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Tom Must Change by Deke Cutter


16-year-old Tom Morton had not been having a good week. He and his girlfriend, Lilly Rogers, had been caught in her bed Tuesday afternoon when they were supposed to be studying. Her "uber-religious" mother had walked in on them. Tom later found out that Lilly’s parents had rigged up some secret cameras in the house when they suspected that Lilly was getting to be a bit of a wild child. They subsequently showed the footage of him and Lilly to Tom’s parents. They were all members of the same parish, but his parents were more progressive than Lilly’s. They still had strong views on what they considered morality and his folks believed that 16 was way too young to be having sex. They had discussed morality and responsibility with him from the time his dad had "the talk" with him onward. "It is about respect for yourself and the young woman. "This is not just an urge. We believe it is a gift from God and we are meant to share it with the person we are planning to spend our lives with." His mom had explained all the brain research about how young men’s brains do not fully mature until at least age 25 and did he really believe he was mature enough to make decisions like one that could change two lives so completely. Well, of course, they had been careful about everything, except being caught. and now the world was a big flaming mess.

Lilly was being shipped off to a convent school, that morning. He had been forced to apologize to her parents and Lilly for his behavior and his moral failures and to promise that he would work hard to regain the adults’ trust and to prove himself to them. Worst though was looking at Lilly, in a plain grey dress with her beautiful hair chopped off. Her mother had taken her to Rossi’s Barber Shop and asked Joe to give her a crew cut so the nuns wouldn’t have to bother with it when she got to the new school. And now, his dad and he were driving toward Rossi’s and his dad was telling him that since he would not be playing in his garage band anymore, his own long hair was no longer a ‘necessity.’ "You, son, took a first step this morning with that apology. You do have a hard road ahead. The next year will be a year of refocusing. You are going to go in there and when Joe Rossi calls you up to the chair, you are going to tell him that you have let your family and the Rogers family down and that you share responsibility with Lilly for why she is transferring to a new school. Tell him you failed yourself and all we have tried to teach you. Then you will ask him for a short haircut that will help you focus on what is important." As his father parked the car, he added, "go ahead, pull down the vanity mirror and take a good look at those long rock star locks." Your mom and I loved them too, but they must go buddy." Tom did as his dad said, with red eyes. They got out of the car and entered the barber shop where Tom had received all his haircuts until he turned 13 and his parents had agreed that he could let his hair grow out. Now, his mother trimmed it occasionally to keep it neat. Until today.

Tom walked into the barber shop with his father behind him. He didn’t notice his father flip the closed sign on the door and pull down the shade on the large front window. From the look on Joe’s face, the barber was not in the dark about the reason for this visit. "Kevin, I see you have brought Tommy to see me. I hardly recognize him. He seems to have changed so much."

Tom’s father replied, "Hi, Joe, yes, it has been a few years since you have had Tom in your chair, but I suspect that, if you will have him back, that may be changing. Tom, you have something you want to say to Mr. Rossi." Joe motioned for Tom to sit in the large old style barber chair.

"Joe, Mr. Rossi (again he felt the hot tears starting to well, but he tried to control them), I have been an irresponsible jerk. I have let down my own family, the Rogers family, and I share responsibility with Lilly for what we did and why she is being transferred to a new school. I showed disrespect for Lilly, and I acted in ways that were against everything my parents tried to teach me and what I said I believed when I was confirmed in the church a few years ago. I am truly ashamed of my behavior. I am going to work hard to reform myself and to attempt to regain my parents’ trust. I am so very grateful to them for their love and their modelling of what a good moral life is. Please, sir, I ask you to give me whatever short haircut you think will help keep me focused on what is important for the future. I will not be spending time with hair styling or fashionable clothes. I will focus on my studies, and community service, and if my parents think it will help, I will go out for baseball and practice and play as hard as I can. I will not show disrespect to any other student, male or female again."

Joe, the barber, (normally a soft-hearted man) who had known Tom since he was a baby and, in fact, had been at his baptism, first communion and confirmation, at St. Lucy’s Church, stood in front of the chair, and said to Tom, "look me in the eye Tommy," (Tom brushed his bangs out of the way and did). Do you promise me you are telling me the truth?"

"Yes sir."

"And you are going to go to Confession, or Reconciliation—whatever they call it now, and get straight with God? And you are going to come back to the Youth Group on Sunday nights? (Joe was one of the lay leaders of the youth group)"

The tears started to flow now. "Yes sir"

"He’ll be at the Rite of Reconciliation today with me Joe," added his father.

