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A Particular Kind of Young Man by Deke Cutter
Henry was a very particular kind of young man. He liked things to be the way he liked them to be. For these first 15 years of his life he had honed his skills to make certain that all of the things within his control were just as he wanted them to be. His parents generally found his "peculiar ways" amusing, but not harmful. After all, Henry was extremely bright and excelled in any sport or athletic endeavor he put his hand to. His friends, most who he had known since preschool, were used to Henry and just accepted him the way he was. Henry was very particular about the way he dressed. The idea of casual clothes displeased him. Henry liked to look his best and had become an accomplished bargain shopper and a clever entrepreneur among the middle school set. Henry’s hair was something of an obsession as well. From the earliest days that his mother had taken him to her salon, he knew what he wanted. He wanted his hair to be full and thick so that it lay perfectly on all sides, parted on the left with just the slightest lift off his forehead. The hair must just barely kiss the collar in the back. By the age of 12, he had found the perfect product and daily regime to keep his hair looking glossy, with every hair in place. Even after 90 minutes of soccer, putting on and removing a batting helmet throughout a baseball game or tipping his hat to his partner after a round of golf, his hair looked perfect.
However, his parents were starting to worry that Henry might not have the resilience, or the flexibility needed to survive outside the privileged life they had given him. So, his father sat down with him on the night that Henry turned 15 and ½. "Henry, you know that we are very proud of you. We want you to continue to succeed and make your way in the world. But we worry that you may need to experience life a bit more spontaneously and to have a chance to react to unexpected changes to your environment while we can help you adjust to them before you are on your own."
"But dad, this sounds like you want me to deal with chaos. You know I hate chaos. I have spent my whole life ordering things to avoid chaos."
"That’s what worries your mom and me bud. The real world is filled with chaotic situations or just with mess. There will be things you have to deal with. There will be imperfections. Now, we aren’t going to introduce any changes until your 16th birthday, but we wanted to give you some time to think about this and prepare for it."
Henry spent the next months observing his friends and noticing how Donnie would not mind at all if his gym socks had different colored stripes on them or if Rob came to school without combing his hair. Why he even knew his sister sometimes "forgot" to brush her teeth in the morning. He passed kids his age aimlessly "hanging out" when there were papers to write, weights to lift, laps to run. "This way madness lies." He thought.
School ended In Mid-May, about three weeks before Henry’s birthday. He was surprised to see his father come home early from work on a Wednesday afternoon. "Hop in the car, Henry. I want to show you a great summer job opportunity." This was just the kind of situation Henry hated. As they drove away, his father said, I heard about a new program to introduce soccer to a group of 3-year-old kids whose parents have little or no time to spend with them. The idea is to help them learn some basics, you know, sounds right up your alley." While Henry’s antennae were up, this did sound good to him bringing some order to young lives. While Henry was planning the ways he would resolve these young people’s lives, he didn’t realize his father had driven across town to a strip mall he had never seen before. "Now," his father said, "in keeping with our discussion from back before Christmas, here is one of those curve balls I am throwing at you." Henry saw that they had pulled up in front of a modest looking barber shop. "We are going in there and I am asking the barber to give you a regular haircut that will be off your ears and tapered in the back. I’ll say your coaching kids’ soccer this summer so you want something simple and that you asked me to find a place that looked like it could do the job. OK?"
"But dad, you never said anything about my hair!" My hair, its who I am." I know exactly how it will look….oh! But dad what if I look awful what if….I should be quiet now, shouldn’t I?"
"Good idea son. Lets go."
"Hello gentlemen, I’m Johnny, I don’t think you have been to my shop before. Who goes first?
"Hello Johnny, I’m Tom and this is my son Henry, just Henry today. You see, Henry has a summer job coaching very little children soccer and…."
