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Take This Job and Shove It by Just_Me

Last week I was sitting at a redlight, and a truck pulled up beside me. He had his radio blaring, and the song "Take This Job and Shove It" was playing. I didn't hear much of the song, but it was enough to inspire this story.

Hi y'all! My name's J. W., and I wanna tell y'all a tale.

First, let me tell ya, I grew up on a farm in the boonies of east Texas. I mean, we were so far back in the woods you could barely get there from here.

Once I graduated, I got me a job in Houston and moved to the big city.

Now my boss was a good man, and he treated me right. He even said I was doing real good at my job. One day I came up with a better way of doing something, and my boss told his boss about me. My boss's boss (Mr. Billings) was a good man too, but he was a city-slicker. I'd never been around nobody but country folks, and Mr. Billings was as citified as they come. It took some getting used to.

After he found out about me coming up with that better idea, he'd find me every time he came to the site I was working on, and we'd chew the fat for a while.

I could only understand about half of what he said. If I asked him a simple yes or no question he'd damn near preach a sermon. He'd say something like, "James, my initial reaction to the entire concept you have just presented is utterly and completely negative." Then he'd pontificate (how's that for a five-dollar word?) for nigh onto fifteen minutes about why he was saying no.

He never could say something with one word when he could say it with fifty.

He always called me "James" when everyone else called me "J. W." One day I asked him why he called me James, and he said, "I researched your personnel file to find out what your given name is because I am of the opinion that initials are uncouth, present a slothful appearance and are not suitable for a professional environment. In addition, James is much more dignified than J. W. I hope you are not provoked by the temerity of my opting to refer to you by your given name."

I told him I wasn't very fond of being called James, 'cause it brought back some bad memories. I said, "If I heard the word "James" I knew I was in trouble, 'cause the only time Ma ever called me James was right before she tanned my hide with a peach tree limb." He didn't pay me no never mind though, and kept on calling me James. I got used to it after a while.

Any who, one day he came up to me, and said, "I am exceedingly impressed with your behavior thus far and I have the utmost confidence in your capacity. Your behavior leads me to believe you have the potential for unlimited growth with this company. Would you be interested in being groomed for a higher position?"

I thought he was asking if I wanted a promotion, so I said, "Yes, sir!"

He said, "Since you have so graciously accepted my proposal, you must understand one thing. I shall be asking you to accomplish many things you will not understand. Do not become frustrated. It will all be to your advantage as I will be grooming you to become an executive with this company."

I was moved from the construction site to an office on the sixty-fifth floor of a big building in downtown Houston. This country boy didn't know how to act way up there in the clouds.

Pretty soon I figured out the "grooming" Mr. Billings talked about meant me changing everything about me.

On my first day on my new job Mr. Billings called me into his office and said, "If you are going to advance through the ranks at an accelerated rate, there are certain behavior patterns you exhibit which must be altered. In addition, we must significantly improve upon your appearance."

"Denim is not appropriate for our work environment. I know appropriate attire is quite costly. However, I shall be able to assist you in acquiring adequate clothing for you to begin your work here. The significant advances in my girth has made it impossible for some of my suits to continue to accommodate me, and I'm certain my tailor can reduce them so they will fit you appropriately, so I shall gift you with the aforementioned clothing. These suits will suffice you until you have accumulated sufficient funds to acquire your own wardrobe."

Now, I ain't real sure, but I think he was saying, "James, you're doing real good, and if you wanna get a promotion you're gonna have to change some of your ways, quit wearing jeans and put on some of my fancy duds that I've got too fat to wear. Oh yeah, he said I gotta get his man to make 'em fit, and that the clothes he was giving me would do until I could come up with enough money to get some of my own."

I wanted to say, "Whoa! Hold your horses there! I ain't no doll you can dress up." I kept my mouth shut though. I didn't wanna mess up, and lose my new job.

The next day Mr. Billings said, "James, you obviously have more innate intelligence than most men will ever possess, but your speech patterns and the way you present yourself make you appear to be a country bumpkin. Please pardon the bluntness of my expression, but it is a truth. We must work hard to eradicate the perception that have come to us from a backwards environment so that others shall ben able to recognize your capacity as I do."

I started talking better, um, pardon me, I meant to say I began to refine my speech pattern so that I spoke in a more dignified manner. I worked with a speech therapist to diminish my accent. Mr. Billings' wife worked with me (when my busy work schedule permitted) to improve upon my grammar and I started talking right--err, I mean speaking correctly.

