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Roger's Re-Invention by Deke Cutter
Roger was a typical younger brother in the late 1960s. His older brother Chris had been a stand-out athlete and a big man on campus in high school. Chris had lots of friends and lots of girlfriends too. Roger, however, 5 years younger, was more into reading and loved history and studying foreign languages. He was in one of the community service clubs and enjoyed working backstage on the school drama club productions. He liked girls but was nowhere near as successful as Chris. Roger was much more of a shy kid with low self-esteem. Where Chris dressed like all the other cool kids at school and graduated before longer hair became popular or even allowed, Roger was right "smack" in the middle of the huge cultural changes. His school, the same one Chris had graduated from, had dropped its dress code when faced with a lawsuit from a parent. The school had made one exception and that was extracurricular activities (Athletics, the theater department, foreign trips), for these dress or hair length requirements could still be applied. This happened as Roger entered the 10th grade.
All during Junior High, Roger’s parents had carefully monitored his clothing and hair length. If his wavy hair started to get a bit longer than his parents thought appropriate, his dad would send him off to the barber. He had been allowed to grow out his flat top when he was in the sixth grade, but it was "regular" haircuts for him. As he prepared to enter the 10th grade, he begged his mother to let him have some flared trousers, even if he couldn’t have full bell-bottoms that almost everybody was wearing and some shirts with the cool wide collars. This was agreed to. He was given a little leeway on his hair too. His sideburns were allowed to grow toward the bottom of his ears, but if he let them start "flair out" at the bottom, a stern "cut them back" from his father would send him back to the bathroom.
Roger’s regular haircuts and rather conservative clothing and general lack of self-confidence left him open to the worst kind of subtle and not-so-subtle bullying at school. Mostly it was snide comments, exclusion from groups, or being joked about. He tried to grow his hair a bit longer and make his clothes look as "in" as he could but saw that it was going nowhere, and his mother started hammering him about his hair and how his brother had never given them these problems. Roger bit his tongue because as siblings always do, he knew the darker side of Chris’s high school years-the underage drinking, the underage sexual exploits, the petty trespassing, the same bullying that he was exposed to. But this gave Roger an idea.
He told his mother he would go get a haircut "right now." It was late afternoon, but the neighborhood barbershop, the only one he had ever gone to, was still open for an hour. He hurried over and went it. Normally, he would have waited for the owner, Tony, who was the most accomplished and would give him the best cut, but this day, the older barber in the last chair was available and he headed right to his chair. When asked "what’ll it be?" He told the barber he wanted it very short, with just a little bit to brush up in the front. The barber noted that that would be a bit of a change for him. But Roger just said he wanted to surprise his parents. The barber quickly took off his sideburns and took his sides and back right down to stubble. Roger looked in the mirror with a kind of sick fascination thinking of just how bad the next few days at school would be. Then the barber wet the top of his hair down and cut the front down to about two inches and cut the top progressively shorter. He then went back and slightly rounded the front. Brushed it up, found it stood without any wax and then completed the cut with hot foam and a straight razor. He removed the cape, Roger got out of the chair paid the barber and tipped him and left before Tony could interrogate him. He’d leave his dad to answer Tony’s questions. Tony had been his barber since they moved to that neighborhood and had always liked cutting Rogers wavy brown hair. He had tried to talk him out of getting a flattop to emulate his brother and had been very happy when he had grown it out.
When Roger got home, his father was upstairs taking a shower after work. His mother was shocked, but not speechless (she never was). "What the heck did you do?"
"I got a haircut." You said Chris never gave you the problems I give you, so I wanted to start finding ways to be like Chris." At that moment, his father came downstairs.
"Wow son, I like the skinhead." (His father called any cut with short side and back a skinhead).
The next morning, Friday, he got up early, went into his brother’s bedroom to see what Chris had left behind when he finally moved out for his first real post-college job. He found just want he needed, a pair of straight leg grey trousers and Arrow brand button down shirt. He got out the penny loafers his mother had insisted they buy, and he had rarely worn, a pair of white socks and he was ready. His mother looked at him as he ate breakfast but didn’t say a word.
Roger was not an aggressive kid, but he knew he knew how to punch, and he knew how to take a punch, Chris had made him learn that. "Nice haircut Mason," "Did you join the Army Roger?" "Buzz, buzz". He heard them all. He just smiled. At lunch period, rather than put up with more abuse in the cafeteria, he went down to the gym. He found the gym teacher who served as the de-facto athletic director. "Mason," said the flat-topped coach, "outstanding haircut."
