on shout for someone to help him. But no one had stopped by and knocked on his door. So, he decided to leave it a little open after having waited around a good while. He casually sat on his phone, acting like he still had time to get ready, which he technically did but he would still need to run through his work for the day with someone, right? And all the people that walked by his door, nothing! Not one stopped in to say hello or ask to help him. It was beginning to get a little too strange he felt. And time was ticking away, he needed to get changed.
He opened his closet and was shocked to see only a few suits still left there. He didn’t know why, had the company they rented from requested some of the clothes back? And some of these ties he had worn just recently. Well, looks like he was going to need to don them again today. So Charlie slipped into a suit and tie, picked out the only pair of brown shoes left for him to choose from. He sat down at his chair, looked at himself in the mirror, thinking he probably could do with some makeup but no one was there to assist him with that. Finally, a production assistant knocked on the door left ajar and handed him a script for the day without saying what was in it, only that, "They need you in fifteen minutes Mr. Shepard. "
Charlie wasn’t waiting around fifteen minutes though, he was ready to go and ready to find out what the hell was going on. So, he left his changing room and went to the stage room to see what was going on. Upon arrival, one makeup artist came up to him and did a bit of touching up, but she was awkwardly staring at him the whole time as if he had done something wrong. This freaked Charlie out that he said under his breath, "That’s enough, thank you," and casually walked over to where the producers were all sitting.
They didn’t notice or at least acknowledge him until he said, "Hi," and then they all turned around. One of the producers even saying, "Oh good, you managed to get one of the scripts for today. We’ll be going live soon, so make sure you familiarize yourself with what is on them."
Charlie was really confused at this point, not knowing what the whole studio was up to behind him. He just shook his head and actually read the scripts for the first time in a real long time. He rarely ever did that ahead of time But he had nothing to do and just wanted to take his mind off whatever was going on behind the scenes that he was clearly being left out of.
The broadcast eventually went off, and Charlie did his job as usual. Reporting the local news, state news, and some of the larger national and global news topics for the hour segment he was allotted. No one said anything bad to him, every time they were cutting to commercial break he’d hear a "Good" and that was about it. Then he’d read the script between breaks as someone (a different artist each time) touched up his face and hair. And each time, they seemed extremely nosey, as if getting one inch from him would spill all his secrets. Charlie ignored it and went about just doing his job until finally the hour was up.
Anticipating he would have some time between now and when he would report in the evening news was when Charlie was in for a rude awakening. The producers called him over and asked to speak with him. Then, one of them put their hand on his shoulder and they led him out to one of the conference room spaces. In there were a couple of the studio executives, who Charlie had only met on a few occasions or at company outings and holiday gatherings. Charlie on a normal day would think he was getting a promotion or raise, but for once he was snapping out of Cloud 9 and realizing something bad was up.
Once they were all seated, the head executive for the station said, "We thank you Charles for all your help and work these last few years and greatly appreciate you helping our numbers. But it is with regret we inform you that we terminate your contract. From this day forward, you will no longer work for this station. You will no longer work for any of its affiliate stations. In fact, I do not know if you will be able to work in any other station again, so long as they know who you are. A young man, full of himself and never caring about those around him, from the smallest roles to the biggest execs, and not caring about what or who you are doing on the outside world when you are off the job. Your behavior is a disgrace and we cannot tolerate having someone like you on air. That is why we are letting you go, for what is best for all of us really. We hope you understand, and if not, we are very sorry to drop this on you. But you cannot go on working here, not anymore at least. Not after what we have been told or given proof of. It just will not do and I refuse to let the station suffer from this. And that is why I must ask you to leave, right away, effective immediately."
Charlie stared back, in total disbelief. He wanted to blink his eyes and wish that this was all a bad dream and that that stupid 7:30 AM alarm had never woken him up. But he knew this was all real, this was all actually happening. His world was crumbling down upon him. His career was completely destroyed. His life was shattered and over as far as he knew it. There was no turning back. All those years of trying his hardest to get to where he was, wasted, absolutely wasted. He would never be able to achieve what he had ever again. He was done. Done. And this was goodbye.
