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My Short Career As A Long Hair Part I by Deke Cutter
“Wow grampa, is that really you! I can’t believe it, your hair! It was so long." This was my grandson, Jimmy. I had dug out an old album from my sophomore year of high school. My straight blonde hair fell almost to my shoulders. I parted it in the middle, as was the cool style in the 1970s. I still had a pretty decent head of hair for a man in my 60s and I wore in a full businessman’s style. It was starting to go grey at the temples.
“Yes Jimmy, many boys had long hair back then. You’ve heard “the Beatles" music your dad and I both like." Jimmy smiled.
“I like them too." (And it was true, for a 9 year old kid, his musical taste and ear were excellent).
“Well, before the Beatles, most boys had short hair, but the Beatles had hair that was a little longer and combed down, sort of like your haircut."
“But grampa, my hair isn’t long!"
“Not now that we’re accustomed to it. But way back then, a lot of boys and men had crew cuts and flat tops and what used to be called ‘regular haircuts.’ Those were haircuts off the ears and parted on the sides. And after boys saw the Beatles and other bands from England, everybody wanted long hair. But, a lot of moms and dads didn’t like it."
“So, greatgrampa and greatgammy weren’t like that?"
“They hated it, my dad, especially! And I didn’t get to have that long hair for very long after that."
“Jimmy, come on son, time to go!" That was my son, Peter, there to pick up Jimmy who was staying with me while his school was on spring break and his parents and my wife were both working.
His question had taken me back to those days in the 1970s. There were constant battles with my dad about my hair and my clothes. Mom would try to be a peacemaker and would broker compromises. If I had been a more self-aware kid, I might have realized how lucky I was to have her trying to make things work when she was really struggling to accept all the changes kids were pushing at the time. I continued to push the envelope and my grades started to drop when my friends and I started cutting classes and sneaking beers some afternoons. Then one day, my friend Rocky’s dad came home unexpectedly and caught us. Rocky’s dad called all our dads and mine went ballistic! He told Mr. Cimaglia that my mom would be over to pick me up “toot sweet."
Dad had gone to college on the G.I. Bill after World War II and become an engineer. He was the first college graduate in his family. He worked at the big aerospace company in town and, looking back now, I realize what a high mountain he had climbed.
Mom’s look when she picked me up was one of pure disappointment. “Jimmy," she said, you really did it this time. (Yes, my grandson is James, a family tradition. My father was Peter, my first son is Peter and so on.) When we got home, I went up to my room and waited and waited. Finally, I heard father’s Dodge pull into our driveway. There were voices speaking in the kitchen too low for me to hear. Dad came into my room.
“Wash your face, brush your teeth and get out of those bell-bottoms and put on these chinos and a pair of sox and these new sneakers. Be downstairs in 10 minutes." I started to speak, and he said, “Not a word." I did as he said, washed my face, brushed my teeth (and my hair) and went downstairs. My parents were standing in the kitchen. Dad began, “Jimmy, you have let us all down and it’s going to stop now. Don’t look at your mother, she agrees. The changes start now. Your schoolwork becomes your top priority. You will not miss any classes, you will be spending your free period with Mr. Mac. (Mr. Mac was one of the P.E. teachers and the basketball coach. He was a friend of my mom’s brother, Uncle Dan, who he used to teach with). He has agreed that you will help him with chores in the gym or get a start on your homework. Your personal appearance is going to reflect externally this family’s values because you have shown that you have not internalized those values. Your brother and sister are spending the night with your grandparents. We three have a busy afternoon and evening. You and I have an important task and your mother has some shopping to do."
Dad hustled me into the Dodge and mom got her pocketbook and got into the big Buick. “Needless-to-say, that hair is going Jim. And it is not coming back, not very much of it, not for a while. I expect you to behave like a young man that is trying to make amends when we are in that barbershop. Understood?"
I was in such a state, I didn’t know what to do. I was a teenager, I was angry, sad, upset, and ashamed. I knew that my dad was very serious and that I was in deep trouble. “I understand dad. I screwed up," I said, and was embarrassed to find myself starting to sob.
Dad pulled the car over, unbuckled his seatbelt, handed me a clean hankie, and let me get myself together. Then he did something that shocked me, he put his arm around me and gave me a hug. “Jimmy you are one knuckleheaded teenage boy. I am angry and disappointed, but mom and I love you and the other kids more than anything on this earth. I know these changes are going to be hard for you, but never forget that they come from our love and concern."
