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Hairy Days @ Billington Military College by Deke Cutter


Gary was excited to hear from his old friend James. They hadn’t seen each other since their college days at Billington Military College. How he had hated that place. James was one of the few good guys that went there. Their fathers were both alumni of the school and both young men had no real choice but to attend the school. Their fathers paid the reduced tuition that "legacies" received when alumni had donated sufficiently. Luckily, because it was a private school and as such could not require that its graduates serve in the military upon graduation. For Gary and James and a small group of like-minded students, this meant they spent four years subject to military style discipline and gawd awful haircuts in order to get, what Gary had to admit, was a decent education. Gary also had to admit that he and his somewhat anarchic minded friends had some good times attempting to undermine authority in the finest tradition of the 4077 M*A*S*H and YoYo Yosarian.

Gary remembered the first semester of school. He had arrived with his long brown hair highlighted from a summer swimming and surfing at the beaches along the Atlantic coast. Luck had placed him and James in the same dorm room and James’ curly blonde hair didn’t look like it had ever been successfully tamed by a comb or brush. Two hours later, they had both returned from the barbers shorn to the skin with their "fish haircuts" (a number one buzz all over) that they would be forced to maintain with return visits every ten days to the campus "chop shop" until Christmas break.

Chapter I
By their final year, the two young men were still roommates and good friends. As the Christmas holidays approached that year, they and their friends Ray (Radar) Reilly and Miles (Milo Mindbender) Harris were preparing to leave after final exams. They were taking advantage of an unofficial laxness toward 4th year students about the haircut standards. This meant that the young men’s hair did not have to be tightly faded and they could have more length and bulk on top, if they did not abuse the privilege. This was, of course, at the discretion of the college staff. One of said staff, Professor Alfonso Herkimer, was a mean-spirited thirty something teacher of statistical analysis. He particularly disliked Gary and his friends for what he perceived as a lack of seriousness. He was also aware that none of them planned military careers and were all bright and talented and would likely go on to success far beyond what he had achieved. He happened to see them putting on their "covers" (hats) as they left the classroom building where they had taken their penultimate examinations and he noticed that some hair was visible beneath the bottom of the headgear. While strictly an infraction of the grooming code, it was an area of discretion that most would have let pass, particularly, for seniors, so close to the Christmas break.

"Benson, Moore, Reilly, Harris, come here right now." The four immediately returned, removing their hats, as they re-entered the classroom building from the top step where they were about to descend. Your hair is out of grooming standards. Report to my office by 1600 today with haircuts well within standards." He walked past them and out the door.

"Crap!" exclaimed Mindbender. "My sister set me up with this gorgeous girl and I’m going to show up looking like a geek with a super-cadet skinned special."

"Well, we might as well get it over with, bro, Benny is in a good mood this time of year, he’ll leave us as much has as he can when we explain that it’s Herkimer making us do this."

When the four arrived at the barber shop, Benny the barber welcomed them. "I was expecting you boys, Jerkimer, I mean Herkimer (don’t tell anybody I said that he said with a wink), called and directed me to be sure I was not lenient with you. So, I’m afraid you are each in for a real old-fashioned scalping." Benny and his staff became friends and shoulders to lean on over the years of matriculation, so the students knew that they could trust what they told them. Gary hopped into Benny’s chair and the other guys took the chairs of Benny’s waiting colleagues. Benny added, "I was about to let the boys leave early. We weren’t expecting anybody but a few butt-kissers to come in today and certainly not you four fellas." With that, he started running the clippers, with no guard up the back of Gary neck, taking it high above his occipital bone, the others were receiving a similar treatment. High, tight white walls on the sides and the hair on top was thinned and shorted so that it lay flat against their scalps, with just the short, angled bangs flipped up and back in the front. "There you go Gary, one cadet haircut that should satisfy any anally challenged professor." Within a minute or two, his three pals were out of their chairs too and all looked equally skinned and scalped.

"Let’s go report to "Jerkimer." We’ve still got that chemistry final to study for and I know I don’t want to blow it. The cool winter air was biting on their freshly shaved skin as the four young men walked back across the campus in their uniforms, glad for the winter great coats they wore.

When they arrived at the Office Suite Professor Herkimer shared with two other professors, their secretary was the only person there. "I’m sorry the Professor is gone; he won’t be back until the new semester starts. Was he expecting you?"