That wasn't enough for Mr. Billings. On another day he said, "If you are going to meld with our client base, you must remove all references to animals from your vocabulary. There should be no comments such as, 'That there's slicker than hog snot'."

I figured if "That there's slicker than hog snot" offended him, he'd probably be ticked off if he heard me saying, "His spine's about as crooked as a snake's back." He also wouldn't like hearing me say, "He's got more excuses than a dog's got fleas." I reckoned he'd have a heart attack if he heard me call someone a stubborn old jackass. I didn't think I'd do much better with "Crookeder than a dog's hind leg" or "Does pig s**t stink?".

I tried not to say those things, but it was hard. It was the only way I knew how to talk.

Then he started getting on me about cussing. I finally had to say, "Mr. Billings, I gotta tell you. Saying, 'That was exceedingly and excruciatingly painful' doesn't make me feel as good as saying, 'Damn! That hurt!'"

It seemed like every other day Mr. Billings was calling me into his office to tell me something else that wasn't right about me. Most of the things I reckon I could see why he wanted me to change. I knew why he wanted me to talk better. Most city folks put a lot of store in how a man talks. I could understand him wanting me to wear Sunday-go-to-meeting clothes. It's what business folks do.

I thought he'd kinda gone a little left of center when he told me my cowboy boots weren't professional. I'd always worn em with everything, but I figured he knew more about business than I did, so I bought some shoes.

Then he started in on my cowboy hats being "quite flamboyant and entirely unsuitable to a stable, successful business environment." I reckoned I could still wear em when I wasn't working (not that there was much time that I wasn't working) so I quit wearing my hats to work.

He told me he was already thinking of promoting me again. The idea of the new job was like dangling a carrot between a mule's eyes. It kept me going. At first, I was convinced the new job would be worth giving up my jeans, boots and cowboy hats.

It didn't take me long to get pretty tired of changing everything about me, and I dang near lost it when he told me I needed to let my hair grow out. I'd had a buzz cut all my life, and didn't see no need to change it now. Heck, Pa and Grandpa had a buzz cut too, except they ain't got no hair on the top of their heads.

I couldn't figure it out. I knew most business people complained about men having long hair and this yahoo was griping about my hair being too short? It didn't make no sense to me.

I asked him why he wouldn't let me keep my hair buzzed, since it was easy to keep it clean and neat. He preached me another damned sermon. "I am in complete and utter sympathy with your desire to have an uncomplicated hair style. In my youth my father inflicted a similar style upon me, and I cannot bring to mind any memories of there being any wearisome maintenance to it. However, there are certain parameters in the business world that one must stay within, and no matter how tedious the care of one's hair becomes, one much stay within those boundaries. Extremes in any direction are frowned upon, and are deemed to be unacceptable."

Him insisting that I let my hair grow out stuck in my craw. I just didn't think him telling me to grow my hair out was right at all. A man should be able to decide how he wants to wear his own hair...but I wanted that promotion, so I let my hair grow. Pretty soon I was able to comb it into a pompadour, and I gotta admit it looked pretty danged good on me. If I'm being truthful, I'll have to admit it probably looked better than my buzz cut, but I didn't care. I didn't like having to mess with my hair every morning, and I still didn't like him telling me how to wear my hair.

I learned how to eat with the right fork and spoon. I also learned that each dish on the table was called a "course". Back home we just said we was having some meat, vegetablesa and a salad, not a "four-course dinner".

I guess the first sign of me not being happy was when Mr. Billings was talking to me one day and I thought, "He always looks like a banker on his way to a funeral. He's all somber and proper all the time. I don't reckon he knows how to relax. I'd be willing to bet the only fun in his life is a cigar and cocktail on the verandah, while talking to a bunch of la-ti-dahs. He wouldn't know real fun if it was to slapped him on the nose." I faked a choke to keep from laughing when I thought, "I wonder what he'd do if I kidnapped him, and made him go boot scootin' with me." I just couldn't imagine him with jeans, a pair of boots and a cowboy hat on, much less having fun.

I started getting fed up with constantly being on my guard, but every few months my paycheck would go up, and I'd think, "You can do this, J. W. You will never achieve this kind of financial success in rural east Texas, and you will not continue to grow with the company if you do not diligently attempt to follow the expected mode of behavior." Then I thought, "Damn! I'm even thinking like Mr. Billings. The folks back home would never believe I sound like a city slicker."

