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Sarge's Barber Shop by Just_Me

Sarge’s Barber Shop

I’m a lawyer, but I got bored with law. I'd always enjoyed writing, so I decided to try journalism. I cut back on my law practice and took a part-time job at a local newspaper.

The most popular story I ever wrote started when I was sitting in a barber's chair. I thought, "I wonder if anyone would read a story about Sarge?'"

I presented the idea to my editor.

He was less than enthusiastic, but I persevered. I kept telling him what a character Sarge was.

Finally (just to shut me up) he said, "I don't think people want to read about an old-fashioned barber, but write the story and I'll see."

I was excited until I thought, "Sarge probably won’t agree because he’s such a contrary old crab, but I'll ask him."

It took a while to wear him down, but he did finally agree. Before I started interviewing Sarge, I talked to some of his clients. Some of the comments include: "He's the hair-hatingnest old so-and-so I've ever seen, but he's a darn good barber. He takes his time and does it right. When he's done with you, you may have two, three, or four times less hair than you wanted, but every hair is perfectly cut."

"There's a saying that's often used around the county, and I think it describes Sarge perfectly. It goes like this, 'You've heard of short, shorter and shortest? Well, Sarge only believes in shorter and shortest... And he don't have much faith in shorter, but he absolutely worships shortest.'"

The most telling comment from a customer was, "Sarge thinks he's convinced everyone that he's a grizzly bear. Those of us who know him realize that under all that growling and cussing is a real big teddy bear. He'd have a hernia if he knew I was saying this, but he's an old softy at heart."

I started the interview with Sarge, and asked what his most memorable experiences as a barber were. He talked and talked for hours. I filled up seven tapes on my recorder and took pages of notes.

The interview was interrupted a few times by men needing haircuts. Each time he’d give a haircut, I'd light my pipe and watch him attack the man's hair like it was an enemy platoon that needed to be annihilated.

A man walked in after our third interruption, and Sarge yelled, "God-d**n it, Bill, I'm busy. Either sit your ass down and wait, or come back later. It don't make a god-d**ned bit of difference to me, but keep your god-d**ned clapper shut while I'm talking."

After at least an hour of waiting, Bill said, "Sarge, are you gonna yap all day, or are you gonna cut my hair? It must be nice to have so much money you can turn away a paying customer."

The look Sarge gave the man told me he was in trouble.

"Get your god-d**ned ass in the chair. I'll be there in a moment."

He lit another cigar and threw the cape over Jack. I smiled, looking forward to seeing what Sarge was going to do.

Sarge never stopped talking to me. He just grabbed the clippers and turned them on.

I thought, "Oh s**t, here it comes."

I was right. Sarge put the clippers right at the base of the left sideburn and just went straight up the side of Jack's head and over the top. I could see he had no guard on the clippers, and there was no hair left in the path the clippers had taken.

Jack yelled, "What the..."

He glared at Sarge a second, and then sat back down. Without a word, Sarge took a second swipe over Jack's head.

Jack said, "Hey Russell!, is this going in your god-d**ned story?"

"Quite possibly... Very god-d**ned likely for that matter." (It's strange. I have a large vocabulary of four-letter words I regularly use, but I rarely use the words "god-d**n" unless I'm around Sarge. It seems "god-d**n" only come out around him. I wonder why?)

During the interview, I asked how long he'd been barbering. He said almost thirty-five years. I knew that was the hook I needed to get readers' attention.

Anyway, I eventually got all the material I needed and wrote the story.

The whole time I was writing the story I was sure I was wasting my time. It didn't seem there was a chance in hell it would be published. The editor surprised me by liking it. He surprised me more by asking if I could make the story longer. After I rewrote it, he said he’d decided to make it a series, and wanted it longer still. (I’ve never heard of an editor doing that. Normally, they’re screaming to reduce the size of a story.)

The series started in that Sunday’s paper.

To my surprise, readers loved it, and I got a ton of fan mail and emails. It was even syndicated.

Sarge's wife adored it. She said, "I’ll pass them out at his funeral--if the cantankerous old goat ever dies."

Instead of telling you what I wrote, I'll let you read it.


