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Capitol Hill-Capital Haircuts by Deke Cutter
Chad’s career as a Capitol Hill staffer had been amazing. He’d done all the right internships during college and graduate school. He landed a great job with a young Congressman from a district in Upstate NY that was home to a couple of small cities and lots of farms and small towns. The party leadership liked the Member so they gave him Committee assignments that allowed him to look good for the folks at home. Chad worked his way up quickly demonstrating his analytical, writing, and negotiating skills. He also thrived on the crazy hours and unexpected swing of things in the political world.
He still found time for a social life. The Congressman was a fitness buff himself and urged his staff to use the facilities. Chad made time to stay in shape. The women he worked with were all very bright and interesting. They all loved his wavy brown hair that flopped down into his eyes and never seemed to get more than an occasional trim. Chad liked his hair on the long side and his boss didn’t seem to mind, even though he kept his own hair cut to a rather short crop, as did the chief of staff who was the boss’s closest confident from back home, or ‘their district,’ as they called it.
If there was one thing that bothered Chad about the job, it was that he was never given an opportunity to visit the district or travel with the Congressman. When any constituents came to town, it seemed like Chad happened to be off covering a subcommittee hearing in another building or sent off to check something at the Library of Congress. One evening, he found himself working late and Jack, the Congressman’s Chief of Staff was working too. "Hey Jack, you have a minute?" Chad asked as they both were filling their coffee mugs.
"Sure Chad. What’s up. Oh, before I forget, the boss is really pleased with your work on that bill on bringing high speed internet to rural communities."
"Thanks, listen, am I being paranoid? It seems like I’m not allowed near constituents or given a chance to actually go up and see the district. It seems like everybody else at my level is doing that."
Jack said, "bring your coffee to my office and we’ll talk." Once they were both seated, Jack looked and Chad and smiled as he unconsciously rubbed the short hair at the back of his head. "You know how the boss believes in people being themselves and feeling at ease in the workplace." Chad nodded. Well, there is a certain level of appropriate dress that is expected, even if that idiot from Ohio flaunts it (you didn’t hear me say that). Well, our District is Upstate and a lot of the voters are pretty traditional and…its your hair. The boss doesn’t want to make you cut it, but as a Freshman, he has to be pretty careful about the image we project back home. So he decided, he had plenty of work for you right here and figured a "hip young guy" like you wouldn’t want to sacrifice his flow for a trip to the District or lunch with the Future Farmers of America."
Chad was shocked. This was the last thing he expected to hear. And a short haircut was the last thing he wanted to get. But Chad’s mind began to go into problem solving mode and he knew he might not have another chance like this, so he spoke before he had his idea fully mapped out. "The boss is right, I’ve always worn my hair on the long side, but, he has given me this great opportunity, so if at some point in the future, he wants to give me a chance to see the district or do some constituent work, I’ll cut my hair."
Jack got a big smile on his face and said, "that will make the boss very happy." With that he saw Chad out of the office. About an hour later, Jack stopped by Chad’s desk and said, "Chad, let’s call it a day. Can you be in about an hour early tomorrow, I’ve got something special I need your help with. I’ll meet you in the lobby." As soon as Chad said that he could get in early, Jack was gone.
The next morning Jack was literally bouncing on his toes when Chad arrived. "Come on, we’ve got to move." Before he knew it, they were on the Metro, with Jack refusing to tell him anything "until we arrive at our destination." 3 stops later, they ascended onto a city street and soon arrived in front of a small shop. "This is one of the best kept secrets in DC. Its where I get my haircut. The boss has a group of students from the community college and the State University campus coming in today. They are all studying information technology and you are going to take them to lunch! I called the boss after we talked last night, and he was delighted that you were amenable to the haircut. So, let’s get this done, leave the talking to me."
"Good morning Angelo, Chad, here, works with me. We need to get him cleaned up. His hair needs to be cut to the same length as mine. Now his hair is not like mine, so I’ll leave it to you. Just make it a nice clean look." Chad wondered if this was what being in shock was like. He knew what was happening, but it didn’t seem to be real. He heard someone speak.
