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Virulent Haircuts by Deke Cutter

“Holy crap, did you see him? Why the hell did he do it. He looks ridiculous," Tom said to his colleague Rick.

“It’s not that bad, Tom. But, Jeez, it sure is short. Let’s see if he says anything to us."

The ‘he’ was their supervisor, Brian and the ‘it’ was his hair, formerly a lush businessman’s cut, covering his ears and touching is collar. It had been wavy and always looked perfect. He now had what appeared to be a crewcut. Gone were the waves and the thick thatch. His ears that, to Brian’s benefit, did not stick out, were on display. And you could see the newly white strip of his formerly covered neckline and forehead.

This Monday, they all maintained their social distance, but had none-the-less come into the office to carry out some needed security checks and for an impromptu meeting with each of them sitting 6 feet apart in a large empty room. “So, guys, in case you didn’t notice, I got a bit of a trim," Brian joked, to break the awkwardness his two team leaders were obviously feeling.

“Any reason for the ‘big chop’, Brian, that’s some big change!" This was asked by Tom who wore his curly brown hair on the long side and was always the first one to poke fun at any guy who came to work with a short haircut. This particularly annoyed Rick who was, generally, a decent person and who enjoyed sometimes wearing his hair short.

“Well, it was really this indefinite work-at-home situation for the pandemic. Claire told me she was not having me looking like I just got out of bed at lunch time so I just decided I might as well get something easier to manage and save some time and earache. Plus, I wanted to get it done while the barber shops are still open. Tony, my barber is such a clean freak to start with, I felt comfortable going in. He made all his barbers wear masks, went to appointments only, wiped down the chairs between clients, kept 6 feet between chairs (so only two of his 4 chairs were operating), and of course all the implements were sterilized. I asked him if he thought I was too old for a crew cut and the next thing I knew, half my head was buzzed down! When he finished me off and I looked in the mirror, I thought I was looking at my brother Jack."

Rick turned to Tom and explained, “Jack is Brian’s brother who graduated high school with me. Brian was a year ahead of us. We both went to the same college, but Jack was in ROTC and went right into the Army after graduation."

Brian picked up his narrative again, “I Skyped Jack when I got home from the barbershop and he was speechless. This was the first time his hair was longer than mine (well, slightly, he had a regulation Army haircut) since high school. He’s coming back from Korea today and will be starting his next assignment down in DC. I told him I’d pick him up at the airport when his flight gets in." The light on the conference room phone that indicated the reception phone was ringing caught his eye. “Tom, you’re closest, will you punch in 375# on that phone and see who is calling the front desk."

“It’s building security, they say there is a Captain John Wilson, U. S. Army here to see you."

“What the f…? That’s Jack, tell them to send him up." Moments later the doors from the elevator lobby opened to a uniformed Army officer with a sharp flat top haircut. He placed a bag on an empty chair.

“Big brother, you really did get rid of all that girly hair! OUTSTANDING!" The Captain said this with a huge smile on his face while enveloping his nearly identical brother in a fraternal bear hug.

“And you couldn’t stand that my hair was shorter than yours, laughed Brian."

“That’s right ‘Brianna.’ As soon as we were done Skyping, I headed for the PX and got this beauty," Jack said, tilting his head forward to show off his landing strip. “But hey, did I interrupt some actual business going on here? Sorry guys."

“We were just finishing up," Brian said. “You know Rick of course, and this is Tom Romanelli. Rick and Tom are my two top Team Leads." Jack shook hands with Tom and gave Rick the ‘bro hug.’ Brian looked at the bag Jack had placed in the chair and said, “I thought I was picking you up. Is that all your luggage?"

“No, you lunk-head! It’s in the car I rented. I flew in yesterday and was going to surprise mom and dad but then realized it might mess up their travel plans with all this self-quarantine stuff. Our base has been on lockdown, but that might not have been good enough for the civilians, even if the pilot and plane were from the same place I was. So, I grabbed a bed in B.O.Q. last night and here I am. I can stay on the base or head down to DC, but Becky and the kids can’t come until the Governor down there lifts the stay home order."

