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From Floppy Bangs to Flat Tops by Deke Cutter
From Floppy Bangs to Flat Tops (This is Part 2 of my story "A Particular Kind of Young Man" I saw from the comment blocking on Part I that there is some opposition to my style of writing, so I have just made this a two-parter instead of multiple parts)
Tom and Henry drove from Johnny’s Barber Shop to the soccer practice field where the tiny tots’ soccer program was run. "Here’s the deal son, one of the coaches has a tryout with the U.S. Under 20s National Team. You will be filling in for him. Then I’ll have another surprise lined up for you. How are you feeling?"
"I feel weird and out of control, dad." As Henry said this, he lifted the baseball cap his father had put on his head. Tom noticed that the bangs had already been displaced and started to fall onto Henry’s forehead. Henry adjusted the size buttons on the back and almost unconsciously brushed the bangs back before placing the hat firmly back on his head. Then he flipped down the sun visor to look in the vanity mirror. "I look bald!"
Tom laughed, as they pulled into the sports complex parking lot. He told Henry to get the portable hairbrush out of the glove box. "Yes, that thing that looks like a plastic smokeless tobacco can. Tom flipped it open to show a pop-up round set of plastic bristles on one side and a small round mirror on the other. Tom held the mirror up behind Henry so that he could see the back of the hat where there was a space above the size buttons. "See," Tom said with a laugh in his voice, "some hair sticks out of the top of that opening. You don’t look bald. Now let’s go meet a bunch of folks who will only know you as the guy with the short haircut."
The father and son got out of the car and headed to the field. They met the other coaching staff, including Max, the student Henry would be replacing. They talked about the challenges of working with small children and their parents. As the parents and children started to arrive, Henry had the immediate thought that he should go make sure his hair was brushed and in place. Then he remembered that this was no longer a problem and simply took off his hat and smoothed his bangs back. Max happened to glance over and said, "hey cool haircut, looks like what a lot of the EPL (English Premier League) players are wearing."
Henry hid his surprise and said, "actually, I had long hair until an hour ago. I thought this made a lot more sense for the summer."
Max, whose own hair wasn’t nearly as long as Henry’s had been replied, "I hear you. I’m getting this mop buzzed off before the tryouts. I have a short haircut every summer. My girlfriend isn’t crazy about it, but I told her that it’s happening." Henry was quite amazed by Max’s attitude. He knew others weren’t as particular about their hair as he was. But this cavalier attitude and not worrying about what other people thought was new to him. But soon they were engulfed in an ocean of tiny people hugging Max’s legs and looking at this new person with excitement. Henry was introduced and the children were told that "Coach Henry" would be helping Coach Dave and Coach Mike while Coach Max was away ‘just for a little while.’ Then Henry and Tom headed home. Tom stopped briefly at the CVS and told Henry to wait in the car while he ran inside.
When they arrived home, Tom handed Henry the CVS bag and told him "here you go bud, you’ll need these." Henry looked in the bag, rolled his eyes and headed up to his room.
Ellen, his mother, calling after him, "we have not changed the ‘no hats in the house rule young man’. Then she turned to Tom and said, "well it looks like both my men got haircuts. Yours looks great. I’ve always wondered what you would look like with a shorter cut. How did you end up getting a haircut and how did things go with Henry?"
Tom explained to Ellen about how he ended up getting his haircut and told her about Henry’s reaction to his haircut. Meanwhile, Henry had gone to his room, taken off his hat and looked in despair at his image in the mirror. The reality of his haircut struck him again. His bangs flopped onto his forehead, his hair flat against his scalp, and the very short hair on the sides of his head with his uncovered ears. Henry loved to run his fingers through his long hair before he "dressed" it for the day. Then, he would only touch it lightly to make sure everything was in place. Now, he found himself running his hands over the sides and back of his head and feeling the unexpected tingle of the bristles. He was alarmed that he liked this new sensation, knowing from observing his friends that the bristles would grow quickly and would leave him looking less than perfect. Next, he ran his fingers through the short choppy hair on top of his head and couldn’t believe how short and uneven it was. He went into the Jack and Jill bathroom he shared with his sister. He turned to his sink and found the shelf above it empty of the hair products, brushes and hairdryer that usually sat there. Being an intuitive young man, he remembered the bag his father had given him and returned to his bedroom to retrieve it. In it, he found a package of three combs of various sizes and a plastic bottle of Vitalis. He returned to the bathroom, opened the package of combs, chose one and was amazed at how quickly he was able to comb his hair back into the style Johnny the barber had given it. He sighed, locked the bathroom’s doors and took a shower.
