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A Command Performance by P.J.
If your looking for a buzz cut, skin head, or flat top story this isn't it guys.
"Hey Frank" I heard from out front in the shop. I was in the back, putting the coffee pot on and getting things ready for another busy day at my barbershop. I peaked around the corner and saw that it was one of my long time customers Larry with what I was guessing might be one of his grand kids. It was hard to tell, the boy had a thick lush Emo style mane that was flopping in front of his face. I also didn't know if they'd just coincidently arrived at the same time or not.
"Oh, Hi Larry, have a seat, I'll be right there' I replied. As I rounded the corner, I was surprised to see the young lad in the big 'ol black and chrome barber chair. It had gotten quite a workout the previous Saturday, the first weekend of summer. Loads of little darlings losing their manes to the clippers, and quite a few trim ups too. My strategy of playing to the person in the chair, and making the parent the bad guy for the close cuts and shave it offs, had made for a much more calm experience. Being closed Sunday and Monday, today was the next opportunity for removing more mops. I was going to continue my strategy of playing to the customer and see how today went.
"Well now, this can't be one of your sons Larry, who might this young man be? Is it possible you just both arrived here at the same time and aren't related?" I asked.
"Oh, no, he's one of mine" Larry replied. You remember my oldest, Jonathan, well, this is his oldest son Shaun. He's come to stay with me for a few weeks to help out on the farm. Jonathan tried to convince him to get his hair trimmed up before he came out here, but that didn't happen. We talked this morning and I decided to bring him here and see if you can't shape him up for the summer. A good old fashioned butch is what he needs, right Shaun?"
I could see by the squirming that Shaun clearly did not share his grandpas thoughts on a haircut. Time to put my diplomacy into practice again.
"Now Larry, you know these kids today don't really share our love of butch cuts. Shaun here clearly isn't familiar with them either, am I right Shaun?" I said, giving his shoulder a quick massage.
Shaun piped up and said "Ah, no sir, I'm not. Dad lets us wear our hair pretty much however we want. His only requirements are that it's clean, combed, and doesn't interfere with our daily activities. Oh, and I almost forgot, nothing longer than shoulder length."
I'd already sterri striped and caped the young lad. I was just now getting familiar with the head of lush Emo bulk he sported. "Well Shaun, it's pretty certain, you won't be leaving here today without some sort of haircut. Have you given any thought to what YOU might want?" As I said this, standing behind him, I saw Larry begin to object. I made a silent sign for him to stay quite for the moment. Fortunately he complied.
Shaun glanced at his grandfather, gulped loudly, and replied," well sir, If I'm honest, and I have a say, I'd like it trimmed up. It's getting rather long in back, and on the sides too. (I'd timed my combing out of his mane so that as he said it, I combed the thick fringe down over his face.) "Hmm", Shaun mumbled, "and I guess maybe my bangs too."
"O.K. son", I nodded. How much should we cut then I asked. He indicated taking a couple of inches off the back, up to the bottom of his ears on the sides, and an inch off the fringe, leaving it at the bottom of his nose.
I replied," that'll leave it quite long for a summer cut son." I said. I looked over at Larry, who was shaking his head no.
"Larry, I need to get my first cuppa Joe yet this morning. I'm sure that pot is ready by now, why don't you come in the back for a second and get one too. I was making fervent non verbal gestures behind Shaun's back that I wanted Larry to join me in back. "Excuse us for a minute will you Shaun" I said.
I walked in the back, waited for Larry to join me, and put a finger to my lips.
In a low tone I said "Larry, here's what I'd like to do. Shaun seems like a sensible kid. He clearly isn't going to go along willingly with getting a butch cut. Let me cut his hair how he wants. I'll tell him that he's free to comeback any time and get it trimmed up if it turns out its too long for the summer heat here". I smiled deviously at Larry. "Your job is to work him hard this week so he will want to come back in and get a shorter cut. It's his hair to manage, not yours. If he ends up being a sweaty mess all summer, that's on him, not us. It'll be a lot of work keeping that mop clean and combed right?"