When you pull up to Sarge's Barber Shop, it doesn't look like anything special. It's a typical white-frame building with large windows and a red and white barber pole by the door.

Walking inside doesn't really change your opinion of the shop.

The first thing you notice is the sharp tang of cigar smoke, mixed with the homey smell of pipe tobacco and the bitter smell of cigarettes. Once you get past that, you smell the universal smell of old barbershops. Lucky Tiger hair tonic, Clubman talcum powder and a myriad of other smells mingle to make the distinct smell that says "barbershop".

Looking around, the first thing you really see is a cloud of blue smoke in the air. A look at the men sitting around reveals the source of the smoke. Other than the smoke, the shop looks like what it seems the Universe has declared an old-fashioned barber shop should look like. There are traditional barber chairs with worn leather seats and silver footrests. Even though there's only one barber in the shop, the three chairs setting there harkens back to a day when barbers were in greater demand.

The wall behind the barber chairs is lined with green cabinets, and the cabinets have clippers hanging off them. Scissors, a chrome-plated shaving cream dispenser, straight razors and the ubiquitous jars filled with combs and blue liquid (what is that blue stuff anyway?) line the top of the cabinets. There’s an open box of King Edward cigars on the cabinet. When asked about the cigars, the barber laughed and said, "I keep that box out for two reasons. I share them with all my customers, and it keeps my wife from knowing how my many cigars I smoke every day. Secondly, I hate cigarettes, and my customers help themselves to a cigar. That way I don't have to smell nasty cigarette smoke."

A dozen chairs set in front of the windows, along with several overflowing ashtrays and stacks of magazines. A hatrack filled with hats and caps stands in the corner.

Mounted, dust-covered fish and deer heads line the walls. There's a pastoral landscape that looks like it was picked up for twenty-five cents at a garage sale. An old black and white TV with a baseball game playing sits on a Coke machine in a corner. The floors are covered in the requisite black and white tiles.

The shop seems rather mundane until you meet the one barber left. His name is Ralph Callahan. Most of his customers call him Mr. Callahan and his close friends call him Sarge. (He uses a great deal of profanity, and some of the locals call him Mr. God-D**n).

[Editor's note: all profanity has been removed from these stories to keep from offending our readers.]

Mr. Callahan is not a tall man, but he looks strong. He has a military bearing, and his white hair is cut to army regulation. He could take up his former job as a first sergeant and still fit in perfectly. He has a deep bass voice, and you can easily imagine him calling cadence, directing a platoon of soldiers to their destination.

When you first start a conversation with Sarge, he appears to be a crusty, curmudgeonly man. After getting past the first impression, a man of great character reveals itself--as well as a man given to compulsive acts. He has a wickedly sharp sense of humor and an honesty that is rare. Getting to know him further reveals a man of great compassion--one who's prone to great charity. Occasionally, he reveals a stern, almost cruel, side of himself. As he relates his tales, he reveals a flare for story telling, and he delivers punch lines perfectly.

He spoke so well that most of this article is comprised of direct quotes.

One wall of the shop is covered with pictures of little boys after their first haircut. The other wall is thickly covered with before and after pictures. Most of the pictures are of young men, although there are a few older men there. Flowing, long hair is prevalent in the before pictures, and many of the men look apprehensive or defiant. In the after picture, they’re sporting a variety of short haircuts and there are only three expressions on their faces: bewildered, bemused or grinning like a Cheshire cat. Sarge said, "That's my success wall. Every one of those pictures has a story behind it. They’re all stories of hippies that I’ve turned into real men."

These pictures were what really started the interview.
Sarge looked through them and selected a picture. "This is one of my favorites. It was a slow day in the early Seventies, and I was sitting in here alone and bored out of my skull. The blasted hippies had almost ruined my business."

"I almost jumped out of my skin when the door bell jangled. In came a young man, probably in his early twenties. I didn’t recognize him, and since I have a passing knowledge of most people around here, I assumed he was from somewhere else. He had hair that was hanging on his shoulders, and it took me a while to look past the hair, and see the man wearing it--or should I say the man the hair was wearing? Either way, it looked like he had been crying."