Henry got out of the shower, dried himself off and applied deodorant. He tried to comb his hair and found the bangs flopping down onto his forehead. He looked with disdain at the Vitalis, but opened it, poured a small amount into his hands, worked it into his hair, and again combed his hair, relieved to see the short bangs lay back in place off his forehead. Then, in a moment of sheer madness (to Henry’s way of thinking) he ran his hands through his hair and made a mess of it and combed it back in place. He was very pleased with himself. But then, he noticed the slightly uneven tabs where his very precise sideburns used to be. At first, he thought, "I’ll show dad how flexible I can be by leaving these as they are." But the more he looked at them in the mirror, the more anxious he became. He decided, he would just trim the longer sideburn, and nobody would be the wiser. So, Henry carefully took his razor (he only needed to shave a couple of times a week) and trimmed just a bit off. He looked in the mirror and was sure he had cut too much off. The more he tried, the more anxious he became until he found himself with the sideburns cut to the top of his ears! He wanted to cry. But Henry realized that he had to accept this as part of his working through this issue his parents identified.
He got dressed and went downstairs to show his mother his new haircut. "Darling, you look wonderful! Those sideburns are a bit short though, what was the barber thinking?"
Henry blushed slightly and said, "I’m still getting used to the haircut, I prefer a more controlled look, but I have to take responsibility for the sideburns. I suspect they were left slightly askew to vex me and I fell into the trap," (he looked meaningfully at his father as he said this), "but it showed me that you and dad are right. I need to work on this flexibility and resilience issue."
Tom smiled at his son and said, "I am really proud of the way you’ve handled things today. One more thing I’ll ask you to do is to lay off the Vitalis except for dates and formal occasions."
Over the next week, Henry faced many challenges, from sticky little fingers on his clean shorts and legs, to 10 little kids running in ten different directions and not following his brilliant plans, to ‘Coach Henry, I have to wee wee’ from one child after another. Henry came home sweaty, with terrible ‘hat hair’ and bangs either plastered to his forehead or comically pushed back under his hat. By week three, Henry had made progress with the kids and had them running in lines and kicking the ball. He was even enjoying their hugs with their sticky hands and snotty noses, though, he still peeled off his clothes and jumped in the shower as soon as he got home. He hated to admit it, but he even appreciated his short haircut. He liked the way the taper was growing in, though he did miss the feel of the bristles at the base of his neck. He did like having a little more control over the hair on top and he was having fun combing it after work.
On the Friday that the Soccer coaching ended, Tom picked Henry up and told him to be up early Saturday and ready to go out to discuss and prepare for his next "assignment." Tom dropped Henry at home and proceeded to visit his barber Frank. He knew Frank was going to give him a good-natured hard time about his haircut from Johnny. "So, you finally have the courage to come back! You didn’t think you could cheat on me with my best friend in the business and I wouldn’t find out!" Frank had said all of this in an angry voice that he could sustain no longer as he looked at Tom’s chagrined face and dissolved into gales of laughter that soon had tears rolling down his cheeks. "Oh Tom, the look on your face!"
"Frank, you had me worried there. I take it Johnny explained how this all happened."
Well, the part about your son, I understand, but if you were finally getting that mop cut, you did owe me "dibs," so get in this chair and let me finish the job Johnny started." Tom thought about the years of trust built up between him and Frank, remember how much he enjoyed the haircut at Johnny’s and obediently hopped into Frank’s big red chair. "O.K., Tom, now I want no complaints from you today. I am giving you the haircut I have wanted you to try for the last 8 years. With that, Frank caped him up and went to work.
Unlike Henry, Tom’s inertia over change in the way he usually wore his hair was just that--inertia. He’d gotten into the habit of Frank trimming it up a bit when he found time to go in or when Ellen thought he was looking shaggy. He ran his own business, so no corporate policies controlled him. And this seemed like fun, especially with what he had planned for Henry tomorrow! He knew what was in store for him, more-or-less, and figured he would enjoy the ride. As his mind drifted, he suddenly realized that Frank had started the clippers running up his sideburn and part way up the side of his head. "Well," he thought, "looks like Frank’s finally giving me that tapered cut he’s been on about. Well, those clippers do sort of feel good." Frank started clipping up the back of Tom’s head. It was as aggressive as a fade, but it was another new sensation for Tom. By the time Frank finished with the clippers, and started spraying Tom’s hair, Tom was actually excited to see how short his hair was going to be. He was quite surprised to see that about half the length was laying in his lap. When Frank finished the cut and worked a small amount of pomade through his hair, Tom could hardly wait to see the finished product. "Holy Hollywood Frank! I look like one of those 1960s action heroes! Ellen is going to love this."
