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Jack Opts for Change by Manny


"I'll just be a few more minutes, Mr. B," Jack said as he put the finishing touches on his art project. "I know you're anxious to get your weekend going."

"Take your time, Jack," the art teacher replied. "I don't have any big plans for the weekend. Do you?"

"Nope, just a tennis match tomorrow afternoon. Meaning, I also need to get a haircut in the morning. Coach has been ragging me about my hair," the lad said as he flicked the massive blond forelock away from his green eyes. "Coach doesn't want any mishap in the game, like me missing a serve because I've got hair obstructing my line of sight. I wish he'd let us wear headbands."

"I think that's part of growing up. Boys getting nagged about needing a haircut," Mr. B said sympathetically. "With me, it was my father. Even though I got haircuts like clockwork on the first Saturday of the month, there was always a big sermonette in the lead-up to it which ended with the admonition....'Remember, tell the barber tapered short around the ears and up the back....and the bangs no longer than a finger width above the top of the eyebrows.' Then my father would put his finger across my forehead, right above the brow, to drive his point home."

"Well, at home, my mother is the nag when it comes to my hair, always urging me to get a shorter, tidier look. The biggest insult when she throws shade is that people might mistake me for a girl," Jack explained.

"Well, you do have very thick, shiny hair....and being so long in back like that...." Mr. B teased.

"Not you too!" Jack protested playfully.

"Coach is plain jealous. With that severe MPB -- it's like a #6 on the Norwood scale -- he envies your plush locks. He's got that wispy, pathetic wrap-around fringe that makes him look like an old man. When you're out there on the court with that lustrous, golden mane flying around, channeling the tennis pro of my youth, Bjorn Borg, he's just plain jealous!" Mr. B chortled.

"That may be the case, but I'll be in the barber's chair tomorrow morning," Jack sighed.

Then Jack got a sort of mischievous look in his eye, "What was that instruction -- one finger width above the top of the brow? Maybe your father was right. Maybe that's exactly what I need!"

"And the short taper around the ears?" Mr. B laughed, pointing to the thick locks that totally covered Jack's ears. "The absolute worst part of my haircuts when I was your age was the grand finale -- it seemed like the barber went on for ages tackling what remained with the thinning shears. The short bangs were reduced to just little wisps -- a far cry from that grand, swooping forelock of yours, Jack!"

Jack ran his fingers through his hair and pushed back the heavy weight of his copious fringe. Then his fingers went over the top and lingered a bit in the lush locks that hung from the nape. He imagined thinning shears reducing the bulk to mere wisps and suddenly felt excited.

"Are you going to watch our match against Benson High? It's here and starts at 3 pm," Jack said.

"No, don't feel like spending my Saturday 'at work' if you know what I mean," Mr. B replied. "Maybe I'll see you at church on Sunday."

"If we go...." Jack replied. "My father doesn't like the new minister's preaching. It's too theological and expository, he says."

Jack stood up and finishing clearing his desk of the art supplies. Mr. B watched him flick his thick mane of hair back.

"Remember, tapered short around the ears and up the back....and the bangs no longer than a finger width above the top of the eyebrows!" Mr. B joked.

"Yes, father," Jack panned back, clamping his index finger above his brow, displaying the 3-4 inches below that would on the chopping block if the instruction were carried out.

The next morning, Jack felt quite agitated when he woke up. He thrashed about in bed and finally rolled out of the sack. He glanced at himself in the mirror on the way to the shower. His hair looked wild. All over the place. He tugged on his forelock. It reached his lower lip! So much hair! So a thick, long mane! A trip to the barber was just what he needed. He thought of Mr. B's parting instruction -- tapered short up the back and around the ears, and the bangs no longer than a finger width above the top of the eyebrows. Then Jack jumped into the shower.

"Don't forget to take cash for the barber," his mother reminded Jack at breakfast. "What are they charging now at Al's -- $16? Here's a $20 and have the barber keep the change if you're happy with the haircut."