"Not wanting to upset him further, I said, ‘Haircut?’"

He replied with a simple, ‘Yes, sir.’"

"I asked what kind of haircut he wanted, and he started crying. It took him a few minutes to get himself under control."

"I put a hand on his shoulder. ‘Son, something’s tormenting you something fierce. Wanna tell me about it?’"

"He shook his head, but then opened his mouth, and the words poured out. At first, he was so emotional I couldn’t understand him, but he eventually settled down and told me what was going on."

"He said, ‘I’ve been in California for the last three years, and I haven’t been home. I got a call, and was told to come home if I wanted to see Dad before he died. It was a huge shock. I didn’t even know he was sick. He didn’t want me to worry, so he’d forbidden Mom to tell me.’"

"He kept talking. ‘My father is a retired colonel, and he always kept my hair really short. He harped about me not embarrassing him with long hair. When I went to California, I let my hair grow, and it hasn’t been cut since then. I know Dad would be ashamed to see me looking like this. Can you clean me up, so I can face him?’"

"‘Son, I’m really sorry you’re having to face this,’ I said. ‘It’s tough losing a parent at any age, but you’re mighty young to have to deal with it. I’ll be happy to cut your hair, if it’ll help. Do you want it over the ears, or just some length off?’"

"‘No, sir. I stopped here because your shop looked like it might have a barber who knew how to give what Dad called a real haircut. Can you help me out? I want his final sight of me to be something he can be proud of.’"

"I had tears in my eyes, and had to take a deep breath before I could talk. I thought about what I was going to say before I opened my mouth--which is NOT something I’m used to doing. I knew I needed to stall so I could find the right words, so I said, ‘Oh crap, I forgot I had a cigar in my mouth. Give me a second to put it in an ashtray.’"

I started to step away, and he said, "Please don’t. Dad smokes cigars, and it makes me feel like I’m around him. Do you mind?’"

"I was surprised, but gladly complied with his request. I also needed more time to think, so I kept talking. I said, ‘I have more cigars. Care for one?’"

"He replied, ‘No, sir. Dad let me try it once, and I didn’t like it, but I’ve always liked seeing someone else smoke them. It’s just a reminder of home, I guess.’"

"After thinking a bit, I knew what I was going to say. ‘Son, good for you. I’m glad to hear you never picked up the habit. Now, back to the subject of your hair. I’m a retired first sergeant, and I know how important it is to military men for their boys to look sharp. I’ll be happy to help you out. How short do you want to go? Taper? Whitewalls? A high and tight?’"

"He knew what he wanted. ‘I want the same haircut Dad always had; a horseshoe flattop. Do you know how to do those?’"

"I’ve done hundreds of them. In fact, I have a couple of customers who are in here weekly for one. Are you sure that’s what you want though? It’s a big change, and it’ll be years before your hair’ll be this long again."

"He didn’t hesitate. ‘Yes, sir! It’s what I want. I need Dad to be happy when he sees me. I can’t send him to his grave with images of me looking like this in his head."

"All right,’ I said, ‘Let’s get it done.’"

Sarge reflected, "When someone gives me a chance like that, I normally take the clippers directly to their head, and start peeling it. That time, I wanted to give him time to change his mind, so I started cutting the length with my scissors."

"He stopped me. ‘Sir, I don’t mean to be rude, but would you just take the clippers to it? I’m anxious to get this done, and get on the road. I don’t know how much time he has left, and I want to get there in time to see him.’"

"I was happy to oblige him. I picked up the clippers and started taking off big chunks of hair."

"It was a real chore getting his hair cut down to shape, but I eventually got him looking really sharp."

"He thanked me profusely, and looked in the mirror. I remember his words. ‘I had forgot what my ears look like!’ He looked at himself again. ‘To be honest, I had forgotten what the real me looked like. Thanks for helping me find him again. I think Dad’ll be proud of me.’"

"All I could think was, ‘I know he’ll be proud of you, and so am I!’ After a second, I said it out loud."

