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Three Brothers and A Father Part II by Just_Me
One Thursday night after we’d had dinner, Dad grinned and said, "Boys, I’m taking off from work tomorrow. How would you feel about skipping school tomorrow and spending a long weekend with me doing ‘guy’ stuff?"
Ever one with a quick comeback, I quipped, "You can count me out. My education is way too important for me to miss even a single moment of school."
Dad laughed. "OK, Chad. You can go to school, and Brent, Kevin and I will spend the day doing something fun. If we think about it, we’ll come pick you up Saturday morning, and you can spend the rest of the weekend with us."
"You’re crazy if you think I’m going to miss out on a day of fun. What are we going to do?"
"I haven’t made any definite plans. I thought I’d ask what ya’ll wanted to do, but I wouldn’t say no to a day of fishing and then maybe hiking the next day. What do you think?"
I was quick to say, "I wouldn’t complain about that." Kevin and Brent immediately agreed as well.
Mom pretended to be put out. "What about me? Am I included?"
"Of course, babe. You’re more than welcome to come with us." Then he pulled something out of his pocket. "I’ll just cancel all these appointments so you can come with us."
Mom’s eyes shone. "Exactly what appointments are you talking about?"
"Well, I have in my hand a gift certificate for a spa day, including a full-body massage, mani, pedi and makeover. Then I arranged for you and Carol to spend the weekend shopping in Dallas. I even made a reservation for a suite for you." He grinned. "If you’d rather go fishing I’ll just get my money back."
I don’t think Dad even saw Mom’s hand coming toward him. He just realized his hand was empty and Mom was waving the gift certificate around as she screamed, "Jay, you’re so good to me!" Soon her hand was rubbing the back of his head while she gave him a long kiss.
Once Mom settled down, Dad said, "Boys, I’d like you to do something for me."
We all looked at him. To me, he seemed nervous, but he kept talking. "Before you say, ‘absolutely no’ think about it."
Kevin spoke for us. "What do you have in mind?"
Dad fingered his mustache for a second. "Before we head to the lake tomorrow I’d like to take you all to the barbershop to get haircuts like me."
I was flabbergasted. Us get a haircut like Dad? More specifically, ME get a haircut like Dad?
My first thought was, "No way!" Then I felt a stir in my groin and thought, "Why not?"
Kevin spoke for all of us. "Why?"
"I’ve given this a lot of thought. The Thompson family is very special and I’d like to show the world how special we are. Sure, anyone who knows us knows we’re better looking and smarter than the average family..."
Mom snorted with laughter. "Don’t be so modest, Jay."
He kept talking. "As I was saying before the heckler in the peanut gallery so rudely interrupted me, I think all of us having matching haircuts would be sorta like a family crest, something to show off and be proud of. It could be our badge of honor, a physical thing that would show the world that we’re different from the average family, willing to stand up and be proud of how exceptional we are. "
All three of us boys started talking at the same time. "Whoa...". "I don’t wanna..." "Do we have to?" "That sounds weird to me."
Dad silenced us. "I know this is 1976, and I’m asking a lot of you. Think about it tonight, and we’ll have a family meeting in the morning to make a final decision. I won’t force you to do it, but I really hope you will." He stood up and hugged us all. "Look at me boys."
I inwardly rolled my eyes, and thought, "Oh no, not the dreaded ‘look at me, boys’." I remained outwardly passive though. Dad didn’t always appreciate my sense of humor.
I was glad I hadn’t said anything when I saw the tears in his eyes. I got tears in my eyes when he said, "No matter what you decide, I’m very proud of all three of you. Very few men are lucky enough to have even one kid as wonderful as ya’ll are, much less three. I love each one of you, and like I said, I’m proud to have such wonderful sons."
Embarrassed, we all looked at the floor and muttered versions of "Love you too."
We were walking out when he said, "One final thing, this is an all or nothing proposition. If you can’t all agree, none of you will do it."
He stopped Kevin, and said, "Wanna go for a walk with me?"
Being a suspicious character, I thought, "Dad knows Kevin can talk us into anything. He’s going to try to get Kevin on his side. I wonder what he’ll promise him?"
Brent and I were waiting when they got home. Kevin said, "Dad, I think us boys need to talk this out amongst ourselves. Will you excuse us?" Without looking at us, he said, "Ya’ll come in my room."
We were silent as we walked down the hallway, but as soon as the door shut we all started talking at the same time.
"Dad is nuts!" "There’s no way…" "What gives him the right…"
Kevin always seemed to think being the oldest made him the leader, and he stepped into that role. "OK, bros, let’s be logical here. I think we should list all the pros and cons, and then we can make a decision."
I muttered, "I don’t see any pros to becoming a freak, and besides, I want to know what you and Dad talked about before we talk about haircuts!"
"It’s stuff you’re too young to understand. Come on, let’s do this."
"I ain’t saying a word about haircuts until you tell me what Dad promised you if you’d talk us into cutting our hair!"
"Geez! Don’t get your panties in a wad. Honestly, We never mentioned haircuts. Dad is worried that I’m getting too close to Janet, and he went over the whole ‘birds and bees’ thing with me. That’s it. "
"I think you’re lying!"
I glared at him when he said, "Scout’s honor. Not a word was said about haircuts." I almost believed him, but not really. As far as I knew, Kevin had never lied to me, but my gut was telling me Dad had promised Kevin something.
I started the conversation. "Well, I think short hair looks stupid."
Brent nodded in agreement.
Kevin proved my suspicion. "I agree that most men look stupid with short hair, but I think Dad looks pretty awesome. We all look like him, so we know we wouldn’t look too bad."
"Aha! I knew you were on Dad’s side. You’re already ganging up on us!"
The look on his face told me I was right. He recovered quickly though. "Look at how long my hair is. I have more to lose than either of you if we go through with this." Then he pulled his bangs down, and put them in his mouth, thinking he was proving his point.
He kept talking, and for the first time that night I believed him when he said, "Look guys, I’m scared shi...uh...spitless about losing my fabulous hair, and I know if we do this we’re going to catch holy heck from people at school. Hel...uh, heck, even worse than that, Janet loves my hair, and she might break up with me over it." I stopped believing him as he continued, "However, in some ways what Dad said made sense. If we follow his lead, the world would know we were free-thinkers, and more importantly, we would know it. I think doing this would give us the confidence to not worry about what others think. We could stand out from the crowd, instead of blending in."