We soon arrived at Mike’s Barber Shop and I was relieved to see that we were the only ones there besides Mike and the other barber Vinnie. Mike welcomed dad, a biweekly customer, with a big smile. “Hello Pete, you were just in a few days ago, so I’m guessing Jimmy must be my customer."
“Jimmy got himself into a bit of trouble, and he’s getting a crew cut today as part of his ‘road to redemption.’ Nice and short, with a little bit up front, like you used to give him and his brother."
Mike said, “as long as Jimmy is on board with this. I’ve had some long- haired fellows put up quite a ruckus when their dads have brought them in here and I won’t have that in my shop."
“I am ready for this Mike. I won’t cause any trouble." That was the hardest sentence I ever got out of my mouth. I thought I would start bawling again, but I held it together. Mike started by combing my hair down obliterating my center part and leaving my hair hanging down to my chin. I felt him lift the hair at the back of my head and I felt the clippers on my neck. Mike had probably been cutting hair for 25 years and was very efficient. I felt the clippers climbing up my neck all the way to the top and then start down at the bottom again. After about 5 of those the back of my head felt different. Mike took the clippers and pushed them up from my right sideburn all the way up above the top of my ear and he quickly had the right side of my head done. He folded my ear down to make sure he didn’t leave anything behind. I half wished I could see the damage but was half glad my long bangs still covered my wet eyes, as he started on the left side. It seemed almost like an out of body experience for me. All the while I’m being scalped, my dad and Mike are talking about Nixon and the Viet Nam War. That started getting a bit touchy because they didn’t agree one hundred percent, so they switched to sports. Lots of talk about college ‘hoops’ and Bill Walton, Henry Bibby, Bob McAdoo—guys who became household names and superstars later in the NBA.
Meanwhile, Mike had finished his work on the back and sides and as was his style, he stopped at that point to do the fine razor work around my ears and neck. He applied the hot shaving cream and dad told him to “clean off those sideburns, make them like mine." That meant just to the opening of the ear. I remember how strange that felt. It had only been a couple of years but, I had forgotten what a funny sensation it was. When he’d cleaned the excess off me and caped me back up, he sprayed my long hair on top with the water and I felt some of the cool water drip down on the sides of my head. This is when it got real for me.
“Alright Jimmy, hold your head nice and straight for me, I’m going to get this hair out of your eyes before I get going on the top." With that, after making sure my head was positioned right, Mike took his sheers and cut his way straight at the top of my eyebrows. All of the sudden, I was looking in the mirror at myself, skinned on the sides with a cape full of blonde hair and straight bangs running across my forehead. Mike could tell I was about to lose it, so he quickly used his brush across my face and handed me a tissue to knock away “any strays that got in my eyes." He went to works with his comb and his sheers, just about an inch or so behind my bangs, cutting the hair very short. Lifting and cutting, lifting and cutting—he repeated this all over the top of my head, except the front. Then he got the clippers out and using clipper over comb, he took everything down to an even short length. Finally, he turned them off. Then he started on the bangs. He cut what was left much shorter and at an angle. Then he thinned them out some, trimmed them here and there until he had them just as he wanted. He looked at my dad and asked: “a little wax up front?" My dad nodded. He took just a bit of “butch wax" and rubbed it between his fingers then worked it into my little bangs and brushed the up and over. “There you go Pete, I hope it meets your expectation."
“That is exactly what I was looking for Mike. Jimmy needed a short, sharp, shock as my old dad used to call it. And, that, my friend meets all three. Here you go Mike, keep the change. Come on son, let’s get home." I was still sort of shocked and walked out of the shop with dad, not even thinking about who might see me on the street. I got into the car and dad said he would be right back. He went back into the shop a few minutes later and handed me a round tube of butch wax. “For church and special occasions."
I thought my day could not get worse until my mom got home with what dad referred to as “my new wardrobe." Mom had bought me the kind of clothes the collegiate wore. They were clean cut looking, like my haircut. Penny Loafers and desert boots! I knew school was going to be hellish. What else could dad do.
“Now, Jimmy, of course you are grounded until your next report card. You are to come home right after school. I’ve spoken to Andy and Jack (Rocky and my other best pal Danny’s dad’s) and we all agreed that you three can still be friends. But I told Andy and Jack that I wasn’t telling them how to raise their kids, but no boys with hair touching their ears or collars are allowed in this house until further notice. It didn’t sound like it would be a problem for those two, even after your grounding ends."