Sarge paused a second, and wiped a tear from the corner of both eyes. "I have never taken more care with a haircut than I did with that young man, and he walked out looking the way any colonel would want his son to look. I wondered how he’s doing?"
The seriousness of his first story wiped the smile from Sarge’s face. He looked somber. Then he looked at another picture. "This is one of the most drastic haircuts I’ve ever done, but I think you’re familiar with this story. I want it in the article."

"I came out of the back of my shop early one Saturday morning in the mid-Seventies and saw two people already waiting for me. One was Al, a favorite customer of mine. He came in every Saturday for a clean-up. It took me a minute to recognize that the other person was Al’s son, Russell. I hadn’t seen Russell in probably 2-3 years, and I was disgusted with the way he looked. Honestly, I’ve never seen a more mixed up looking so-and-so than Russell was at that moment. The ponytail hanging down the middle of his back and bell-bottoms he was wearing were essentials for the 1970’s. He had his hair greased up, and combed in a pompadour that was sheer 1950’s. The shirt and sweater he was wearing was vintage 1940’s. He was smoking a pipe and had a bow tie on that looked like it came straight out of the 1920’s. To confuse things even more, he had a huge moustache that would’ve better suited a Viking."

"Seeing the long ponytail on what used to be a nice, clean-cut boy really turned my stomach. I almost lost the breakfast I had just finished eating."

"I instantly wished I could get my hands on Russell’s head, but gave it up as a lost cause. I knew that he wouldn’t let me anywhere near his head. I figured he’d go to a stylist if he needed a trim. I told Al to get his butt in my chair, but Al surprised me. He said, ‘Ralph, you’ve got the wrong person. The young man sitting by me is gonna get his hair cut first.’"

"I thought, ‘That boy better not tell me he wants a trim! That ponytail’s gonna be on my floor if I get anywhere near his head.’ My second thought was, ‘That fool boy’s done gone and done something stupid that got him in trouble. I bet Al’s punishing him by making him get a haircut.’"

"I invited Russell to get in the barber chair, and asked what he had in mind."

"He rattled of some disrespectful nonsense about wanting a real man’s haircut, and for me to not waste his time and money if I wasn’t going to give him a real haircut. That really raised my blood pressure. My hackles went up, and if it had been anyone but Al’s son, I probably would’ve...well, I don’t know what I would’ve done, but Russell would NOT have liked it."

"Al stepped in, and I swear he was grinning like a possum when said something like, "Sarge, don’t get mad. The boy doesn’t mean to be disrespectful. Russell’s decided that I don’t have the world’s goofiest haircut, and he wants a cut just like mine.’"

"Now that really surprised me. Al wore an extremely short horseshoe flattop. It had been a long time since I’d cut a flattop on a teen-aged boy, and even longer since I’d given a teenager a horseshoe flattop. I couldn’t imagine Russell willingly getting a severe haircut like that. In fact, it surprised me so much I dropped my cigar."

"Looking back, I’m shocked that I didn’t jump on the opportunity, but I was so startled by the request that I said something like, ‘Are you sure? There’s no turning back once these clippers get in your hair.’"

"I don’t guess I’ll ever forget Russell’s reaction. He gave me a big, goofy grin, and said, "Yes, sir. I want a haircut just like Dad’s. Cut this crap off."

"I didn’t need any more persuasion. After saying something stupid like, ‘You just made me happier than a bull in a field of heifers.’ I put a cape on him so quick he didn’t have time to think. I grabbed my scissors and cut his bangs off at his hairline and whacked off his ponytail.’

Sarge grinned, and then continued, "I wanted to get as much hair off him as I could before he changed his mind."

"I started cutting his hair, and Al said something like, ‘Ralph, you can do better than that. Get that crap off his head!’--which were not words I was used to hearing. Hair started flying, and I went as short as I could possibly get it and still call it a flattop. Russell never said a word, but he looked happy. After his haircut, he started to leave, and I made him sit down again. He tried to argue, but I told him to shut up. Then I took that silly-looking moustache of his down to a pencil-thin moustache--whether he wanted it or not."

Sarge looked down. "I was really happy with my work that day. Russell came in looking like a mixed-up teenager, and left looking like a real man. It felt good to know I was responsible for the change."