"Good, now I give you your haircut. It is going to be short. You are going to look different. I expect you to come back every three weeks to start, OK Kevin, (his father nodded his consent). That way I will know you are serious. And enough of this ‘Mister’. That is more punishment of me than you. You call me Joe, like always." Joe put the strip around Tom’s neck, covered him with a cape and took a small towel and wiped his eyes and face. "Ora sii forte. (Now be strong). Tom didn’t feel strong. His stomach was churning as Joe turned the chair so that he faced, not either of the mirrored walls, one of which would have had him staring into his father’s eyes, but rather at the back of the shop with a door to the short hallway leading to the public restroom on the right and to Joe’s private room on the left. The rest of the back wall had a picture of the current pope, now a smiling Pope Francis, and a calendar showing scenes of Italy. Joe also kept an old-fashioned cork message board where community notices could be placed.

"OK. I’m going to start by cutting away this excess length with my shears," Joe said. He ran a comb through Tom’s straight dark hair, not bothering yet to disturb his middle part, and started cutting at eye level and going around Tom’s head to the other side. Tom could feel and hear the hair falling onto his shoulders and onto the floor. He could only imagine what he looked like with the high bowl cut that must remain after Joe stopped cutting. "OK, now that that is out of the way, I can get to work." Joe took his spray bottle of water and wet the hair on top of Tom’s head and combed all the hair forward. Tom was relieved that his bangs still fell into his eyes for the moment. Joe then proceeded to create a part on the left-hand side of Tom’s head. You see, Kevin, hair has a natural memory of its normal preference for parting." Tom’s dad nodded and went back to reading his Kindle. Joe then turned to his shelf and chose a pair of clippers, picked up a guard, set it down, and picked up another one, slightly larger and clipped it on. "Head down Tom." This was the part Tom was both anticipating and dreading. The clippers started up the back of his head and went up high, but not all the way to the crown. That was a relief. But Joe was relentless in pushing the machine up again and again across the back of his head. Then he moved to the left side, folding down his ear and going around it before cleaning the path above. He was pressing hard in front of Tom’s ear and Tom knew his nice sideburns were on their way to oblivion, but once again, he was puzzled that Joe was not pushing the clippers all the way up to the part he created. He relaxed, waiting for the right side to be done, figuring it would pretty much be the same as the left side. Once Joe finished the right side, he switched to a smaller blade and worked on creating the taper he wanted to create on the sides and back, a very short traditional one.

Joe finally put his clippers down and again picked up his water bottle and comb and wet Tom’s hair again. Then, he began to comb sections of hair up and trim off all but a short length, maybe 1.5 inches, leaving the bangs alone. He went all over the top repeating this, cutting the hair slightly shorter as he went toward the back, leaving it just long enough at the crown to lay down, then he stood in front of Tom and cut the bangs very short so that they were only about an inch below his hairline. He point-cut them so they didn’t look blunt. Then he ran the thinning shears over the top of Tom’s head to make sure all the hair lay flat. He then did some clipper over comb work on the hair below the part line to make sure it blended in length and thickness with the hair on top. He then combed everything forward so that the part could not be seen. "Now, I’ll just clean up a bit." Tom heard the whir of the hot lather machine and soon felt the warmth of the foam as it was spread around his ears and hairline. He held his head very still as Joe scraped away with the straight razor, then wiped away the excess. Then, Joe applied some powder to the sensitive areas he had just shaved. "Kevin, you want to inspect before I turn the chair toward the mirror and show Tom?"

Tom’s father closed the cover of his Kindle Fire and walked over to the chair. He walked around it and nodded. "I think that this is exactly what Tom came in for Joe. Please show him his new haircut. Joe slowly spun the chair around.

For a moment, Tom couldn’t breathe and couldn’t speak. He knew it was him in the mirror, but it was a reduced, simple, plain version of him. Joe removed the cape from Tom and Tom quickly excused himself and ran to the restroom. Joe noticed a small wet spot on the chair and quickly covered the seat with the cape. He then tried to distract Kevin by pointing to the bathroom. I’ve seen this before, boys his age with long hair, it is such a shock to their systems when they first see themselves shorn, they suddenly must dash to the toilet. You know Kevin, you and your wife are good parents, don’t be too hard on him, I think he will get through this." As he said this and before Kevin could answer, Tom came out of the bathroom, a bit red-faced still. Joe said to him, "it’s OK Tom, nothing to worry about here, it happens all the time, you just had to make a quick dash." Then he added, "oh Kevin, can you excuse Tom and me for a minute, there is a book I want to give him that we have been discussing in the youth group, I think I have an extra copy here." Joe ushered Tom into his private room. He whispered to Tom not to worry about his incontinence problem and that he had said nothing to his dad. "Just wash out your underpants when you get home, and nobody will be the wiser. We’ll say I didn’t find the book."