"Well, I happen to like blending in with the crowd. I don’t want to stand out."
Brent nodded in agreement--again.
Realizing that this had become a conversation between just Kevin and me, I said, "What do you think, Brent? Are you willing to cut your hair off, just to make Dad happy?"
He shook his head, but didn’t say anything.
I said, "Come on, Brent. Tell us what you think."
His lip quivered a little, and a tear ran down his face. He took a deep breath and spat out, "I-don’t-want-to-look-like-a-freak-and-I’m-scared." He took another deep breath, and carried on, "I-know-big-boys-don’t-cry-but-I-just-might-cry-if-someone-cuts-my-hair-off." He sighed, "I like my hair, just like it is!"
Kevin popped off. "Look at what you’ve done, Chad. You’ve scared poor Brent to death."
That made me mad. I yelled, "ME! ME! I scared poor Brent? I’m not the one trying to force him to do something he doesn’t want to. YOU are, you big bully!"
"Come on, Chad. Like I said, I’m scared too, but Dad made some valid points."
It went on this way for a long time, but finally Keving started seeing the sense of what I was saying. I really believed him when he started talking about about how stupid the whole haircut idea was.
The last thing I said before we went to sleep was, "OK, Kevin and Brent. Tomorrow morning we’re going to present a united front, and say, ‘Thanks, but no thanks’ to Dad. Are we agreed?"
Brent nodded, and Kevin said, "Absolutely! Let’s shake on it."
The tension was intense the next morning as we ate our breakfast, and Mom was suspiciously absent from the table. There was lots of throat clearing and surreptitious looks but no one said anything except things like, "Pass the gravy, please."
Dad finally broke the ice. "Obviously you all have lots on your mind. Tell me what you’re thinking."
Brent and I looked at Kevin. I sent him the mental message, "You think you’re the leader. Now take the lead." He glared at me. I finally kicked him under the table.
"Well, it looks like my brothers are chicken, so I’ll start. I was shocked when you first brought up the subject of haircuts last night, but after talking about it a long time last night, we agreed to go along with you." He turned so Dad couldn’t see him and smirked at me. Then he added insult to injury. "These two really didn’t want to, but I talked them into it." He flipped his bangs out of his eyes as he said, "Personally, I’ll happily sacrifice this for the sake of the Thompson name."
I glared at him. I wanted to yell all kinds of things at him, including traitor, brown-noser and suck-up, but I knew Dad would shut me down before I got started. He had a thing about name-calling.
I thought, "I’ll give this one last shot." I put on my most serious look. "Dad, what if one of us can’t handle the teasing, and we wind up in a bathroom with a bloody wrist?"
"I’ve already thought this through, son, and I’m not worried about that. First, I have faith in you guys’ ability to deal with anything. Secondly, I think Matthew’s father did things the wrong way. He didn’t use the haircut as something to tie him to his son, or even as a learning lesson. He used it as a punishment and exclusion. That really disgusted me." He shook his head in disapproval. "Mr. Carter didn’t set the example like I have. I noticed at the funeral that he kept his hair long when he made Matthew cut his. I honestly believe Matthew would still be with us if his father had got his hair cut also."
He paused. "I’m wanting this so we will be united as a family, not splintered."
Mom came in about then. "What’s the verdict?"
Dad beamed. "It looks like we’re heading to the barbershop before we go to the lake."
Mom gave Dad a kiss, and then said, "I can’t wait to see what you boys look like with short hair!"
Kevin turned white when Mom said that, and started running his fingers through his hair. We were all walking out of the room when he started talking again. "Um...Dad...you know how you said if we couldn’t be in agreement, none of us would have to get haircuts?"
Dad nodded. "You said you were all onboard."
The turncoat blushed bright red. "Well, I think I’ve changed my mind. I really like my hair, and honestly, I think you look like a geek with your hair that short." He almost wailed, "I don’t wanna be a geek!"
Dad was speechless, and I could see he was trying to think of something to say...and Mom was looking at him, clearly sending him a mental message that said, "Jay, do something!"
My resistance to a haircut changed immediately, probably because I wanted to hurt Kevin for his treachery. I saw a way to do it, and I spoke up. "Kevin, I can’t believe you’re the one who’s backing out, and I can’t believe you’re such a big fat liar. You lied to me and Brent last night. You lied at least three times. You said you were against this. You said it was a stupid idea, and then you said we’d present a united front and tell Dad no. Then you just lied to Dad when you said you spoke for all of us and said we wanted haircuts. I guess you also lied when you said you wanted this. You’re proving your word is no good. What kind of example are you setting for us?"
I gave him an evil look. "Remember all you said about this being a badge of honor, and how it was time for us to step up to the plate and do something for Dad, since he’s done so much for us? Well, I thought a lot about that last night, and you were right. Dad doesn’t ask much from us, and I don’t think it’s too much to give him this. It obviously means a lot to him. I’m ready to do this, and I think Brent is too." Looking at Brent, I said, "Are you with me little bro?"
"I’m in." Then he looked at Kevin. "Come on, bro. Do it for Dad."
You could see the shock in Kevin’s face. Neither Brent nor I had ever stood up to him, and he obviously hadn’t thought that we might stand against him. He glared at me, and I knew I had struck a nerve. Inspiration struck, and I went for the kill. "Dad has always taught us that a man’s word is his bond. Dad says you can tell what kind of man someone is by the way they follow through with a promise. I’ve always looked up to you, but you just lost my respect. Are you really going to compound your lies by backing out of a promise just because you’re afraid your friends will call you a geek?"
I ended with what I was sure would hurt him as much as a body slam. "I’m ashamed to call a coward like you my brother!"
I looked at Dad. "I can’t tell you what to do, but I think you should make Kevin keep his word."
I turned my back on Kevin and crossed my arms, trying to look as indignant as I could. I threw the final insult. "If he wants to look like a girl, why don’t you send him to a convent?"
Dad gave Mom a look that said, "What should I do?"
She shrugged her shoulders.
After a long throat clearing session, Dad finally said, "Chad, that was a well-reasoned argument. Maybe you should consider being a lawyer."