"Chad, please, take a seat." It was Angelo, the only barber in the shop. He appeared to be about 60 and seemed to be a very pleasant man. "I’m thinking you don’t usually get your haircut in a barbershop and I know this will be a big change, so just sit back and relax. Chad looked at himself in the mirror and tried to speak but looked like a fish out of water, nothing coming out. He watched in the mirror as Angelo picked up a pair of clippers and turned toward him and tipped his head slightly forward. Angelo left his hand on top of Chad’s head as he switched the clippers on and gently touched them to the back of Chad’s neck, pushing them up, what felt like over half-way. Angelo explained that he was ‘getting rid of some of this length and roughing out your taper.’ As he continued to strip away the hair, he removed his hand from the top on Chad’s head. "I prefer a traditional taper to blocking the back," Angelo explained. "Unless you have a very clean neckline, those blocked looks get very messy looking within a few weeks. With somebody like Jack whose hair is so thick, I have to go very tight, more of a fade than a taper, just to get him to two weeks, the way his hair grows."
By now, Angelo had finished his initial assault on the back of Jack’s head and had traded the clippers for a comb to straighten up Chad’s part. Angelo continued his commentary, "I imagine I’ll be seeing you pretty regularly too."
Before Chad could answer, Jack spoke up, as Angelo started clipping the left side of Chad’s head, leaving about an inch of hair to a point about two inches below the part. "I don’t imagine Chad’s going to find a better barber than you ‘Ange,’ and we’ll figure out a schedule that works." Chad felt like he used to feel when his parents would discuss him when he was in the room but expected ‘to be seen and not heard.’ Angelo finished his clipper work and started spraying Chad’s hair with water. Chad thought wistfully about LaToya the very pretty apprentice stylist who shampooed his long locks at his stylist. The barber combed Chad’s wavy forelock straight up and chopped off about half the length, and then, like a man possessed, continued to comb back, and cut. Then he went back and cut it all shorter.
When Angelo had completed this step, he stood in front on Chad combed the hair on top to the side, ran his finger through the hair, nodded his head and moved behind the chair, returning with his thinning shears. "For this haircut, you need the hair to lay better." He then proceeded to run the shears all over Chads, head, including the short hair just below the part on the left side. "Much better." Angelo then picked up the clippers, put on a smaller guard and continued to define the taper in a very undramatic way. He cleaned up the neckline and around the ears. Chad was grateful that his ears were not large, nor did they stick out because they now were uncovered, and his sideburns were gone. Angelo took a small amount of gel rubbed it in his hands and quickly combed Chad’s now short hair. The hair sat very neatly on top of his head with the front combed back off his face. Where once his floppy hair would have fallen into his eyes, the hair now, if it were to fall forward, would reach the middle of his forehead.
Chad looked at himself in the mirror as Angelo fussed making sure everything was ‘just right.’ This haircut was ‘absolutely perfect’ in that he did not look ‘scalped.’ As Angelo held a large mirror behind him, he could see his hair tapered perfectly so that even the back only showed the slightest outline of where the straight razor had touched his skin. He looked like this was how his hair had always been. No longer did he look like the office hipster. Instead, he looked like a power-player. Jack jumped out of his seat as Chad got out of the chair and said, "the master barber does it again! What do you think, how does it feel?"
Chad, regaining his ‘balance,’ recognized what he needed to say. Putting a big smile on his face he said, "I am amazed, I look and feel like a completely different person. I admit, it was scary, but (as he lightly patted the sides of his head) this is exactly what I needed. Thank you, Angelo, for this amazing haircut and thanks Jack." Chad couldn’t believe how inexpensive the haircut was and he tipped Angelo generously. As he left, he couldn’t believe he heard himself saying "I’ll see you in a couple weeks."
As they returned to the office Chad grew quiet. After a while, Jack turned to him on the Metro and asked, "what’s up? Having second thoughts?"
Chad quickly replied, "Oh no, I love the haircut (thinking ‘I am such a good liar’), I’m just worried about the reactions I’m going to get. You know, my hair, it was a big part of my identity."
Jack responded, "Was, my friend. You’re quick on your feet, I saw your anguish when Angelo was chopping off those long locks and that look when he showed you the finished product, but you put on your game face for him and for me! You’ll do the same thing with any comments you get. Say you wanted a big change and found a great barber. You love it and there’s no going back." In a few days, its old news. Someday I’ll show pictures of the boss and me in high school and college. We didn’t look like this either. It’s a means to an end. The good news is it’s also convenient and easy to deal with in the part of this political job that, as they say, ‘faces outward.’ A plastic comb in your pocket and you can look groomed in seconds. And always get a fresh haircut before a trip up to the district. Sometimes we get busy and you might not get in for your regular cut. I…"
Jack was cutoff in midsentence as they reached the House office building where they worked and had to go through the security process. By the time the security guard had passed Chad through, Jack was in conversation with someone from the Speaker’s office and you never interrupt those conversations. So, Chad returned to the Office and, of course, was met with reactions, but they were quite positive, to his surprise. Several of the women in the office saying variation on: "Don’t you dare grow it out." Chad’s assignments working directly with constituents went very well. His knowledge of the issues, his political instincts, and his new look made the folks from the district feel comfortable in the nation’s capital.