And love it, Ellen did. To say she could hardly contain herself until they could lock the bedroom door would be putting it mildly. She programmed "The Theme from Peter Gunn" and the "Jackie Brown" soundtrack on Spotify and they had quite an evening. "Oh Tom," she said, when they came up for air, "that haircut, its so sleek and sexy. I love running my hands through the top and feeling the nice smooth tapered sides." Tom smiled contentedly.
The next day, a sleepy, but happy Tom, drove Henry back to Johnny’s barbershop. On the way, he explained that the second "internship" of Henry’s summer was going to involve ‘brains and brawn.’ I have arranged for you to work with Chuck Weaver. He’s building a new housing development and wants some help with project management software. With your computer smarts and our desire to give you new experiences, this should be the perfect job."
"Well dad, I’m not nearly as freaked out as I was a month ago, but from the looks of your new haircut, I have a feeling I’m not just hear for a trim today. But, as nervous as this thing makes me, I really feel like this whole crazy idea may be working."
As they walked into Johnny’s, the barber rose to greet them. "Gentlemen, welcome back. Tom, I see my protégé has worked his magic on you. That is an outstanding cut."
"Thanks Johnny, my wife really likes it, so I think this is a keeper. But enough about my haircut. This fellow is starting on a new summer project on Monday and he needs to make a good first impression." Johnny invited Henry to sit in his chair and caped him up.
"Well, what’s it to be? Same as last time?"
Tom piped up, "not this time. Now that we’ve got Henry used to shorter hair let’s go with a good old crewcut this time.
Henry’s eyes popped and he got a rather comical expression on his face. Johnny looked at him and said, "O.K. with you Henry?"
To both men’s surprise, Henry replied, "sure, it makes a lot of sense for a construction job. Let’s get rid of this mop." (Henry was learning that part of resilience was a quick analysis of changing facts and sometimes ‘faking it, until you can make it.’) Henry was surprised at how different the clippers felt as the went all the way up the sides and back of his head. Johnny was pressing a little harder too. It felt good though. He did get a bit shaky when he felt the clippers on the top of his head near the back. But then, Johnny turned them off. Johnny took out his scissors and a long comb. After wetting Henry’s remaining longer hair, he combed it forward and started cutting it short with the scissors. This was an exacting process that ended with Henry’s hair being about 3/4s of an inch long on top with a bumper of a bit over an inch in front. Johnny then meticulously blended the sides with the clippers, cleaned up the neck and now grown in sideburn tabs and finished off with some butch wax to get the front standing tall.
"Voila," said Johnny, turning Henry toward the mirror, "one classic summer crewcut."
Before Tom could speak, Henry responded, "outstanding! And rubbed his hands up and down the sides of his head. No muss, no fuss. A little wax and I’m good to go. Dad, lets get some of that wax before we leave."
"Who are you and what have you done with my son?" Tom said this with a laugh in his voice. "Thanks Johnny. You hit a home run today." Henry just smiled as the kernel of a longer-term plan started to form in his brain. "Let’s go son, we’ve got an appointment with your new boss."
Chuck Weaver had started his business from scratch. At the age of 40, he had become a successful builder of small developments of homes and commercial sites. He was known for his honesty, the quality of his work, and his friendliness. He ran his business from his home office and a project trailer onsite. Tom and Henry went to Chuck’s home office in a handsome stone colonial home on a large lot. The home had once been owned by a Medical Doctor in those far off days when doctors ran their practices out of their homes and even made house calls. Chuck had converted the doctor’s suite into his offices. This was convenient because a separate outside entrance allowed Chuck to keep his business somewhat separate from his homelife, but his private office also had a bathroom with a shower and a direct entrance to his home. The first thing Henry noticed about Chuck, when he greeted them at the office door was his short perfectly groomed flat top haircut. "Welcome Tom, and you must be Henry. Now that is what I like to see a young fellow with a clean-cut short haircut. Looks like your son’s moving in you in the right direction too Tom. I’ve never seen Frank give you more than a light trim."
"Actually Mr. Weaver it’s my dad who’s taken the lead on shorter hair. I’d gone from long to short after school got out when dad got his first shorter cut. Then today, he suggested I get cleaned up before I met you and I just figured I might as well really go for it."
"Well young fellow, I think we are going to get along just fine." My business is getting big enough that I need to start using some project management and financial software. I’ll need you to help to set it up and load data and then we can run some reports. Half the day, you’ll work as a helper on the site. How does that sound?" Henry thought that sounded great and said that he was looking forward to getting started.