Sarge reflected a moment, and said in a dreamy tone, "I don’t think I’ve ever seen a young man as happy with his haircut as Russell was, and years later, he’s still wearing a horseshoe flattop. I’ve seen him every Saturday since then."

[Author’s note: I was the young man in the last story, and it’s very interesting hearing Sarge’s perspective of that haircut. It differs quite a bit from my perspective.]

After another perusal of the pictures on the wall, he started talking again. "I don't have pictures of the next event, and I don't know if it was a success or failure. I let myself down, and was probably cruel, but I got some good results."

"I'll never forget February first, 1970. I got a call from Mr. Cox, the high school principal. He simply said, 'Sarge, I've got a question.'"

"Like the smarty-pants I am, I quipped, 'I've got an answer. My answer is Abraham Lincoln. I'm just not sure if my answer is the right one for your question. How may I help you?'"

"He laughed but kept on talking without acknowledging my wisecrack. 'Well, you've got a reputation for coming up with some interesting solutions and I thought I'd see if you’d help me find a way out of a dilemma.'"

"Of course I said I would do whatever I could, and asked him for some details."

"He talked a long time, but the gist of his story was that he had five seniors who were disrupting the school, bullying kids and trying to take over. He thought I could help."

"He started telling me about these punks. It was much more than youthful hijinks and simple hazing. Their behavior had gone way beyond pranks and was now threatening. He was concerned about the safety of his students. The teachers were so concerned that a few of them had brought weapons to school to protect themselves and the pupils."

"Cox sighed, ‘I'm at my wit's end. I don't know what to do. I can't put them in handcuffs and leg irons. I've talked to them until I'm blue in the face. I've talked to the parents, and three of them are as scared of their sons as my students. The other two fathers were proud of their sons' evil behavior. I've paddled these boys so many times that my arm is sore. They've spent hours in detention. Four have been expelled, and it just keeps getting worse.'"

"I could hear a commotion in his office, and I had customers waiting. I interrupted him and said, ‘I've got some ideas. Can you come by the shop tonight? We’ll have a drink and make some plans. Bring their class schedules with you.'"

"When he got there, I said, 'Tell me about these kids.'"

'"Well, they look like pictures you seen of the New York gangs: all greasy hair, leather jackets and cigarettes dangling out of their mouths.'"

"No. I mean their personalities. What's the ringleader like?"

"'That’s Mike. He's the worst of them, and he used to be one of my best kids. He’s the one who starts everything. He's always got an attitude, and won’t be respectful to anyone. Honestly, I think I could salvage three of the boys if I could separate them from Mike.'"

"Does the school have a dress code? What authority do you have to enforce it?'"

"He explained the rules set up by the school board, and I thought there was some pretty useful information in what he said."

"I said, 'It sounds like these punks get their strength from their numbers. The first thing we've got to do is separate them. Then we take away their identity as a group. After that, we've got to humiliate them worse than anything they've done to anyone else. Let the goons see how it feels to be treated like that. Then we’ll make them take responsibility for their actions and apologize publicly. Do you agree?'"

"'It sounds like a great plan, but how do we do it?'"

"We (or I) decided that depriving them of some (or most) of their hair would be a good way to get their attention. At first I tried to figure out how to get them to my shop for their haircuts, but I couldn't figure out a way to do it without kidnapping, and I knew that was illegal. I figured some of the other stuff we were planning was illegal as well, but figured we'd be able to get by with it."

"'We came up with a plan that I thought might settle the boys down, and stayed up half the night, plotting and scheming, trying to make sure we had all the details worked out. Then we spent the rest of the night calling teachers to get their help."

"I was always closed on Monday, so we set our target date for the next Monday. I felt bad about what we had planned for these boys, but I thought their actions, and their parents lack of action, required us to do something, and that we had to do it before someone got hurt."

"We picked a time when the boys were completely separated. I wanted to get the ringleader first so we went to Mike’s class to start the day's adventures."

"Mr. Cox and I walked into a World Government class unannounced and called Mike to the front of the room. He swaggered up, plopped into the teacher's chair and put his feet on the desk. 'Yeah? What do you want?'"

