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Remembering Robby by Deke Cutter

As I reached my later 20s, the bar scene was getting old and I was ready to meet a different kind of woman. I started joining some community groups, going on local environmental cleanups and becoming a patron of the art museum in town. I noticed that a woman named Jill seemed to share my interests and I found her quite attractive but, she seemed to have an invisible wall around her where I was concerned. I am persistent, so I continued to be pleasant and always greet her. Finally, we were both at a modern art exhibition at the same time and I had just come from a political fundraiser and was still wearing the button for the progressive candidate I was supporting. The exhibition was good, and I told her that I thought that the young artist seemed influenced by a couple of my favorites who I mentioned and then went on to describe why I thought so. Jill seemed a bit surprised but generally agreed with me and we continued to walk companionably through the exhibit. As we neared the end, I asked if Jill would join me for a coffee or tea in the Member’s Room and surprisingly, she agreed.

We talked a little more about art and the museum and then Jill pointed to the campaign button. "You surprise me," she said." I assume you are military or a cop, excuse me a police officer. I never expected you to support somebody like Dave."

I replied, "actually, I’m the news director at the station down the street and I’m a freelance writer and documentarian on the side. I’ve known Dave (the candidate) since college. Truth be told, I was with him when our cultural anthropology teacher sent us out to meet with working poor communities. I saw Dave’s consciousness get raised. My folks are steeped in the Catholic Workers tradition, so I’ve always supported progressive causes."

"So, what’s with the ‘cop haircut’ then?" She asked this as she pointed at my freshly trimmed flat top haircut. I had just got out of the chair earlier that morning.

"That’s a bit of a story. Are you free to have dinner tomorrow evening? I would be happy to tell you then and you can tell me what you have against cops and soldiers," I said smiling broadly.

She thought for about 5 seconds and then said, if you don’t mind eating on the early side, I’ve got an early flight on Monday." And, so we agreed to meet for an early dinner on Sunday at my favorite Italian restaurant.

"Hi Jill, you look lovely."

"You clean up nicely yourself, not a hair out of place…sorry I couldn’t help myself."

"Very funny, well I promised you this story, so here goes." Out of my sport jacket pocket, I pulled two photos from about 5 years ago. One of me alone and one with a friend. In both, my thick brown hair was swept back with a ¾ part. It was very full on the sides and just touching my collar. I had a good 6 inches of well-styled hair. The second picture was me with my late friend Robby. He was a few inches shorter than me, but blonde with the same haircut I now wore. "This is how I used to wear my hair."

"Andrew, your hair is gorgeous, why…."

"I’m getting there. And please, call me Andy. The second picture is me with my late best friend Robby. We joined the TV station at the same time and really hit it off. Robby never had long hair, but he always had a nice head of hair. Then, about 3 months after we started working, he came in one Monday with a flat top. At lunch that day, I asked him about it, because he had just sort of danced around it in the office all morning.

He said this to me, "my barber, Aldo, asked me about 6 weeks ago if I knew anybody who could help out one of his regulars. A combat vet who was waiting for a new prosthetic leg needed some help getting around. I met the guy and found out I could help him out. He is amazing. He was a runner and a swimmer in school. He lost his leg on a recon mission. But he is the most positive guy in the world. And he had this crazy flat top haircut. The weekend before his new prosthetic arrived, he asked me if I could take him down to Aldo’s to, as he put it, ‘tighten up my flatty.’ I asked him (I call him Sergeant Jack) why he still had such a military haircut. Sergeant Jack told me that it reminded him of friends who had made a bigger sacrifice than he did and then he added ‘you should try it kid, it feels really good.’ By the time I saw Sergeant Jack maneuver himself on and off of that barber chair, with just a steadying hand from Aldo, I knew I wanted that haircut to remind me of all the blessings in my life and to keep me humble, and, it just feels really good."

The waiter brought our starters and a glass each of a very good Pino Grigio to go with them. Jill looked over at me after we toasted each other’s health. "Andrew, you look sad, you don’t have to continue if you don’t want to."

"It’s, O.K. Jill, it’s good to talk about Robby. I never got to meet Sergeant Jack because after he got his state-of-the-art prosthetic leg, he was off to rehab. Robby kept in touch and told me his pal had a job as an assistant swimming coach down in Florida where he was finishing his degree and hoped to get a masters in kinesiology and help other amputees and keep coaching. Robbie now had the volunteering bug. He worked at a homeless shelter and continued his volunteer services for veterans that Aldo always managed to find. It was returning from a late-night emergency room visit where he dropped off a veteran who ended up being admitted to the hospital, Robby’s car was hit by a drunk driver. He was killed instantly."

"Oh Andy, I’m so sorry, said Jill. I never would have asked you…."

"Believe it or not Jill, other than folks at the office, who sort of figured it out, along with a few good friends, you are the first person ever interested enough to hear this story. The days following Robby’s accident and the funeral were a blur. I remember his sister asking me to give a eulogy, and I stumbled through that. But the very next day, I found myself looking for Aldo’s Barber Shop. I hadn’t been to an old-fashioned barber since I was a kid."

