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DAD! (Part 15 of 15) by JB

Tommy glances over at Scott's lunchpail, "Now then. What have ya got for dessert?"

A month goes by. It has now been 6 weeks since Scott received his unexpected, and unwanted, flattop haircut. He looks at himself in his bathroom mirror, "Makin' progress," he says, studying his hair. The upper edges of his flattop, around the crown, are starting to lean outward at the tips. He experimentally presses his one-and-a-quarter inch bangs down at the front, and disappointingly watches his hair spring back up as he lifts his hand away, "Almost. But still not there yet." Like the hair around his crown, his upright bangs are starting to lean over, jutting out over his forehead. The hair on his sides is full, plush, and furry; but still boxy looking. He tilts his head down slightly, "Excellent," he says, noting that his landing strip has all but disappeared. "Can't hardly see my scalp at all." Then he notices the hair poking out over the tops of his ears, "Hmm, that doesn't look so good... kinda scruffy." He reaches up and tugs at the scraggly tufts, "Guess it's time to get it trimmed, like Tommy did."

Scott's dad walks by the open bathroom door and sees his son examining his reflection, "Gettin' pretty shaggy there, Son."

Scott tries to smooth the hair down that's sticking out over his ears, "Yeah, I know," he says, "I think I'll go to Jack's this morning and have him trim the hair off my ears a bit so it doesn't look so bad. That's what Tommy did with his crewcut."

"While yer at it, you should have Jack trim those upper edges a bit, too... And maybe take the top down a quarter-inch or so; I can hardly see yer landing strip anymore... And the front could use some..."

"Dad!" Scott interrupts, "I'm growin' it out, okay?" It's just gonna have to look kinda scraggly for a few more weeks until I can get it to lay down again... Geez."

"Well okay then," he replies. He doesn't really want to get into another big argument with his son, "It just bugs me to see yer flattop lookin' so shabby."

As Scott rolls his eyes, his dad continues on into the living room and plops onto the couch, "Man," he thinks, "I was hopin' Scott would have that flattop for at least another month or two... The kid's hair grows faster than a fertilized lawn." He sits and thinks. And then a devilish smirk creeps over his face, "Sure. Why not?... It worked so well the first time."

Scott pulls in to one of the few parking spaces outside Jack's Barbershop. Another car had pulled in just before him, and as Scott unbuckles his seatbelt, he sees the other driver get out, "Whoa, he's huge," Scott utters, "Even taller than Dad... And he's built like a gorilla."

Scott watches as the guy walks around to the passenger side of his car. He's wearing a tight-fitting short sleeve polo shirt, and appears to be about the same age as his dad. At first, Scott thinks the guy has a flattop, his hair being sharply chiseled and squared-off on the sides. But then he realizes that the guy has a short tapercut, barely long enough to comb over on top, crisply parted on one side. Scott can tell that the guy uses Butch Wax or some sort of oil or cream on his hair because it glistens in the sunlight.

The guy opens the passenger-side door, "Come on. Get out. We're doing this," he says tersely.

As Scott watches, a tall teenager slowly climbs out of the car. Like the other guy, the teen is fairly muscular. But unlike the other guy, the teen's reddish-brown hair is long and stringy, touching his shoulders, "This is totally bogus, man," the teen says.

Scott suddenly recognizes the teen as someone he's seen at school, "Jason Muldoon," he mumbles under his breath. He knows him by name only, and by reputation. Scott recites a litany of words to describe Jason Muldoon: "Mean, rude, cigarette-smoking pothead... The big guy must be his dad."

As Scott gets out of his car, Jason turns and gives him a smart-alecky smirk, "Well, if it isn't Krookut Kramer," he says mockingly. His dad looks at Scott, "Excellent haircut," he says approvingly. He shoves his son's shoulder to get him walking toward the entrance of the barbershop. Scott follows them in.

Inside the shop, Jason starts to head for the chairs in the waiting area, but his dad grabs him by the arm and points him toward the barber chair, "Over here. Sit," he orders. Jason plops down heavily into the barber chair, tossing his head to get his stringy hair out of his face.