I was appreciative of the fact that he believed in me and was willing to invest all this time in me, but I was getting a mite tired of the constant dog and pony show he was putting me through. ( "Oops! That's another phrase I probably need to 'eradicate from my vocabulary' since it talks about animals.) Anyway, all the "grooming" was wearing me out. I felt like a horse that's done been rode hard and put up wet. (Dang it, that's another phrase I gotta get rid of.)

I don't know if you've ever been to Houston, but it's hotter than the devil's pitchfork in the summer. I was often on construction sites and I sweated a lot. I was sick of sweat getting my hair all wet and making it fall in my face. I was always pushing it back, so it wouldn't get in my eyes. I put gel on my head, but there ain't no amount of gel strong enough to stand up to the heat and humidity of a Texas summer day. There was more than once I thought about going to the barbershop and telling Mr. Billings to go sit in a broomstick.

I got sick and tired of having to constantly fix my hair. I hated combing it every time the wind blew. More than that, I hated wasting my time every morning trying to make it look good. I missed stepping out of the shower and knowing my hair was fixed. I hated having "hat-hair" every time I put on a hat and I discovered there really ain't no way to fix "hat-hair" except to wash it and start all over again. That seemed like "an excessive waste of time and energy that was not conducive to effective time management."

Put that in your pipe and smoke it, Mr. Billings.

After a while, I got to where I needed a haircut, but every time I'd think I was gonna get to go to the barber, Mr. Billings would say something like, "I urgently require that you attend to this matter. Please postpone any plans you might have." My hair grew over my ears, and started hanging off my collar. Let me tell you, I ain't no hippy, and I didn't like it none at all. I finally walked into his office and said, "Mr. Billings, I keep trying to get to the barbershop, and you won't let me. I'm gonna buy some clippers and give myself a buzzcut." I remembered to talk dignified. "Pardon me, I meant to say my appearance has become detrimental to the company, and it appears I have became so vital to the efficient running of this company that my presence is required at all times and I cannot leave the premises to attend to my hair during hours when the tonsorial artists are present." (In case you didn't understand my fancy speak, I said, "I look like crap and you're working me too hard for me to get to the barbershop when it's open.)

"Now James, I have been meaning to speak to you about that very subject. One must keep up one's appearance. I will allot time tomorrow for you to have your hair attended to. Thank you for confiding in me pertaining to your difficulties, and for not unadvisedly taking matters into your own hands before discussing it with me. I will speak to the barber downstairs, and advise him on what is appropriate."

I got a little testy. "You don't have to tell him how I want my damned hair cut. I am extremely capable of executing that small bit of conversation without your expert assistance."

I never could figure out if he was "grooming" me because he like me, or so he could stand around at one of his fancy parties and brag about turning a caterpillar into a butterfly or maybe a frog into a prince (Crap! That's more animal stuff I need to stop talking about). Maybe it was a little bit of both. He might've liked me, but he probably enjoyed bragging about how I was doing. I don't know. Anyway, I was getting mighty fed up with being "groomed". The more I was "groomed" the more I thought there might not've been anything wrong with the way I was.

I stopped trying to talk so proper, but I was still was respectful and tried not to sound like a country hick. I stopped wanting that promotion he was dangling in front of me all the time. One night as I was going to my apartment after a fifteen-hour day I stopped right in the middle of the sidewalk. A realization had hit me, and I voiced it. "Dad-gum it, the price is too high, James--errr, J. W. You ain't got no friends and no life. All you've got is a boss who doesn't understand you, and won't accept you, no matter how much you give him. Sure, you're making lots of money, but it's just piling up in the bank. You ain't got enough time on your hands to even enjoy it. You haven't had a chance to even meet a girl, much less get close enough to kiss her or do something the preacher would call immoral. The price is just too blasted high."

"Why are you doing it, J.W.? You don't need much. You've got a good pickup that's paid for and enough money to have a few beers every once in a while. What more do you need? Get the hell out of here!"

I kept thinking, "To be as smart as he is, Mr. Billings is mighty dumb about people. He has never acknowledged the vast amount of effort I have exerted to overcome the great obstacles of my culture and the lack of exposure to his world, nor has he realized the huge strides I have made on my journey toward the 'respectability' he desires from me." (I was mighty proud of myself for thinking that. It sounded high-falutin' enough to satisfy Mr. Billings.)