Larry was quiet, getting a cup of coffee. "Hmm, well I don't like the idea of strong arming him Frank. I don't see enough of the grandkids as it is. I don't want to get the rep of being a stick in the mud when it comes to something like their hair length. They won't want to come if I'm going to force them to get skinned. O.K. let's try it, and your right I guess, it's his mess to deal with, not mine. I can certainly do the working him hard part without a problem either."
Now smiling deviously at each other, we both walked out front.
Shaun was eyeing both of us with concern. "Gramps, please don't make me get a butch, please. It'll never grow out to amount to anything before school starts in the fall. I'll be the laughing stock of the school." He looked pleadingly at Larry.
"Shaun" Larry replied, "I'm not going to insist on the butch cut. I certainly don't want to make your stay with us unpleasant. If you are O.K. with getting it trimmed up, as you like, it will still be cooler that that mane you have now. We've got some hard work to do these next few weeks and I'm mighty grateful for your help. We'll keep to your dads guidelines though, clean and combed, after work of course. How about that? I guess you can always come on down to Franks if you decide want a shorter cut, right Frank?"
"Of course, Larry" I replied brightly. "Shaun knows where I am now, and is welcome anytime, even if it's just for a tune up on what I do today." I pulled a clean comb out of the blue goo jar, towel drying it, and picked up my favorite shears. Hmm, I was thinking, I turned Shaun away from the big mirror. Lets' see if he's O.K. with not watching. I could see Shaun visibly relax in the chair a bit, knowing he wasn't getting butched, at least for now. Whether or not he would come back in for something shorter later remained to be seen. I was certainly going to leave a huge mane on him to deal with in the heat.
Larry and I kept up a polite conversation, including Shaun when we could. I decided to attack the back of Shaun's impressive mane first. He had gorgeous dark ivory colored hair, mounds of it. The texture was like flax, very silky and soft, pretty much straight, with just a bit of wave in it. Perfect hair for the EMO style he had now. What impressed me most was how thick it was. I loved touch time with hair like this.
Since he still wanted basically the same EMO style I decided to remove the length first, blunt cutting, then I'd go back in and layer the ends.
As I made the first cuts across the back, 2' thick chunks of mane tumbling down the cape into his lap. he sighed loudly. "Everything O.K. Shaun?" I asked. " That's about 2 inches , just like you told me."
"I know sir, it's just quite a lot of hair is all." he murmured.
"Not to worry Shaun", I quipped. "You'll have to admit, it was getting quite overgrown, for an EMO style. It'll still be plenty long enough now son."
"Oh, I know sir. I have actually been thinking of changing it up, that style is getting kind of dated. I just don't know what I'd want. I'll keep it for now anyway." The three of us chatted while I sniped my way across the back and started the sides.
The sides didn't take as long as the back did, I was soon finished with them. it was time to tackle the lush fringe. I combed the heavy thick bangs down straight. They just touched his upper lip. Very impressive. I slid the shears in just above the tip of his nose. Without so much as a last minute check with Shaun, snip, snip, snip. Voila, nose length bangs.
At this point Larry piped up "Shaun, you might want to have Frank trim your fringe a little shorter, That's still going to hang in your face a lot when we're working, isn't it. Won't that get annoying for you?"
Shaun gave the fringe a swoop to the side. "Nah, this'll be fine sir. I'll be wearing a hat most of the time anyway to keep the sun off. That'll help hold it back too."
"Ah, well O.K." then Larry replied. "That's still quite a lot of hair son. How about you have Frank thin it out some, so it's not so heavy at least then."
I could feel Shaun tense up. "NO! Please sir! No thinning, O.K. My barber back home did that one time, it was awful. It took months to look right again."
"No worries Shaun, I won't thin it out" I replied, patting his shoulder. "I do still have to layer it a bit, along the bottom edges, right now you have that blunt, little Dutch boy look."