One of the producers helped him up from the chair and helped him to sign off the papers that disclosed his departure from the station. He wanted so badly to freak out and scream at them all, but he was absolutely paralyzed. In total shock of what was going on that the saddest thing was he barely could sign his name. He shorthanded his signature, as if it were just his initials you could see. And then he was on his way out the door. Without another word, no comment from anyone in the room. The deal was done, Charlie was let go.
In his room, he saw the remainder of his clothes left in a pile on top of his work bag. The suits left behind in the closet must have been all the personal ones he owned, and all the rented ones had been returned. They all knew this was his last day, that this afternoon’s broadcast would be his end. There was no waiting around for the evenings broadcast. And even if he tried, they didn’t want him to. Clearly, so much so, that someone else was already taking over his dressing room judging by the new name on it. Mario Rivera, the hot shot reporter who was nearly ten years younger than him, but so charismatic and so young and full of life. And he was most likely to be Charlie’s replacement in the end of all this, he just knew it. He didn’t even need to ask anyone. Charlie shoved his remaining belongings in his bag and left. But as he was leaving the building, a secretary asked for one more thing. His ID, his eternal badge of belonging to this company. This was the biggest blow, the real deal sealed here. Charlie didn’t even hand it to them, he dropped it from his hand on the ground as he reached to pass it over the desk. He couldn’t even bring himself to turn the stupid card over. But that card represented his access into the building and into this career and position. He didn’t want to hand it over, so leaving it on the ground was the best thing for him. He immediately turned away after doing so and ran out the door. He was no longer a reporter for this station, he was just Charlie Shepard, a no one with absolutely nothing left to live for.
A couple weeks went by, Charlie was still in his apartment but making moves out of it, and out of town. Apparently his playboy lifestyle had finally caught up with him it turns out, he was even turning up in some of the local papers. Luckily, he was spared being on his old news station, but that didn’t mean it eventually wouldn’t happen. Some of his friends were reaching out to him, asking where he had been and if he wanted to go out. But that died down after a week. No one wanted to be seen with Charlie, let alone even associated with Charlie.
And that was gonna be the biggest problem of it all, because it wasn’t just this city that didn’t want to be associated with him anymore. Once his attitude had changed and he became all cocky and full of himself, Charlie’s own family started to distance themselves from him. His parents lived down in Florida, retired and all. His sisters and brothers lived all over the country, in fact even the world one sister lived in London. Bu he was never good about being in contact with any of them. And there were all these nieces and nephews that he had barely ever met before that he should have spent time with, or sent birthday cards and Christmas presents to. He felt like everything he had built up for was a total waste. He didn’t have anyone to share his former happiness and glory with. And now that was all gone. He was having to sell the apartment and his furniture with it. Thankfully, that was not so bad. The apartment was in a premiere location and got snatched up right away. He was packing the remaining things he’d be bringing with him though, mostly clothes and some books and such he still held on to.
He was leaving that Saturday with all that was left with him in a new car. Well, an old car actually. He sold his older sports car. He realized his movie star like life was over so he might as well get rid of parts of it. Clothes he couldn’t part with because he needed those, but the car would have to go. Especially with where he was going. So he piled the car with his belongings in boxes leading up to Saturday. By the time the apartment was looking bare Friday night, Charlie just about cried. But he wouldn’t allow himself to. He needed to be strong. He looked at himself in the bathroom mirror on the morning of his move, his hair looked totally disheveled, he’d been wearing only hats the last couple weeks. His eyes were sunken and had bags under them. His facial hair had absolutely grown into a more full beard that he felt he was unrecognizable. He treated himself to one last shower, one last time of feeling like a king. But when he came out of that, he couldn’t bring himself to blow dry his hair. Also, because it seems he stupidly had packed it. So, he walked out of the apartment in a pair of jeans, a hoodie and a wet head. Heading on his way out of the city, stopping at a Starbucks to pick up a coffee and sandwich, and then leave this city for good.