Scott takes a seat in the waiting area as Jack tosses a pinstriped cape around Jason. His dad remains standing, close to the chair, overseeing the deployment, "Make sure you get that cape good and tight," he instructs. Jack cinches the cape up an extra notch.

"I've been based in Germany for the past year, U.S. Army," Jason's dad explains, "And I come home to THIS!" He motions toward Jason with his chin, "My son has become a long-haired delinquent, reeking of cigarettes and marijuana. Time for a major change in attitude and a major change in appearance."

"This oughta be good," Scott thinks. Normally he would be feeling sorry for a guy about to be scalped, but he can't muster up much sympathy for Jason. In addition to his bad attitude and bad habits, Jason's hair simply doesn't look good; it's too long, even by Scott's standards, "His hair hangs limp and lifeless," he thinks, "It doesn't really have any shape to it. Maybe if he got it styled and combed it wouldn't look too bad... This haircut may be the best thing that's happened to him all year. Maybe it'll turn him around and get him back on the right track. I guess some guys need that kind of discipline in their lives."

Jason notices Scott staring at him, "What are YOU lookin' at, dork?"

Scott snaps out of his reverie, "Nuthin'... absolutely nuthin'."

"So how short are we talkin' here?" Jack asks, sensing that a drastic change is in order.

Jason's dad lifts a hank of his son's hair, "I think a nice short tapercut would look good on him; just like mine, straight up the sides, squared off nice and sharp. Take the top down to one-and-a-quarter inches."

"No way, man!" Jason protests, "I'm not gettin' an Army haircut like yours! That's bogus, man."

Jason's dad seems to have expected this reaction. He walks over and studies the old photos of sports players on the waiting area wall, "So... You don't want an Army haircut, huh?..." he says, scanning the photos, "Then how about a Marine haircut, like this guy." He taps the photo of a football player displaying the shortest haircut on the wall, "A high-and-tight horseshoe flattop, razor-pressed."

Jason opens his mouth to protest again, but his dad cuts him off, "And if I hear any more lip from you I'll instruct the barber to shave you completely bald, got that?" Jason closes his mouth and keeps silent. His face turns a bright shade of red and his brow lowers in anger.

"So, a horseshoe flat then?" Jack asks for verification.

Jason's dad nods, "Shaved smooth on the sides and down the landing strip."

"Well, let's get started then," Jack says. He lifts the rotary clippers off the hook and attaches a one-inch blade, intending to give Jason a preliminary brush cut to remove the bulk of his hair and facilitate cutting the flattop. Jack doesn't enjoy giving punishment haircuts; it goes against his sense of professionalism. But when he's asked to do so, he takes the customer's age and emotional state into account. If they're young and fragile, he'll suggest to the parent that he give a less extreme haircut. "This guy's a big strapping teenager," Jack thinks, "He's angry... very angry. But he can take it. And this haircut will probably do him a world of good."

The clippers begin to whirr, and as Jason's dad stands nearby, Jack starts guiding the clippers up through the teen's hair. Long strands tumble like branches from a large tree that's scheduled for removal. Just a few seconds later the whirring stops and Jason's long stringy hair, the symbol of his rebellion, is littering the floor around the chair and lying limp on the cape. His shoulder-length crowning glory has become a furry, one-inch pelt; standing upright like a little kid's summer buzzcut that has gone to seed.

Scott looks at Jason's fluffy brush cut and thinks back to the day at his dad's construction site, "Reminds me of Tommy's grown out crewcut."

Jason's dad, his strong arms folded across his chest, studies his son, "Angry as hell," he thinks, "But dry-eyed; no tears... Good." He doesn't want to break his son's strong will, just guide it in a more positive direction.

Jack switches to a pair of buzzer clippers. He looks at Jason's dad, "Continue?"

Jason's dad nods his head slightly, giving the signal to proceed.

The clippers begin to hum and Jack deftly carves a bare strip around the crown of Jason's head, starting at the temple on one side, then around the back, and ending at the other temple. Then he presses the clippers through the remaining fluff on the sides of Jason's head, leaving just the one-inch high tuft on top.