He looked at Kevin. "Young man, you’ve really put me in an awkward situation. As Chad said, I believe a man’s word is his honor, and I did give you my word that you wouldn’t have to go to the barbershop if all three of you weren’t in agreement. I’m going to honor my word, but maybe not in the way you want me to."
He cleared his throat again. "Since you agreed to a haircut just a few minutes ago, you’re going to get a haircut. I believe your words were ‘Personally, I’ll happily sacrifice this for the sake of the Thompson name.’ You’re going with us, and you’re getting that mop of yours cut."
"Don’t ‘Aw, Dad’ me. You had the opportunity to voice your opposition earlier. You gave me your word, and you’re going through with it."
"Come on, Dad. Don’t make me."
"One more word out of you, and I won’t make you get a haircut like mine. I’ll make you get it all buzzed off, down to the skin. Now, what’s it going to be?"
Kevin hung his shoulder, obviously defeated.
Dad waited a second. The steel in his voice sent chills down my back. "Kevin, I did not hear your answer to my question. I said, `What's it going to be?’"
A very weak voice answered, "I’ll go with you."
The steel in Dad’s voice got stronger. "Will you go willingly?"
"Yes, sir. I’ll go willingly."
Dad was obviously still mad, but he didn’t say anything else except, "Good. Go put your shoes on. We’re leaving now."
I was really pissed, and I wanted to get Kevin in more. A thought hit me, and I spoke up. "Excuse me, Dad. Can I ask you a question?"
"Sure, son. What’s up?"
Kevin turned white as a ghost when he heard me say, "Did you and Kevin say anything about the haircuts last night?"
"Well, we talked about it a little, but not much. Kevin asked a few questions about my reasoning, and I answered them."
"Did you ask him to convince us?"
Dad looked embarrassed. "Well, I did say I would appreciate any help he could give me…"
I went right for the killing shot. "Well…" I pointed at Kevin. "He gave me a scout’s honor promise that you never said a word about haircuts last night."
Dad glared at Kevin. "Well, obviously he and I are going to be having some rather intense conversations about honesty, since it’s apparent he hasn’t paid attention to what I’ve said about that subject in the past, but that’s for another time. Right now, I’m very pointedly asking each of you if you’re willing to go through with this."
My response was, "Absolutely!" (I realize now I only said it with so much conviction because I was mad at Kevin, and wanted to get back at him. I think that’s why Brent readily agreed.)
Evidently Kevin realized he needed to start doing some damage control. "I’ve already given you my word, and I’m a man of my word. I’m ready."
Dad’s "OK. Let’s get in the car" was kinda brusque.
As soon as we got in the car, Kevin spoke up. "Hey, Dad. I’m sorry. I really do think this is a good idea, and it will make us stronger as a family. I just got nervous for a little bit. I’ll go first, just to prove that I’m in this willingly."
Dad was obviously still pretty steamed up. He sounded gruff when he said, "You’re damned right you’ll go first. You’re the oldest, and I rely on you to set a good example."
He let Kevin stew for a few minutes. "Sorry I was so rough on you, Kevin. I do understand what you’re going through. I went through the same thing a few months ago."
He grinned. "Let me guess. Your stomach is churning. Your palms are sweating. You’re alternately thinking about jumping out of the car at the next red light, and then thinking this could be pretty cool. Is that about it?"
Kevin laughed. "Well, that’s part of it. You forgot about the racing heart, twitchy legs and the shaky hands. Plus I’m wondering if Janet will ever speak to me again."
I wondered if both of them were feeling the same twitch in the groin that I was feeling.
Dad put his hand on Kevin’s shoulder. "You might be surprised. In case you haven’t noticed, your mother can’t keep her hands off my hair. Having said that, if your haircut affects Janet that way, please remember what we talked about last night."
He cleared his throat, and was silent for a bit. "I promise all three of you boys that it’ll be OK. A visit to a real barber is a great experience. It feels good, and I think it’s something every man should know about."
Ever the devil’s advocate, I spoke up. "Dad, we’ve got our hair cut a lots of times. How’s this different?"
He thought. "That’s a good question, son, and I’m not sure exactly how to answer it, but take my word for it, it’s definitely different. You’ll find out in a few minutes how different it is."
We lapsed into silence for a while, and then Dad spoke again. "I was serious when I said this is something I think every man should experience. Having said that, if you absolutely hate it, I won’t make you come back again. However, if you like it, you’re welcome to catch a ride with me to the barbershop every two weeks. It would be something else the Thompson men could enjoy doing together."
We made a left turn, and I cringed. I knew where we were going, and it was the last place I wanted to go. I had heard about it from a boy who said his father had taken him here years ago. He called the barber "Butcher Behan".
The shop itself was rickety and scary looking. It didn’t look safe and I was afraid it would fall down on us. The paint was peeling, and the boards underneath had turned a yucky grey. The awning over the window was frayed and tattered and the painted barber pole was rusty. The writing on the window was faded, but I’ll have to admit the windows were extremely clean.
Dad opened the barbershop door, and it squeaked so loudly that we all jumped. "All right boys, let’s do this."
Walking in that barbershop was the hardest thing I’d ever done at that point in my life. I was so scared I was literally shaking.
The inside of the shop was just as decrepit as the outside. The black and white tiles on the floor were chipped, and the white tiles had yellowed, but I have to admit the floor was clean. The broom with a big pile of hair to the left of the barber showed that it was swept regularly. The fabric on the chairs was worn and patched. Faded, dingy posters hung on the walls. Speaking of walls, the walls hadn’t seen a fresh coat of paint in decades. They were a sickly yellowish-brown color. The ashtrays sitting around, along with the smell of the place, told me the color on the walls was most likely from years of customers sitting there smoking, waiting their turn in the ancient barber chair. I could also smell something else. I wasn’t sure what it was, but I recognized the smell. It was what Dad smelled like when he came back from the barbershop.
I shivered and thought, "This looks like something from a horror movie. A place where a scary barber is waiting to slit your throat, or do something terrible to you." I almost smiled when I thought, "He is going to do something terrible to me. He’s going to cut off my hair!"