One night he started trying to teach me something, and I said, "Mr. Billings, I'm tireder than a Saturday night hooker on Sunday morning. Can we do this some other time?"

Fire shot out of his eyes. "James! Your comment makes me exceedingly wroth. I am very disappointed in you. That is definitely a phrase you must remove from your frame of reference, and remove it instantly. You must be constantly cognizant of the potential effect your words might have on others. Making reference to a lady of the evening might make any gentleman who has visited one feel uncomfortable, which you would not want. In addition, any lady present would certainly take umbrage at that comment."

I was tired (should I say, "tireder than a Saturday night hooker on Sunday morning?"), and I spoke before I thought, "Any 'gentleman' who goes to a whore house ain't much of a gentleman, and he probably deserves to feel 'uncomfortable'."

I don't know what came over me. I said, "Mr. Billings, if you don't want me to talk about a Saturday night hooker, I reckon you don't want me to say, 'She's sweating like a whore in church' either."

I thought he was gonna have a stroke. "No decent person should have one reference to a 'lady of ill-repute' in their repertoire, much less two. Please do not ever let me hear you make these references again. Just do not mention it."

I don't know if I'd ever had the nerve to quit my job if I hadn't heard Johnny Paycheck singing that old song "Take This Job and Shove It" while I was on my way to work one day. You know how a song gets stuck in your head? That song just stuck in my head and wouldn't go away. Well, I couldn't remember all of the song but that phrase just swarmed round and round in my head, like a bunch of bees in a honeycomb. (I guess Mr. Billings wouldn't of approved of that saying either--well, maybe it'd be OK. Bees ain't exactly animals.) Anyway, I kept singing, "Take this job and shove it."

Despite the song running around in my head, I was doing right real good that day until Mr. Billings called me into his office and started another one of his long-winded speeches. "I must take exception to your distasteful, incessant chewing of tobacco. I had hoped not to have to address this issue with you. I had hoped you would recognize the error of your ways and deal with it on your own initiative. You have not, so I must bring it to your attention. Your distended jaw is quite unappealing, and this unprofessional behavior will have to cease immediately."

Well, that downright pissed me off. I don't get my dander up that often, but that there sermon raised my hackles high. I listened to him for a bit more and then exploded. "That's it! I've had enough of your meddling. I tell you, I've had enough of your BS and I'm not taking it anymore. In case you ain't heard me, I've had enough! You ain't my pa and you ain't got no right to tell me what to do!"

"James, if you wish to continue your employment here..."

I interrupted. Before I knew I had decided to do it, I yelled, "Take this job and shove it. I ain't working here no more." (Damn! It felt good to say it.) I took all his keys out of my pocket and threw them on the desk.

I decided while I was at it, I'd preach him a sermon like he was always preaching to me. In real simple language, just so he could understand me, I said, "Now Mr. Billings, you sit your ass in that there chair and listen to me. This here is how the cow ate the cabbage, and why."

He listened a few minutes, and he started looking puzzled. I said to him, "Don't you be looking at me like a cow looks at a new gate. What've I said that's done flew over your head?"

"James,I most certainly understand the content and intent of what you have related to me. However, I am quite perplexed about the motivation of your extremely passionate monologue. I have always had your best interest at heart, and cannot discern anything I might have done to cause you to become so intensely irate. Your precipitate outburst is most unbecoming and quite out of character for you."

"Damn it, can't you speak so a normal person can understand you? Can you do it just once in your life?"

I didn't want to hear any more, so I walked out without another word. I really wanted to give him a double lazy wave, but didn't. (if you don't know what a "lazy wave" is, it's when your hands are so lazy only the middle finger works.)

I went to my apartment, and I was ashamed of myself when I looked around and saw all the dust on the furniture. I just hadn't took the time to clean in a long time. Ma would've been ashamed of me too. It was like she was standing behind me and I could hear her, plain as day. "Boy, I've done taught you better than that."

I figured the landlord could deal with the dust. I was sick of city life, and I was heading back to the country. I grabbed my cowboy hats, boots and Wranglers and left. I figured the landlord could deal with all them citified clothes in the closet too. I didn't have no need of them.

I started driving, and kept singing, "Take this job and shove it." I was pretty proud of myself for saying it to old man Billings.