"I'm going to get it cut short," Jack said casually. "You'll be able to see my eyes and no one will mistake me for a girl."

"I'm so glad to hear that, Jack. Coach will be glad too, I imagine," his mother replied.

Jack felt antsy as he drove to Al's Barber Shop. He kept checking out his mane in the rearview mirror. How had Mr. B characterized it? A grand, swooping forelock? And all those natural sun-kissed highlights from hours on the tennis court. It was his dazzling trademark. But, Jack was going to have it whacked off, super short.

The next thing he knew, Jack was pulling into the small parking lot at Al's.

The shop wasn't too busy. All the barbers had clients in their chairs, but the waiting area was empty. He would be next up, and it looked like old Al would be his man. Duster was already in hand...followed by a bit of vacuum action inside the geezer's collar.

The geezer took his time paying and so Al motioned for Jack to take a seat.

The blond youth sat nervously in the chair. What a mop! He squirmed a bit as the cape was cast into place.

"Quite a while since you've been in this chair," Al said nonchalantly.

"Yes, sir," Jack replied.

"So, what'll it be for you today?" the barber continued.

Jack summonsed the courage to spit out the precise instruction that Mr. B's father always gave. "I want it tapered short around the ears and up the back. And, the bangs, a finger width above the top of the brow, like this." Jack held his finger to his forehead, thus condemning his grand, swooping forelock to the dustbin of the barber shop.

As soon as he had given the instruction, Jack felt almost giddy! Most of all, he wondered how Mr. B would react when he saw his new shorn look.

The barber began brushing the lad's thick long hair. "That will be quite a change, young man. Are you sure you want a short taper? Perhaps a medium taper instead," the barber cautioned.

"No, sir. I want my hair tapered very short, up to the crown. And, my bangs snipped off very short as well. All this long hair is a liability for me, my coach thinks, when I am on the tennis court. And we have a big match this afternoon with our rivals at Benson High," Jack explained.

Al smiled and reached for the clippers. "Very well. Short, it will be. Tapered to #1 at the hairline or all the way down to zero?" Al asked as he checked the big Oster machine.

"Tapered to zero," Jack instructed confidently.

In a flash, Al clamped one hand on Jack's head and cocked it to the side. The first swipe of the clippers was brutal. A mass of blond hair was lift off and fell to the cape. Even with just one swipe, it was clear there would be scalp showing. The second swipe drove that reality home very clearly. Another mass of hair fell away. A pile of shimmering blond hair began to collect on the cape.

Jack clutched the arms of the chair for support. He was definitely on the receiving end of quite a dramatic makeover. Everyone would be shocked when he showed up shorn like a schoolboy.

The one side was already taken down tight with his ear prominent, but the other side remained uncut. So did the forelock.

Al turned his attention to the bulky forelock, combing it straight down over Jack's eyes.

"Short, you said. Out of the eyes," Al sought to confirm.

Jack was about to remind him of the one finger width above the brow, when Al took the shears quite high on the forehead.

SNIP, SNIP, SNIP.

The severed fringe fell dramatically to the cape.

Jack blinked almost in disbelief. The transformation had only taken a moment. His bangs were now about a third of the way down his forehead. Five-inch clumps of sun kissed hair lay helplessly in his lap. The deed had been done. Jack felt helpless, but curiously glad the fringe had been cut a lot shorter than requested.

Al snipped at the bangs some more, evening them out and shortening them a bit further.

"How's the length?" Al asked perfunctorily. What could be done? It seemed like a rhetorical question. And, the barber seemed satisfied with his work. "Much more practical like this when on the tennis court, right?"

Then Jack felt bold enough to suggest they needed to be thinned. "The length is fine, but perhaps a bit of thinning..."

Al smiled at the suggestion. "Just what I had in mind!"

A good thinning session ensued, and the remnant of the once dramatic swoop of hair was left wispy and short. A final snipping took the length down to a mere inch and a bit.