"I’m sorry Tom, I thought I had the extra copy here. I’ll see if I can find one by Sunday, but we are just about finished with it anyway. Like I was saying to Tom, Kevin, get him home and let him take a shower quickly so he isn’t feeling all itchy." Then Joe said, "this is a haircut I haven’t given in quite a while, since the days when we had more men who "got their hands dirty making a living" in this neighborhood. You know mechanics, construction workers, carpenters. You remember how it used to be, Kevin, before the housing market exploded. Those guys didn’t want anything fancy, they didn’t want to think about their hair or what they would call ‘fuss with it.’ They’d always want just a little bit that they could slick down and part if the wife or girlfriend wanted them to dress up or for a wedding or baptism, you know. But otherwise, no muss, no fuss. ‘Drip dry’ they called. At most run a comb through it in the morning or when they took their shower or bath after work."

"Yes, I remember those fellows, I was sad to see them leave over the years, but the ones who owned their homes and held on until they retired did well. My folks live near a couple of our former neighbors down in Florida now. Tom, don’t you think this is what you were looking for? No muss, no fuss."

"Yes dad. Thank you, Joe. This is going to help me change. I will be seeing you in three weeks." Kevin paid Joe, giving him a nice tip, and he and Tom left the shop. When they got to the car, Tom played up the itching and his father allowed as how they had time to go home before they went to the Rite of Reconciliation. When they returned home, Tom was relieved to see his mother’s car was gone so he was able to run upstairs and remove his clothes and carry his slightly soiled underpants to the bathroom, avoiding looking in mirrors. He got into the shower and squirted some shower gel onto the soiled part of the garment and rubbed it. He put it under the shower head and saw the stain disappear. Then, he washed himself quickly, with the same shower gel. He then looked at the fancy shampoo he had bought at Lilly’s recommendation. Realizing his hair was now very short, he just squeezed a small amount onto his hand, and rubbed it into his hair and scalp. "Oh man, this is my new reality" he said to himself, as he washed out the shampoo." He got out of the shower and dried himself quickly. He wiped the steam from the mirror and saw that his hair was laying down. He took his brush and in about 10 seconds was done with it. He squeezed the water out of his underpants and remembered a trick he had seen on a YouTube video. He rolled the garment into his towel, then stood on the towel and squeezed more water out of the underpants. He moved over to his bedroom and hung the pants in his closet. He chose a short sleeved white shirt and black dress pants and his Sunday shoes and black socks and went downstairs.

His father took him to a nearby parish run by the Jesuit Order and the young priest he had spoken to there to, as his father put it, "heal his soul," and to fulfill his promise to Joe, the barber (see Joe’s question to Tom in the one-sentence paragraph 7, above). The priest, (call me ‘Father Steve’) had not only listened to him but had helped him understand what the church teachings were about. Tom told him too about his worries about ‘looking like a dork’ at school. Father Steve told him that he needed to accept that the first days might be hard, but they would also be days that tested not only his resolve and his faith, but also would show him who his true friends were and who his friends should be. The young priest also told him to read about some other young people who had faced greater struggles than he was going to face (the young African Americans who were the first to integrate Southern schools in the 60’s, the children evacuated from London during the Blitz, the children in Africa who were AIDS orphans, were three suggestions.) By Sunday evening when Tom went to Saint Lucy’s youth group meeting, he had spent several hours online reading about difficult and terrible challenges that young people had faced, including his own immigrant great-grandparents. He also found that the kids his age in the youth group were not at all dorks but kind and welcoming. He was surprised to see a couple of classmates, none of whom made any mean-spirited remarks about his haircut. 30 of the 90 minutes were spent on talking about the Gospel reading from Sunday’s mass and he was surprised at how maturely everybody discussed the reading.

Monday morning came with Tom feeling more prepared to face what he expected to be a rough day at school. School was a mixed bag. There were some guys that really burned him with comments. Girls who used to smile and flirt completely blanked him. He heard a couple of "Morton joined the dork club" comments spoken loud enough for him to hear them. He could have responded and probably gotten into a shoving match or a fight but thought better of it. He remembered what the haircut and the less fashionable clothes were about and just got on with his day. He found himself praying silently for courage and strength. As Father Steve had told him, he also found out who his true friends were. When the bell rang for lunch period, he was in a quandary. Did he really want to face the cafeteria crowd? As he walked down the hall, he saw his two closest buddies Nick and Freddie waiting for him. "Come on buddy, my mom cleared it with your mom, we’re eating lunch across the street at Freddie’s house. This is his mom’s Alternate Monday Off. I already signed you out and we all have 5th period free."