"Thanks coach, I’m interested in becoming a more rounded student and trying to get involved in athletics. I wanted your advice."
"You any good at shooting hoops?"
"I’ve played ‘Horse" with my brother Chris in the driveway."
"I remember your brother. He was a cagey one. If you are as clever as he was at getting out of difficult situations and you know the basics, come out for Jay Vee team. I won’t have any problem with you and my "short hair" rule for my players if you make the team. You show some real gumption going against the grain. A bunch of the guys come in to practice on Saturdays and after school on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Its too early for me to be involved, but I have a teacher or parent here watching that things don’t get out of hand."
Roger thanked the coach and left, smiling. He ate his bagged lunch backstage with a couple of his stage crew buddies who were the kind of guys who didn’t really care much how long or short his hair was or what clothes he wore. He told them about going out for basketball and they were psyched for him. In his afternoon classes the teasing seemed to become more like joking and he even started to respond. Jimmy McGee, one of the guys he knew had played basketball in junior high gave him the "nice hair" line to which he replied "nice face, "a classic ‘rank out’ response. The jock’s face turned red and then he burst out laughing. Even better, Susan Miller, one of the best-looking girls in school, walked up to him and rubbed the back of his head and said, "oh Roger, that feels good, and I think you look handsome."
That night at dinner, he told his parents of his plans to go out for the Junior Varsity Basketball team. He mentioned, in passing, that he ought to probably head over to a local discount department store for some new school clothes that are "a little less flashy." He even pushed the envelope by saying: "Dad you have a good eye for the right kind of clothes, why don’t we go." His dad thought some ‘guy time’ would be great. His mom’s nose was out of joint, knowing that his dad would overspend on Roger because he was so thrilled about Roger’s turnaround, and she knew that it all stemmed from her thoughtless remark about being more like his brother. His mother, like all mothers, had a much better idea about what her older son was like and had a sneaking suspicion that this might be part of Roger’s plan. Roger came home with a significant new wardrobe of what were know as "collegiate" style clothes.
Saturday morning, Roger’s dad was up to make him pancakes before his first pre-season basketball practice. Roger came down with his hair waxed up in front, putting an extra-wide smile on his father’s face. When Roger got to the gym, Jimmy McGee was one of the first guys he saw. "Hey crew-cut" Jimmy said, smiling widely. Coach said you might show up."
"Hey Jimmy, if we both make the team, I’ll take you to the barber with me to get you pretty red locks taken care of."
"Oh, man, I keep begging him to drop or loosen the haircut rule. But about half of the guys from each of the junior highs think short hair makes a statement or shows commitment."
"The way coach reacted to my haircut I don’t think there’s much chance of you avoiding the big chop, Jimmy. I know you think it will suck, but you will be part of a team doing it, so the spotlight won’t be on you the way it was on me."
"Well, there is that. You know, you aren’t such a bad kid. Let’s see if I can make a basketball player out of you." Three hours later, a bunch of very sweaty young men headed for the showers. While Roger had the shortest hair, several others had "regulars," and he and they looked and (undoubtedly) felt a bit cooler than the longer haired boys. Roger had thought he was in pretty good shape, but he realized that he needed to work on his stamina. Luckily, he had a good eye and a decent lay-up shot. His free throws from the top of the key were better than about half the guys, so, all-in-all, he left the showers feeling pretty good. He quickly dried off, put on some deodorant, toweled his hair and finger combed it, and was walking out the door. Jimmy, with a towel around his waist was blow drying his hair, facing a mirror, as Roger walked toward him. "Hey Roger, we’re partying tonight in woods over near the railroad bridge. Stop by my place and we’ll go together."
Roger smiled and shook his head in agreement. He knew the spot as it had been one of his brother’s crowd’s favorite party places. He also had the foresight to get a fake ID from the same sleezy character that his brother had used (no pictures on driver’s licenses back then and a drinking age of 18). So, he showed up a Jimmy’s house and received a warm welcome from his parents who commented on what a clean-cut new friend Jimmy had. Mr. McGee said that Jimmy had mentioned that he thought they both had a good chance of making the team and he, Mr. McGee couldn’t wait for Jimmy to get his haircut.
As they walked out the door, Roger reached up and messed up Jimmy’s carefully combed hair and noted, "you won’t have to worry about this much longer," and before Jimmy could answer added, "wait here a second." While Jimmy attempted to straighten his hair, Roger ran ahead and reached under a big bush on the corner lot and came back carrying a paper bag. He opened it and showed Jimmy a six-pack of beer and a small bottle of Mateus wine, something all the girls loved.
