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Yorgos: Change of Image, Change of Job by Manny
Yorgos began his day in the usual way, lathering up his abundant mane of thick
curls and rinsing the foam from his trademark tresses. For some brief
moments, his sopping, rust colored hair extended in long, rather straight
clumps that reached well below his shoulders before a slight flick of the head
sent a spray across the shower and the curls snapped into place. By the time
Yorgos stepped out of the shower to dry himself, beautiful ringlets framed
his well-chiseled face. He looked like a veritable Raggedy Andy with hazel
eyes matching his rusty hair.
Yorgos was an individualist, and his locks proved it. Maybe too much of one
for his own good. He was always the voice of conscience railing against well
accepted practices, always the bleeding-est of hearts when social issues were
debated, always conforming the least. And to match his big mouth, big hair.
Lots and lots of it. Thick, heavy ringlets bouncing around as he smacked
his hand on the table for emphasis. His colleagues sported tidy business cuts
and ties, but Yorgos gloried in his unconventionality in short sleeves, open
neck, and mounds of glossy hair. He thought very highly of himself. When
others would put their points across, Yorgos would switch his mind into
neutral and take to swirling his hair around his fingers or tugging on it a
bit and feel the curls snap back into their pre-molded shapes. The others
were boring, he was exciting. They were predictable, he was not.
Or was he?!
Yorgos looked at himself in the mirror as he mechanically began slathering on
some shaving cream. It dawned on him…he himself was sooo predictable! The
mass of damp curls, his beloved curls, flailing about, looked exactly the
same day after day. And every since high school he had sported the same
bushy style. A mane of long, thick, rusty-colored curls. Always the same.
But he was trapped. No other style was available to him.
Unless…he let his hair grow out incredibly long and he pulled it into a
ponytail or braided it into cornrows. Yorgos took a brush and tried to pull
it all back tightly to his scalp. Unruly clumps here and there escaped his
grasp and coiled up…but enough hair was subdued for Yorgos to get a glimpse
of himself with what appeared to be a slicked back, conservative style. His
face was handsome. Most of the time, it was not prominent since it was often
totally obscured and overpowered by the hair. Why not a ponytail, then?
Why not?! Because his hair was already heavy and hot enough. Summer was a
time to prune back a bit, not let the mop become even more overbearing than
normal! That’s why! Yorgos took stock of himself. He was tired of being
all hair and all mouth. He finished shaving. Haircut, perhaps? No way!
Trim, then. Why bother? Maybe blow-dry to get a different style.
He searched for the old machine that one of his old roommates had left
behind. Clunky, big, powerful. He snapped it on and began blasting away,
tugging and coaxing the curls into straightened tresses. He liked forcing
his curls to do what was against their natural inclination. But the heat,
it was oppressive. And his hair, horrors. It was turning into a lady’s “big
hair” Texas-style do! There was no way he could appear in public looking
like that! Yorgos quickly jumped in the shower and wet down the sorry
style. His curls had won the day.
But he could still change his looks. Of course he could! Yorgos picked out a
conservative long sleeved shirt and somber tie. He’d bought it to wear it to
his uncle’s funeral, and it had hung in the closet ever since. The pretty
curls covered the stiff white collar completely. Yorgos decided to go all
the way and don the navy blue jacket – his only one. Were it not for the
moptop, he wouldn’t have recognized himself. Would anyone notice he was
dressed in business attire?
Would anyone care?
Yorgos knew that the great majority of the people in his office were tired of
him and his big, preachy mouth. As he drove to work, feeling very
constrained by the tie and jacket, he decided he would adopt a lower
profile. He reached up and loosened his tie a bit and then unbuttoned the
collar. Relief. Only express his opinion if asked for it he told himself.
He ran his hand back through the curls and selected a heavy clump near the
nape to twirl about his finger – a nervous habit. Try to find something
positive to say about some of his colleagues’ ideas. He looked into the
mirror before stepping out of the car and tried to smooth down his
belligerent hair. Fat chance. The curls were in control.
No one said a word about his attire. No one seemed to notice his low profile
at the team meeting. Kind words fell on deaf ears. Yorgos felt depressed.