“Like heck, you are coming home with me, little bro. So, what’s in that bag on the chair, then?"

As Jack was about to answer, an announcement came over the building’s Public Address system. “Due to an incident within 1000 feet of this building, entrance and exit from this building is currently prohibited for reasons associated with public health and safety. Please shelter in place and await further instructions." Brian said that, as a member of the company’s safety team, he could probably find out what was going on and told the three others to wait in the conference room while he made a call from his office.

“Looks like the Army is treating you well, Jack," Rick said. “I figured you would make a success of it. You sure never had a problem getting your suite-mates out doing ‘p-t,’ anyway.’

Jack laughed and said, “as I recall, that lasted about one semester before you guys threatened to throw me out. And you and Duff were the only two guys in the dorm not in ROTC who ever took up my offer of free haircuts." Rick unconsciously ran his hands through his middle-parted hair that fell below his ears and lapped his collar.

“Well, I was always broke, and Duff’s coach was such a hard a*s that he had to keep his hair short. You were reasonably priced and had a real gift for cutting hair."

Tom, feeling somewhat left out of this conversation, asked, “so Jack, you were the dorm barber? Seems like there are one or two at every school."

Jack inclined his head toward the dark brown mass of curls that covered Tom’s head and said, “yes, and it looks like both of you need to go back to school." Then he left out a big laugh.

Brian returned stating, “guys, it looks like we may be stuck in here for most of the day. Three idiots claim to have been infected and announced that they have been licking door handles, parking meters, car doors, and any other surface they could find in a three-block area. This building is in the lock-down zone. Luckily, we have good security so they couldn’t get in here. Some buildings are being searched and they are going to disinfect everything. Looks like we’re having vending machine lunches. At least we can use the fancy Nespresso coffee maker to keep us going. So, bro, what is in that bag? Food I hope."

“Something better, my formerly shaggy sibling. I wanted to ensure that if this State goes to total lockdown, you don’t have to return to your shaggy ways." With that, Jack opened the bag to reveal a Wahl Haircutting Kit. Before I leave, I’ll give you a trim and teach you and Claire how to use this kit."

“I’m going to shock the brass off your buttons baby brother and thank you for a great gift. I don’t know if this crewcut is a keeper for me long-term, but there’s no use not keeping it simple for a while and maybe the two of us can convince your shaggy nephews to join us in the easy hair care regime."

During this discussion, Tom had wandered off to ‘reconnoiter’ the vending machines and refrigerators of the two staff kitchens on the floor. While he was off hunting and gathering, Jack turned to Rick and said, “you know Rick, how about I hook you up with a trim while we’re waiting for the chow call? I used to give you some ‘pretty sweet’ cuts back at school. You know my repertoire extends beyond clipper cuts."

Rick looked nonplused and turned toward his boss for some sense of what to do. “Don’t look at me, man, all I can tell you is he’s always given me great haircuts, and this (he pointed to his head) is my first-ever crewcut and he didn’t administer it."

“Well, the thing is, I’m way overdue for a haircut and I’ve been thinking of getting a shorter cut, something like the classic kind of cut Carson Daly wears, you know side parted, combed off the forehead. You did give me great haircuts at school, so, hell yeah, let’s do it!"

“OK, buddy, go wet your hair down and I’ll get this kit open." When Tom returned with a copier paper box full of treats, his eyes nearly popped out of his head as he saw Rick, covered in a barber cape, with Jack getting ready to cut Rick’s chin length bangs above his eyebrows. Snip, snip, snip. “Now Rick, I’ve got the bulk off and those long bangs are done. I suggest a slight taper to the sides and back, if you feel comfortable with that." Rick gave him a thumbs up and Jack turned the clippers on.

“What happened while I was gone?" Tom asked this of Brian, as Brian came over to him and looked in the box.