There were two barbers sitting in their big chairs chatting when I walked in. A distinguished looking man with a small mustache smiled at me and said: "welcome sir, can we help you."

I asked, are you Aldo?"

"Yes, sir and this is my colleague Tommy."

"I shook their hands, introduced myself and turned to Aldo. You were my friend Robby’s barber. Perhaps you heard about the accident?"

Aldo and Tommy both crossed themselves and Aldo said, "ah poor Robby, God rest his kind soul. He was such a good young man, so kind and giving. Yes, I went to the church, but did not wish to intrude on the family. And you are Andy, ‘the best friend in the world,’ as Robby called you. He thought the world of you and would tell me of your adventures." I felt myself blushing.

"I don’t know about that Aldo, but I do know this. I want to honor Robby’s memory in the only way I can think of right now. Will you give me a flattop haircut like Robby and his friend Sergeant Jack?"

Aldo invited me to sit in his chair. He ran a comb through my hair, felt the thickness and looked at it carefully. Then he said, "Andy, this will be a huge change for you. If you dislike it, it could take you nearly a year to grow it out again. But, yes, your hair will take to a flattop."

"Aldo, I am not doing this lightly, I told him. I learned so much from my friend’s short life. I need this haircut. It means a new phase in my life. Aldo must have taken me at my word. Because about 30 minutes later, I left that shop looking pretty much like I do now."

"And you’ve never wanted to grow it out? Hold that answer she said, as her phone buzzed, I have to take this, and I need ‘the loo.’"

As Jill stepped away, I relived that first flattop. Aldo turned on those clippers and started to remove the hair from the right side of my head. When I saw the stubble begin to emerge, I felt a sense of fear, but I knew I had to do this. I tried to relax as he stripped away the locks that girls and women had fawned over for the last decade of my life and that I had enjoyed preening and having pampered. I saw my ears, no hair touching them, no hair behind them. My head looked so different! Aldo put down the clippers now that my back and sides were pretty much history. He picked up his shears and a long comb and cut off what looked like all but an inch of my hair in front and continued to do this all the way back. Then he wet my hair and put some kind of substance on it and dried it so that what was left stood straight up. Now, I was getting an idea of that I would look like. Well, none of the guys would be calling me a "pretty boy" anymore. I looked a lot more--unfashionable? What had Robby said one time? "People can take me as I am, what they see is what they get." Aldo then got this flat comb, told me to sit very still and started going over the top, forming the final haircut. Being such a big change, it took a long time. Finally, though, he cleaned up the edges, removing the vestiges of my sideburns, and lovely long hairline in the back. He worked some wax in and brushed the front and…

"Earth to Andy, Earth to Andy…"

"Oh, sorry Jill, I was thinking back to that first flattop. Is everything OK?"

"Yes, my flight has been changed to a more decent hour, so I’ve forced us into an early dinner for nothing. Shall we have coffee and perhaps an after-dinner drink?"

"That sounds good. (I signaled the waiter and he took our coffee order.) As to your last question. The first several months, I was on sort of a "commitment high." I was enjoying this new experience, the new sensations. The simpler hair care regime, etc. But it was an adjustment. My ego was much more sensitive than I had ever imagined. I had not changed, but perceptions of me had changed. Jill blushed a bit. Oh, that wasn’t a dig at you. I chose to have this haircut. If that means I have to work a little harder to let people know what I am about, then maybe, that is another gift Robby left me. Humility can be a good thing. Short hair is a lot less unusual than it used to be. I’ve been mistaken for military, cop, firefighter, gay, you name it. I’m used to it. But, anyway, that is the story of why I have what I believe you called ‘my cop haircut’" I said with a smile.

"Andy, you are an incredible guy," Jill said to me. I am touched by your and Robby’s stories. If I would have met you with your long hair, I have to tell you, I would have been the one asking you out. I’ve learned an important lesson tonight. You are exactly the kind of man I want to have a relationship with. I’ve let my preconceived notions about something that is simply a personal choice keep me from getting to know you for far too long."

As we left the restaurant that night, Jill said, "I hope I’m not being too forward, but may I see what it feels like?" I took her hand and ran it up and down my stubbly sides and back. The electric thrill that brings me was intensified by her gentle hands. Then she softly ran her hand across the deck. "Little Andy" was getting more than a bit excited at this point. "Oh, that feels nice, a girl could get used to that."

"O.K., now it’s my turn to be a bit forward. Can I see you again when you get back in town and may I kiss you goodnight?"

Fast forward five years, Jill and I are married and we both got the opportunity for new jobs in the Washington, DC area. I was sorry to leave my friends at the TV station and Aldo, but with the Pentagon and all the military presence in the DC metro area, there is not shortage of good barbers. We have twins, Robert Aldo (Robby) and John Andrew (we call Jack) and no, these rambunctious toddlers do not have flattops. We’re going to let them be who they are going to be and just try to raise them to be the kind of people we strive to be.

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