I proceeded to taper the last inch or so of the cut ends, perfecting the EMO look. The last step was using the peanut clippers to trim his neck fuzzies and side burns. He looked to be 16 or 17, so I didn't think the straight razor would go over well. Maybe next time if he came back."
I turned the chair to face the mirror. Holding up a big hand mirror behind him I said" take a good look, and feel. How's this look."
"Wow, I guess it really was getting long sir" he replied "this is still plenty long. He shook his head, gave the bangs a swoosh sideways, and smiled. Yes sir, this looks great." I unsnapped the cape and brushed him down.
"You are free to go then " I quipped. "Oh, and Shaun, I mean it, you can come back in anytime. It was my pleasure son."
"Thank you sir" he replied. To my surprise he addressed Larry with "well Gramps, I didn't want a haircut, you wanted me to get butch cut. This seems like a fair compromise" He smiled warmly at Larry.
"Shaun, I still think the butch is the way to go. It's only hair. But, it's your hair, not mine son" Larry replied, ruffling Shaun's locks. He winked slyly at me. He paid for the cut and a tip and they both went on their way.
Imaging my surprise when just before closing time come Saturday, Shaun walked into the shop alone.
"Shaun? What's up" I asked. " Do you need something touched up? Come on over and have a seat?" I patted the back of the big chair.
"Um, hi sir" Shaun replied. Clearly nervous and shy.
I walked over and flipped the sign to closed and locked the door. "Not locking us in son, you're just the last customer of the day. You just made it" I said.
Looking closer at him, his locks were freshly washed, and still just a bit damp. I couldn't see any obvious issues.
He fidgeted in the chair a bit. "Well, sir, I'm a bit surprised at myself for being here sir. Gramps doesn't know I'm here either. I asked for the truck to run a quick errand in town. He's been working me to death this past week and it's the first chance I've had for a break. I thought I was in good shape but, good god that man can work hard. And its beastly hot here too" he lamented. To be honest, I'm already tired of being hot and sweaty all day."
Ah, I could now see where this might be going. Could my original plan with Larry already be coming to fruition? "Shaun, let's dispense with the sir stuff, O.K. My name is Frank, and I'd be happy if you'd call me that. It's quite clear you were taught to respect your elders and all but I'm more comfortable with being on a first name basis with my customers."
Oh, um, O.K. si...I mean Frank. I guess what I'm here for is to ask if you could cut my hair shorter?" Shaun gave his EMO bangs a swoop to the side for emphasis.
I said, "Ah," as I reached for a sterri strip and cape. "Well son, what were you thinking about then. Surely not the dreaded butch?" I replied chuckling at my own humor.
I settled the cape around him and snapped it up tight. Giving his plush locks a soft stroke.
"Well si.. I mean Frank, sorry sir, that's going to take a bit to get used to. I've never had short hair. I know these days anything goes with us teens too. Except maybe not a butch though. He said, thinking out loud. I was wondering what type of cut could I get, that's shorter, and cooler, but not scalped. I love my hair sir, and really don't want to cut it all off just to be comfortable out here. Can I maybe get something that by September, when school starts, will be a bit shaggy and look more um, I guess, teen guy like?" He shrugged in exasperation, "I don't know, am I making any sense here Frank?"
"Here, let me try and see if I get you" I replied. " You're frustrated because you love long hair, but it's plain too hot to have it out here in these parts. YOU know it has to be shorter, you just don't know what will be short enough, but not make you look like a geek. Is that it?" I said, smiling at him.
As I turned him to face the mirror he replied "Well yes, I guess "
I got a fresh comb out and dried it before plunging it into the think locks. "Are you looking for suggestions from me?" I asked politely. "Did you have an idea in mind? We could do what I call a boys regular, or a short back and sides, a crew cut, a faux hawk, or get into the different fades. How about a flat top I said", chuckling, "it's longer than a butch anyways". I could see the frustration building in him as I spoke. His eyes got watery.