The new job worked well for Henry and Tom and Ellen found new excitement in the boudoir as Ellen’s delight over Tom’s short sleek haircut continued "unslaked" as Tom joked. Henry was in his element working with the software programs, giving the precision side of his brain plenty of exercise and providing Chuck with great results. Henry found his crew cut to be practical and tactile and was making great progress in that regard. He found that the construction workers were a decent bunch of men. They joked with him and with each other and he learned the difference between sarcasm and cruelty. He also learned a higher tolerance for dirt and dust, common components of a construction site and his willingness to help clean up was greatly appreciated. Henry was also a very task-oriented young man and often took computer-related work home with him and volunteered to work on a Saturday when he wanted to demonstrate to Chuck some new reports he had set up. Chuck was a big-hearted family man himself so after getting the approval of Ellen and Tom, he agreed to a brief Saturday session. When Henry showed Chuck the new reports and how much better they were a tracking expenses and possibly cutting down on waste, Chuck was thrilled. "Henry, how about if I buy you lunch?"
"That would be great sir."
"What did I tell you about that ‘sir’ stuff?
"That would be great Chuck."
"Come on, hop in the "Explorer." As they pulled out of Chuck’s driveway, Chuck said, I have another treat for you Henry. You and I both are in need of Frank’s ministrations. What say, I treat you to a haircut too?" Henry liked this idea very much because he had been looking for an opportunity to get reintroduced to Frank and his barbershop.
When they arrived, Frank’s morning rush was just ending. "Chuck, good to see you. I thought you might be in. And this is never Tom’s Henry? Well Henry, its good to see you too. My friend Johnny has been taking good care of you and your dad tells me you are working with Chuck for the summer."
"Yes sir Mr. Messina, and Mr. We…I mean Chuck has kindly offered to take me out to lunch and pay for my haircut today."
"Now Henry, you call me Frank, like you did when you were a nipper and your dad brought you here for your first haircut (Frank dramatically crossed himself in the Catholic fashion and continued) though heaven knows, you were not a very cooperative little fellow that day."
Henry colored slightly but said, "no worries on that account today, Dad and Johnny have converted me to a barbershop haircut lover."
Chuck said, "Henry, how about trying a flattie like mine today?" You don’t have to, but I’d love to show the guys how great it looks on a young man like you and maybe we can convert one of them before the summer’s over."
"I’m game Chuck. What do you say Frank?"
"I say let’s surprise your dad and get this done." Henry who had surprised himself found that he was looking forward to his flattop and asked if he could go first. Frank went to work and quickly had the sides and back shorn down tightly. "Now hold very still Henry, I am going to be creating your landing strip and I want it to be perfect." Henry felt chills as the clippers moved along the top of his head. Frank was a master of the flat top and he worked mostly freehand creating a tight flat cut that pleased Henry’s aesthetic sense and thrilled him tactilely when he finally got to touch it. Henry’s smile was wide and genuine when he examined his new cut. Thank you, Frank. I love it." Frank soon had Chuck’s flat top back in shape and the two left the shop and had a pleasant lunch, garnering more than a few longing glances from young and not-so-young women that saw these two handsome athletic looking men sharing a booth at a local café.
When Henry got home, his parents were drinking coffee at the kitchen table. "Hi guys, what do your think of my flattie? Frank hooked me up today."
This time it was his mother who asked: "who are you and what have you done with my son?" The three had a good laugh and Henry proceeded to explain how the morning had passed and how completely thrilled he was with his new haircut.
"Dad, there was no anxiety, no hesitation. I was so ready for this. For Chuck’s sake, I’d like to keep this cut for the rest of the summer, if that’s o.k." His parents both agreed. They were very proud of the progress Henry had made. As the summer continued, Henry also became more flexible in a number of areas and he continued to aid Chuck in his business, even convincing two of the younger crew to try out flat tops!
August came around all too soon and that meant that Henry wanted to put his payback plan to work. He had seen how much his mother and father had enjoyed his dad’s shorter haircut but knew his dad would not try anything as daring as a full-on clipper cut of his own volition. So, he enlisted Chuck, Johnny and Frank into his plan. All he needed to do was get his father to Frank’s Barber Shop on a particular Saturday morning. He knew his father was due for a trim and he was actually overdue. So, as they sat around on Friday evening, Henry casually said: "hey day why don’t we go over to Frank’s tomorrow morning for haircuts. I want to beat the back-to-school rush and with soccer practice starting up, I don’t know when we’ll have a chance to go together again." Tom was touched by this seemingly sentimental gesture and agreed.
