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A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words by ckbald
The sound of dishes being dried and put away in cabinets came to a stop. Out of the corner of his eye George saw the kitchen light flick off. Soft footsteps approached..
"Hey, Babe, what are you smiling about? You’re doing a Lou Nelson you know."
George was relaxing on the couch in the softly lit living room, staring at the glowing tip of his La Aroma de Cuba Rothschild Maduro, a thin curl of smoke wrapping around his head, the palm of his right hand gently, rhythmically, brushing from the nape of his neck, up over his crown, down to his forehead, and then back. Clamping his cigar between his teeth, with a twinkle in his eye, he spread his arms wide, puffed once, twice, and spoke through a veil of smoke.
"This. You and me. The kid. Our FAMILY!"
"Jeez, Babe, now you even sound like the old man."
George removed the cigar from his mouth, smiled puckishly, and said, "You’re welcome."
"Uh huh, but we also know Lou Nelson wouldn’t let his hair get to such a "disgraceful" length. I’ll call him now so he can do his schtick- ‘This haircut, especially one with its history, has got to look sharp, be respected, I’d be a damn disgrace if it didn’t, and…’"
George quickly interrupted, finishing the sentence, punctuating each word with a jab of his stick, "and that’s why my butt’s in Brick’s chair every Wednesday morning at 9:00, keeping it tight, making it shine!"
Leaning back, palming the back of his head with his left hand, he took a drag, exhaled, sighed contentedly, and said, "We laugh, but your dad is a wise man, and not only about haircuts. Hard work, settling down, family. Not every guy is as lucky as I am, to have a second set of parents, in addition to his own folks." George closed his eyes for a minute or two, puffing on his cigar, his hand moving from the back of his head where he’d rested it, up over the crown, down to his forehead and back again, doing a Lou Nelson.
"More important…" George said as he opened his eyes and removed his cigar from his mouth, "Lou raised you, you share all his values...the importance of hard work, settling down, family...and, as I’ve recently found out, Lou’s talent for making a man feel like a disgrace for needing a haircut." With his last remark George chuckled and did another Lou Nelson.
"Yeah, you’re welcome."
"Hey, I’m just happy one of us has saved this family from complete disgrace. We both know raising a son is a 24/7 job, as well as the best gig ever. And with both our businesses so successful, schedules, at least mine, well...but you’re right, 10, 12 days, however long it’s been, is too long. And damn, Brick probably thinks you’ve divorced me."
"No, he’s good. And all the hard work and time you spend on the job is much appreciated. I just don’t want you accused of false advertising. Not when business is this great."
George made a mock face of horror at "false advertising" and said, "You’re lucky, the garage is around the corner. But, I can swing by Brick’s tomorrow morning…" He was interrupted again.
"At 9:00, keeping it tight, making it shine!"
George laughed, rolled his eyes, and said, "When I get the chance. I have a couple sites to visit in the morning, and only one potential client coming after lunch, so I can pick Calvin up from school and swing by Brick’s with him, and be home in time to help with dinner." He blew a stream of smoke out the side of his mouth, pleased with himself that he had solved this problem.
"Babe, I don’t know if you will be home in time to help with dinner. Have you forgotten that it’s…"
"Cal’s birthday tomorrow. No, No I didn’t forget! Does he want something special?" George asked.
"No sir, he wants steaks on the grill, a baked potato, and…"
"A pecan pie from Julian Pie Company," George finished the sentence. Leaning over to the other end of the couch to rub his sleeping son’s head, he said, "Calvins’ favorite dinner is not complicated. Why might we not be home in time? I can get the pie and steaks after Brick tightens me up and makes me shine, and be home in plenty of time to start the grill."
"You might not be the only one getting tightened up and made to shine. Babe, who did we tell he had to wait until he turns 17 before we would even consider letting him get a ‘badass cut’ like his pops’"
"That’s riiiight," George said with a sigh as he continued rubbing Calvin’s shaggy, now sleep-mussed chestnut brown hair and he silently smoked for a few minutes. He thought about how they had originally had their hearts set on adopting a kid, a real kid, like a baby, or 3 year old. And how when they agreed to foster then 15-year-old Calvin, they had no idea how quickly they would fall in love with this mature, loveable, imaginative, athletic boy. The chance to adopt came up within months, and they had jumped at the opportunity. It was then, when Calvin saw they were serious, and that they loved him deeply, including Pop Pop and Mom Mom, and Grandpa Dante and his abuela Leigh, that he declared he wanted the same ‘badass cut’ as his pops. George looked up from his sleeping son and said sheepishly, "I really did know, but I’ve had so much on my mind with these latest projects. I didn’t even tell you what he said the other day when I picked him up after soccer practice. He was talking to the guys, and when he sees me get out of the truck, he nudges Albert and Zelig as if to say watch this, watch me get a rise out of Pops, and he shouts ‘Pops, respect the patch!’ Then it was all "dude, that’s your dad you’re talking to’ and ‘Hey Mr. Calderon, tight cut! You always look sick, sir!’"