"Dang, Roger, who knew you had these hidden depths"
"Never judge a book by its cover my friend. Those theater ‘cast parties’ are wilder ‘sh*t’ than you can imagine." The party was great fun and Roger was accepted as one of the gang when his contribution to the drinks department was seen. He carefully nursed one beer all night, but made sure others thought he was drinking more, flirted with the girls, joked around with the guys and made sure that he got home by his curfew. His mother was waiting up for him as he opened the front door five minutes early, smiled sweetly and said, "oh mom, you didn’t have to wait up."
Three weeks had passed, and Roger was back in the barber shop, this time Tony was there alone, so Roger climber up into his chair. "My dad really liked that ‘Princeton’ Victor gave me last time, Tony, I’ll have the same again please. Looks like I’ll be keeping it short if I make the basketball team at school."
Tony responded, "you’re right about that Roger, your dad was pleased as punch that you got rid of that long hair of yours. You loved that hair, what made you decide to cut it?"
"Well Tony, my mom kept telling me that she never had problems with my brother. She seemed to love everything about him. So, I figured I would just become more like Chris than Chris. My hair is shorter, my clothes are more conservative, I’m involved in more stuff at school, I am hanging-out with cool kids like Chris did, going to parties, like Chris did, but when I come home, sober and not smelling of cigarettes, before curfew and she is waiting for me at the door, she seems--disappointed. Parents, who can figure them out!" By this time Tony was ready to apply the shaving cream around Roger’s ears and neck.
"Be careful," Tony said, "at the other end of this you want a good relationship with your mother, and you want to go to college, just keep that in mind."
"Oh, don’t worry, Tony, I have considered all that and as much as I hate to admit it, I like the fact that my dad is happy that I have chosen short hair right now. And by the way Tony, if I make the team, I’d like to bring some of the guys here to get their "regulation" haircuts for the season. Is that O.K.?"
Tony smiled and said, "these days, no barber turns away business. Just make sure you tell me when, so I have Victor working that day."
Roger’s mother was getting more and more convinced that Roger was up to something. He claimed that he was practicing two nights a week and at the library studying two nights a week. He was well groomed, his shoes polished, even his room was neat. He was up to something. On Friday or Saturday, he would go out with that long-haired Jimmy, but he’d always be home on-time. The other night, he’d claim to have a date with Susan, but he never had a relationship last this long. Her husband told her she was crazy, but she would not listen. So, one Friday night, she followed Jimmy and Susan. They went to the high school Little Theater and watched a play. She checked with the security guard and found out that the play would end at 9:30. She came back and followed them to the coffee shop where they each ordered a latte, they sat across the table chatting and then, Roger took her home, kissing her at the bottom of the path and then walking her up to her door, kissing her again, this time, gently on the cheek, and then going home, getting there only moments after his mother. "Hi mom, do you know Susan and I saw a lady that looked like you outside the coffee shop! I have tryouts tomorrow, goodnight."
As hoped for, both Roger and Jimmy made the Junior Varsity basketball team along with 10 others. The coach posted the names of the successful candidates and that a meeting would be held after school on Wednesday for all Varsity and Junior Varsity athletes. At the meeting, the coach gave out the rules for players: grade point average, no alcohol, no smoking, no cutting classes, and no long hair. "Mason, Carmen, DiRoma stand up." Roger and two Varsity players stood. Eddie Carmen had a flat-top and John DiRoma had a tightly tapered short regular haircut. These three have acceptable haircuts for athletes. McGee, Stein, Williamson stand. (Jimmy, fellow JV player, Steve Stein with his mop of curls, and Varsity Tad Williamson, who was a look-a-like for Peter Tork from the Monkees stood.) "These three do not. I expect you all to come to your team’s practice on Monday with an acceptable haircut. I am providing you a mimeographed sheet with specifics. You will maintain these haircuts for the season and through any post season play. I expect haircuts once a month at the longest interval."
While none of the guys were shocked about the haircut requirement, there was still a great deal of moaning and groaning. Roger called the JV team together and suggested that they all go to his barber together for a sort of team experience. Jimmy, by now long resigned to his fate readily agreed and soon, all but Steve Stein agreed. Steve said he had to think about it, asked when they would be going. Roger said Saturday morning, but Steve said, "I can’t make it on Saturday, its Shabbat and my grandparents are up from Florida, so we must be very observant."