Soon I wasn't singing "Take This Job and Shove It" no more. That line, "Got a brand new flattop haircut, Lord he thinks he's cool" started running through my head. I don't rightly know why, but I started wondering how I'd look with a flattop. I had figured on getting me another buzz cut, but hadn't ever thought about getting a flattop before I heard that song. One of my neighbors back home always wore a flattop, and I'd admired it for years. He said it was a "sticking kind of haircut". He'd got his first flattop when he joined the army forty-something years ago, and he'd never had another style since then. He was the only man I ever knew with a flattop, but I'd seen a few others wearing one, and thought it was pretty cool.

I looked in the mirror and thought, "I oughta get one, just as a reminder not to go to work for another butthole like Mr. Billings." I laughed at myself and then thought, "I wonder what I'd look like with one. It probably wouldn't be that different from the pomp I've got, just less hair over the ears, and no more hair falling in my eyes." Another look in the mirror. "I reckon I could probably pull a flattop off without looking too weird. My ears don't stick out much, and I've got the facial shape that looks good with a square top." That thought surprised me. "I guess you learned more from old man Billings than you thought. The old you wouldn't have done none of that type of analyzing. He would've just done what he wanted."

"Well, new me or old me, who cares what I look like? I wanna do it, so why the hell not? If I don't like it, I can always buzz it down. I know I like that." Then I thought, "J. W., if you're gonna do it, you'd better do it now, while you can. Pa and his pa before him went balder than a hen's egg by the time they were in their thirties. You probably will too."

I started looking for a barber shop, and be damned if I could find one. I pulled into several small towns and saw a few barbershops, but they were all closed or out of business. I started to get pissed! I wanted a flattop and I wanted it now. I even Googled "barbershop near me" on my phone and couldn't find one.

I looked at the sky and said, "God, I ain't asking for much. Why won't You let me find a blasted barbershop that's open?"

After a while, I gave up and just started heading home. I knew Pa couldn't do nothing fancy like a flattop but I figured he'd be happy to buzz me down that night.

I really didn't want to go home looking like I did though. I didn't wanna have to put up with the ribbing I knew Pa'd give me about my "long hair."

I drove past a barbershop and saw a few trucks in the parking lot. I turned around and went back. It was way on the outskirts of a little town, but it looked like it had some potential. It was just a small, white frame building that had probably been there for years. The sign out front said, "Sarge's Barber Shop".

When I pulled in, I saw that there were more than a few trucks in the parking lot, and I thought, "Oh, crap. I'm gonna have to wait. Oh well, I ain't got no other choice. I'm gonna go on in there and get my hair cut!"

I was surprised when I walked in, and nobody was sitting in the barber chair. They were a bunch of men sitting along the wall gossiping and smoking. An old man with white hair and a cigar in his mouth said, "Come on in here, and sit yourself down. I can't cut your hair when your head is way over there. What can I do you for today?" (Well, he said a lot more than that, but I ain't gonna put all the dirty words he said in here. Let me tell you, that man could cuss. I ain't never met a man who could cuss as good as he did, not even on a construction site.)

I sat down and I said, "How's about fixing me up with a nice flattop?"

He said, "Well, hot damn! I'm glad to finally get to give a decent haircut today. There ain't been nothing in here but slackers all day."

"It's been a mighty long time since I've had a young man ask for a flattop. Hell, I don't even get many old timers asking for a flattop any more, but I figure that's mostly because they ain't got no hair. A flattop's a mighty big change for you. It don't matter none, I'll be real happy to give you one, but what made you decide to get a flattop?"

I said, "I don't know if you know the song 'Take This Job and Shove It', but I heard today, and it got me to thinking. I told my boss to take his job and shove it, but I've been thinking about that other line, 'He's got a brand new flattop, Lord, he thinks he's cool'. I decided that's the haircut for me."

"I always did like that song, but you're the first person I know about who's got a haircut from it." Sarge said.

I told him about Mr. Billings insisting on me letting my hair grow out. That really pissed that old barber off. "Why, I ain't never heard of something so stupid. It just downright pisses me off to think he'd have the unmitigated gall to do something like that. Who does he think he is, God? Hell, I've been fighting for years to get folks to get 'real' haircuts and he's gonna go and do a damned fool thing like tell you to grow your hair out? I wish I could meet that lowlife skunk. I'd give him a piece of my mind!"

"Sarge, that's part of your problem. You've given too many folks a piece of your mind and you ain't got none left."

Sarge smiled at the man who said it (I think his name was Al. He was wearing a horseshoe flattop) and said, "You're probably right about that." Then he went back to cussing Mr. Billings. He cussed about that a long time. My, my, that man sure did know how to cuss up a storm!