Charlie was not leaving the state however. He was traveling a couple hours west to live with his uncle, his Uncle Ed. Growing up, he was never particularly fond of Uncle Ed, mostly because the man was extremely strict whenever Charlie and his siblings stayed with him for a couple weeks in the summer. He constantly would challenge and tease Charlie and say things like, "Boy if you were my son, I woulda straightened you out years ago." Of course, Charlie’s cocky attitude had to come from somewhere. It wasn’t born out of his career, he had always been this way. His parents didn’t want him to move in with them, they also couldn’t space wise. That is why they suggest that he move in with Uncle Ed. He had never married before and therefore never had any kids of his own. This would also give him some company that he desperately needed. And technically Ed was the closest relative distance wise to where Charlie had been. And over the last five years, he had never paid Ed a visit once.
"You still haven’t paid your good uncle a visit. He’s been meaning for you to come over," Charlie’s father would say. But Charlie also knew why Uncle Ed was always looking forward to this. Ed was a barber, and that was the one thing Charlie hated most about being there for two weeks in the summer. Because the moment Charlie and his siblings arrived, it was within the first hour that Charlie and his two brothers were getting their summer butch cuts. And Charlie had always hated it, especially because his uncle would shout at him things like, "Don’t cry now boy, its only hair!" Charlie hadn’t had one of those since he was thirteen. Man, that was nearly twenty years ago, he couldn’t believe it! And now, he was on his way to live with this man. He didn’t even want to imagine what was in store for him. He slowly passed one hand through his tresses of damp hair as he drove along the highway out of the city, and off into the country.
He made decent timing and didn’t get super delayed, which was great. He pulled up to this small quaint town that looked like it was pulled from a movie or television set. His uncle Ed had told him over the phone that there’d be a key left around the back of the house under a pair of work boots that would let him in to the house, and that this set of keys would now be his. He also had mentioned that Charlie should feel free to start moving his things into the house right away. "No time in wasting moving in, looks like you’ll be here for a good while son."
Charlie began to move things in box by box. Taking a deep breath in as he walked into the house each time, smelling that scent from his boyhood summers. He didn’t know whether to feel nostalgic or disgusted. It did feel extremely strange to be moving into the bedroom he spent his childhood times off in. His uncle was out at his shop, it was Saturday after all, the perfect day for customers one would say. He left Charlie a note on the kitchen table saying:
"Don’t know when you’ll be arriving, but there’s things in the fridge to make yourself a sandwich. Feel free to start bringing your stuff into the basement or into your new room, same one you used to stay in as a tyke. Left you a few presents in that room too, as a housewarming gift. Swing down to the shop around close, park in the behind lot, that way we can go out for some dinner tonight. Dress smart though."
Charlie made himself a sandwich based on what he found in the fridge, some lettuce, tomatoes, left over chicken, pickles and mustard. As he ate his sandwich he brought a few of the boxes down into the basement. These included a lot of his different clothes he would not need this season. Also a few of his belongings like lamps and such he didn’t leave behind but wouldn’t need here. He finally went upstairs to his new/old room. He only brought one box of clothes and up and figured he’d handle the rest later. Didn’t seem like he would need to though, nor his self-care essentials. The dresser of his room had a few different toiletries on it. Some deodorant sticks that looked like a cheap brand, a few strong smelling colognes that weren’t any of the super high end designer brands Charlie was use to, a razor and some shaving cream, and a few other things he’d need for the shower.
In the closet of the room, he found a fair amount of clothes already in there. Perhaps this is what Uncle Ed meant by "dressing smart" for tonight. There were a few pair of jeans but not the dark-wash colored skinny kind Charlie usually wore in his off time. They were true denim and baggy. Then there was mostly khakis and other pairs of slacks. Along with that, he found predominantly short sleeved button down shirts and some polos. Then towards the back of the closet were even fancier clothes, as if he was going to something more formal. Nicer dress pants with suit jackets and sport coats. The clothes weren’t that bad, they just weren’t entirely Charlie’s style, or the sort of thing he usually wore. Charlie brought a few more things up his room, since it seemed already stocked enough. He didn’t need to bring that many more clothes it seemed so he brought a few books and his laptop up and set it all up by a desk in the one corner of the room. He took one more deep breath, and flopped himself onto the couch. Tired from everything that had already gone on today, and that wasn’t even the end of it.