My fear level went up when I saw the barber. He was as ancient looking as his shop, and appeared to be older than dirt. His once white hair (what little he had. It was cut really short) was as yellowed as the walls. He wore a funny looking white shirt that had pockets on it. I could see a pair of scissors and a comb sticking out of one pocket. A bunch of cigars filled the other pocket. He looked scary and mean, and I doubted if he had ever smiled in his life. I was glad Dad was with me.
He stuck his hand out to shake Dad’s hand. "Come on in, Jay. What brings you in today? You were just here a few days ago."
Dad looked at The Butcher...err..I mean Mr. Behan. "I’ve brought my boys in to get a haircut. As you can see, they’re in desperate need of some tonsorial care."
For a split second Mr. Brent smiled--and I knew he was relishing the thought of removing us from our hair, but had to admit he didn’t look as scary with a smile. Then he scowled at us boys and looked scary again. "I don’t do fancy modern haircuts." He sneered and continued, " If that’s what you want, there’s a lady’s hairdresser down the street and you’d better go there." He slapped the old barber chair. "If you sit in this chair you’re getting a real haircut."
Dad was obviously enjoying this. "Real haircuts are what we want. Everyone is leaving here with short hair." I thought Dad had lost his mind when he grinned at The Butcher and said, "Of course, that’s assuming you still remember how to give a short haircut." I knew Dad was joking, but I didn’t think The Butcher would understand the joke.
Evidently I was wrong. Mr. Brent gave a huge smile, and I thought, "He’s really a nice man, and he’s trying to hide it." My fear of him left me, but I was still dreading getting in his chair.
He said, "I may be old, but I’m not so old that I’ve forgotten what a man’s hair is supposed to look like! How short are you going to let me take it?"
I shook when Dad said, "I’ll bow to your expertise, but if you look in the mirror, you’ll see what I was thinking. I like your hair, and thought it would look good on the boys."
The Butcher’s grin got bigger. "I like the way you think. I agree. Short back and sides are just what the doctor ordered for these boys, and I’ll be happy to be the one to give it to them." He laughed. "You just made me day. Hell, you just made my year!"
He picked up the cape, and dusted off the chair. "You came at a good time. There’s no waiting this morning."
Kevin whispered, "That’s because no one else would be stupid enough to come see you, you old coot."
The look Dad gave Kevin silenced him, and I knew Kevin was going to be in more trouble later.
That made me happy.
The Butcher’s grin disappeared when he looked at us boys. "Which one of you hippies is going to be the first one to become a real man?"
Dad spoke up. "That honor belongs to Kevin. He’s really excited about trying something new out." He looked at Kevin. "Aren’t you, son?"
Kevin gulped, and turned white, but bravely said, "Yes, sir." He wobbled so much as he walked to the chair that he looked like he was drunk.
I couldn’t help but enjoy his obvious discomfort.
I made up my mind at that moment to walk as steadily as I could when it was my turn. I thought,
"Chad, no matter how scared you are, you’re gonna act like this is the most exciting thing you’ve ever done. You’re gonna make Kevin look like the wimp he’s become."
He sat down, and The Butcher threw a cape around his neck. Kevin gulped again. Once Mr. Behan had the cape to his liking, he said, "One short back and sides coming up!" Then he looked at Dad. "Whitewalls all the way? Razor-shaved sides?"
Dad grinned. "Yes, sir! Whitewall all the way! Shave those side smooth! If he gives you any trouble, take it all off."
Kevin gulped for the third time, but bravely whispered, "Let’s get this show on the road. Whitewall away..."
I swear I saw tears in his eyes, and the way he was swallowing repeatedly made me wonder if he was going to be sick. I hoped he would throw up. That would give me something to harass him about for years to come.
The Butcher ignored the comb in his pocket, took a comb out of a jar filled with weird blue stuff and inspected it slowly before putting it back in the jar. Then he picked another comb, inspected it and put it back in the jar. He picked a third comb. He finally settled on one and started to very slowly comb Kevin’s hair.
Butcher Behan’s movements reminded me of a slow-motion scene in a movie, and I started getting frustrated until I realized he was doing it to torment Kevin. Then I started enjoying it. I thought, "This man should be an actor. It takes skill to move that slow."
He kept slogging along. Kevin’s center part was moved to the left side. It seemed like the part was quite a bit lower than the usual side part.
I struggled not to giggle. Kevin looked like those old men who are bald, and part their hair real low so they can comb it over the top. Kevin’s eyes bugged when he saw the side part, but he wisely kept his mouth shut.
Every other hair on his head was unhurriedly combed into the perfect place. I thought, "Why is the old geezer combing Kevin’s hair if he’s just going to cut it off?"
The Butcher pointed at the mirror. "Take a long hard look. I’m about to replace this disgusting looking hippy you see in the mirror with a nice-looking young man." Then he swung the chair away from the mirror, leaving me with a great view of both the front and the back. Dad switched seats so he could have a better view, and we both broke one of Dad’s cardinal rules. We stared at Kevin.
I looked at Dad. His anticipation was evident.
I said, "Hey, Dad. This could be fun to watch. I’ve never been to a barbershop before."
That seemed to startle him. "I guess you haven’t. Get ready for something like you’ve never experienced."
The Butcher picked up the clippers, and Kevin jumped when they were turned on. They were immediately turned off again, and The Butcher muttered, "These need some oil before they’ll take that disgusting mop of your head and put it on the floor—which is where it belongs." I smiled. I knew what he was doing, and I knew he knew what he was doing. Every action The Butcher took was designed to prolong Kevin’s agony. I approved.
Once the clippers were oiled to The Butcher’s satisfaction, he turned them on, and Kevin jumped again. The barber lifted some hair off Kevin’s neck and slid the clippers under. I heard a strange scrunching sound and saw a small clump of hair fall on the cape. Kevin looked like he was going to pass out.
Then The Butcher muttered again, "I think these need a little adjusting..." He futzed with the clippers for what seemed to be a long time, and turned them on again. "That sounds better." He lifted another clump of Kevin’s hair, and very slowly went up the back of Kevin’s neck, and I heard that strange sound again. This time he went really high up Kevin’s neck. I couldn’t tell any difference in the way his hair looked, and was beginning to think there wasn’t anything to be scared of. The next, very slow pass of the clippers proved me wrong. Suddenly I could see LOTS of Kevin’s scalp.