When they arrived at the shop, they found that Chuck was in the chair and his son, Chuck Junior, a Middle Schooler, was freshly cropped and waiting for his dad. There were pleasant greetings all around. Then, who should emerge from Frank’s back room with a big cup of coffee, but Johnny! "Johnny," said Tom, "this is a nice surprise." Johnny explained that he still liked to "check-up" on his old protégé. While Johnny was talking, Frank finished up on Chuck’s hair.
"Dad, can we go, I want to watch the Liverpool match on NBCSN," Chuck Junior asked.
"I’ve got it on in the back room Chucky, go in there and watch," Frank said.
"He just wants to look at that Rebecca Lowe that hosts the show" his father laughed. "Her accent drives him wild."
"So, Johnny, you want to take a shot at Henry’s flat top since I got the empty chair? That way, I can get started on Tom."
"Do you mind that Henry." Johnny, playing his role to perfection, asked.
"Not at all Johnny, you know I trust your skills. But I’m glad I have both barbers and Chuck here for a consultation. With soccer and school starting, I was thinking of maybe going for a fuller boxy flat, you know the older 1950s style. I understand that those last a bit longer and if practice or homework get in the way, my flat top won’t look bad. Don’t worry dad, I’m just thinking about keeping up a clean-cut look not obsessing."
"Funny you should ask that," said Chuck. "I like those old-style flattops too. But I never have the courage to change my style."
"Well," said Johnny, you certainly have the right kind of hair for it."
"But would it look good, I’ve never seen one on anybody I know."
Frank now pulls the pin out of the grenade, "hey Tom, you have exactly the same kind of hair as Henry, how about I show him what it looks like on you?"
"Oh, dad that would be so cool. You know mom likes a short haircut on you. You would look great."
"Heck, Tom, I’d love to have another businessman with a flattie in town. And if you do it, I’ll grow mine out to match yours."
"Tom, I know you’re a flexible enough guy to do this", Johnny said, reminding Tom of their first discussion in his barbershop several months ago.
"O.K., you guys convinced me. Let’s get this haircut done." For about 20 seconds, Tom felt the isolation and anxiety his son had experienced at many points during his struggle. But Tom looked at his son smiling broadly and thought of all the progress Henry had made and suddenly felt calm. Frank adjusted his clippers and began clearing off most of the hair from the sides and back of his head. He felt a strange sense of excitement and was that a…it was ‘oh my G-d, I’m getting a woody, what am I, 16?’ he thought to himself, remembering the days when anything pleasurable would set him off. Meanwhile, Johnny had done a remarkable job of tapering the sides of Henry’s hair and just trimming the top slightly so that the deck was flat, but still with a recognizable landing strip. Henry was on the way to his longer, boxy flat. Tom’s flat top was now taking shape too, as Frank brushed the top back and dried it. He then began the process of taking the length down using the clipper over comb method because Tom’ hair was still rather long and thick. Frank had a vision of Tom’s flat top that included a defined, but slight landing strip, with a very full and very boxy flat top, traditional and appropriate for a man in Tom’s position yet giving him the youthful, handsome, look he deserved. With his sideburns shortened and the tightly tapered sides, Tom resembled a young Robert Wagner in the movie "In Love and War."
As Chuck looked at the freshly cropped father and son, he said, "Tom, you and Henry both look great, with Chucky, and guys at work that Henry got to join in, we’re really turning this town flat! And I promise, I’ll be getting my boxy flat too. I know Frank will see to that"
Tom looked at himself in the mirror and was delighted at the results. He looked better than he expected, and he couldn’t believe how the sides felt. He hoped he was gauging what he hoped Ellen’s reaction to be correctly. He anticipated a hot time tonight. "I have a feeling that I’ve been had by you three and I’m not exactly sure how I ended up with this flat top, but...come here son." Henry went over to his dad who took his son’s hand and rubbed it up and down the back of his (Tom’s) freshly shorn head. "Henry, I suspect there was a bit ‘getting your own back’ and a bit of pushing me out of my comfort zone. Whatever it was, thank you all. I really liked this experience. We’ll see what Ellen thinks and I’ll see how it grows on me, but I do not and will not regret this."
As they drove home, Henry echoed his dad’s sentiments as regarded the summer and admitted that he had planned the days events. Tom laughed at how resilient and cunning his son had become. Further talk was curtailed when they arrived home and Ellen took one look at Tom and told Henry he and his sister would be on their own for the afternoon, as she rushed her husband to Hyatt across town to show him just how much she loved his latest haircut.