"God, this sucks" Shaun groaned. "O.K., What's a boys regular, Frank." He asked quietly.
"Well, around here, its cut close in on the sides, around the ears, and tapered in back, but not as short as a short back and sides. Usually I leave a good amount on top, all the way from front to back, to do a nice comb over with. It can be adjusted to pretty much any length the customer wants. I've done em on the short side with clippers, and I've done em longer, with scissors.
"Hmm, kinda sounds like the cut some of my friends have back home, at least the longer version. What's a short back n sides then, Shaun asked?"
Well that's a short clipper cut. I take the clippers and give you a taper from the bottom up to the parting or parietal ridge area. The top is cut down short usually, only an inch or so, sometimes even shorter. I've also left a longer fringe on some of the guys this past year. That one should keep you nice and cool, wanna try it?" I said hopefully. " You'd have a couple of inches of growth my the end of summer too, unless you come in regularly and we keep it clippered down. (I'd love to clipper off most of this lush bulk with my fast feed Osters.)
"Mnn, ugh, sounds like a pretty bad scalping though Frank, I don't think so."
Drat, I thought to myself. With tightly clipped sides and back, and a baseball cap, he'd look bald. Wouldn't Larry be proud. Oh, well.
"Can you trim it up so it's off my ears and shorter in back, without scalping me? I don't know what to do about my fringe though" he did the swoop as he said it. " I hate to chop it off, but it's really a pain when I'm out working with gramps. I can see that he wants to say "I told you so", every time I stop, reach up, and push it back under my cap.
I could tell he was on the verge of tears again.
"How about I gave you a longer clipper taper on the sides and back. That'll be much cooler. Then we see what you want to do with your fringe. We can still leave it quite long if you want to." I suggested.
"Ugh, I guess" was all I got out of him. he was thoroughly dejected.
Not wanting to give him time to change his mind I picked up the ever present Oster 76's off their nearby hook, giving them a quick shot of oil.
"How about I start with a #2 at the bottom, and taper up to about an inch at the ridge lines on the back and sides, maybe a touch longer down in back for you. That way it'll be almost 3 inches by the time school starts if we just let it grow out again. Sound good?" I said, trying not to sound too eager.
"Hmm, what's a #2?" he asked.
Damn, shoulda been ready with the guard I thought to myself. Then I coulda slapped it on , pushed his head down and just started stripping it all off before he could object. Oh well. "A #2 is two eights of an inch, or one quarter of an inch, that's at the bottom, all around, then I let the hair get gradually longer the higher we go up to the ridges."
"Holy s**t! A quarter of an inch? Oh, sorry for swearing Frank. Can we start longer than that ? Without it looking to weird?" He asked.
"Hmm, well, we could start with a #4 maybe, but that's about as high as I'd suggest." I was poised to reach into the drawer of guards.
"O.K. yeah, let's go with the #4 then. If it looks bad you can always go shorter I guess, right?" Shaun quietly replied.
"#4 it is then. Do you want to watch your transformation?" I asked. "I can turn the chair away again if you don't. Some guys can't stand to watch." I studied him through the big mirror.
"Turn me away please, this sucks, I don't want to even look when you're done, but I s'pose I'll have to right? he murmured sadly.
"O.K. Shaun" I replied, turning the chair away. "Son, this isn't going to be that bad, we can discuss what length I cut the top to, we can actually leave it quite long if you really want." (I was secretly hoping not. I wasn't going to be a dick and just chop it all short though. I know you don't think so, but you're quite a handsome guy, you'll look fine, really."
"Oh, I'm sure it'll look fine to everyone else. Just not to me sir. And if I'm being honest, the worst part will be gramps gloating when I get back to the farm saying I told you so."
I looked at him, brows raised in surprise. "Shaun, if I know Larry, I don't think you'll get anything but a compliment from him. If he's going to gloat, you won't know it. Now try and relax" I said, firing up the Osters.