Freddie, (formally Federico Guerrero Marín) who was of Cuban descent and thought nothing was funnier than imitating the first Cuban American TV star Desi Arnaz in his role as Ricky Ricardo on "I Love Lucy, said to his childhood friend, "You got some ‘splainin’ to do" in his best Ricky Ricardo accent.

Nick, getting into the spirit of things dropped his voice about three octaves and, in his best Bill Frawley, as Fred Mertz, on the same famous sit-com said, "Come on Rick, we won’t get anything out of him until we feed him." And Tom’s two friends cajoled him across the street to Freddy’s house where Mrs. Guerrero had lunch waiting for them in the kitchen.

Aurora Marín Cuadrado, whose grandparents had come to America with very little after Castro’s revolution, leaving her grandfather’s lucrative businesses behind had been lucky to have lived an immigrant dream. Her parents and she had both gone to college where she met Francisco Guerrero who was now a successful attorney. She was an engineer. Their children were one hundred percent American, but completely bilingual and with great respect for their heritage and love for their country and all it had given their family. "Ay Tommy", she said, slipping into one of her abuela’s favorite exclamations, "when I spoke to your mom earlier, she told me you cut your hair, but I didn’t know it was so short."

Tom, who had always felt particularly close to Mrs. G., as he had called her since he was a child, smiled for the first time at any comment about his haircut and said to her, "don’t worry Mrs. G., we all know Freddy can’t keep a secret from you. You’ll know the whole embarrassing story after school if not before." And, as she had since the three boys first became friends in pre-school, she did. With that, she left the boys to have their lunch and went into the living room and opened her computer. Soon, Tom’s two friends were peppering him with questions, filling him in on the rumors going around the school, and generally making him feel like he fit in again.

"Dude, they caught you doing it?" This was asked by Nick. Nick Hansen’s mother was an active member of the same Catholic parish as the other two families, but his dad, a ‘cradle Catholic," had stopped actively participating (or believing). As a result, Nick continued to attend mass with his mother nearly every week but was much less rigorous in his practice of the church’s moral teachings. In fact, Nick had beat Tom in the race of who would be the first to lose their virginity. Freddie, on the other hand, was devout in his beliefs. His buddies accepted this and supported him, he put up with the teasing he received but was steadfast. His athletic prowess on the soccer and baseball fields kept him in good stead with most of the kids at school. So, Freddie’s approach was a bit different.

"Oh man, you and Lilly must have felt awful! You must have been so embarrassed!"

"Guys, I thought it couldn’t get worse, then I found out about the cameras and that Lilly’s parents showed the clips to my parents. That was just about the worst. I wanted to just disappear. But it got even worse, of course, when her parents and Lilly came over and I had to apologize to them. Don’t get me wrong, I deserved it and her parents deserved the apology. When I saw Lilly with all her hair cut off, I didn’t feel so bad about apologizing to her, especially when they told me they were sending her off to that girl’s school, but it hurt because, you know how she was, we were both equally responsible. After talking to that Jezzie priest Father Steve over at St. Ignatius on Saturday though, I understand a little better about responsibility for my own decisions."

"So now for the other $50,000 question", Nick said, "the haircut and clothes, one off or what?"

"My dad and mom are disappointed with me. I must rebuild their trust in me. Dad said I was out of the band and didn’t need long hair. He said that I should request a short punishment haircut from Joe the barber, after telling him what I did. This is me, freshened up every three weeks for the foreseeable future. The "less flash" clothes go with the whole idea of finding myself and getting back to my basic values. But guys, you know me, I’m still in here, even if I look different."

"Hey man, you’re the only one who thought you were pretty with you flowing locks. Nick and I wanted to let you know. As far as we’re concerned, you’re just the same only less hairy. Right Nick?" Freddie said this as he collapsed into giggles.

"You got it Freddie and maybe we’ll get his unpretty a** back on the baseball field in a few months now that he won’t be spending an hour "doing his hair."

"Well, my shaggy friends, for the first time in a long time, you both have inches more hair than I have. If we all make the team, you two must show up for the first practice after the team is posted with haircuts shorter than mine."

Freddie was quick to respond, "Brothers forever, on three." The three boys put their hands one on top of the other and yelled ‘brothers forever.’

What happened next? Maybe Part II





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