Over the next couple of months, Chad became a regular at Angelo’s Barber Shop, with Jack, on those occasions when Jack didn’t accompany the boss back to the district. Chad had become more used to his new look and, in fact, didn’t mind it. On one occasion when Jack and the boss were away up North, Chad was too busy to get to Angelo’s. As his hair was so well cut, it didn’t look unkempt. He figured he would catch up in the following week or so. Unfortunately, Jack had to stay up in the District for an additional week, so Chad had to shoulder some of his work in DC and eventually found himself a month behind on his haircut. Just when he thought he’d get to Angelo’s, the boss called him in and gave him the news that he was sending him up to the District. He would be there for two weeks, replacing Jack. "You need to be my representative on the ground up there, especially on the rural high-speed internet and the economic issues. I was hoping you and Jack could overlap, but I’ll leave you in the hands of Genny Carr, my District office manager. You’ll also see a lot of Rick Rogers, a small business owner. Rick is Deputy Chairman of the County party. Keep him onside, I imagine Jack told you about him. Let’s say he wouldn’t have liked your old hairstyle. And remember to bring a warm coat, it will be chilly up there."
"OK Congressman, I won’t let you down." Chad was thrilled to be getting up to the District. He studied up on the issues and studied the regional papers and websites. He looked at his winter coats and decided his less dressy down jacket, since it had a hood too. He texted with Jack and Genny, arranging to Facetime with Jack and meet Jenny at the District office.
The flight from Washington to Albany wasn’t bad and Chad enjoyed the drive up the Thruway to the District office. The city had a pleasant downtown and a couple of decent hotels due to its proximity to some outdoor recreation and hunting and fishing destinations. Genny was waiting to meet him at the office and after giving him a chance to get his bearings, she took him on a tour of the immediate area. The district is geographically large because of its spread-out population, so a full tour would take over a day’s driving to do it justice. As they were approaching the office, Genny said, "I almost forgot, Rick Rogers wants to meet you and have you over to dinner tonight. Glenda is a great cook. I’m sure Tommy told you that it was important to keep Rick sweet…." Genny paused as she saw he look in Chad’s eyes. "Oh don’t worry, it won’t be that bad all the DC guys have to pass muster with Rick. He even gives Jack a going over every once in a while." At the time, Jack had no idea what Genny meant.
Before she could go further, Chad, broke in saying "oh it’s not Rick, nobody in the D.C. office ever refers to the boss as "Tommy." Genny began to laugh a sweet happy laugh. "Kid, Tommy Roncalli and I have been friends since pre-school. Unless he gets to the White House, he will always be Tommy to me. Now, here’s Rick’s address, you better head over there now. You can leave your car in the lot here and walk over. Take a left at the corner and Rick’s place is at the end of that street. You’ll see his name on the glass. Chad got out of the car and walked in the direction Genny indicated. As he turned the corner, he saw a variety of small shops and business and noticed a swirling barber pole near the corner. He thought to himself, ‘Rick’s office must be next door to the barber.’
When Chad arrived at the corner, he saw the glass window "Rick’s Barber." Genny’s earlier remark about a "going over" came to him, just as Rick saw him and swiftly moved to greet him. "You must be Chad. Welcome, I just had a report from Genny on your first day. Sounds like you got a good look at things." As Rick talked, he maneuvered Chad out of his coat and guided him over to the big old- fashioned barber chair in front of the plate glass window. "I see your looking a bit shaggy like Jack was, I hope Tommy’s not letting standards go down…."
Remembering Rick’s importance in the universe of District politics, Chad jumped in quickly with "Oh no sir. We’ve just been super busy. With Jack up here, I’m afraid I was unable to get to our barber while getting ready for the trip and keeping up with the Boss." Rick rubbed his hand over his own tightly cropped head as Chad spoke and then put a Sanistrip around Chad’s neck and caped him up.
