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Jack the Hack by Deke Cutter

When Mike returned home from work, he knew he should have waited for his wife Melissa to arrive before opening the envelope. It was addressed to them both and looked like a professionally printed invitation. The return address intrigued him too. It was Melissa’s older brother. What could Jack and his wife Mary be planning, Mike wondered. Curiosity got the better of him and he opened the envelope to find an invitation to a "Ruby Wedding Anniversary Celebration-40 years of marital bliss for Mr. and Mrs. John Richards, Snr." So, Mel’s parents "Jack the hack" and Edie weren’t "betting on come," of making the big 5-0, or else were covering their bets and hoping for another bigger celebration in 10 years’ time. Mike didn’t really have a problem with his in-laws, especially Edie, she was a decent sort. "Jack the hack," was a barber who like to butcher guys in the style of the old masters from the pre-Beatles era. His son, Jack Junior, towed the line and allowed his father to keep his hair closely cropped. Her younger brother, Thomas, a more rebellious sort, had followed Mel and Mike’s lead and "got out of Dodge" as soon as he could. The last time Mel and Mike had seen Thomas, his hair reached his shoulders, and it didn’t seem to be hurting his career at all. He and Mel had met at the university they both attended, about three hours from their respective homes, in opposite directions. He had received his BA and was in an accelerated program for a master’s degree. Mel had been somewhat reluctant to have him meet her parents but as they planned to get engaged at Mel’s graduation and married when Mike completed his degree, they agreed it was time. Mel had told him, "My dad is not a bad guy, but he has a quirk. He is a barber, and he believes men should have very short haircuts. He will do everything he can to get you into his barber chair and if he does, expect a scalping.

Mike, whose shaggy locks were an appropriate length for a financially challenged student, told her not to worry. "Will you still marry me, if he chops my hair off? (Not that I plan to let that happen)," he added.

"Of course, you big goof," Mel responded, but he is a devious son of a gun." So, we arranged a weekend trip to visit Mel’s parents. We scheduled it so that we would arrive after the shop had closed on Saturday afternoon and we would be gone again, before it opened on Tuesday morning. I was surprised to see the home when we arrived. Mel explained that the house had been built by a dentist who wanted to have his practice attached to his home, but who got an offer to move to a big city and gave dad a great deal on it. As you’ll see the house and shop are separate and the dentist even added extra soundproofing!"

Michael remembered his first encounter with Jack and Edie. Both came bounding out of the house as the car pulled up. They greeted their daughter joyfully and were very effusive in their welcome to Mike. "Come in, come in. Let us help with your luggage. We have coffee and sandwiches waiting." Mike couldn’t remember who said what. It was a cloud of welcoming cheer. Jack and Edie chatted away, asking about Mel’s course work, job prospects, Jack’s family, his studies etc. They talked of Mel’s brothers and their family. Finally, Edie said, "Melissa would you mind going over to your Aunt Sue’s with me? She is dying to see you and she has her mother-in-law with them now. Uncle Bob is out of town, so she can’t leave her alone. Mike, would you mind if I stole Melissa away for a while?"

"Oh, no ma’am, I’m sure Mr. Richards and I can find some things to talk about." Mike figured he could do the whole "ask for your daughter’s hand in marriage, sir" thing while they were gone. And that is how it started. After Melissa and Edie left. Mike helped Jack dry the dishes and clean up after dinner. Jack then brought out a bottle of fine 20-year-old whisky and offered Mike "a wee dram, as the Scots say." Mike accepted it, sniffed it, rolled it on his tongue and swallowed it down. "Sir that is a fine Scotch. But, before I say more, I want you to know that Melissa and I love each other very much and we hope to marry after she and I finish our degrees. I know it is a bit old fashioned, but I want to formally ask you for her hand in marriage."