He finally stopped cussing long enough to throw the cape over me, "Regular flattop or horseshoe?"

One of the old men sitting there said, "Sarge, why are ya asking him what he wants? You're gonna do what you damn well please anyway."

The old man pointed at his freshly buzzed hair (I'd guess a #2 all over) and said to me, "Son, the first time I came in this shop I had more hair than you. I told this old geezer to trim my hair. I walked out with this haircut, and it's the only way he's ever cut it since."

"Oh, hush it, Wayne. Sometimes I listen to what a customer says, but I ain't ever gonna listen to anything your sorry self says." He turned to me. "Forget the hecklers in the peanut gallery. What's it going to be, regular flattop or horseshoe?"

Well, him asking that kinda threw me. I said, "Well, I ain't actually thought about that. I guess when I was singing the song I was thinking about a regular, boxy flattop. One of my neighbors wears one, and I always kinda liked it."

He was on my hair like a duck on a June bug. He took some scissors and whacked the top off. When he picked up the clippers, all the old men sitting there got quiet. I guess they wanted to see what the barber was going to do.

He plowed up my left side, quicker than greased lightning, and threw the hair on the cape. He turned the chair around so it was facing the mirror and said, "Take a look at that, and see if it's short enough for you."

I could feel the cold from the air conditioner on my head, so knew it was pretty short. I thought, "What's the point of looking? He's done cut it, and there ain't nothing I can about it now." I took a look anyway, and figured it was a #1. I felt it, and it was a mite shorter than I'd wanted, but I thought it felt pretty good. Then I thought, "Hell, anything would be better than what I had." I said, "Go for it. It ain't too bad."

He took off, cutting my hair, and started talking while he was cutting. I swear that man never shut up. He argued with some of the men sitting around, and then he ask me some questions about myself. He threw a wise crack at someone over there, and then asked me some more questions. He kept going back and forth like that, and it wasn't long before he knew all about me. I figured that pretty soon he'd know what size boots I wore.

No matter what he was saying, he kept those clippers peeling the hair off my head.

Once he got the sides taken care of, he started cutting the top of my hair. It seemed like it took forever. He'd run the clippers over my head, step back and look at it, and then run the clippers over my head again. There was a heap of hair piling up on the cape, and I was getting mighty impatient. I almost told him to just buzz it. I knew it wouldn't take him long to do that. I wanted to get the haircut over with.

I thought he was about done when he started blending the sides into the top, but he wasn't. I'll be danged if he didn't go back and start cutting the top again. I was beginning to wonder if he was gonna die of old age before he got done with me.

Those little hairs that was falling all over me got on my nose, and started tickling. I sneezed, and he cussed. "You do that again, and I might mess up your hair. I've done put too much time into this haircut to have to shave it because you done something foolish like sneezing when I've got the clippers near your head."

After what seemed like forever, he finally put some shaving cream around my ears, and cleaned me up. I thought he was done, but dad gum it, he picked up some scissors and worked on the top some more. I guess he was making sure there weren't no long hairs sticking up.

He said, "Take a look at that. Is it short enough?" as he turned me back to the mirror.

I thought, "Even if it ain't, I'm not telling you. I don't wanna spend all day sitting in your chair."

Wayne (the man who'd said Sarge wouldn't listen) said, "Well, I'll be. That's a mighty fine flattop. I can't believe the old coot actually listened to what you said."

I had to agree with Wayne. It was a mighty fine flattop. I liked it. I liked it a lot. I thought, "Mr. Billings would've said something like, 'I am entirely enamored with the artistry you have so skillfully shown as you transformed my hair into this magnificent example of tonsorial excellence."

I didn't say that though. I grinned at him, and said, "Hot damn! That there's the best looking haircut I've ever got. Thank you sir. I'm mighty obliged."

I remembered to say, "Thank you Lord for helping me find a barber" when I walked out of the barbershop, just like Ma'd taught me. I got back on the road, and I kept feeling the bristles on the side of my head, and I thought the top of my head felt like Ma's velvet dress. Then I'd look at myself in the mirror. I have to tell you, I was vain enough to think I looked pretty danged good. Overall, I was mighty happy with the way I looked--all except all the white skin showing. It was so white it looked like lard. I figured a few days of helping Pa around the farm would take care of that.