"I know what that’s like since my assistant left for a job in Ithaca, I was having to wait until one of my buddies and I could get together, you know, a real barber, not some cosmetologist. That’s why, I switched from my regular to a high and tight. I can get more miles out of it." Chad must have let a little of the worry that last statement gave him show, momentarily, on his face. "Don’t worry," Rick said with a twinkle in his eye, "I’ll just give you my ‘regular.’ You’ll see." Rick then turned Chad’s chair to face the TV screen showing a rerun of the last Yankee’s home game, picked up his clippers and nudged Chad’s head forward. Chad nearly jumped when he felt the cold steel of the clipper blade reaching high on his neck. The assault continued and he knew he was being shorn more severely than Angelo’s gentle professional ministrations. Rick was talkative, as the assault continued on the sides of Chad’s head. He felt the same heavy pressure by the now warm clippers scooped away the hair that had framed his face and ears. Luckily for Chad who was speechless, Rick was a monologue artist who didn’t require much feedback.
Rick finally put the clippers down and Chad thought he would have time for a quick peek over his shoulder at the mirror. But before his shoulders could move, Rick was back, straightening Chad’s head and going to work with his shears. Chad, in a relatively short period of time had gone from playful washings and gentle trims at the salon, to Angelo’s major makeover, to bi-weekly cuts that hardly involved any length being removed. Now, Chad was seeing an alarming amount of hair falling and it as being cut dry! When Rick had completed removing much of Chad’s remaining hair, he combed his bangs down and cut them short and angled them severely. Next came the hot lather, the straight razor, and the coup de grace, some Brylcreem rubbed thoroughly through his hair. A combing, a few last snips, and Chad was turned around. He prepared his best political smile and nearly burst into tears. He was looking at an old-fashioned scalping. A strip of white skin ran halfway up his head where short shiny hairs lay very flat below the part. The very short hair on top of his head was barely lying down, with the front sticking up from about an inch and one half at the longest down to about one-half inch. "There you go Chad, that should keep you until you can get back to your regular barber."
"Yes sir, Rick. It sure will." Chad replied. Rick refused payment, saying that the first one was always on the house. They then drove in Chad’s car to Rick’s home for dinner which, as Ginny predicted, was delicious.
When Rick had stepped away to take a phone call, Glenda said to Chad, "sorry he scalped you like that. It’s a little game he likes to play with you young fellows from DC. He likes to take your measure by how you respond." He really is a very good barber. He cuts Tommy’s hair whenever he comes home. I think he just likes to remind you fellows to stay humble. She gave him a knowing wink as they heard the door to the adjoining room open. Soon Chad thanked his hosts for dinner and found his way to his hotel. He finally got a chance to look at himself in the mirror. He rubbed his hands up and down his neck feeling the surprisingly pleasant skin on skin sensation. He then took a quick shower, washing the Brylcreem out and all the little hairs while humming "I’m Gonna Wash that Man Right Out of My Hair" from "South Pacific" one of his parents’ favorite musicals. With the help of some decent hair gel, and a hair dryer, he got his hair to lay flat and even made the front look a bit calmer. Then, he Facetimed Jack.
When Jack’s face appeared, Chad wasn’t sure which of them was more surprised. Instead of Jack’s head of very thick short hair, expertly groomed by Angelo, Jack had a flat top with an unmistakable landing strip. Suddenly, the sound of Rick Astley’s "Never Gonna Give You Up" came out of Jack’s phone and Chad heard Jack saying (over the music) "Looks like we both got ‘Rick-Rolled’ buddy."
"Wow Jack! Darn you, even a Rick special looks good on you," Chad joked.
"This is not the work of ‘Razor Rick." He made such a mess of my hair that this was all Angelo could salvage when I got home. Boy he got you good too. I apologize, I started to warn you that day you got rid of your long hair, but our conversation got interrupted. Never show up without a clean neckline and an arch around your ears. I usually get Angelo to print me a receipt too to show to Rick, just in case. I was up there too long this time, and Rick got me before I could sneak down to Albany and get a decent trim. But don’t worry, after a week, your hair may settle down and the boss will be happy you took one for the team. The good news too is Glenda won’t let him scalp us again for another year, she and I have an agreement.
As it turned out, Chad’s hair still looked terrible when he got home the following Friday. He got to Angelo’s just as Angelo was closing. Angelo took pity on Chad and 30 minutes later, Chad left the shop with a short Ivy League haircut, the shortest cut he had ever had and a vow to never be Rick Rolled by Razor Rick again.