Roger, thinking fast said, "how about if Jimmy and I come with you on Friday, right after school and Jimmy borrows his dad’s camera to record the event? You can be home before sundown, would that work?" Steve obviously didn’t want to be the odd man out, so he agreed.
Friday afternoon found the three lads at Tony’s barbershop, with a visibly nervous Steve in Tony’s chair. "Well young man, what will it be?" Tony asked.
"My dad said to ask for a "laydown crewcut." He said the sides would be ‘real’ short and there would be just enough on top for it to be combed over to the side, but only just."
Tony smiled, "I couldn’t have described it better myself." Tony checked that Jimmy had his father’s camera ready to go and then turned on his clippers. Steve’s soft dark brown curls quickly fell on to the cape as the left side of his head was reduced to stubble. Tony made sure to take off most of Steve’s fuzzy sideburn, having read the coach’s instructions carefully. Then he proceeded to clear all the curly hair from back and the right side before turning the clippers off and wetting the curls on top. He then combed them down and over to the side. He began to reduce the length down significantly, then he went to work with the thinning shears, finally returning to the barber shears and leaving barely half an inch on top with maybe an inch toward the front. He cleaned up the edges with shaving cream and even added in a thin part line on the left side. Then he took a small amount of sweet-smelling pomade, rubbed it in and using a long thin comb combed the short hair on top to the side. Steve looked stunned. "I look like my dad in his high school picture."
"Then your dad must have been a handsome young man too," Tony said.
Steve thanked Tony, paid him and left a tip. Apologized to his friends but reminded them that he needed to rush to get home before sundown.
Tony looked at the other two boys and asked, "so, are you both waiting until tomorrow?"
Roger said, "yes, we’ll get our cuts with the rest of the team."
But Jimmy addressed Roger, "what if I got a haircut today, but the big chop tomorrow? I think of the guys on the JV, I’m losing the most hair and I know you won’t let me get away with anything longer than your current cut, if that. So, I was wondering sir (now turning to Tony), if I could pay you today for a haircut that would move my part to the side and uncover about half my ear and take my hair just up to my collar. I’d like to see what I’d look like with that length before I go short."
Before Tony could answer, Roger asked, "do we have enough film left?" Jimmy indicated that they did.
Tony said he could do the cut and so the first of Jimmy’s two haircuts began. Jimmy’s reddish hair fell below his chin and almost reached his shoulders. It was parted in the middle and fell in the back down below the collar of his shirt. After caping him, Tony began by wetting his hair and moving the part to the left side. Then, he started cutting on the left side, taking off about 6 inches. As he continued around he cut the hair just to the top of Jimmy’s collar. He then went to the other side and did the same thing again. Next, he combed the bangs down, they reached below Jimmy’s nose, snip, snip, snip and his bangs now sat just at eyebrow level. Tony then did a bit of layering and cleaning up the sides. He made the sideburns level with the hair at mid-ear level and cleaned up the lower neckline. He blew dry Jimmy’s damp hair and sprayed his hair with a new product, a men’s hair spray. Jimmy looked at himself and said: "holy cow, I look like I could go golfing with dad and his banker buddies. Great job sir!"
Roger reminded him, "wait until tomorrow, "you ain’t seen nothing yet."
Saturday morning came very early. Roger and all but one of his teammates had "partied hardy." With his parents’ permission, he had spent the night a Jimmy’s, with Mr. McGee gleeful about the first haircut and filled with happy anticipation about the second. Roger had made sure there was beer but also made sure that nobody went too far and that he and Jimmy were nearly sober when they arrived back at the McGee home. He made sure that he and Jimmy were up, showered and ready to meet Tony at opening time.
Once their 9 teammates arrived, Roger hopped into Tony’s chair and Jimmy, as they had agreed on the walk over, got into Victor’s chair. "Two crewcuts, one-inch bumpers please." Roger’s haircut was competed much quicker than Jimmy’s, but both were captured in red-eyed Kodak images with teammates using cameras with flashcubes on them. The guys were all over Jimmy when he got out of the chair rubbing his newly shorn head. Roger looked at the shorter haircut he now had and had that small smile again, knowing it would further confuse his mother. He then made sure two more players were in the chair getting their haircuts. At the end of two hours a variety of crewcuts, a flattop, a pair of buzzcuts, and two very short regular cuts were completed. Roger made sure that Tony and Victor were tipped well.
Roger invited Jimmy home for lunch. Roger’s dad rubbed both boy’s heads when he saw them. "Classic boys! Jimmy, how does it feel to have short hair?"