"I bowed to Mr. Cox, since he was going to have to handle this part of the show. (Honestly, I was impressed with his showmanship.) He pushed Mike's feet off the desk and said, 'Mike, your behavior has become intolerable, and we're about to do something to alter it.'"

"'Oh yeah? You and what army? I rule this here school." Mike pulled a cigarette out and went to light it. Mr. Cox knocked it out of his hand and stepped on it.

Mike hissed like a cat ready to fight. "You'll pay for that."

"You might think that, but you're sadly mistaken on two accounts. You won't make me pay for it, and you don't rule this school. I’m king here. Get that through your thick skull."

"Yeah, right!' Mike said as he pulled out a switchblade. 'This blade says something different. I'll cut you to shreds.'"

"I was trained in combat, and my military training kicked in before I consciously thought about it. I got the knife and threw it into an empty corner. I twisted Mike’s arm behind his back and had him leaned him over the desk quicker than greased lightning."

"Inspiration hit me. 'Mr. Cox, my razor strop is in that drawer, and Mike is already in the proper position. You're authorized by the state of Texas to administer corporal punishment. Would you like to give him a few licks, or should I put Mike to a trial by a jury of his peers?’ (I'm not sure much of what we did that day was a trial. It was more of a sentencing.)"

I looked at the students, and asked who thought Mike deserved some licks. There was a lot of murmuring, but they were too scared to say anything. I looked at them again. "I can guarantee there will be no retribution from this scumbag. We are dealing with his behavior, and his friends’ behavior, now and forever. Who wants to cast a vote for his discipline?"

"There was a long silence, and then one girl spoke up. 'I'd love to see him beaten as badly as he beat up my little brother. Tan his butt good.'"

"That broke the dam. One student started chanting, 'Licks! Licks! Give him licks!' The whole class picked up the chant."

"Once the hoopla died down, Mr. Cox turn and said, 'Michael Davis, you have been sentenced to licks by a jury of your peers. As presiding judge, I set your punishment at no less than ten licks with a razor strop--with the possibility of more--depending on your behavior. Prepare to receive your punishment."

"Mike was belligerant. 'There ain't no way I'm taking licks in front of the entire class! I ain't taking no licks period! I'm quitting school."

"Quitting is your option, but you were a student of this school at the time of the offenses and the time of your sentencing, therefore, you are still liable for your actions."

"Without further ado, Mr Cox laid a lash on Mike's backside, and called out, 'One!' The class gleefully called out the other nine strokes for him."

"Mike was blubbering by the time he had received his last lick, but his punishment wasn't over."

"Mr. Cox continued, ‘As principal on this school, it's my duty to enforce the dress code, and I have admittedly been lax in my duty. Your hair has exceeded the school standards for too long and now you will be subjected to a barber's choice haircut. He will cut your hair to a length that is acceptable to the school board.'"

"Mike screamed, ‘You can't do that. I just quit school'"

"Mr. Cox cut him off. ‘Have you forgotten what I just said? I believe you were a student at the time you broke the rules, so you must take responsibility for your actions and bear the punishment. Mr. Barber, what is his punishment to be? A flattop? A crewcut? Will you shave him bald?’"

"I had an attack of conscience and started to feel sorry for Mike, but obviously Mr. Cox wasn't, so I played along."

"Your Honor, I have thought about all of those options, but since his behavior has been childish, I have decided to give him a little boy's haircut with short back and sides. It will be cut cruelly high on the sides, with the top nicely thinned, and his bangs short and combed to the side."

"Mike howled. 'That's crap! I ain’t no child, I’m a real man! I rule this school with an iron fist!"

"I asked, ‘How have you been a man? You’ve acted like a bratty three-year-old who says, 'Play by my rules or I'll take my ball home.' Not considering the feelings of others is childish. You've been a bully, which is often associated with juvenile behavior. On top of that, you just cried like a baby in front of the whole class. I wish I had a baby bottle. I'd make you suck on it. Your behavior has been so infantile that I think you should have to wear a bib and a diaper.’"

"The class got into the spirit of the moment and chanted, 'Baby! Baby!'"