"Whoa, talk about whitewalls!" Scott thinks, "Looks like me and Kevin aren't gonna be the guys at school with the shortest haircuts anymore." He can't help but notice the contrast between Jason's angry red face and the stark whiteness of his clipper-shaved sides, "Geez," he mutters.

"You say something, Kramer?" Jason asks in a threatening tone.

Before Scott can answer, Jason's dad intervenes, "Jason. Eyes forward. Mouth shut."

Starting at the back of Jason's crown, Jack presses the clippers up and over the top, stopping about two inches from his front hairline. This will soon become the razor-shaved landing strip running down the center. And even though Jack hasn't flattened the top yet, Jason's hair already has the distinctive U-shape that sets the horseshoe flattop apart from all other haircuts.

Jack experimentally runs a comb through Jason's tuft of hair, "Looks like I'll be needin' a little Butch Wax," he says. He proceeds to massage the wax into Jason's hair and then sprays it with water. The blow dryer comes on and Jack gets Jason's one-inch, U-shaped hair looking glossy and perfectly upright, ready for flattening.

Jason is still angry but his face is no longer red. And other than his seemingly permanent furrowed brow, he is no longer exhibiting any form of rebellion. No complaining. No backtalk. He has decided to accept his fate like a man; stoically, quietly, unmoving. Despite his anger, he's still curious to see what he looks like now. He scans the waiting area wall in front of him and thinks, "No mirrors... figures. Just those frickin' photos and that dork, Kramer with his stupid flattop... Damn, I bet my hair's already shorter than his... And it's gonna be even shorter when this barber is through scalpin' me." He has to settle for looking at the photo of the horseshoed football player that his dad pointed out earlier, and imagining himself looking pretty much the same. Jason's focus of attention shifts as Jack steps in front of him, blocking his view of the photo on the wall, and the clippers begin to hum again.

Jack rakes a flattop comb up through Jason's front hairline a few times. This is the point where Jack normally warns his flattop customers not to move, but, "This kid's already sitting stone-still and bolt-upright; no need to give the warning," he thinks.

Jack slides the humming clippers across the teeth of the comb, and Jason can feel a tingly vibration in his scalp as each hair gets severed.

After the first pass, the front of Jason's one-inch high 'U' has been leveled off to three-quarters of an inch. Jason's dad is paying close attention to this part of his son's haircut, "Shorter," he says.

Jack obeys the command. He repositions the comb a little lower, and takes a second swipe across the front, leaving just five-eighths of an inch of hair behind.


Jack makes a third attempt, and the front of Jason's hairline is now a mere half-inch high. Jack pauses a moment, waiting for further instructions, but none come. He takes the silence to mean that the objective has been achieved and proceeds to flatten the rest of Jason's top at the same level.

With Jack standing in front of Jason, Scott's view of the flattening process has been mostly obstructed. But now, Jack steps aside and Scott is able to see Jason's horseshoe flat for the first time, "Whoa," he mouths silently, thinking, "And I thought the flattop that Jack gave ME was the worst haircut a guy could get!... Boy, was I wrong. Jason's is a LOT worse!... Except for that short fringe of hair around the top, he's completely bald. And that landing strip! It's even bigger and gnarlier than mine was! He's got nuthin' but bare skin runnin' down the top of his head... and it just keeps going, all the way out the back. At least I had a little bit of stubble down the middle."

The cape is loosened, exposing the base of Jason's neck. Jack steps over to the countertop. The lather dispenser makes a whirring sound and deposits a palm-full of warm foam into Jack's hand. He begins to apply the lather all around Jason's head, including his landing strip, leaving just the horseshoe fringe uncovered, "No way!" Scott thinks, "He's gonna get it shaved smooth, too? There's already nuthin' there to see!... Geez."

Jack wipes his hands on a towel and begins dragging a straight razor up the sides of Jason's lathered head, leaving paths of smooth bare skin behind. It reminds Scott of shoveling snow off the sidewalk in winter.

Jason can hear the scritch, scritch, scritch, as the razor scrapes off the clipper-shaved stubble from the sides and back of his head. And it feels especially weird to him when Jack pulls the razor down the middle of his already bare scalp, removing the last trace of hair from his landing strip, "Razors are s'posed to be used on yer face, not on top of yer head," he thinks.