Charlie dozed off a bit, but luckily not for too long. When he woke up, he saw it was nearly four o’clock. He knew his uncle would be finishing up work around 5. So, this still gave Charlie some time to get himself ready and "look smart". He went into the closet and picked out a pair of tan khakis, and a yellow, green and orange checkered shirt. The clothes surprisingly fit him. Charlie wondered if his uncle knew his size, guessed it… or if these had actually once belonged to Ed himself. Charlie went into the bathroom and tried to smooth down his hair a bit, it got a little unruly from his nap and from not having a blow dryer it this morning. But he pushed it all back as best as he could, maybe he’d just wear a hat? That would at least cover the poofey awkwardness his hair was giving off. Didn’t matter really, he knew what was coming when he went to visit his uncle at his job. His facial hair was also looking scraggly but he didn’t want to deal with that now. It really had grown in over the last couple of weeks, much to Charlie’s surprise. Then, he applied some of that strong smelling cologne his uncle left as a gift. After getting ready, he headed downstairs, locked the place up, and got in his car to drive to town.
Luckily he was able to find the parking lot his uncle wrote to him about. It was a little after 4:30 at this point, perhaps his uncle was on one last customer. There was a door from the back leading into the shop which he walked into to get in. Stepping into the spotlight of the shop, he found a father waiting on the bench while his son was in the chair, the chair being manned by Uncle Ed.
Uncle Ed wore an extremely tight ivy league haircut. His white hair made it look even shorter on the sides and back, with only so little hair sticking up on the top. Ed’s attention turned to his nephew, who stripped off his pair of sunglasses and stared back at him. Ed grunted a bit and only said, "I’ll be with you next son," no acknowledgment of who it was. But Charlie knew that Ed knew that that was Charlie. Charlie found a seat next to the father, who grinned back at Charlie. He had been severely barbered to a short back and sides, of which his son was also receiving. There was no one else working at the shop, just Ed.
Once the boy’s haircut was done, Ed said, "There you are boy, that ought to make your mama happy to see you and your dad with some smart looking haircuts." The father stood up and walked with Ed and the boy to the cash register, where he paid for the haircuts and the little boy took a lollipop. Then they were off on their way. "Son, take a seat," Ed commanded his nephew.
Charlie hopped up from the bench and plopped himself into the barber chair. Uncle Ed closed the front window blinds and switched the sign from "Open" to "Closed". Looks like Charlie was going to be his final client for this evening, "Saved the best for last didn’t you?" Charlie smartly responded.
Uncle Ed grunted and chuckled a bit, now standing beside Charlie, lowering himself down to his ear level, "You have no idea, son." This made him grunt and chuckle some more. "The hat, please," he left his hand out. Charlie took the hat off his head, revealing the un-groomed pomp underneath. "Shoo, boy," his uncle responded, as he tossed the hat behind him. Then he placed his hands on top of Charlie’s locks saying, "Looks like your job isn’t the only pickle you’ve gotten yourself stuck into." Ed grabbed the maroon cape from the empty chair next to him, wrapped it around his nephew. Then took the tissue neck wrap and put it around him, saying, "Don’t worry, I can help you out with that one boy. In fact I’m gonna help you out in every way possible."
"Why would you do that?" Charlie broke down in a shout. "Why, Uncle Ed? After all these years? I never even visited you once since I’ve lived in the city. And now when my life has gone to s**t your willing to help me out?"
"Don’t talk like that in my shop, son. Or in my house."
"Sorry," Charlie quickly said under his breath. "But why are you helping me out? I just don’t get it. You could have been like everyone else and left me out high and dry from my high times of being a big shot. Why didn’t you?"
"Because I believe in second chances Charles Edward Shepard," he called Charlie by his full name, revealing a bit more about the two of them that Charlie had almost forgotten. Forgetting who he even was. "And I believe in helping others with those second chances. Ain’t nothing wrong with starting all over, son. We all have to do it at some point or not. Go back to square one, or retrace our steps three times backwards that way we may be able to go five steps ahead on our next turn. Your in this mess because you lost your ways. You lost what it means to be a real person. There’s nothing wrong with the career and life you had, except for how you led it. And that is why I saw the opportunity to help you out. Seems like you ain’t ever breaking into that movie business again, but that doesn’t mean your life has to be over. Perhaps a new one is just waiting to begin."