Then Al picked up the tempo with the clippers again. He forcedly made Jack bow his head so that his chin almost touched his chest. Al began to tackle the back with gusto. His clippers were powerful and could not be deterred by the thick locks. The barber continued tapering up the back and sides, shorter and shorter. Finally, he turned his attention to the remain patch of dense, longish hair, on top. With a clipper over comb technique, he took the top down, shorter and shorter, and left it just long enough to lay down to the side.

Jack felt light-headed. The change of his hair length was rather dramatic, but Jack was quite accepting of it. Why had he bothered with that floppy overgrown mop for so long?

Finally, Al ceased from his labor. He brandished the duster. Then, he held up the mirror for Jack to opine on the cut in general with the back now visible.

The lad squirmed a bit in the chair. I mean, he had come this far....and if the short hair suited him, and if he was looking forward somewhat to shocking people, why not?

"Um, that's quite good, but, uh, would it be too much bother to take it down a little shorter all over?" Jack asked. Jack felt psyched to request a shorter length. He was going for a radical transformation!

"Not at all. A barber is always happy to deliver a nice short crop. A standard crewcut is perfect for an active boy your age," Al said.

Upon hearing the term 'crewcut', Jack clutched the arms of the chair. It sounded outrageously short.

The next thing he knew, Al was taking the clippers straight down the top of his head, from forehead to crown. Zip, zip, zip! With a #4 on top, all the clippers left was some stubby tufts in front. The sun kissed blond streaks were totally gone; Jack's hair was now a shade of brown.

"A #4 on top and a #2 on the sides," the barber explained as he mowed the short hair even shorter.

"Let's make it a #3 on top and a #1 on the sides," Jack said, effectively having himself taken down yet another notch.

And that was the final length of his new short crop!

When Jack finally emerged from the chair to pay, he was amazed at how much of his hair covered the floor around the barber chair. It looked like a lovely gold carpet.

"Want me to snap a photo of you standing in the middle of all that hair?" Al asked.

"Sure!" Jack replied. He handed him the $20 with a firm, "Keep the change."

"This change for me...and that change for you, young man!" Al chirped, pointing to the crewcut and laughing at this own play on words. "And good luck on the court this afternoon."

Jack could not stop feeling his clipped head and looking at himself in the mirror when he got into the car. His hair was shockingly short, but he like it -- especially running his hand up the back, against the grain.

When he got home, he surprised his mother in the kitchen.

"Well, what do you think?" he asked, clearing his throat so that she turned around from the sink where she was washing dishes.

"Jack! Your hair!! It's all been cut off!" she shrieked.

Jack looked quite sheepish. "I guess it has, almost all. Do you like it?"

His mother was still struggling for words. "Oh, I'm just trying to get used to it. I guess it makes you look younger, almost boyish. Coach will approve," she stammered.

Throughout lunch, she couldn't keep his eyes off her shorn son. "Perhaps when it grows out a bit," she murmured absent-mindedly.

After he'd finished eating, Jack raced to his room. He got a good look at himself in the mirror. He looked like he was in the army! Did he miss his dreamy swooping forelock? Not really.... He quickly dressed for the tennis match in his school uniform. Then it was back to the mirror. So short.... everyone would be shocked, like his mom.

Jack thought back to his haircut. His favorite part of all was Al snipping off his long forelock, quickly reducing it in length. The three snips almost took his breath away.

On his next trip to Al's, he would go even shorter. A #2 on top and a zero on the sides! Perhaps next Saturday!

"I hope you win today," his mom called out as he left the house.

Jack felt a bit nervous getting out of his car in the school parking lot. He spied Jeremy Anders a few cars down. Jeremy was the captain of the tennis team -- and such a stud! His gorgeous raven mane had an almost bluish tint. Girls were hanging off either arm. For Jack, Jeremy's shoulder-length locks provoked a strong surge of jealousy.

Jack felt his clipped head, which was accompanied by some pangs of serious regret. There was no use dwelling on the matter. His hair had been shorn off and that was that. It had all been swept up by Al and dumped into a trashcan.