"What did you say, Babe?"
"I said, gentlemen, Calvin is correct. He knows that just because I’ve been busy with more projects than usual at work...oh, at this Calvin kindly nodded at the boys to confirm that I was indeed telling the truth...this mess up top, this is outright disrespect, and it needs to be addressed. There is a chair at the barber’s with my name on it. And then Cal, he drapes his arm around my shoulder and says ‘And one right next to it with my name on it.’ Then the guys are all ‘that’s right dude, 17 on Thursday. Awesome!’ Then the little stinker runs his hand over my head and says, he sounded just like Pop Pop, he says ‘unlike this disgrace…’"
The head under George’s hand, and the young man attached to that head, sat up, stretched his arms over his head, looked George in the eye, and with a big grin said, "Unlike this disgrace, when I’m tightened up and made to shine, my butt will be in Brick’s chair once a week." He laughed and ran his hands all over his head.
George told Calvin the plans that had been made earlier for the big day tomorrow. Calvin thought it would be quicker if he walked from school to the barbershop and met George there, rather than be picked up at school. George could at least get the pecan pie before meeting Calvin, and then together they could stop and get the steaks after their haircuts.
Earl, his other pops, squeezed in between George and Calvin on the couch, and said, "Pops and I are so proud of you, aren’t we Babe." George just smiled. It wasn’t really a question that needed answering. Earl continued, "We appreciate your patience with us. Cuts like ours, and Pop Pop’s cut, well a boy can’t really do them justice. You were already so mature at 15, but 15 is still a boy. When you became part of the family, became our son, and you finally told us how awesome’ the haircuts on the guys in this family were, that felt wonderful. Pop Pop still can’t get over that now his grandson wants to keep it tight, and make it shine. Your pops and I were 21, 22, when we…"
"Pops! I know the story. You don’t need to tell it a hundred and one times," Calvin laughed and patted the small patch of tightly clipped hair on the top of Earl’s otherwise smooth, shiny shaved head as if he were encouraging a little boy to run along.
"Okay, can I finish now, please," Earl said. "Your confidence, the respect you show everyone, your sense of humor, a young man needs these to go about his life wearing a bold haircut like a..."
George interrupted. "What your pops means is, have you made up your mind which cut you’re going with? Is Brick gonna carve out a Hilliard horseshoe or a Jack Ricky recon?" He put his cigar in his mouth and reached across Earl and Calvin and grabbed two of several framed photos on the end table. He handed them to Calvin, who, even though he had seen them everyday since he came to live with George and Earl, smiled a big, happy smile when he looked at them now.
"Telling Brick to shoe me, like Pop Pop, or go extreme with a recon, like you guys…,'' Calvin struck a pose like he was giving this question some serious thought. Then he turned to his pops and said, "Yup, I know which one. But you’ll have to wait till tomorrow to find out. That’s why I wanted to meet you at Brick’s. I wanna be able to walk in on my own, without my pops by my side, put my butt in Brick’s chair, and ask for a haircut like a young man, proud and full of confidence over the cut I’ll be wearing from now until I’m an old man...like you guys."
They all laughed over that remark, and as Calvin stood up to get ready for bed, Earl and George both grabbed him gently and pulled him back down to the couch, rubbing their hands at the same time all over their son’s head, tousling it even more, their same bedtime routine for the last almost- three-years.
"We won’t be able to do that anymore, huh. I’m a little teary-eyed," sighed Earl.
"Hey, but like he said, we’re proud of you, son. And we can figure out a new routine," George said.
As Earl and Calvin went around turning off lights, George moved to the end of the couch to put the two framed photos back. He smiled a big, happy smile, too, as he held both photos in his hands. Two different times, two different groups of men. Two different haircuts. Was it the haircuts that made all the difference. Each haircut was a defining moment for some of the men in both photos. Did it make these men bold and confident? Did it bring the spark of happiness so clear in their eyes? Would the lasting connections between some of these men have been made without the haircuts? These photos contained so much history. George believed both photos could be proof that a picture was worth a thousand words.
"Hey pops?" Earl and George both turned around. "I know a routine that’s not new, but that we can adapt, modify a little bit." His pops gave Calvin a "go on" look. "You know how you both always say...I mean your Grandpa Earl said it first, ‘a good cigar is better with good men’...I was thinking that the three good men I know would appreciate a fourth good man, on Sunday nights to start with."
"Go to bed," Earl and George said together.
To be continued...but the next installment takes place in the past.