"Let me, explain dad, I need a good old regular haircut, you know-- off the ears, tapered, out of my eyes, to make it easier in the summer when I’ll be out working with the kids. I asked dad to find the kind of place that could do that cut. Not the fancy place I usually go to." Tom was both surprised and proud of his son, but hoped he hadn’t ‘oversold his performance’, as it were.
"Well, young Mr. Henry, you’ve come to the right place. Sit right down here and let’s get started." As the barber tried to run his comb through Henry’s hair, he seemed to find it hard to work through, perhaps because of all the product Henry used to keep his hair in place. "Henry, I’m afraid we need to wash all this stuff out of your hair before I can cut it. Now I do have a hair washing sink over there in the corner, but I’m not used to washing a thick head of hair like yours. I have a nice fully equipped shower in the back and my ‘Mrs.’ keeps it supplied with nice fluffy towels so I can have a shower here if I work late or come in early. Why don’t you go back there and take a quick shower and wash your hair. Here’s some Fisk shampoo, it will knock all that ‘gel and such’ out of your hair.
As soon as Johnny the barber heard the water go in the shower and the glass shower door close, he walked over and sat down next to Tom. "Tom, I’ve been a barber for 30 years. And, I’m a pretty shrewd judge of people. You know, I own this whole group of buildings. I just keep cutting hair because I like it. I can tell there is more to this story. That young man may have said he wanted his haircut, but that death grip he had on the chair and all that product in his hair tell a different story. His hair didn’t really need washing, I just made a charade of it. What’s really going on?"
Tom explained the situation to Johnny, explaining how his wife and he had decided that they needed to get Henry to be more flexible and less resistant to change and the minor imperfections in life. "Johnny, he is worse than a diva about his hair. I want something that a regular kid just deals with, you know. I’d like to see his bangs flop down on his forehead and not be long enough to connect all the way over. If he takes his ball cap off, I want to see them flop down, so he must push them back up when he puts his hat back on. I want there to be a taper, but I want him to be able to see where the hair ends, and the stubble begins. Once he gets used to that, I’ll surprise him again."
"Tom, it sounds like a crazy idea to me, but your boy was willing to own it. I am rarely wrong about people and I can tell that you and your son have a good strong relationship. I’ll do just what you want."
"I’ll tell you what Johnny, knowing my son, he’ll be in that shower for a while. How about you give me a trim while we wait for him. It may relax him a bit to see me in the chair or freshly cut." Tom had a long businessman’s cut that covered his ears and just touched his collar. Tom got into the chair and Johnny quickly caped him up. "You know, Frank Messina, over on Walnut, has been my barber for years. I go in for a trim every month or so and my hair pretty much stays like this. How about you take it to about middle of my ear and cleanly off the collar and maybe an inch or so off the bangs. Henry will notice the change and I think it may help him."
"Oh, I know Frank very well. In fact, he did some of his practical work here when he was finishing barber school. He’s a good man and a very good barber. With that, Johnny, turned the chair away from the mirror, started wetting Tom’s hair and began the haircut. Snip, snip. Snip, Tom heard the hair being cut from his right ear. "May I ask you, Tom, why did you not take Henry to Frank for this haircut."
"Fair question. First, I needed to have some time driving Henry to set up this situation. Second, I expect that this process is going to involve more than one different haircut experience for Henry. At the end, he may decide how to wear his hair, but I want the last few cuts to be from Frank so that if he feels secure and trusts him, it’s close to home and we could go together..." All the while Johnny had been cutting away at Tom’s hair and had just blown it dry and turned Tom around. This led Tom to add "…though Frank is going to have to stay on top of his game, this is a great haircut Johnny. I really like the way I look."
At that moment, Henry came out of the back, his usually immaculately styled hair looing comically like Johnny Depp’s in Edward Scissorhands. "Wow dad, you did get a haircut, it looks great!"
"Thanks son, Johnny was just going to show me the back." Tom was very pleased with the way Johnny had left a degree of naturalness to the back. It was a beautifully executed haircut.