He never realized how ostracized he was in the office.
The next day Yorgos was back to his normal, irreverent self. Loud shirt, loud
mouth, loud hair.
But, at the end of the day, he felt hollow. It dawned on him that he was no
crusader, he was a nuisance. His colleagues loathed him and ignored
everything he said. He was a misfit.
As he got into his car to drive home he glanced into the rearview mirror. All
he could see was hair. He realized that the curly mane testified to the
world and confirmed his oddball status. There was really only one solution
to his problem. Yorgos’ hands trembled a bit as he switched on the
ignition. Would he have the courage to do it? The courage to…cut…to cut off
the curls? To have them chopped off, mercilessly short…? How much should go…
should he demand a butch cut?! Or a cleanly shaven pate? That would
certainly attract some attention in the office!
Of course the answer to each of those questions was “no”. Yorgos quickly sped
out of the parking lot. The idea of an ultra-short haircut was unnerving.
Putting on a tie and jacket was one thing, getting a short haircut was
another. There would be an uncomfortable, semi-permanence to deal with if he
surrendered to the shears….
Suddenly, the traffic snarled to a stop. Yorgos saw flashing lights in the
distance. An accident, undoubtedly. Yorgos stewed as he waited for the cars
to inch forward. Suddenly, in a fit of impatience, he cut across the
oncoming traffic and barreled down a side street. Several one-way streets
took him further from his intended destination. He was totally lost. Yorgos
drove round and round trying to get back on track. Sites grew completely
unfamiliar, and finally he decided to ask for directions. No gas station in
sight. Perhaps a shop.
And then he saw a candy-striped barber pole shining near the end of the
block. Yorgos grew incredibly agitated…or, was it excited? The thought of
entering a barbershop, if only to ask for instructions, made the tips of his
fingers tingle. How would the barber react when a brash guy with huge hair
poked his head in the door? What if the barber patted the big throne and
invited him to take a seat. White cape fastened tightly. Electric hair
clippers switched on. Curls tumbling down in torrents. And then the final
product, a tight butch cut! He would walk into work tomorrow with a butch
cut! Curl free!!
This all was just a fantasy. It had to be. Fifteen years of curls could not
be terminated in fifteen minutes (for fifteen seconds, for that matter!).
Yorgos edged his car into a free space. He felt anxious, excited. Then he
began walking in the direction of the shop. The idea of entering a
barbershop that had an old-fashioned neon pole outside energized him!
Fortunately, it was on the opposite side of the street. He might check out
the scene first before rushing into an ambush. Yorgos reached up and felt
his long, soft curls. At that moment he knew he could not be moved to any
sort of rash haircut. Impossible. He reminded himself that the purpose for
his visit to the barbershop was to get directions. But flirting with the
dangers associated by entering a barbershop -- what potentially could be done
to his demanding and overbearing curls inside -- was exhilarating.
As Yorgos scurried down the sidewalk, he noticed a small donut shop tucked
away on his side of the street. No need to ask the barber for directions. A
huge feeling of relief swept through his body. He pushed the door open and
the wonderful bakery smell enveloped him. Why not get a donut? “One French
cruller…and a cup of coffee.” The Pakistani shop attendant had no idea of
how he could get back to Jackson Avenue. Yorgos took his snack to a seat at
the counter that faced out to the street; he almost spilled his coffee when
he realized he had a perfect view of the barbershop.
It was an old-fashioned, one man shop – Cliff’s – with a huge plate glass
window. Cliff seemed to be in his early fifties, on the husky side with
tightly clipped graying hair. He was intently whittling down the locks of a
young boy, one hand firmly pushing the lad’s head towards his chest and the
other running a clippers tightly up the back of his head. The only other
person visible from Yorgos’ vantage point was a man in his mid-30’s with the
same short, business cut like so many of the fellows in his office sported.
He was either the father of the boy in the chair, or the next client.
For a moment Yorgos fantasized about asking Cliff to cut his hair like that
man’s business cut in the shop. He saw himself swathed in a cape and looking
up at the barber through a cascade of curls. “Not the right kind of hair for
that cut,” the barber snapped. “My style will suit you fine.” And with that
the barber shoved Yorgos’ curled mane down, just like the boy in the chair,
and began pumping the clippers tightly up the back of his head. The curls
cascaded down in sheaves.