Gary looked at the other three guys who saw the steam coming out of his ears, before he could explode, Radar stepped forward. "Merry Christmas Mrs. Conway. Yes, we sure thought the professor was expecting us. You see, he saw us as we were leaving for lunch and felt that our haircuts were out of regulation. He sent us to the campus barber and told us to report to him immediately. Mr. Garcia, the barber who manages the shop, explained to us that Professor Herkimer had called and given him explicit instructions that we were to receive these very extreme haircuts. We wanted to show the professor that we had complied. Frankly ma’am, as 4th year students, we were a bit surprised because the college president and the deans have given us some leniency in this regard. But, as this is a school with a military tradition, we wanted to show that we have learned discipline and compliance in our time here."

"Raymond, you are such a dear boy. Thank you for being so honest and forthright with me. You leave this with me. I will make sure this matter is taken care of."

When the four got outside, the questions and comments flew. "Radar, WTF?" "Man Radar, you got the gift of gab." "What did she mean, she’s just the secretary, right?"

"Now boys, listen and learn. Joan Conway, formerly Joan Atkins, as in sister of Col. Robert Atkins, USA Retired, President, Billington Military College, was the best friend through high school of Mary Ann Wells, now Reilly who I call, with the greatest affection, mom. Mom and Mrs. Conway who I normally cally ‘Auntie Joan’ are very close, but we decided that we would step back while I was here, and I would call her Mrs. Conway in public. She could have any administrative job she wants in the college, but the President moves her to the problem children. Herkimer overstepped here. She will take up the line, and correction will be provided. Wait and see."

When "the Gang of Four," (as the guys sometimes referred to themselves, after Milo’s mother called them that once and he looked it up in Wikipedia and thought the historical reference to the Chinese Cultural Revolution was "mind-bending)" returned to campus in the middle of January, they had all grown some hair back and no longer looked scalped. Each had wisely had their hair trimmed and appropriately tapered to meet the more relaxed standards they had become used to. They all met up in Gary and James’ room. Radar took his phone out of his pocket and said, "OK guys, before I show you these photos, we swear an oath as ‘never to be officers and very unlikely to be gentlemen’ that we shall not speak of this to anyone outside this room." The 4 put their hands together and swore. Radar then showed them a series of pictures of President Atkins administering an extremely short cadet haircut to Professor Herkimer whose previously lush businessman’s cut had featured sideburns to the bottom of his ears and a healthy forelock that fell to his nose, had he not used a super strong clay on it. The last four photos showed Herkimer skinned every bit as tightly as the guys had been on the day of their haircuts.

"Give us the details man," James said. "I suffered for weeks with that miserable haircut."

"As I predicted, Auntie Joan went to see her brother who was not pleased that the sons of 4 big alumni donors had been singled out before the holidays. He invited the professor to visit him at his home the day after exams ended and all the students had gone home. He then showed him a statistical breakdown on alumni donors by class years, highlighting how donation patterns related to multi-generational alumni when there was continued satisfaction with the education versus dissatisfaction. He also showed the difference between the satisfied multi-generational families donorship and single generational donorship. In each case the positive multi-generational families gave much more money to the college. Then he showed the donorship of four families with the names masked, our families. Our dads, and in James’s case his grandad too, are big givers."

"Then he looked at Herkimer and said, ‘Alfonzo, you have created a major problem for the school and for yourself.’ The President said that Herkimer looked like he was going to crap himself (of course Auntie Joan put it much more delicately). The four young men who you ordered to get severe haircuts are fourth year students who we have granted some latitude too. You knew that and went ahead and subjected them to this punishment and then did not have the courtesy to wait for them to show you that they had carried out your order. Luckily, this was brought to my attention. Now, this insubordination on your part, given your record of negative interaction with other staff and students could provide me with reason to lift your tenure and begin the process of removing you from your teaching position. But I will give you a last chance. Are you willing to accept it?

"Yes, President Atkins, sir. I am profoundly sorry for my action. It is just that those four have been such reprobates and….."

"Silence! You are not the Dean of Students, and you have no idea how much discipline those young men have been given and accepted over their years without lame-a** explanations. Now come downstairs with me." In the basement, a captain’s chair sat in the middle of a tiled floor with newspaper under it. "Sit. This is where my boys received their haircuts from me until they were old enough to get jobs and pay to go to a barber. Today, you are getting a haircut just like the one you had Benny and his barbers give those four students. But, unlike them, you will not be growing your hair out. Instead, at the end of the holiday break, you will return to teach the Spring semester with a fresh new flat top haircut administered by Benny that you shall keep with regular maintenance for the rest of the semester. That is how you keep your tenure and your job."