A fourth slow trip up the back of Kevin's head made me wonder if I was going to die of old age before it was my turn in the chair--even though I was enjoying every moment of Kevin’s obvious terror. I thought, "My God, at this rate we’ll never make it to the lake. It’ll take him all day just to cut our hair!"
Evidently Butcher Behan decided he had tormented Kevin enough. He went into high gear, and moved faster than I had ever dreamed possible. Hair came flying off Kevin’s head.
The slaughter of Kevin’s hair stopped for a second, and I got a good look at what had happened so far (not that I had missed anything. I don’t think I’d taken my eyes off the show going on in front of me. Heck, I don’t think I had blinked.). I couldn’t help but giggle. Kevin looked so strange. He still had this huge shock of hair on the top of his head, but the sides were shaved way up high—except for a few long strands that the clippers had missed.
The Butcher stepped back into action, and quickly took care of the missed strands, and took some more little hairs off too. I enjoyed watching the little pieces of hair flying around.
In what seemed like a matter of seconds, the back and sides were done.
He turned to Dad. "What are we doing with the top?"
"Like I said earlier, look in the mirror and copy what you see."
Mr. Behan grinned again. "They do say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and I’ll admit to being flattered."
The ancient barber combed Kevin’s bangs straight down and then picked up some scissors. A few whacks of the scissors had Kevin’s bangs cut at a strange angle. They were long enough to almost touch his nose on the left, and ended somewhere near the middle of his forehead on the right. After making sure there were no stray hairs in the bangs, The Butcher combed them straight back, forming an extremely high pompadour. I thought that looked pretty cool, and hoped I could have a pomp like that.
Kevin’s torture wasn’t finished yet. He picked up something that I’d never seen before. It looked like a comb and a pair of scissors combined. He attacked Kevin’s hair with a fury, and soon tiny bits of hair were flying through the air like a bunch of gnats. Even though Kevin never said anything, I figured The Butcher was pulling a few hairs out by the roots too. Every few seconds Kevin would grimace like he was in pain.
The Butcher stopped and looked at Dad. "Jay, this boy’s hair is mighty fine, and he needs something to keep his hair in place. Brylcreem all right with you?"
Kevin looked like he was going to pass out. He mouthed the word, "No!" but no sound came out. Somehow I knew he was thinking about what he said when Dad came home with his first short haircut. He had said, "Old geezers seem to like it."
The look of desperation he sent to Dad was almost sad, except it was funny.
I was just as desperately sending Dad a mental message of "Oil him down like a piece of rusty machinery."
Kevin wilted (and I almost gave a shout of triumph) when Dad said, "Of course. It’s part of the look, isn’t it?"
After Kevin was greased up, The Butcher put some water in a mug, and then spread what looked like shaving cream all over Kevin’s neck and the sides of his head. He scraped the cream off with something I’d never seen.
"Hey, Dad, what’s that he’s using?"
"Son, you really have never been to a barbershop. That’s a straight razor. Some men even use them to shave their face."
I know it’s petty, but I was glad to see the last vestiges of Kevin’s sideburns disappear under that razor’s edge. Secretly, I had been very jealous that he could grow sideburns and I couldn’t. I thought him not having them anymore might level the playing field a bit.
Once he’d wiped the shaving cream off Kevin’s head, Mr. Behan turned him toward the mirror—and the look of surprise on Kevin’s face was priceless. He looked like a fish out of water, just opening and closing his mouth without managing to say a word.
Dad did his horrible British accent. "Beastly good job, old chap. Beastly good!"
In a much better accent, Mr. Behan said, "Rightly so, old chap. I think I made a rather good job of it. Underneath all that ghastly hair was a handsome bloke, and I take great pride in being the one who revealed the dashing young man to the world. I rather feel as if I have discovered a new starring man." He looked at Kevin. "All in all, it is most certainly a vast improvement, I would say."
In unison Dad and Mr. Behan said, "Son, what do you think?"
After opening and closing his mouth a few more times he managed to squeak out, "Umm, it’s short?"
Seeing my opportunity to make Kevin look bad again, I piped up. "It’s radical! I can’t wait for my turn. Come on. Get out of the chair so he can start on me!"
As soon as I spoke, I thought, "Did I really just say that?"
I immediately answered myself, and I felt a big smile spreading across my face when I thought, "Hell yeah I said it... and I meant it. This is going to be cool!"
The Butcher decided to torment me like he had tormented Kevin. "You’re gonna have to wait a little bit longer. I ain’t done with your brother." He swung the chair around again, combed Kevin’s hair again, and snipped here, and snipped there. Then he’d comb Kevin’s hair again, and snip some more.
Finally, Mr. Behan finished snipping, and took the cape off. My eyes bugged. I was amazed at how much hair fell onto the floor, and couldn’t believe all that hair came off one person.
Mr. Behan looked at me. "OK, young man. I believe it’s your turn."
A huge grin spread across my face, and I hurried to the chair, remembering to make sure I walked with a purpose. No drunken staggering for me! By this time, I couldn’t wait for him to get started on me.
I hopped in the chair, and waited patiently while he put the cape around my neck. Then he started combing my hair. I said, "Excuse me, but may I ask you something?"
He frowned. "What’s on your mind?"
"I ain’t, I mean I’m not real sure how to ask this, but you know how Kevin had a pompadour before you started using those funny looking scissors on the top of his head? I was wondering if I could have a pompadour like that?"
"Oh, is that all? I thought you were going to ask me to leave your hair longer than your brother’s."
"NO, SIR! I want my hair just as short, but with the top a little different."
"Well, I don’t mind, if Jay doesn’t mind." He turned to Dad. "What do you say? Is a pomp in order for this one?"
"That’s fine with me." Then he looked at me. "Son, it took some guts to ask for what you wanted in an unfamiliar situation like this. I’m proud of you."
Mr. Behan looked at me. "Ready?"
I grinned. "Like Kevin said, whitewall away!"
He pushed my head down, and my hair fell in my eyes. All I could see was a little bit of the cape that covered my lap. Then for the first time in my life, I felt clippers running up my neck. I wasn’t expecting the vibrating sensation, and it made me want to giggle. Also for the first time in my life I heard the sound of voracious, hair-hungry clippers feasting on my hair. I was surprised at how loud they were. It sounded like a swarm of some kind of bug...except it wasn’t annoying. It was quite pleasant. The warmth of the clippers was unexpected too. Nothing about watching Kevin’s haircut suggested the clippers would be warm. All of this unexpectedness made me think, "Seeing a haircut and experiencing it are definitely two different things. This doesn’t feel like I imagined it would."
