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Jack's Surprise by Shant
This is a true story that happened to me...
I had been going to the same barber, Jack King, for my entire adult life. I first walked into his shop when I was 23. I had just moved to North Carolina from upper New York state, right out of college, and was starting my first job.
This was the summer of '75 and the majority of my friends still had long hair. I had already been hired for the job but during my interview it was suggested by the vice-president of the company that I get a haircut. He was perfectly nice about it. He told me that he just wanted me to be as successful as I could be. He told me that because I was so young looking, it would be hard to be taken seriously as a businessman having such long hair. Because I was moving from NY I would definitely be viewed as a Yankee and be considered even more of an outsider. Having long hair was going to be one more strike against me and make it even more difficult to fit in.
I had to admit that I agreed with him. It was one thing in school to have long hair but now that I was out in the real world I knew that I needed to be more practical. My hair was extremely thick, a sandy brown with blond highlights. The longer it got, the curlier it became and the more difficult it was to make it look good. It was so thick that I could not run a regular comb through it and had to either use a wide tooth comb or a brush. Once I combed it, it never moved. When I let it grow out, which I did all throughout the school year, I looked like little orphan Annie. Looking back at pictures I can't believe that I thought it looked good. I remember vowing that I would never have my ears show again!
I checked out several shops in the area before deciding where I was going to get my hair cut. No salons for me. I hated the smell of all the chemicals. I preferred the atmosphere of the old time barber shops where only men were allowed. What I was really looking for was an older barber that had a one man shop. When I found Jack's place, I knew it was going to be the perfect place to get my hair cut.
Jack was about 80 years old and worked only 4 hours a day, 5 days a week. He said he just liked getting out of the house and spending time with his friends. He had been cutting hair for over 50 years so he knew a lot of people. He still had a good head of hair for an old geezer, thick, silver, not much receding. He greased it up and brushed it back into a conservative pompadour. He wore the traditional white barber tunic and the shop looked like it was right out of the '50's.
I walked by his shop for several weeks trying to get a sneak look in the window and see what kind of haircuts guys were getting. I was also trying to get my nerve up to get a haircut. I knew I had to do it but my hair had ben long all four years of college and I was afraid that I was going to look like a real dork when it was all cut off.
I finally got up the nerve one day and went in the shop when he didn't have any customers. I could see the gleem in his eyes when I walked into the shop and he saw my hair. I knew that he couldn't wait to cut it. I was really nervous but I knew I had to get a haircut sometime and it might as well be now.
I told him that I had just moved here and needed to get my hair trimmed because I was starting a new job. To my surprise he immediately suggested that I get a flattop. "I really like to give short haircuts and with all your thick hair it will cut into a great flattop. Why not go for a completely new look? Flattops are my specialty and if you don't like it, the haircut is free," he said. I told him that was a little too extreme for now but that I might take him up on his offer in the future. I enjoyed teasing him a little because I knew how badly he wanted to give me a short haircut. Right now I just wanted him to bring it down to above my ears and taper it slightly in the back, leaving the top long. He seemed disappointed by my choice but he cut my hair exactly as I requested. I walked out thinking that I had found the perfect place to get my hair cut.
You know how it is, once you find a barber that you are comfortable with and you like the way he cuts your hair, you keep going to him. Jack cut my hair for about ten years, cutting it in all different styles. I totally trusted him after all that time and never worried about getting a bad haircut. We got into the routine of cutting my hair into a short flattop around the first of March. He then kept it short throughout the summer. In the fall I'd start growing it out again until the following spring and then he'd cut it down short and we would start all over again. As we got closer and closer to March he would tell me about how he couldn't wait to cut my hair off.
Jack knew that I was really into my hair and I knew that he really enjoyed cutting it so we had some fun times. He was always trying to get me to go shorter and shorter and I enjoyed teasing him a bit. A couple of times he took a little too much liberty and cut too much off the top but it was no big deal. I had the summer's off with my job and going a little shorter than expected was actually fun. One time after he had finished taking down the sides and and some off the top, I pulled out a picture of a guy with his hair cut square on the sides and back but left the top a couple of inches long. As it went back to the crown it blended into the flattop. I was really just kidding around with him because I knew he'd get excited about cutting it like that but I didn't really intend to do it. I just enjoyed teasing him a little. I asked him if he thought he could cut my hair like that. He picked up a brush and began brushing my hair straight back. "You've got such great hair you can cut it any way you like and it will look good," he said with a smile. I could see that he was really enjoying combing it back. "How much do you think would have to come off the top to look like that in the picture?" I asked. He took his comb and combed my hair straight up so I could see how long it was and how much would have to come off. I thought he was just going to show me but in the blink of an eye, he took the scissors and chopped off almost half the front! It was now less than 2 inches long! My teasing Jack had backfired. "I didn't say I wanted you to cut it like that right now but I guess there's no turning back." Jack just smiled and began taking about 2 inches off the top and another inch off the sides. I actually ended up really liking the haircut.
One time when I just stopped in to talk, he surprised me and said that he wanted to cut all my hair off - no guard at all! "It will only take about 8 weeks to grow out to the length it is now. You're off for the summer so why not go for it? You'll be able to have it back to this length before you go back to work." I could tell that he really wanted to do it. He even told me that I could face the mirror if I wanted to watch. I told him I didn't think I had the nerve to cut all my hair off and he just smiled and said, "You don't need any nerve. All you have to do is sit in the chair and I'll take care of the rest." He was really trying to convince me to go for it but I just couldn't get up the nerve to do it. I did end up however with one of the shortest haircuts he had ever given me.
It was slightly after the new year and Jack decided that he was going to retire in the spring. I had grown my hair out over the winter to where it was about 4 iinches long on top and a couple inches long on the sides. I told him that I wanted to grow it out one more month before cutting it short, so I didn't want him to take off any more than half an inch. Jack said, "Sure, no problem. I know how you like it cut."
I thought I had caught a mischievious look in his eyes but didn't think much about it. He turned on the clippers and the next thing I knew he was running them right up the back of my head! "That feels a hell of a lot more than half an inch coming off," I exclaimed. "Don't worry, I'm just going to clean up the sides a little. You'll like it when I'm finished."
I sat there not knowing what to think. There was no mirror for me to look into and I realized that I certainly was not getting the haircut I had asked for. I was at the mercy of Jack's clippers. Frankly, I didn't know what the hell had gotten into him. When he ran the clippers over the top I was certain that I was getting a very short haircut. I just sat there and said nothing. He finished the haircut and spun me around in the chair so that I could face the mirror and said with a big smile, "What do you think?"
He had given me the flattop I usually got in the spring! He had cut my hair down from 4 inches to 1 inch. I didn't really mind the haircut but I couldn't believe he would actually cut all my hair off without my permission. "Why did you cut my hair like this when I told you that I wanted to grow it out?" I asked him. "I thought it would be fun to give you a little surprise and now you can have fun growing it back out again," he said.
Two months later Jack retired. I hated losing him as my barber and disliked even more the idea of finding someone to cut my hair, but in a way I was relieved. I no longer knew if I could trust Jack and was afraid that at one point he might actually go ahead and buzz off all my hair without my permission and I'd end up with a shaved head!