Finally, this made Charlie cry. The tears were finally coming out of him now. He realized he could not hold it in any longer. His uncle had finally talked some sense into him. The sense he needed to hear and probably should have been told a while ago. Uncle Ed saw that these tears were actually real and full of so much pain. He knew he had to do or say something to his nephew to cheer him up, "Hey now, don’t do that," but this wouldn’t work. No matter how hard he pressed into Charlie’s shoulders and tried to toughen him up, he realized this was a whole other kind of pain. He shrugged and let out a sigh and said, "Come here, son," as he patted his nephew’s back to get up and out of the chair.
Charlie was still wearing the barber cape as he collapsed into an embrace in his uncle’s arms. Sobbing and heaving even more now, "I’m so sorry Uncle Ed, I should have been better. I should have visited you more."
"More? How about visit me at least once?" he tried to lighten the mood and saw that this made the young man laugh a little amidst some sobs. Finally, once the crying was done, Ed pulled Charlie’s face to look at his and said, "You’re here now, that’s what matters. And I’m gonna help you out. As long as you’ll let me."
"Deal, whatever you want or think Uncle Ed, I trust you now with everything. I don’t know what to do anymore. I don’t even know where to begin."
"Well luckily, you’ve come to the right place of where to begin when embarking on a new adventure," he helped settle his nephew back into the chair. He touched Charlie’s head again, this time softly going through the long wisps of hair. "It is some nice hair you do have though son, I must say, aside from today’s hat hair mess you have taken good care of your roots and health. I’m glad to see that. You show promise, which makes me happy."
"Promise of… I know this sounds crazy and I may be getting ahead of myself, but one day I will get old and need to retire. And I would love to pass on the shop to someone not that I just know and trust, but someone who has a passion for hair. Its really just me that works here, the other two chairs are never manned by anyone, unless a buddy from out of town comes in to the shop for a visit and helps me with some walk-ins."
"You mean, you’d want me to become a barber… like you?"
"It’s a total change from your career, I know son, and you may never have thought about doing it. But I see promise in you, and can help you along the way and apprentice you. Of course you’ll still have to get certified and all that ja— "
"I’ll do it," Charlie replied.
This totally stunned Uncle Ed, he had to blink his eyes to see if this was real, "You- you would?"
"Yeah, why not. I need a change after all. I need to reevaluate the world around me. And this small town life could be just what I need. And picking up a new trade and totally reinventing myself could be just what the doctor would prescribe." This made his uncle beam and blush, but Charlie wasn’t done. "But your still gonna need to help me, help me with…" he picked up some strands of loose hair, "This."
"Wow, Charlie willing to have old Uncle Ed cut his hair. Never thought I’d live to see the day that happened."
"It’s a new day now uncle," Charlie responded. Then took a deep breath in and exclaimed, "And from now on, call me Chuck."
"Chuck?" Ed responded, totally shocked. "Do you know I always wanted to call you that when you were younger, Chuck?"
"Well get used to it, sir. It’s the new me I suppose."
"New you, huh? Sounds good to me," Ed went to get some of his supplies from his counter, and turned around to say, "And what kind of haircut would you like, Chuck?"
"Your call, make me Chuck. That name doesn’t work with this look anyways."
"You got that right, Chuck." Uncle Ed picked up a pair of clippers, and placed an attachment on them. Then he fired the clippers up and said, "You ready?"
Charlie took one last breath in as Charlie and said, "Ready," smiling back at his uncle. A new smile though, not the grin that he cheekily did all these last years when he was full of himself. No, he was becoming a different person. A new man entirely, he was ready for whatever was in store.
Uncle Ed took the clippers with a #2 attachment on them and placed them at the center of Charlie’s head, and slowly but surely dragged them all the way across the surface from front and back. By the time he had reached the crown, Charlie had left the building and Chuck was sitting in the chair. He smiled back at himself in the mirror’s reflection, as his uncle continued to peel away the top of his head to a quarter of an inch buzz. Every pass made the path wider and bigger and more buzzed. Chuck was enjoying the process, taking it all in stride, breathing easy and smiling back at the mirror, as was Uncle Ed. Their new relationship and bond was being formed right here.