Soon the black and white striped cape that I had been staring at began to disappear under a pile of my dark brown hair.
After a few swipes of the clippers, my head suddenly felt cold. It was startling to realize that the air from a fan on the counter was hitting my now bare scalp. I added "feeling cold air on my head" to the mental list I was compiling of things I was experiencing for the first time.
He pushed my head to the side, and I could see Kevin. I’ll admit, seeing how short his hair was scared me for a second, but then a thought gave me my confidence back. "Chad, your hair’s gonna look so much better than Kevin’s. His hair is really fine, and yours has a lot of great body in it. Plus, you’re going to have that awesome pomp, and his hair is flat and slicked back." A thrill went through me when I thought, "He’s going to be so jealous."
I didn’t think Mr. Behan had had time to skin my side, but suddenly my head was thrust to the other side, and all I could see was the wall. The smoke-darkened walls weren’t pleasant to look at, so I tried to focus on the feel of the clippers on my scalp, savoring every moment, and thinking, "Dad was right. This is fun." I wanted to look at the floor to see how much hair was there, but Butcher Behan had a firm grasp on my head, and there was no way to move it.
I was brought out of my reverie by a curt, "Sit up straight, and look straight ahead." He combed my bangs down, and soon the scissors had them at that now familiar angle. I heard the crunch of the scissors as he cut some hair off the top of my head, and I thought, "I hope he’s not getting it too short." The next thing I felt was him combing my hair into what felt like a great pompadour. He muttered, "Not bad" and attacked with the scissors again.
Evidently satisfied with his work, he looked at Dad. "Hey, Jay. Seeing as how this boy’s hair is thicker than the other one’s, what do you think about putting some Vaseline in his hair? It’ll hold his pomp in place better, and keep the curl under control."
Dad nodded, and Mr. Behan put a big wad of goop in his hands, and then rubbed it all over whatever hair I had left. A few more snips, and he was done.
He put some warm water in his shaving mug, and stirred it with a brush. Then a warm, wet brush started going around my left ear, worked around to the back and finished up around my right ear. It was a strange feeling, and I wasn’t sure I liked it. The only word I could come up with to describe how the brush felt was "smudgy". I didn’t even know what the word meant, but it felt right. However, I was content. It was a new experience for me to add to my growing list of firsts.
Next, I heard the sound of a razor being sharpened. The "whack, whack" of the blade on the razor strop was ominous sounding, but still interesting. It went on my list of new things. My eyes opened wide when he started shaving around my ear. I wasn’t expecting the sound it made. I was enthralled.
Once he had shaved around my ears and neck, he put something on his hands, and rubbed it around my neck and ears. I shivered, and added "The feel of hands on my bare scalp" to my mental list.
Mr. Behan stepped back and looked at me. "My god. What an improvement. You look mighty nice son, and I’m really hoping you’ll keep this up." He took the cape off. "Are you ready to see the new, improved you?"
"Yes, sir! I’m way past ready."
Dad stood up. "I want to see this too."
With a flourish and a huge smile, Mr. Behan turned the chair around. "Behold the new you!"
Seeing how I looked with short hair was a surprise, but a pleasant surprise. Mom was right. My green eyes were just like Dad’s, and you really noticed them. I looked at my ears and thought, "Thank God I don’t have monkey ears!" Another look at them made me think, "They’re lower than I thought they would be, but I don’t care. I may be the only boy in the country with hair this short, but I like it." (I honestly believe that was the moment the rebel in me was born. I’ve been going against "the norm" ever since.)
I looked closely at the back, and was amazed at how expertly he had tapered the back. There was no bulge, no unsightly lines, no awkward jump from one length to the next. It just flowed effortlessly toward the hair on the top of my head. Seeing it made me want to feel it, and I did something else for the first time. I reached up and felt what a set of hungry clippers could do to my head. The unexpected feel of skin where hair used to be sent another shiver up and down my spine. I moved my hand up higher where I encountered the start of my hair. It was a prickly feeling, but it felt really good. It started feeling more like velvet when I moved my hand a little...and then there was an oily sensation as I reached the top. I wasn’t sure I liked the feel of the Vaseline, but a critical look at my hair convinced me I liked the shine. I thought, "I guess this is one of those times in life that Dad’s always talking about where I have to take the bad along with the good."
I examined my pomp. It looked so cool--almost like something from the old movies. I was all grins when I said, "Thank you for a really cool haircut, Mr. Behan, and thanks for the pomp. It’s rad, and I love it!"
For the first time I noticed Dad and Mr. Behan in the mirror. They were both beaming with approval, and something in my stomach lurched. I thought, "Way to go, Chad. You’re the reason they’re both so happy."
I started to get out of the chair when I noticed Brent standing there, staring at me. I almost choked up when he said, "Bro, you look awesome. I hope I look half as good as you do when he’s through with me!"
He climbed into the chair, and mimicked what Kevin and I had said, "Whitewall away!"
Mr. Behan hid a grin in a cough. "Your enthusiasm is commendable. As you young people say, ‘Let’s do this’, but before we get started, would you mind doing me a favor?"
That startled Brent. "Yes, sir. I’ll do whatever you need me to."
"How about climbing out of the chair for a second. In case you haven’t noticed, I’m not a young man any more, and stooping over hurts my back. You’d be doing me a great favor if you’d let me put something for you to sit on in that chair, so I don’t have to bend over so far."
Brent climbed out. "I don’t want you to hurt. I’ll try real hard to grow some before my next haircut, so you won’t have to bend over."
Mr. Behan coughed again. "You do that, and you’ll be doing me a great favor." He gave Brent a huge smile, and he looked like a benign grandfather. "Thanks for already planning on coming back. I’m looking forward to cutting your hair for years to come, and watching you grow into the great man I know you’re going to be."
I thought, "Mr. Behan really is a softy, hiding in a grizzly’s costume. How he kept Brent from feeling bad about being smaller was really nice."