Jack envied Jeremy's long hair as he watched it sway and shimmer in the afternoon sun. Nothing could bring back his own plush mane any time soon. His locks with natural highlights that the chicks fawned over and envied were a thing of the past.

Maybe he should let his hair grow back. After all, even his mother said "once it grows out a bit...."

As he was dealing with conflicting feelings about his new shorn look, Jack heard a familiar voice.

"Is that you, Jack?!" the man called.

He turned to see his art teacher, Mr. B.

"Your hair!" Mr. B gasped. "You got scalped!"

Jack struggled to reply. He put his hand on top and rubbed the bristles. "I sure did." A sick sort of churning in his stomach ensued.

"How did that happen?" Mr. B pressed, making no effort to hide his surprise that bordered on a bit on alarm.

"Well, I don't know. I decided to get it cut short and, uh, the barber just kept cutting and cutting. And, the shorter he cut it, the better I liked it. I told him to keep cutting it. Until...." Jack stammered nervously.

"Until you started looking like an army recruit!" Mr. B exclaimed.

They stood there a bit and shuffled awkwardly. Then, Mr. B rubbed Jack's head playfully. "Sorry, I just couldn't resist that!" Then he rubbed it again, a bit more forcefully and for a longer timespan.

Jack enjoyed being on the receiving end of his teacher's spontaneous Dutch rub.

"And, the verdict is?" Jack asked hopeful.

"Once it grows out some, it'll look fine...." Mr. B said casually. "It's just that you had such nice hair."

Jack felt glum.

Then, Mr. B changed the subject, asking, "Are you surprised I'm here to watch the match?"

"Thanks for coming! It means the world to me. You're my favorite teacher, Mr. B. And, I'm sorry you won't see your Bjorn Borg and his golden mane flashing about the court today," Jack said, his voice tinged with some sadness.

Mr. B smile. "Actually, now that I've gotten used to it a bit, I really like your haircut, Jack. And I like the fact that you wanted it cut short and just did it. It's not what other people think, it's what you think! Short hair is really so much more practical. Hey, I'm a big fan of Novak Djokovic and his brush cut," Mr. B said.

"He's a terrific tennis player. You have an artistic eye, Mr. B. Maybe that's a length I should consider for myself," Jack said as he put his arm around Mr. B and gently guided him in the direction of the tennis courts.

"Maybe that's a length we both should consider," Mr. B said, nervously touching his own fussy businesscut.

Jack felt at peace as they strolled together. "Why don't you come with me to Al's when this grows out a bit? I think a brush cut would suit you well."

"Perhaps," Mr. B said, again studying Jack's short hair intently. "Or maybe I should follow your lead. A tight crewcut, at the beginning of summer?"

As the two walked on, their chat was interrupted by a huge shriek from a cluster of cheerleaders. "Jack!! What happened to your hair?! Your dreamy blond hair?" one screamed.

Mr. B could feel Jack's body tense up. He leaned over and whispered, "If you wanted to create a stir today, buddy, you sure succeeded."

Jack smiled. "I did. They are all so shocked!"

Then, Jack turned and faced the shrieking girls. "I got tired of the girly-boy band moptop. I had my barber chop it all off this morning. Get used to the new look, gals!"

"Heartbreaker!" the cheerleader called back. "But you're still the cutest boy on the squad, Mr. G. I. Joe!"

Mr. B and Jack walked on a bit. Then Jack said, "Let's not wait till summer for your makeover, Mr. B. I think after the match, I'll drive you over to Al's. You need a change from this tired look of a middle-aged man."

Mr. B blushed, "Really, you think?" The idea of his student driving him to the barber shop and instructing the barber to have him shorn strangely appealed.

"Yep! Just can't decide if it'll be a #3 on top with a #1 on the sides or a #2 on top with a zero on the sides," Jack quipped.

"The shorter, the better!" Mr. B replied.

"You'll get your money's worth, for sure," Jack said with a twinkle in his eye. "I'm so glad you like my short haircut. Your opinion and approval is so important to me. Oh, and I've decided -- a #2 on top with a zero on the sides for you, Mr. B!"



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