"Did you used to cut us that short in the summers?"
"No, no, this is a #2. I would only use a #3 or 4, even though those aren’t that much longer," Ed laughed and this made Chuck laugh too, "But at least you kids would think that the higher the number was better. I did always threaten you boys I’d take you down a whole lot shorter."
"I see. Man, maybe you should have taken me down shorter then. This looks nice."
"You were only a boy then, Chuck. You look completely different now. A summer butch may have made you look like an awkward preteen back then but now that you’re a man grown it complements your face and head shape better."
"Is that what your thinking for me? A nice, summer butch?"
"Nope," Uncle Ed said as he finished up with the #2 across the top of Chuck’s head. Man did this look sight look funny, the short bristles across the top with the long locks still on the side and back. Chuck quickly ran one hand over the top of his head as Uncle Ed was at his station swapping things out. "Woah" was all he could think, the sensation from the feeling of his hair. Bristles was the only way to describe them! Uncle Ed put the clippers down and picked up a different pair of them. "Its still spring but summer will be on us before we know it, and we’re going for something totally new for you Chuck. One High ‘n Tight coming up, son!"
"High ‘n Tight, you mean like in the military? Like real short all over?"
"They also call it the Jarhead, son," Uncle Ed said as he took the new set of clippers and begin to peel off hair from the right side of Chuck. The clippers zipped right past Chuck’s ear and in its wake left only white skin behind. "Nice and short, easy and manageable, and you’ll love it. Your old pop used to wear this way back when," Uncle Ed said as he continued to buzz off the rest of the hair. Chuck started back in amazement as his transformation was occurring. The short bristles on top of his head, contrasted with the white walls of bare skin on the right side, and soon the back and then the left side. And man oh man, when Uncle Ed plunged right through the occipital bone, Chuck knew then he was in for a complete transformation. The hair was really flying all over the place now, onto the floor and onto the cape. Chuck was looking down at it when he could, and Ed would say, "Get used to looking at that floor, son. You’ll be spending most your haircuts that way. And now that I’ll have you helping with sweeping the shop floor for me when you aren’t busy with any of the other work I’ve got lined up for you."
Uncle Ed laughed, "I’ll explain over dinner. Don’t worry now Chuck."
Eventually, the whole haircut was done. Now, all that remained was the awkward mismatched beard that Chuck had. "Do you want to keep the bear, trim it down a bit, leave maybe just a goatee or something?"
Chuck shook his head, "Shave it, I don’t want to mess around with it. Besides, I saw you left me a razor and some shaving cream back at the house."
"And I noticed you are already wearing some of that mahogany scented cologne." Uncle Ed picked up a pair of clippers and said he was just going to remove the bulk of facial hair which he did in no time flat. Then, he placed a hot towel over Chuck. Chuck used to occasionally have hot face shaves done back in the city when he was known as Charlie. But something about his face shave was different. The setting was a no- nonsense, old timey barbershop. And the barber was his uncle. The uncle he was creating a new friendship with. The lather his uncle used also was so sweet smelling, almost like eucalyptus and jasmine all in one. "My own concoction I’ll have you know. That’s why so many men love to have their faces shaved here every once in a while." Then the meticulous scraping began. Chuck was totally relaxed in the chair as his uncle scraped away the last remains of Charlie. Slowly but surely he could feel a cool breeze across his clean shaven parts, then some more hot towels were applied to wipe him down and clear up his pours some more. Then an engulfing tonic was wiped all across his face and forehead. This made him want to cough a little bit, it was stronger than any of the colognes to be honest.
Uncle Ed said, "Close your eyes and don’t open them till I say so," and Chuck obeyed. He wanted to be surprised too. His uncle slowly pumped the seat back upright, repositioned his nephew to be staring directly in the mirror until he felt it was alright to finally say, "Okay, you can open them now Chuck."