"I said, 'Mike, sit down!' He struggled a minute, but with the help of Mr. Cox and the teacher (both big men) he was soon sitting. I had the men stand on either side of Mike, in case he ran."

"Mike still didn’t give up. ‘If you cut one hair on my head, I'll go straight to the sheriff, and file charges against all of you.’"

"Mr. Cox nodded at Mike. ‘That’s your prerogative, Mike. Just know this. I’ve already talked to the sheriff, and he didn’t like this plan. He wants to arrest you. You see, I’ve already checked the school records, and you’re over eighteen, yet you’ve been picking on kids who are minors. The sheriff wants to file charges against you for assault and battery on a minor, child abuse, theft (Yes. I know about all the lunch money you’ve stolen, the coats and jewelry you’ve taken off kids and a bunch of other stuff). Oh, don’t forget the breaking and entering when you took things from the teacher’s lounge. Did you know that threats are illegal, and you’ve threatened me today, as well as many of the students. In addition, I imagine if we searched your locker, we’d find some illegal substances. I can now include charges about that switchblade you just pulled on me. By the time we’re through bringing charges against you, we’ll probably include animal cruelty and littering. We’d go for everything we could. The sheriff figured you’d probably spend twenty years in the pen.’"

"Now, do you want to face me as a judge, or face a real judge?"

Mike had sense enough to know when he was beat. He just sat there.

"Finally, Mr. Cox said, ‘I take your silence as assent. Am I right?’"

"You could barely see the nod of Mike’s head."

"In his judge’s voice, Mr. Cox said, "Mr. Barber, you may now commence with part two of the punishment phase.’"

"I had cut enough long hair to know the most demoralizing part of a haircut is the bangs. I combed his pompadour straight forward. Then I looked at the class and asked, ‘Can everyone see?’ A few snips with my scissors had his bangs very short, and at a steep angle."

"He groaned, clearly miserable. I started thinking maybe his behavior wasn't his fault. After all, his father was one of the men who egged the boys on. I wanted to stop the haircut, but it was too late. I was past the point of no return."

"I was still enough of a first-sergeant-turned-barber to enjoy taking his long hair off, but I lost my momentum. I hated the circumstances. I vowed to see if I could reach this boy--but figured I’d ruined any chance I had by cutting his hair. Despite that, I knew I was going to try."

"After cutting his bangs I kept my promise and did some extremely short back and sides. In fact, I might've been a little mean about it. The showman in me made me play to the audience. I threw some clumps of hair in Mike's lap so he could see it. Then I threw some clumps in the air for the other students to see. After cutting Mike's hair, I took my straight razor and shaved high up his head. Honestly compels me to admit I enjoyed showing off."

"I thought the haircut was enough punishment but I guess I had given Mr. Cox too many ideas. I tried to talk him out of it, but he wouldn’t listen. Mr. Cox made Mike take off his leather jacket, and then destroyed it with Mike's switchblade. Old man Cox had bloodlust in his eyes."

"He paid the price for it though. The parents complained, and the school board made him pay the parents back out of his own pocket."

"We followed the same process with the other boys. It was a surprise to them, which made the punishment even more effective."

I’m happy to say our plan worked on three of them. They apologized to their classmates before we even got to the haircut stage, but they got haircuts anyway."

"One of the boys remained defiant. My two capable assistants had to hold him down while he cursed, ranted and raved until I was done (I let my anger get the best of me, and cut his hair as short as my clippers would go. I would’ve shaved his head, but he was struggling so much I was afraid I’d hurt him if I used the razor). I heard later that he was in prison for robbery and attempted homicide."

"Sarge looked sad for a moment. "I still believe we were right to get the boys' attention, but I think we went too far. Mr. Cox disagrees with me. He thinks we were right. I know I regret my performance, and the lack of compassion I showed that day."

The day after the school hair event, I called Mr. Cox and asked how Mike was doing. He said Mike was really depressed, so I went to his house. I apologized, and just talked to him. The next day he showed up at the shop to talk some more. We became friends.

Mike let his hair grow back to its former state, but I kept cutting it for him. I still cut his hair exactly like it was before I peeled him that day. He remains the only customer that I've ever had that I haven't tried to talk into going shorter.

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