I looked at Dad, and figured he was thinking the same thing.
Brent’s haircut started in what was now a familiar fashion: the cape, combing the hair out, switching the part to the side and shearing the sides and back off. Then Brent’s excitement got the best of him and he got antsy. He just couldn’t keep still, despite Mr. Behan explaining to him why it was so important to be still.
I had got tired of watching the struggle between Brent and Mr. Behan and started looking at one of the antique magazines--all the while rubbing the back of my neck, trying to adjust the feel of no hair there. I looked up when I heard Mr. Behan say, "Damn!"
He looked at Dad. "Jay, this boy of yours just wiggled when he shouldn’t have, and I put a big gap in his hair. I don’t think I can salvage it. About the only thing I can do is a jarhead or buzz it."
"I think we should do the jarhead, but let me see what Brent thinks." Dad looked at Brent. "I’m guessing you understand what’s going on. You made Mr. Behan make a mistake, and he’s going to have to do something a little different to your hair. Do you know what a Marine is?"
Brent had tears in his eyes. "Yes, sir. It’s a soldier."
"That’s right, son. Marines often wear a special haircut called a high-and-tight. How would you feel about looking like a Marine?"
"I’d rather look like Chad."
"Maybe Mr. Behan can figure out how to make your hair like Chad’s, but just a little shorter. Would that be OK?"
Brent sniffed and said, "Yes, sir."
Dad continued. "I’ll tell Mr. Behan to try to make you look like Chad, but he might not be able to. We might have to do something different. I know this though, he’ll do the best he can."
He gave Brent the dreaded, "Look at me, son."
When Brent was looking, he said, "This is very serious. If you’re not still, he won’t be able to fix your hair. Have you ever watched the show Kojak?"
"Do you like his haircut?"
"No, sir. I think he looks weird."
"Well, Mr. Behan might have to shave your head just like Kojak’s if you make him make another mistake. Is that what you want?"
A very quiet voice whispered, "No, sir."
Mr. Behan stepped in. "I know you can be still for just a few minutes if you really try. I have faith in your ability. Will you promise to be extra still so I can finish your haircut?"
"Yes, sir. I’ll be as still as a statue!"
"Good. I’ll hurry so you don’t have to sit too long, but first I’ve got to talk to your dad for a moment. You wiggle all you want while I’m gone."
I got up so I could hear the conversation. It started, "Jay, I really don’t know if I can salvage anything, and if I can it’s going to take time, which is going to be harder on the boy. It might be easier on him if I just tell him the bad news, and go with the jarhead."
"Do me a favor and at least try. If you see you can’t tell me, and I’ll talk to Brent."
Mr. Behan shook his head, as if to say, "I don’t think that’s the right thing" but turned and walked back to the barber chair. He looked at Brent. "Ready?"
"Yes sir, and I promise I’ll be still."
The clippers roared back to life, and he worked for just a few minutes, and then he turned the clippers off. I thought, "Oh, crap! Here comes the bad news."
He put his hand on Brent’s shoulder. "Young man, this is your lucky day. It’s not as bad as I thought, and I was able to fix it. It’s a little bit shorter than your brothers, but not a lot."
Brent beamed. "Thank you, sir. Thank you so much. I really wanted to look like my brothers."
"Now I need you to be a man, and make a very difficult decision. How do you want the top? Like Kevin, or like Chad?"
Another smile spread across Brent’s face. "Oh, that’s not a hard choice."
Kevin looked expectantly, thinking Brent was going to pick him. His face fell when Brent said, "I want to look like Chad. He took his haircut like a man, and Kevin didn’t."
I couldn’t help but gloat!
Brent kept his word, and didn’t move a finger during the rest of his haircut, and honestly, I was a little jealous that his hair was shorter than mine.
After we had all admired Brent’s haircut, I got up and was ready to leave before I noticed that Dad had walked toward the barber chair. "Mr. Behan, I owe you double for all that extra work. Know it’s greatly appreciated. Look at the boy. He’s thrilled." He laughed, "After that fiasco, I figure you need a smoke break before you start on me."
Mr. Behan looked shocked. "I just cut your hair a few days ago. You want another cut this soon?"
"Of course. You didn’t think I was going to let the boys have all the fun, did you? Besides, I can’t risk them calling me a hippy!"
"Well, hell’s bells! You’ll look like these boys if I cut much more off you."
"What’s wrong with that? I think they look great, and I want to look just like them. The Thompson family is going out to face the world with the same haircut!"
"I’d be one happy barber if I had about twenty families that thought like you do."
I hadn’t thought about Dad getting a matching haircut, but I instantly understood why he was doing it. He was serious about uniting us as a family, and after having experienced a barbershop haircut, I could see why he thought it would work. I mused, "There is something almost magical about the barbershop. I never felt this way in a salon."
Mr. Behan reached in his pocket and pulled out a cigar. "I’m going to take you up on that smoke break. I can go outside if the smoke will bother y’all too much."
"I’ll tell you what. After that fiasco, I need a cigar too. If you’ll part with one, I’ll smoke it while you’re cutting my hair. That way you can have your cigar without worrying about offending me." Then he gave what I privately call his mischief grin. He continued , "Unless you’re too tired, and need to rest a while after cutting all that crap off the boys." (He pointed at the pile of hair on the floor when he said that.)
"I ain’t so old that I can’t do four haircuts without a nap." He pulled another cigar out of the pocket and picked up the cape. "Sit your ass down, and plug your smart mouth with this." (He sounded grumpy when he said this, but his smile let us know he was joking around.) He kept going, "It’s worth the price of a cigar to get you shut up."
Dad parried with, "If you’re worried about the price of the cigar, just add it to my bill."
I knew from stories he told that Dad sometimes smoked a cigar when he had drinks with the guys from work, or when he was out with his bowling team buddies. I’d even heard him talk about smoking a cigar while mowing the lawn, but I had never seen him smoke before.
Seeing Dad with the cigar in his mouth was strange--probably as strange as seeing him with his first haircut had been. He just didn’t look like Dad, so I decided to read while he was getting his hair cut. My thought was, "His hair’s already short, so this won’t be much fun. I’ll just read while he’s in the chair."