Tom was quickly out of chair and ushering his son in while Johnny washed his hands and prepared his equipment. "Sorry my hair is such a mess Johnny, your shampoo certainly seemed to get all the product out of my hair, but without any conditioner or product, it just wouldn’t settle down."
"Don’t worry young man, we’ll relieve you of this problem." Johnny was gentle in combing Henry’s hair and making small talk. He decided that while it would have been quicker to cut the bulk off with the clippers, he began with the scissors uncovering most of Henry’s right ear and then continued around his head until his left ear was similarly uncovered. So far, Henry seemed calm, so Johnny thought he would try to draw him out. "Tell me Henry what kind of music do you like." Johnny was not surprised that Henry loved jazz and certain classical composers like Bach because of the structure of the music. As Henry got engaged in this discussion to which Johnny was a full participant, Johnny had combed down all the hair on top of Henry’s head and quickly cut the front to a short angled bang, giving Johhny enough bulk to decide what would be needed later. As Henry waxed on about Dave Brubeck’s "Take Five" and Johnny told him of seeing the legendary performer live, he gently began running the clippers with a number 3 guard up the right side of Henry’s head. Johnny saw Henry swallow hard, but otherwise remain outwardly calm as he continued moving the clippers around the side of Henry’s head to a point about an inch below the top of his head. He moved behind Henry and gently folded his ear down and ran the clippers around his ear before starting on the back and scooping off the thick long hair that had grown below his occipital ridge. Finally, he repeated on the left side, what he had done on the right, only he left about an inch of hair below the part line.
Inside Henry’s mind, things were in turmoil. (Henry was thinking ‘that terrible shampoo had stripped all the life from his hair (it hadn’t), he chopped my bangs off (he hadn’t), dad got scalped so this was just a plot to make the whole family skin heads (Tom wasn’t ‘scalped’), but this Johnny is so nice and smart (true), wow he shook hands with Dave Brubeck (true), OMG those clippers are going high (scary but true), oh shoot he’s cutting the top (he was).
When Johnny cut the back of Henry’s hair, he noticed a cowlick starting to pop up as soon as the weight of the long hair was gone. He smiled to himself as he thought of how this would work in Tom’s plan. As he began to cut the top down he was careful to do what he would not normally do, he cut the top at all different lengths (not layers). As he reached the front, he determined how much bulk he needed to make sure those bangs would flop forward and then proceeded to trim away the rest. He then blended the sides, lathered and shaved the bottom of Henry’s head, removing his sideburns, except for slightly asymmetrical tabs and a nice stubbly taper with a noticeable change to some hair length on the sides and the upper back. Johnny chose a light dose of Vitalis, knowing it would not hold the bangs too long but would show the cut off well when he turned the chair around. After parting and combing the hair and getting a discreet nod from Tom, Johnny turned Henry around to face the mirror.
Henry retrieved his glasses from his shirt pocket and stared—speechless at his reflection in the mirror. His eyes took in the cropped sides and the slight difference in the short sideburns. He felt relief in the symmetry and set of his ears. He saw the small ridge of soft hair turned back from his forehead and how much shorter and flatter his hair was on top of his head. Johnny held up a large hand mirror so he could see the back and he immediately noticed the cowlick starting to stick up in the back and the way that the longer hair ended, and the taper and stubble began. Finally, pulling himself together and holding back the tears of frustration he felt forming, he said, "thanks Johnny, this is exactly what I needed."
After Tom paid Johnny and thanked him for the "excellent haircuts," he put his arm around his son and rubbed his hand on the clipped and shave parts of the back of Henry’s head and said, "this is what change feels like." Henry felt like he was going to faint. When they got into the car, Tom reached into the back seat as Henry put on his seatbelt and placed a baseball cap on Henry’s head. "Here you go ‘coach’, you’re going to need this. Now let’s go and meet your little charges."
Stay tuned for Part II "Floppy Bangs and Sloppy Kids"