I pulled up to the house, and Ma came outside. She said, "Why, J. W., what are you doing here?" I didn't say nothing, I just gave her a big hug, and a kiss on the cheek. After we'd hugged each other, Ma stepped back and looked me up and down. "My, my, my. You look fit as a fiddle. You know, I don't think I've ever seen you with that much hair, but you sure do look mighty sexy with that new haircut."

I thought, "Wait just a cotton picking minute. Did Ma just say I looked sexy?"

Ma didn't seem to notice that she had me hornswoggled. She just kept on talking. "The girls around here are gonna come out of the bushes when they hear your home, and the gossips tell 'em how fine you look."

"Aw, Ma, you're gonna make me blush." She grinned at me. Then I said, "You reckon I really do look sexy, Ma? You think Susan might think I'm sexy too? I've got a hankering to see her if she ain't got a boyfriend." I paused... "Do you know if she's seeing anybody?"

It wasn't long before I got antsy, and Ma said, "Aw, go on. Get outta here, and go see Susan. I reckon she'll be mighty happy to see you. She's always asking about you."

I was out the door in a flash. It'd been months since I'd been close to a girl and I dang near passed out when I saw Susan. She looked all pretty and delicate. She had long blond hair, beautiful blue eyes that reminded me of the sky and more curves than a den full of snakes. I took my hat off like a gentleman should, and she said, "Why, J. W., you done gone to Houston and got even better looking than you were. Sit down here and tell me what you've been doing with yourself." Then she said, very softly, "I've missed you." She reached up and touched my hair, and said, "I like your haircut. You look mighty handsome with it." Her hands on my head felt real good and before I knew what was happening, I had her in my arms and was kissing her. Well, one thing led to another, and be danged if it wasn't long before I was down on one knee offering to take her hand in marriage. She said yes, so now I'm engaged to be married.

A few days later, Mr. Billings showed up on our doorstep. I almost didn't recognize him. He had on overalls, some boots and a baseball cap. I could see he didn't have his fluffy hair no more. It looked like an old-fashioned barber had peeled him good.

He looked like one of us.

Without preamble (that there's something I learned from Mr. Billings) he said, "James, uh, I mean J. W., I must tender an apology for my reprehensible behavior. I negligently failed to take your feelings under advisement, and I pompously created an environment where you could not flourish. I forgot that youth requires stimulation outside of a work environment, and I regrettably failed to remember there is more to life than capital gains. Will you deign to forgive me?"

I said, "Mr. Billings, you're on my turf now, and you're gonna have to talk so I can understand you."

"I am asking your forgiveness for my insensitivity. I was reared in an agricultural environment, and I have struggled valiantly...Oh, hell, what I meant to say is, I grew up on a farm, and I worked hard to get the smell of pig s**t off my boots. I guess I got stuck in my high-falutin ways and I forgot what it's like. I treated you like crap, and I'm sorry.'"

Why, he sounded like normal folks when he said that.

Like Ma taught me, I shook his hand, and told him it was all right, and that I wasn't gonna have no hard feelings against him.

I said, "You've done changed your looks. Why come?"

"Your actions led me to realize...dang it, there I go again. I got to thinking about what you said when you told me to shove it, and I decided I'd had enough of them fancy way. I came out here to see if I could find me a parcel of land and then I'm gonna retire to the country."

He asked, "What are you gonna do with yourself now that you're no longer city folk?"

"Mr. Billings, I don't rightly know for sure. Growing up I'd always figured I'd be a farmer, but I don't think that's right for me. I've been thinking that I learned enough about building and business from you that I might could start my own construction company. After all, I've got a lot of money saved up because you was working me too dad-gummed many hours for me to get to spend it. Heck, while I sitting in the barber chair getting this here flattop, I even thought about going to barber school, as long as I don't have to go back to Houston to go to school. That's what I'm really thinking right now. I expect I'd make a mighty fine barber."

"Well, whatever you do, If you'll allow me, I want to atone for my egregious behavior, uh, I mean wanna help you out, if you'll let me. I'd be right pleased to build you a nice barbershop, and fill it up with what you need, if that's what you want."
In case you're wondering, now that I'm home, I might speak a little better when I'm around certain folks, but I don't try to impress them with 'the fluency and eloquence of my speech'. As Popeye says, 'I yam what I yam.' I'm a country boy, and I reckon I always will be. I'm back to the days when a suit's for weddings, funerals and church on Sundays. I figure that's enough la-ti-da for me.

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