Jack stood up and walked over to Michael, grabbed him in a bear hug, and said, "Mel has been writing us about you and talking to her mother on the phone incessantly. Of course, you have our blessing, welcome to the family. Now, let’s celebrate." He then went to the cabinet where the whisky was and poured Mike another larger portion that Mike took down with relief. Somewhere around the fourth or fifth refill, Mike’s inhibitions were down, and he was surprised at how unaffected Jack seemed. In fact, if he thought about it, he didn’t really remember Jack drinking too much. But his mind was a bit fuzzy, so when Jack suggested that he show Mike his shop, Mike didn’t think twice. "Here let me get us both a refill on the way," Jack said. Mike thought for a second that he saw Jack rubbing his fingers over one of the glasses, but no, that was just his imagination. The two men walked, well Jack walked, Mike sort of staggered down a hallway. Jack unlocked a door, and they were in an old fashioned three chair shop with big chairs with white enamel arm rests beautiful thick upholstered seats, the works. Through an archway was a waiting area. Jack explained that he had taken the door out from the dentist’s treatment room and expanded the archway. Jack sat down in one of the barber chairs and offered Mike the seat beside him. Mike sat down and commented on how comfortable the seat was and accepted his drink.

The next thing Mike remembered was being shaken awake by Jack. He was sitting in one of the big barber chairs in Jack’s shop. Jack was speaking, "you’ve been weaving in and out." Shall we go back into the house, the girls will be back shortly." As Mike rose from the chair, he felt different, something was off. Jack was urging him forward but for some reason, Mike turned his head toward the mirrored wall behind the barber chairs and stopped.

He reached up to his head and said, "My hair, what the heck happened to my hair, it’s almost all gone!" Mike’s shaggy student locks, touching his collar, covering his ears were gone, replaced, it seemed, by one of Jack’s signature "very short back and sides" haircuts. There was just enough for a part on the side before the stubble turned to skin around the ear and the top was combed forward with straight bangs cut just an inch below the hairline.

"Don’t you remember asking me to give you a haircut? You said you wanted to thank me for the warm welcome into the family. I asked you how you wanted it cut, you mumbled what I thought was "barber’s choice" and were snoring, so I gave you my favorite cut."

Mike, with a flash of insight, replied, "I suspect I miscommunicated with you and meant to say just a trim but it’s too late now. It is just a good thing we have plenty of time before the wedding for this to grow out or Mel might well have young Tom walk her down the aisle." Mike looked directly at Jack and let him know, that a line had been drawn in the sand. Mike and Mel’s wedding had been held on "neutral ground" and Jack the hack had not touched Mike’s hair again. Of course, the verbal thrashing his daughter gave him when she returned from her aunt’s home may also have helped.

And now Melissa’s arrived home to find Mike handing her the invitation to her parents 40th Anniversary party. "I wonder what my brother is up to," she said. "He is under dad’s thumb about his haircut, but Jackie has always preferred a quiet life. Let’s call him and find out." The phone call to Mel’s brother explained the anniversary party plans. It seemed that their father Jack’s brother was being treated for prostate cancer and Aunt Sue had just found a lump on her breast. Now both parents were freaking out that they too would face cancer diagnoses and miss their landmark 50th anniversary, even though both were in perfect health and regularly received all the appropriate screening exams. "Well, that explains things, I thought this was an elaborate plot to get you and Thomas back and into his barber chair again," Mel said with a smile.

"That gives me a completely "off-the-wall" idea. Mike said. "Do you think your brother Jackie can keep a secret from your dad?" Mel indicated that she did. He explained his idea and they got Mel’s brothers on a Zoom call.

6 weeks later, Jack the hack, and Edie received a phone call on the morning of the day of their anniversary party. "Hi Jack, this is Bill Jacobson, I know you closed your shop today and I hate to bother you, but we’re hosting an event down here at the K of C Hall. The police, fire department and community college are all raising money for cancer research by getting people to shave their heads." The problem is the turnout is bigger than we expected, and we could use a professional down here to keep things moving. And could you maybe bring Edie along to help with the hospitality until my Gerri can get here. She got held up with the grandkids.