Jack takes a moment to towel-off any remaining smidgens of lather from Jason's ears and neck. "Hmm," Jack thinks, "Wonder if I should use some more Butch Wa..."

"Wax it up." Jason's dad says, "I want it looking sharp and clean-cut."

"Took the words right outa my mouth," Jack replies. He rubs a glob of the wax between his palms and repeatedly wipes it through Jason's half-inch horseshoe. After cleaning his hands, he combs Jason's hair, getting it all going in the same direction; up.

Jason's dad slowly walks from one side of the chair to the other, inspecting his son's extreme flattop, "Looking good... Looking good... Excellent haircut."

Jason is sorely tempted to make some smart-ass remark about his 'excellent haircut', but, "This sounds like Dad is testing me," he thinks, "To see whether I talk back or keep my mouth shut." He keeps his mouth shut.

Scott can't help but stare at Jason's waxed-up horseshoe flat, "Geez," he thinks, "It doesn't even look like hair... It's all solid and stiff... like petrified wood!"

Jack thinks it's probably better not to swivel the chair around toward the mirror for a big reveal, so he keeps it facing the waiting area wall. He lifts the cape away from Jason, "Okay son, I think we're all done here."

Jason steps out of the chair, purposely avoiding his reflection in the mirror. He's trying to maintain a cool and calm attitude, like he doesn't care about getting this extremely short flattop.

As Jason's dad pays for his son's haircut, Jason looks down and sees his long hair scattered on the tile floor; a symbol of his former life. He'll be starting a new life now, more structured, more organized, more enjoyable, more rewarding. And though neither of them can imagine it now, both he and Scott will become friends in a couple of weeks. That is, after Jason loses his bad habits and most of his bad attitude. It will happen in large part due to their shared haircut experiences, similar to the friendship Scott formed with Tommy, the hardhat Marine. Jason looks up and sees Scott staring at him. He repeats the line he used earlier, this time with less animosity, "What're you lookin' at, Kramer?"

Scott shrugs, "I dunno...Someone I've never seen before," he answers philosophically. He can't quite put his finger on it, but Scott can already sense a change in Jason; besides the haircut, that is.

Jason's dad places his hand on his son's shoulder, more gentle this time, more like a pat on the back, and guides him toward the shop door, "You handled yourself well today, Jason. You took it like a man... I'm proud of you, Son."

Jason's dad is a man of few words. Literally, the strong silent type. Hearing him express his feelings like that is the equivalent of witnessing an erupting geyser, a rare event. Jason turns his head to look at his dad, and for the first time since entering the barbershop, Scott sees that Jason's brow is no longer furrowed, but arched in total surprise.

As the two of them leave the shop and approach their car, Scott sees Jason reach up and experimentally feel the back of his head, finding nothing but smooth, bare skin. He slides his hand up to the top, finding more bare skin on his landing strip. Then runs his hand through the waxy bristles of this horseshoe. He looks at his hand and rubs his fingers together, then wipes them on his shirt.

Scott watches as the car pulls away, "Wow," he says, "That was kinda intense, huh... The whole haircut thing, I mean."

Jack, also watching as the car leaves the parking lot, "Very intense." He starts sweeping the debris off the floor, "I think the son's bad attitude was just his way to get his dad's attention, sort of a cry for help."

"Yeah. That's sorta what I thought, too."

"So." Jack says, setting the broom aside, "Looks like yer way overdue for a trim." He taps the barber chair as a signal for Scott to climb in, "Let's get that flattop lookin' good again."

Scott steps into the chair and Jack begins to cape him up. "I'm not here for another flattop," Scott says.

"Oh? I thought you liked having a flattop."

"Oh, I do," Scott lies. He still hasn't told Jack he actually hates having a flattop, or any short haircut. And the only reason he has one now is because of his dad's lies, "I just wanted to try it for a while, but now I'm ready to move on to something else. I guess I'm gonna grow it back out again.

"Well, if yer growin' it out, then why are you sitting in my chair?" Jack asks, kiddingly.