“Well, my brother made Rick an offer he couldn’t refuse. Oh, I apologize, that wasn’t meant as a cultural slur. Jack offered to give Rick a haircut and Rick accepted. Hey man, you found some good stuff. Ooh, you got some long shelf life milk!" Where did you get the ‘good’ coffee pods? Those look like my secret stash." Tom’s face reddened slightly. “Oh, so it’s not such a secret?"

“Right Rick, I’m about done. I’ll bet you’ve got some product in your desk. Why don’t you go fix your hair and tell me what you think of the cut. Tom, is there a broom and dust-pan around here some place?" When Tom returned the two tightly cropped brothers were laying out the food Tom had collected. Tom started sweeping up his friend’s hair and putting it into a nearby can. As Tom finished cleaning up, Rick returned with his hair neatly combed and with a big smile on his face.

“Jack, you have not lost your touch! OK, Tom, you’re up next. Rick turned to Brian and said, “Tom was telling me this morning how much he admired you for making a big change like you did and how much he liked the look of a crewcut. Well Tom, here’s your chance!" Tom knew that Rick had him cornered and tried to think fast on his feet.

“Oh no, I couldn’t impose on the Captain that way."

Rick got an evil smile on his face, “now Tom, what was it you said when Mickey Fielding came in with the flat top last summer? (Tom had been downright cruel to Mickey who had got the cut at his son’s request to help him through a rough patch when the kid’s coach made him get one). Tom certainly didn’t want Brian to know what a complete dickweed he had been about that. You were saying back then how much you wished you had the chance to go short and here it is."

Tom knew defeat when he saw it and he sort of knew that his time had come. “Sure, Jack, if you don’t mind."

“Brian, hand me that bag I had the kit in." Jack stuck his hand into the bag and pulled out a bottle of denatured alcohol. “First rule of barbering, whether you are in a time of ‘plague’ or not, cleanliness. With that, he took the roll of paper towels Tom had brought in his food treasure box and began cleaning each piece of equipment he had used on Rick. Now, let’s get this cape on you and get started. After caping him, Jack felt Tom’s head all around to get a sense of its shape. Then he took his comb and combed the hair away from his ears to see if they were prominent.

“Tom, it looks like you’re a good candidate for a short haircut. You have a good shaped head and your ears don’t stick out. Here’s what I am going to do. I am going to cut everything but the front half of your head with clippers with a No. 8 blade for a start. That will leave one inch of hair. Once I see how that looks, then I’ll taper the sides and back down and figure out what will look best on top. Without waiting for the somewhat shellshocked Tom to reply, Jack made quick work of removing the curls from most of Tom’s head. He then tapered and blended the sides and back, cleaned up the neck and sideburns and around the ears. Using his hands, a glass of water and a paper towel, Jack wet the curls on top of Tom’s head and the cut them back to a length of about 1.5 inches. He borrowed a little bit of the product that Rick had with him and pushed the bumper he had left in the font up. “Now, let’s get out your phone and see what you think."

Rick, who had quietly been taking pictures throughout, snapped one more and showed it to Tom. “I don’t recognize myself," said Tom.

Jack removed the cape and took Tom’s hands and placed them on the sides of his head and said “feel."

“Whoa, I’ve got to go over to the bathroom and check this out in the mirror."

The other three gave him about 20 seconds before they barged in and started rubbing his head and giving him a hard time. “Thanks Jack, I think I like it. Like Brian said, I’m not sure I’ll keep it, but I’m sure glad I did it."

Brian stood next to him in the mirror and rubbed both of their heads saying. “And look at it this way, Tom, since we’re working from home, for a while, nobody will be calling you ‘porcupine’ or ‘Nazi Skinhead’, at least for a couple weeks." Tom’s complexion turned red as he realized that his boss was aware of the names he had ‘jokingly’ called colleagues over the last two years when they had come in with new short haircuts “And you know what Tom, I’ll bet that when they lift the stay-at-home order, you’ll be over at my door to get this crewcut cleaned up before we come back to work at the office."

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