"It’s very different sir. I guess I’ll get used to it during the season. If the baseball coach has the same rules, I may not play this year, though."
"Really? But your hair will already be short?!"
"Well sir, Coach Morton has coached basketball for a long time. He’s a friend of my dad’s. I kind of resolved that I would get my haircut if I couldn’t convince him to drop the policy. I mean his son Richie hasn’t been home in three years because he plays in a band, and he has to keep his hair long and Coach won’t have him in the house. If it wasn’t for Roger, though, I wouldn’t have got this crewcut, I would have got the absolute longest cut I could. When I saw what Roger went through at school and then when he got the shorter haircut and conservative clothes and what a cool guy he was, anyway, I knew I could do this too. Most of the team felt the same way. But its my hair and I shouldn’t have to keep cutting it short because of an arbitrary rule. I’ll find a recreation league or something. Hopefully, this rule will change by next basketball season."
"Thanks Jimmy, I appreciate your truthfulness."
"Dad, we have to over to Jimmy’s now, I’ll be home for dinner." The boys walked out the kitchen door and down the Mason’s driveway. "F*ck me Jim, that was some speech you laid on my old man! I hope I didn’t force you into that skinhead haircut."
"Oh, heck no buddy! You just really showed me what it took to make a big change. You never really explained why you did it, and you don’t have to, but I have a feeling that there was something big behind it. Susan saw it too. She told Alison that you are working through something big, and she is glad we have become friends because now you are not so much an outsider. But I know you have your theater friends and your anti-war friends and now us lunk-head jock friends and everybody that knows you likes you and trusts you. And you know what else, you don’t even see this, but you have opened communications between all of us. How cool is that?" As Jimmy said this they arrived at his house and his dad was waiting at the front door.
"Mary," he called to his wife, "come and see these two." He grabbed his son in a bear hug and then to Roger’s surprise grabbed him in one too. "Son, I know this has been a big sacrifice for you and believe it or not Al Morton does too. Roger, I’m not sure how you played into this, but thank you, not because I wanted my son to conform, but because right now, the stars aligned, and he loves "shooting hoops" and it seems to me that he’s made a very good friend."
Roger blushed deeply. He rubbed his hand across his very short hair and looked over and his crewcut buddy. "Sir, Mrs. McGee, the day I showed up at school with my straight legged pants and my Princeton haircut, I took a lot of teasing, but there was only one person who was not doing it out of meanness, that was Jimmy. I never had much self-esteem, but Jimmy and I clicked. I didn’t know anybody who played basketball, but coach had alerted Jimmy that I was interested. Jimmy made a comment about my haircut, and I made a silly comment back and all the sudden, we were friends. The thing is, like Jimmy, I have no love of short hair. I wanted to grow my hair and fit in. My folks weren’t happy about it, but we were doing the dance a lot of families are doing, me testing and pushing the limits, them pulling me back. But finally, my mom commented once too often about how she never had these problems with my older brother. Well, these issues didn’t exist when he was in school and that just hit me hard because, well, my brother wasn’t perfect either. So, I decided to outdo my brother and get a shorter haircut than him, play a different sport than he did, and keep up with my other stuff. I had no idea that I would end up with a long-haired best friend that I would convince to join me in leading the JV basketball team to cut most of their hair off and promise to keep off until our last game is played!"
Roger got his second unexpected hug of the day. This one was from Mary McGee. "You two are something special," she said.
At the end of that basketball season, both the JV and Varsity squads were undefeated. That meant a total of four crewcuts at Tony’s for Roger and Jimmy. Roger’s mother finally realized what she had said when Roger "accidentally" left the piece of wood that hid his brother’s stash of fake ID and other high school malfeasance just open enough for her to find it. She apologized and both parents agreed that Roger should have more say over his clothes and hair. Roger, with his new-found self-confidence decided to audition for the Spring musical and wound up with the role of "the King" in the "the King and I" which meant he ended his sophomore year of high school with a shaved head. Since his girlfriend, Susan got the role of Anna, things worked out quite well for "love’s young dream". With his best friend facing a shaved head, Jimmy relented, joined the baseball team and adopted Roger’s slightly longer Princeton cut until the play closed. When school ended, both boys pledged to grow their hair out. The best news came when Coach Morton’s son became a father. Coach had an epiphany and got the school board to drop the extra-curricular activities exception and athletes and other students in extra-curricular activities were finally able to let their "freak flags fly."