"Ugh" was all I got out of him. He seemed to sag in the chair a bit too. I gave the top of his head a tight grip, gently forcing his head down, exposing his gorgeous, soon to be clipped nape. I took my hand away and asked that he keep his head that way till I moved it again please. Comb in the left, clippers in the right, I secretly gleefully began. The comb lifted the first soft thick shank off of his neck, giving the humming clippers access to his nape. I gently touched them down. Shaun shuddered. The slow deliberate ascent began.
For whatever reason I'd been using black capes today. The plush dark ivory colored locks stood out in stark contrast as they began falling. A steady stream of soft silky locks sliding down, down the cape, landing in his lap. I marveled at the sight, some were probably 6 inches long as I got closer to the parting. God, I loved a good shearing. It looked like a flowing ivory colored stream from his head to his lap. I stopped and rocked the hungry Osters out a couple of inches below his crown. I wasn't sure how his hair would be when cut short, and I hated having to deal with a crown that wanted to stand up.
Shaun suddenly stopped me. "Wait! Frank, can you do me a favor, please?" he implored.
I shut the Osters off.
"Sure, what is it" I asked.
He was digging around in his pockets under the cape. He quickly produced his cell phone. "Could you snap a couple of quick picks, from the front, while its still long. I want to send em to my..a... friend back home."
"Ah sure I said, taking the phone and listening while he showed me what to push and where to look.
He had a most dejected look on his face while I took them. " Shaun, can't you muster a smile for your "friend" I'm sure they'd rather see a happy face than a sad one."
"Ah, no, I'm sure he'll be as upset as I am once he sees the after pics. He was pretty upset with the ones I sent of the earlier cut. And that one wasn't short at all." Shaun smiled sadly.
He went about sending the pics while I commenced cutting again. Soon enough the stream of ivory locks was back in full flow. I made pass after glorious pass up the back of his head. Copious quantities of hair falling. I was leaving a divine layer of plush dark ivory velvety stubble in their wake. I realized that moving to the #4 guard was probably a good idea. With his light hair color, a #2 guard would probably look bald for the first couple of inches . I'm sure that would only add to his despair. The #4 gave just enough of a hint of length, that should look O.K. I thought. Fortunately he had very thick hair too.
I stopped cutting for a minute, to section off the thick heavy fringe. leaving it parted low on each side, insuring that there was enough to work with later. The wonderful silky locks sliding through my fingers as I parted it. With it clipped safely out of the way, I fired up the Osters and set about shearing off all the thick bulk on the sides.
For the first time in lord knows how long, his right ear started to appear. Thick sheaves of locks falling away with each pass of the hungry clippers. I held back about an inch below the parting. I was liking the looks of this cut. His hair was just the right texture for it.
Shaun , however, was not having anywhere near as good I time as I was. I'd clipped his bangs so they hung down over his face somewhat, not on purpose or anything like that. I noticed he'd closed his eyes tightly.
I brushed my hand up the plush velvet on the back of his head. He shuddered again as a tear leaked out of his right eye. He didn't utter a peep though. Oh boy, he was worse off than I thought. What was it about teenage boys and their manes.
I'd seen him type a quick message on his phone when he sent the pics. It read 'say good bye to it Thad, I'm sending this from the barber chair'. There must be more than just a short haircut going on with him I thought to myself.
I moved around to the left side, and exposed his left ear. Thankfully he had a matched pair of very handsome looking ears. Most of the cut was roughed out now. We just had to determine how much of his bangs he was going to lose.
I unclipped his top and fringe, and started dampening and combing them down. Shaun's eyes were still tightly closed. Come to think of it, was he even breathing? "Shaun, son, open your eyes lad." I said, shaking his shoulder a little. Just then his phone chirped. He quickly read the text. Sighing loudly and shutting his eyes again for a moment.
He looked at me, trying to focus with the thick bangs hanging over his eyes. "Yes sir, I mean Frank?"
'We're all done with the worst Shaun, I just need to know what to do with this" I said. tugging on the thick fringe.