Gary, said to Radar and the other guys, "that is amazing. It almost makes our haircuts worth it." And when they saw Herkimer the next day with a flat top, it did.

Chapter II

Gary arrived at the restaurant where he was to meet James after 10 years. When the hostess directed him to the table, a huge smile crossed his face. James looked much the same as he had when they first met at college. While his hair was a bit more controlled, the blonde curls still covered his ears and touched his collar. Similarly, Gary’s own rich brown hair was much longer than most 32-year-old executives. "James!" Gary called as he approached the table. James stood and embraced his former college roommate.

"Gazza, man you look great!"

"So do you buddy, the years have been kind to both of us." How have we let 10 years go by? I guess starting careers, getting married, having kids, the time passes, huh? Who would have thought my crazy idea for improving energy efficiency for historic buildings would take off eh?

"I was so proud of you when you were named to the "50 under 40" list," Gary replied. If Susan wasn’t about to drop, with our first, Charlie, we would have flown over to London for your wedding. After the mess our parents made of our wedding, I would have loved to have been at a nice formal affair. You know we finally just got her grandparents (the only sensible ones who didn’t care if the wedding was in "our" church or "their" church) to keep our secret. They were our witnesses, and we were married in their living room by my cousin Janet who got one of those on-line ordinations. Then, my business took off too. Who thought that there were so many people needing help organizing and selling their stuff before downsizing? Suze had the idea of matching up people who wanted to share ownership of an apartment in a specific destination for the same period every year with a property rental company. Hey, it works!"

"Well, hopefully, we will be seeing more of each other in the future. My Lucy is wonderful, she is a real English rose and has adapted well to living in the US, but we do try to get back to London as often as we can. But let me tell you what finally got me to come down and talk to you in person. You remember Radar’s ‘Auntie Joan,’ Col. Atkins’ sister?"

"How could I forget her, she’s the one who got that creepy prof his comeuppance after he made us get those terrible scalpings Senior year," Gary replied.

James continued, "Auntie Joan called Radar to ask him a favor that involved the four of us. But it turns out, only you and I can really help with it?"

"Why, has something happened to Radar and Milo?"

"No, they just aren’t equipped for this. Let me explain. Benny is retiring after 30 years at the college barber shop. The college is looking for some alumni who still have a good head of hair to come back for one last cut from Benny," said James.

"And what’s wrong with Radar and Milo’s mops?"

"Georgie, you are really out of the loop." Radar emailed all of us this picture", said James, turning his phone to George. "Here is Radar before and after he "Braved the Shave" for one of colleagues at the law firm who is undergoing cancer treatment. Milo is another story all together. Radar is the only one he keeps in touch with regularly since he moved to L.A. He started losing his hair about five years ago and began buzzing it off during the pandemic. Radar says Milo’s a confirmed baldie buzzer now."

"So, what kind of haircuts are we talking about you and me getting from Benny," asked George.

"Well, buddy, that is why I am here in person. Auntie Joan told Radar that she thought it would be ‘so sweet’ if we would get regulation haircuts like we wore when we were students. Now Geo., I know that look, don’t say no just yet. What if we go Auntie Jane one better and hook Radar and Milo in too and get a last bit of revenge on Herkimer too. What if we make it an alumni fundraising challenge. We will get buzzcuts like Radar and Milo if our class raises $50,000. But Herkimer must agree to get another flattop. This means Radar must have a buzz cut when we get ours and all four of us will look the same again. Come on man, it will be a laugh. We can fly Milo in for the event and finally have that reunion we’ve talked about."

"Dang it James, you did it to me again! Just like all those times at school when everybody thought those schemes were my idea, and most of them (ok, half of them) were yours. Suze will tease the heck out of me when the deed is done, but it’s for two good causes. Do you think we can get the Colonel to force Herkimer to go along with it?"

"I suspect so. Radar mentioned that Herkimer is still a pain in everybody’s a**, according to Aunty Joan. Let’s call Radar and see what he thinks and then dial Milo in."