The buzz of the clippers as they came on caught my attention, and I looked up. Dad and Mr. Behan were hazy figures amidst all the cigar smoke they were generating, but there was already a clump of dark hair on the cape. I thought, "Chad, you were wrong. I can’t believe there was that much hair to cut off. This is gonna be fun, and you’d better watch it."
Pass after pass with the clippers caused more of Dad’s dark hair to tumble on the cape. I was engrossed by the way white strips of his scalp seemed to magically appear as the clippers stripped the hair above the now tanned lower part of his neck.
Mr. Behan put the clippers down and picked up the scissors. "Jay, at the start of this, you told me to use my best judgment, and I’m going to do something a little bit different with your top. I think it’ll work well on you."
Dad shrugged, and said, "Do what you think is best."
The scissors started clicking, and a lot of hair fell off the top of Dad’s head. I even started a conversation with myself about it. "Damn, I wonder if Dad is going to wind up being the one who looks like Kojak." "Chad, don’t be silly. Look at yourself and your brothers. The man is a master at his craft, he just likes to cut hair short." I interrupted my conversation with myself with the thought, "Holy crap. I’ve changed my view of him. Somehow I’ve stopped putting him down as ‘The Butcher’, and now I’m defending him as a master craftsman." I shook my head in dismay, amazed at how much my attitude had changed in the last hour.
I had been right to defend Mr. Behan. When he was through, Dad looked like a model...maybe a model from one of the ancient magazines laying around the barbershop, but a model nonetheless. Every hair was cut to the perfect length, and laying properly.
Seeing Dad looking so handsome made me wonder if I would ever look as good as he did. I rubbed the back of my neck and thought, "Heck, I may already have a pretty good start. My hair’s every bit as good looking as his, and I have his eyes." I looked at Dad again, to see if I was right, then another thought derailed whatever I was thinking. I snorted with laughter. Dad gave me the "what’s going on" look.
I said, "Sorry, Dad. I just thought it’s a good thing we’re going to the lake today. You look like you’re kin to a zebra!"
"Well, you’ve got a stripe of dark hair on top, a white stripe around your head and the dark tan on your neck."
It took us a while to get out of the shop after Dad got out of the chair. He and Mr. Behan finished off their cigars while talking about all kinds of stuff. Then a couple of old geezers came in, and Mr. Behan had to tell them how he had transformed us from "despicable-looking hippies to the nice looking young men you see in front of you." Then he showed them the pile of hair he had swept up after cutting our hair.
When Dad finally insisted we had to go, Mr. Behan had to tell each of us how great we looked, how proud of us he was and that we were always welcome in his shop. He reverted to his former personality, and glowered at us. "I’m telling you, your hair’s gonna start looking shabby in about ten days, or at the most two weeks. I expect to see each of you back here soon." He growled, "I’ve worked too hard today to let you revert to your former hippy state. Hell, I may come looking for you if I don’t see you again soon."
Dad was so proud of us, and so excited about our unified family look that he just glowed. Knowing I was partly responsible for Dad looking so happy made me happier than I already was.
We got in the car, and were backing out when Dad growled like a rabid grizzly. He grinned when I jumped. "I don’t know about you, but I feel like a real man now, and I want to prove it by eating as much red meat as I can. What do you say about us stopping and getting all the steaks we can, and feasting when we get to the lake?"
There were a couple of old men sitting on a bench in front of the grocery store, and I heard one of them say, "Vern, pinch me."
The man next to him took his pipe out of his mouth and said, "Why?"
"I think I’m dreaming. Look over there. Am I really seeing three young men with really nice haircuts?"
Vern looked startled when he saw us, and made the sign of the cross. "Holy Mother of God! Please tell me I’ve lived long enough to see this younger generation coming to its senses!"
The other old man said, "From your mouth to God’s ears."
They both stuck their pipes back in their mouths and stared. Even though I knew they liked the way I looked, I was beginning to get mad. I thought, "I know now why Dad always insists that we not stare. It makes folks very uncomfortable."
Vern stood up. "I may be a retired newspaper reporter, but I’ve still got a nose for the news, and I know there’s a story over there. I’m gonna go find out what’s going on with that family."
He came over to us. "Howdy, folks. I gotta say it’s nice to see a family with decent haircuts."
Dad responded, "Thanks. I’m proud of how we look."
The old men continued. "I’ve lived in this town my whole life, and I know there ain’t a barber in town that cuts hair like that except Butcher Behan. I ain’t seen anyone from your generation in his shop for years, and curiosity is killing me. What led you guys to his shop?"
He took a draw on his pipe, but kept on talking, not giving us a chance to answer. He looked at Dad. "You’ve got a little tan on your neck, and that tells me you’ve been sporting a decent haircut, but the white on the sides tells me that Butcher went a lot higher than you’re used to. The white skin on these boys’ necks tell me that they’ve been following the stupid fashion of the day."
Dad spoke up. "Are you a detective? The way you’re deducing things makes me think you’re kin to Sherlock Holmes."
"No, sir. I was a reporter for forty-five years, and doing that job makes you learn to figure things out. I’m curious, what brought about the change in hairstyles?"
Kevin butted in (I thought he was trying to be a show-off). "Sir, you’re right. My brothers and I used to have long hair, but Dad and I decided that we’re a special family and we needed to do something to advertise how different we are. We decided these haircuts would be a great way to make us stand out." He pointed at Brent and me. "Those two weren’t happy about it but, but I convinced them it was the right thing to do."
I was getting ready to knock Kevin out, and screamed. "You little..." but Dad cut me off.
"It’s ok, Chad. I’ll deal with your brother later."
Kevin turned bright red, but Dad ignored him and turned to Vern. "What Kevin said is mostly true, only he exaggerated his role in things. As a matter of fact, he tried to weasel his way out of getting his hair cut just a few hours ago. However, it seems he’s now embraced it, and I’m really proud of all three of the boys!"
(I felt a little stirring of compassion for Kevin at that point. He was having a very bad day."
Vern laughed. "Well, I’m proud of them too. You’ve got some special boys here. It takes some nerve to go against the flow in this conformist age we’re living in."
Then he turned to us. "Boys, I'm proud of you. You’ve given me some hope for the future, and I want to shake your hands." After shaking our hands (very firmly), he left us with an admonition. "Now see if you can talk some sense into your hippy friends."
We all said, "Yes, sir."