"Pfft, might as well cut it all off Frank." He said, shrugging his shoulders dejectedly. "He can't believe it's that bad here that I need to chop all my hair off." Indicating the cell phone text he'd just received.
"Now Shaun, stop son." I said quietly. Massaging his shoulders while turning the chair toward the mirror.
"I need to know if you want the fringe to be longer than your eye brows or not?" I asked.
"Oh, wow", he said, pushing his fringe off to the side for a minute. He stared at the reflection in the mirror, turning his head slowly from side to side. Tucking the cell phone back under the cape, his hands came out and slowly they went up to and touched the sides, sliding around to the back.
I could tell he was struggling to keep his emotions in check. I decided to pretend I didn't notice. "So, we can either leave them long, like this, and I can blend the top sections into the taper along the ridge on this side, then angle the fringe down to the length you have now. I can also layer the top and fringe, longest at the front, blending the top into the back and side tapers, that would be quite a bit shorter. I could also clipper over comb it all short, no longer than the length at the top of the tapers, leaving you with a short comb over. Thoughts?"
"Let's go with the longest option please, then you can cut more off if we need to." He turned his head again side to side. " God that's sooo short." He just sort of deflated into the chair.
Still ignoring the raw emotions trying to bust through, I said "long it is then." I proceeded to leave the top as a long comb over, just blending the overhang into the top of the taper on the side. I did minimum blending at the top of the taper all around. I had to cut the right side of the fringe on a bit of an angle to get it to lay right when combed (or pushed) over to the side. I did a bit of texturizing on top just to break it up a bit, the all one length top just didn't look good. Shaun sighed loudly as the long bits of hair dropped down into his lap.
"There now lad. All I need to do is touch up the taper at the bottom unless you want it blocked, and touch up the neck fuzzies a bit more."
Blocked? What's blocked, Frank" Shaun inquired.
"Ah, I pointed to two pics in the lower corner of the big mirror. Since I started your taper with a #4, there's a half inch long edge at the bottom here I indicated his nape. and around the ears. I can take just the bottom off with the peanut clippers, and blend it to zero, or leave it and make sure it's even and square.
He stared at himself for a minute. "Which will look less dorky, if that's possible" watery eyes looking pleadingly at me.
I think with your neckline you could get away with it blocked. I can always trim it for you if it gets annoying, before you leave to go home. Knowing you are just going to grow it out long, it will look better in a few months than a taper would. He quietly nodded O.K.
I got the peanut clippers out and redid the edges. I squared off his sideburns nicely since you could now see them completely.
'Alright lad, were done" I said. "A command performance if there ever was one."
I brushed him down, unsnapped the cape , and tried to remove it drawing as little attention as possible to the large amount of hair slowly moving to the floor.
Now, do you want me to put any product in it for you" I asked.
He ran his hand through what was left of his fringe. Eyes were tearing up again. "Um, no, I don't think I'll be needing any Frank. I can always come back and get some if I decide I need it, right?"
I gave his shoulder a quick massage. "Of Course. I'll expect to see you at least before you leave to go home at the end of the summer. If for nothing else than to say goodbye. Maybe even give you a touch up to go."
He stood up, catching his reflection from several angles now as there were mirrors on the opposite walls at standing height. His head went down in a dejected fashion.
He laid a $20 on the counter and said "thanks for putting up with me sir, I mean Frank."
He unlocked the door and was walking out. I tried to give him his money back."Shaun, son, consider this a touch up, O.K. here take this back please."
"No Frank, you more than earned it today. I know I've been a hand full. Thanks again."
I walked over and looked out after him as I relocked the door. He'd already climbed into Larry's pickup truck. He'd sunk into the back of the seat, head on headrest, eyes closed. I couldn't tell if his cheeks were wet or not. I did know he'd done a lot of growing up in the last 45 minutes. Larry better not gloat.
As I went around and tidied up for the night, I thought, hmm, even though that got a bit tense at times it went O.K. I helped a kid through a bit of a struggle. It felt good. I think it turned out O.K. too.