Twenty minutes later the guys had all reached agreement, though Radar said he would probably just have to stay buzzed until the event in case he has to appear in court between now and then. He promised to talk to his aunt and get back to the guys as soon as she had an answer from her brother.

All the issues were resolved and on the appointed day, two successful executives were among ten alumni of Billington Military College who were back in Benny’s Campus Barber Shop for one last cut from Benny. Also present was one surprisingly complacent professor whose haircut would precede those of the two executives who were to be the "grand finale" of the day.

The eight younger alumni had been scheduled for their haircuts throughout the morning. Only two of them had hair much longer than a standard regular businessman’s cut, but they had all been chosen because Benny remembered them as being particularly fussy about their hair during their time at the college. The first six left with the kind of haircuts that "the Gang of Four" had received before Christmas a decade ago. Benny showed that he had lost none of his strength or capability with the shears or the clippers as these finnicky young men sat with no mirrors in view and were divested of carefully groomed sideburns, lovingly cultivated quiffs, carefully maintained forelocks and well-groomed inches of hair at the back and top of their heads. For the men with the thickest or curliest hair, Benny was sure to add a few licks with the thinning shears to give them that added diminished volume that screamed "cadet haircut." While each of the six had started in fairly high spirits, their first look at their new haircuts was hilarious and caught for posterity by the college photographer.

The next two alumni were called forward together, twin brothers with wavy dark blonde hair that was longer than most of previous candidates. These two had inherited a small fortune from their maternal grandfather, as well as his successful string of boutique hotels. They had even managed to find a model that kept their losses minimal during the pandemic by catering to wealthy people who tested negative and were willing to pay high prices for luxury accommodations with only one guest per floor and a personal staff who tested daily. They were smart, smug, and very annoying. Only one man could bring them to heel and as they stood next to Benny expecting to be told who would go first, that man appeared next to the smiling college president who said, "Boys, your father, here, has asked Benny for a favor and Benny has agreed." The twins lost most of the color in their faces. "Before he became the head of one of our nation’s largest defense logistics corporations, when he was a young Marine officer, he and your family moved around a lot. One of his great pleasures was making sure your hair was ‘squared away.’ He discussed his favorite haircut for you boys and he and Benny decided that they would each work on one of you. In exchange, your dad has made a very generous donation to the alumni challenge." Professor Herkimer now became as pale as the twins.

The retired Marine Officer turned to his sons and ordered: "SIT." The brothers sat in the chairs. Benny made sure each was appropriately caped and had the strip placed around their necks. Then, both men combed their twin’s carefully coiffed hair forward so that it hung down below their eyes. Then they put the combs on the counters and picked up the clippers, starting just behind the bangs, they cut a horizontal strip across each twin’s head leaving nothing but stubble behind from the Number One guard on the blade. Then they began to remove the rest of the hair from back to the new "fire line" in the front. When the back and top were finished, they moved to the sides. The sideburns were reduced to stubble. The twin’s father barked "those sniffles better be hay fever you two. No sons of mine should cry over a haircut. It’s bad enough you never served." He said this as he and Benny continued to denude the twins of all but the long bangs at the front of their heads. Their father proved himself as adept as Benny at creating a good clean arch around the ears and using the bare blade to remove any trace of the sideburns. Then, the shears were deployed again. Each twin was left with a half moon ridge of hair at the front, rising to about three fourths of an inch in the middle and tapering down to the skin at the sides. Butch Wax was applied so that the ridge was erect. The twins were turned around to the mirrors and both thought they looked about 12 years old.

Years of indoctrination apparently kicked in as they looked in the mirror and said automaton-like "thanks for the great haircut. Dad always knows how to cut it right." Then they looked at each other in horror, as if they didn’t know how or why they said that.

"Very good, boys. I am glad this has jogged your memory. I have another surprise for you tomorrow. I’ve arranged a new series of commercials featuring you with your new look, now that you have admitted it’s the right look, my branding folks will be working with you to make it part of your hotel’s theme." The twins left, trying to plot away out of the mess they were in, rubbing the back of their heads all the way.