"You know us, Bill, we always want to help a good cause, but our son is having an anniversary party for us tonight and…"

"Oh, don’t worry, this thing will be over in plenty of time." So, Jack and Edie spent the next several hours at the Knights of Columbus Hall. Jack was quite happy to get behind a chair and start buzzing down willing participants, many of whom had raised hundreds of dollars. He knew nearly half of the participants as customers or from around town. He was pleased to see so many high school and junior college students who had shockingly long hair, by Jack’s standards, getting shorn down. He hoped some of them would see the error of their ways. Edie, in the meanwhile, had been keeping the administrative and social side of things humming along, as she had done with Jack’s business, and every church and community event she had led for her entire adult life. Jack was so busy cutting hair that he did not notice when Edie stepped off the floor, ostensibly for a short break, and came back "looking like the cat who ate the canary."

As the last cuts were finished, Edie pulled Jack aside and told him, you will do what is asked of you now John Richars Senior, I want no arguments or complaints. Do you hear?" In their marriage, Jack knew that Edie had tolerated many of his quirks, particularly his demands on his sons that had led to a significant estrangement from their younger one. So, on the rare occasion that Edie "laid down the law," Jack knew better than to remonstrate.

Bill Jacobson was now on the stage at the from of the hall calling for quiet. "Friends," he said, rubbing his own newly shaven head, I want to thank you all for coming out today to participate in this event to raise funds for cancer care and research to end this deadly plague that touches so many of our families. We have raised over $45,000. As most of you know, the participants who raised the most for their "scalpings" have the right to shave the person of their choice. Now this part comes with a surprise for two very special people who are with us today. Jack and Edie Richards were dragooned into coming down to help us out this morning. In a few hours, they will be attending a party celebrating their 40th Wedding Anniversary. What they did not know is today’s event was arranged by their children and the money raised will be given to the hospitals where 2 of their siblings are currently being treated for cancer. Furthermore, the two top fundraisers are well known to Jack and Edie, they are their son-in-law Mike, and their younger son Thomas. Jack Senior, if you will take this chair, and Jack Junior if you will come out and take the chair next to your dad." Jack looked at his wife, she winked, and he did as he was told. His older son came out and sat down. Next, appearing behind them to wild applause were Thomas and Mike, who had been shaven down to the bone as the first two "shavees" that morning before Jack and Edie arrived and had remained hidden at Jack Junior’s house all day. They each tapped their victims on the shoulder. When Jack the hack turned around and saw, first his son-in-law and then his formerly long-haired son, he was speechless.

Max broke the ice. "I’ve owed you this haircut for quite some time ‘dad’. Tommy and I decided that he could get as much joy out of skinning his brother, so I get you." With that, the capes went on and Tommy and Mike went to work. They started with guardless clippers and finished with electric razors cleaning every hair and bit of stubble off the two men’s heads. When the baldings were completed, each man received four kisses on their hairless pates, one from Edie, one from their wives, and one from their sister and/or sisters-in-law. That night at the party, that was really, mostly a family affair and a few close friends, every male present had a shaved head. Jack and Edie were touched by the gesture and Mike and Melanie had a chance to counsel them about their need to stop worrying so much about their chances of getting cancer and to enjoy life now.

The next morning, Jack the hack, rubbing his head told Mike, "Edie and I discussed our health concerns last night, and you are right. Even though I am as handsome as ever with a shaved head, I also understand the point you made by the head shaving event. Tommy (he went over and hugged his younger son, still not quite believing he was back in the family home), explained to me that shaving his head for a good cause made all the sense in the world, especially to honor his aunt and uncle. What he had never been able to get through to me was that respect, or disrespect was a two-way street. Now I get it. You boys are all free to have your hair as long or as short as you want. "

"That is great to hear dad," said Tommy. "We, Jack, Mike and I, are giving you 8 months to brush up on your hair-styling skills. None of us are cutting our hair until then. We will be coming back to see if you can give us the trims or styles we want then. If not, its another baldy for you!"

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