When Chuck did he was shocked to see who stood before him. He didn’t recognize the man, he looked both young and fit yet old and experienced. He was a different person completely and did not know what to say or think. "I—I just… is that—"
"Its you, Chuck. Its you," Uncle Ed beamed. This made Chuck blush a bit himself. "You look perfect son, absolutely perfect."
"Well I couldn’t ask for a better barber. How much will it be sir?"
"On the house, are you kidding me? Don’t ever ask me how much. Do you even know how excited I was to always cut you kids’ hair growing up? I love all my regulars and I love cutting some new customers, but ain’t nothing like taking care of your own family."
Chuck smiled back through the mirror, "Good, I’m glad Uncle Ed. Looks like you’ll be needing to keep me in check for years to come it seems. Even when you finally decide to retire and have me take over."
Uncle Ed turned a little away from the reflection now and said, with what you could tell was a lump in his throat, "You have no idea how happy that makes me to hear you say that, Chuck." And with that he took the neckstrip and barber cape off of his nephew. Chuck stood up from the chair with his new haircut and new clothes, ready to take on his new life.
At dinner that night, Uncle Ed went over everything as they munched on burgers, fries and some beers. Chuck would get signed up for some classes in cosmetology and barbering, as soon as they could get him going with that and in a schedule that fit everything else. He would help out when he could at his uncle’s shop, helping sweep the floors and manning the cash register. Once he started to get comfortable and had experience from schooling, he would take over one of the empty chairs. But that would be sometime and Chuck knew that. But his uncle was sure that when that happened it would make some younger gentlemen and boys in town very happy to have their haircut from a younger barber. The shop was closed on Sundays and Mondays so that freed Chuck up a bit. But Uncle Ed had already put Chuck’s name in to a couple of jobs in town. He would work as a cash register at the local super market during the day a few times a week, especially on Monday and helping them with stocking food overnight on Sundays. Then on Fridays and Saturdays in the evening he would work as a bar back at one of the local pubs. Sundays would be reserved for Church his uncle told him, which he would be expected to attend so long as he lived under his roof. They would attend any of the morning masses options and in the afternoon the two of them would drive about an hour away to one of the state penitentiaries where they would give haircuts to the men there. Uncle Ed said it is the right thing to do and would give Chuck some hands on experience even before he started and during schooling. Most guys there only wanted short cuts or hair trims every week or every other. It was not paid but it would be great experience for Chuck to try his chops, both in cutting hair and learning to speak and communicate with clients.
Life was starting to find a rhythm and a path and Chuck was learning to get used to it. In the fall, he would start up with some classes, after having worked this spring and summer at his different odd jobs that he would manage to keep up as much as he could. The supermarket was great because everyone there knew his uncle and therefore adored Chuck from the start. The bar job was great as he got to speak with adults his age or old timers, which allowed him to have some friends to hang out with when he wasn’t working. He learned the fancy clothes in his closet were meant for Sundays for church, which he learned to get used to going to. Again, another place that Uncle Ed knew everyone there and therefore made Chuck extremely popular, especially when some of the older parishoners learned he was single and available and they had a chance of setting him up with one of their granddaughters. He shrugged that off and laughed, but would occasionally take girls on nice dates when the offer came up. Chuck and Uncle Ed would still go cut the prisoners’ hair on Sundays which Chuck was really enjoying. He did find himself loving the idea of becoming a barber and working in hair. He always cared about his own selfcare and now he was helping others see it too, especially these different men who felt they had nothing to live for. He would tell them all about where he came from originally and where he’d been. He’d even show them some old photos of him as a newscaster which made them laugh and see that life can have a second chance.
Most of all, he enjoyed spending time at his uncle’s shop. Helping sweep the floor, cleaning the windows, and handling the money. And, he also enjoyed speaking with different customers as they waited. Tons of them knew him already from the super market, the pub, or from church. And if there were kids bored there, he would help them with their reading and spelling or any homework they might bring along. Chuck was finding life in this town to be just exactly what he needed. And above all, Uncle Ed was happy to have him. He needed company from a family member and was so happy to see Chuck flourish and blossom into the new man he had become. He had high hopes for his nephew and was so glad to see the young man smile every day he woke up and every day he went to bed.