Scott returns a smile, "My flattop's lookin' kinda bad now..."

"Yeah, I can see that," Jack interrupts.

Scott continues, "I don't like it stickin' out over my ears and stuff. So I thought I'd have you trim it up a bit around my ears and neck... There's a guy at my dad's work site, a Marine, and he had his crewcut trimmed like that and it looked pretty good."

"Sounds like a good plan. I'll just [Ring Ring] get started then [Ring Ring]... Hold on a sec while I take this call. [Ring Ring] Don't go anywhere." Jack answers the phone, "Jack's Barbershop."

Scott's dad is on the other end, "Hi ya, Jack. This is Steve Kramer. Think ya can work me in for a trim Thursday around 5:30?"

"Let me check my appointment calendar... Yep, Thursday at 5:30 is just fine. I'll pencil you in."

"Great!... Hey uh, has Scott arrived at yer shop yet?"

Jack looks over at Scott, waiting patiently in the barber chair, "Yep. Caped up and ready to get his ears lowered. What's on yer mind?"

Yeah, well y'see, I took Scott to the job site the other day and he was talkin' with one of the guys there, one of my crew. The guy is fresh outa the Marine Corps and still has his hair buzzed short, y'know, a crewcut."

"Yeah, Scott just mentioned him."

"I'm not surprised; he's been talkin' about him a lot lately. See, Scott's been really happy with his flattop but, well, it seems he's found himself a new favorite haircut. He's been goin' on and on how he really likes the look of the guy's tight crewcut and says he's thinkin' about goin' shorter, too. Maybe three-eighths of an inch on top but still flat down the center; the boy likes his landing strip. I'm sure he wants the clippers pressed all the way up the sides, like the guy at work. Y'know, a classic Marine-style crewcut."

A grin spreads across Jack's face, "Huh. Ya don't say!"


Author's note:

So. That's the end of the story. Or at least, that's where I'm leaving it. I suppose it could go on and on, but it has to end somewhere. I'll let the readers fantasize about whether Scott gets his Marine-style crewcut or not. Seems unlikely, now that Scott is extra wary and paying closer attention.

I don't think this scenario could play out in real life: A long-haired high school senior in the late 1970s getting a flattop haircut without being aware of it. Maybe in today's 'anything goes' culture, but not back then when flattops (or any short haircut) were strictly taboo. I suppose you had to live through those years to fully understand it.

That was the challenge I set up for myself: Write a story where a young guy, during the long-haired years, gets a flattop without knowing it, and make it seem believable, or at least plausible. What sorts of conditions would have to be in place? What sorts of distractions? What sorts of tricky tactics?

Originally, the story was going to end just after Scott got his flattop and then confronting his parents about it. The final scene (6 weeks later) being Scott going in to get his shaggy flattop trimmed and Jack getting the phone call from Scott's dad. Except for a few tweaks, the ending was written almost 4 years ago, about the time I was writing the first part of the story.

Scott's best friend, Kevin, wasn't even in the story at first. I added him to distract Scott, to keep him from focusing on the haircut he was getting. I liked writing Kevin's part so I expanded his role, giving him a flattop as well.

I had always assumed that Scott's dad, Steve Kramer, would switch from his tapercut and go back to wearing a flattop. But I wasn't going to include that because the story was getting too long... I changed my mind. At that point I just let the story get as long as it wanted to be, adding the frat brothers (Greg Henderson and Matt Cunningham), and Tommy the hardhat Marine.

A few weeks ago, when I was nearly finished with the story, I realized that there was no haircutting scene in the final chapter. So I added Jason Muldoon and his dad. (His name is Mike, by the way. But there was no reason to include that in the story. And I think it works better with him left unnamed.)

Humor plays a significant role in my stories. I guess it's just part of my writing style. I also like to include a couple of serious/intense scenes just to balance things out. You can make an improbable plotline seem acceptable by injecting humor into the mix. Like when frat brother Matt gets butched; it would be highly unlikely that he would be unaware of what was happening after the first pass of the clippers across the top of his head. But with humor, you just sort of accept it, go along for the ride and have a good time. I enjoyed writing that segment.

- JB (November 2020)

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