Next up was Professor Herkimer, who had been able to grow his flow back after that miserable short haired year. The President stood next to Benny, as he caped up Alfonzo Herkimer. Only the Gang of Four and Auntie Joan sat in the shop now. The rest of their families were waiting to come in. "Well Alfonzo, I know I speak for the entire college when I express my gratitude to you for supporting this Alumni Challenge Fund Raiser to Honor Benny. When the twins father made his generous donation, that gave us one hundred thousand dollars for this fund raiser and you know what that means, you will keep the haircut Benny gives you today for every month of the coming year that we receive, at least one thousand more in donations to this fund that will go to student emergency services. As the president spoke, Benny had been removing the bulk of Herkimer’s hair from the sides and back of his head. It appeared that he was using the same Number One blade he had used on the twins! As the floppy mass of hair on the top was taken down, Benny was using what the guys later learned was a Flattopper comb to make it very flat and very precise. Then Benny did the most incredible thing, he removed the comb and, starting at the back, gave the professor a wide bald landing strip. The top was then shortened a bit more, the neck and around the ears was cleared up and Herkimer was shown his new military style Flat Top. He visibly swallowed hard and managed to smile. What nobody else, but the President and Aunty Joan knew was that Herkimer had once again made a colleague extremely angry by his dismissive behavior toward her and her work. She was a highly recruited PhD who had served in the military, who strengthened the college’s EEO profile, being both a woman and Black and Hispanic. Herkimer had apologized to her in the president’s office, and this was part of his penance, but this was truly his last chance. The world had truly changed around him.
The flat topped professor saw the Gang of Four in the shop. He went over and addressed them. "Gentlemen, I have followed your lives through the alumni publications from the college and I would like to congratulate you all on your successes. I would also like to apologize for the nasty trick I played on you with those haircuts all those years ago. As you will recall, I got my comeuppance then. Unfortunately, I still had some learning to do," he said, as he lightly ran his hand across his flat top. With that, he left the shop.

George looked at his old friends, "you think he’s changed?"

"You never know, bro," said Milo.
"Come on you two," Radar said, I’ve been waiting for this for two months and three buzz cuts." As their wives and kids took seats in the waiting area, George sat in the barber’s chair first.

"Benny," before you start", the school’s president said, "I would just like to thank these four gentlemen, reprobates, though you were, as students, (a child’s whisper could be heard asking, mommy what’s rebopate? Shh, I’ll explain later) and I am glad you did not choose military careers (laughter). You have been supporters of the school which, I assume, means that, in retrospect, you realized some benefit from your time here. Also, I think you will agree that Benny has been a great member of our community, not just as an outstanding barber, but as a friend, confessor, listener, joke teller, and keeper of confidences. Benny, we will miss you. Now without further ado, let’s get these two rascals cleaned up!"

With those words of tribute to him still ringing in his ears, Benny wiped away a tear, turned on his clippers, with that nasty Number One blade and proceeded to clear away a strip of George’s hair straight down the middle of his head. With the next four runs, George was bald on top. "Nice look hon," called his wife, Suze." Benny smiled. George stuck out his tongue, their kids laughed. The shearing continued. George felt the cool breeze from the shop’s A/C on his head and thought that this was a feeling he hadn’t had since his first haircut in this place. When Benny was finished, he almost started the Hari Krishna chant ala the late Harold Ramis in "Stripes" but he was afraid he might offend Milo who had been a Buddhist for several years and he knew Buddhists were different from Hare Krishnas, but…Just then, Milo started clapping his hands and chanting Hari Krishna and the other three joined him as Benny removed the cape and George "fell out" laughing.

George went over to James and said, "OK my brother from another mother, you're up." After Benny had him caped up, George asked him, "Benny, can I please cut the first curl off. I hadn’t seen this clown in 10 years and look what one dinner with caused," pointing to his nearly bald head.

Benny, overwhelmed by the love, generosity (including a $10,000 cash gift from the alumni) and good wishes would deny these fellows nothing. So, with great theatricality, George chose a long strand and chopped it off close to the scalp. He went over to Lucy, James’ English wife and said, "my lady, a memento from your champion." Lucy laughed.

Then Benny went to work, rapidly reducing James’ curls to a Number 1 buzz just like his three friends and every bit as fresh as George’s. As he got out of the chair, James looked into the mirror and said, "to quote Muhammad Ali, ‘Can’t wait until tomorrow, because I get better looking every day." This brought laughter from his buddies. Photos followed by the college photographer and the families. They all agreed that they looked "da*n good with the buzz cuts, but except for Milo, none thought they would keep them.

Before they started the rest of their reunion, Milo did, say, "but you might consider getting one every five years when we get together again. It could be our thing."

Maybe they will.

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