Yorgos’ trembling hand brought the coffee up to his lips for a last gulp. He
wiped the remaining powdered sugar from his mouth and headed out the door.
Towards Cliff’s Barbershop! Straight across the street he strode in a
diagonal beeline, lest he lose courage and desist. By then, the barber had
undone the cape from the boy and the father was paying. Yorgos reached the
door right as the boy pushed his way out, feeling his tightly buzzed pate.
Yorgos stood back as the father came out, staring -- almost rudely -- at the
curly mane waiting to get into the shop.
And then he was inside the shop. The mingled smells of witch hazel and talcum
powder. The barber was busy at the cash register, so Yorgos cleared his
“Be right with you,” the barber called to him without turning around. The
phone rang in the back room. “Have a seat, I’ll be right out,” he said,
disappearing into the back. Yorgos stood frozen. The easiest thing to do
would be do turn right around and hustle back to his car. But the barbershop
captivated him. He stared at his defiant curls in the mirror. They really
needed to be cut. But by a barber?! Not really. A devious thought crept
into his mind. Who else could teach those defiant curls the sort of lesson
they needed to learn?
As Yorgos weighed his options, and the fate of his curls, the barber
unexpected emerged from the back room…and saw, for the first time, the mass
of rust-colored ringlets. The two stared momentarily, each confused and
uncertain how to proceed. Then, the barber motioned silently to the chair
nearest the window. Yorgos hesitated. The barber moved closer to Yorgos, as
if corralling him towards the chair.
Yorgos, legs turning to jelly, stumbled to the chair and took a seat. The
cape sailed through the air. Yorgos was a nervous wreck. The cape was
fastened tightly as the barber held the curls away from the neck. After he
was firmly subdued and locked in place by the cape, the barber asked, “So,
what’ll it be today?” His tone was businesslike, yet with a tinge of
animation. Yorgos knew the barber was just dying to clip him bald.
An irritating set of ringlets tumbled down across half his face. “Just a
trim, I guess,” Yorgos answered. The barber looked disappointed. “Except I
need to have these bangs cut shorter so they don’t fall in my eyes like
this,” the client said, flicking his head a bit. What had he done?!
The barber picked up a pair of shears and snapped them open and shut a few
times as he surveyed his prey. He made an unsuccessful attempt to comb out
the curls. Yorgos flinched. The curls hated being combed unless they were
damp. Then the barber’s assault began. Yorgos felt the shears slipping into
the dense collection of ringlets near his nape. He jogged his memory to make
sure he’d given order for just a trim. He was certain he’d said “trim”.
Just as he was about the repeat the instruction, Cliff crunched the shears
closed right at the nape. Yorgos was in shock. Although he could not see
any of the damage, he knew that gobs of his pampered hair had been hacked
off…at least six inches, which, considering the corkscrews, probably looked
like only three inches.
“I said trim!” Yorgos gasped.
“I know,” replied the barber nonchalantly as he continued chopping away at the
baseline. Yorgos felt his follicle load being lightened. He imagined the
floor piling high with ringlets. As the barber rounded the side, the shorn
curls began sliding down the cape into his lap instead of falling, out of
eye site, to the floor behind the chair. When the barber finished snipping
off all the dangling locks along the back and sides, Yorgos’ realized his
hair had been bobbed. Now the bush flared out with even more volume than
The barber decided to try to the comb again, this time yanking the bangs
straight forward. Yorgos’ line of vision to the mirror was completely
obliterated by a dense tangle of rust-colored ringlets. The barber’s comb
did not make it past the middle of the high forehead, but became enmeshed in
the thicket of hair. The dangling corkscrews covered Yorgos’ mouth. But not
for long. The barber thrust the shears into the unruly locks, right below
the snagged comb. Yorgos was aghast at what was on the verge of happening.
With a quick chop, a mass of ringlets was severed. Huge shanks of heavy
curls fell with a thud onto the starchy white cape! Yorgos’ eyes popped out
as he surveyed the increasing load of shorn hair on his lap
In quick succession, several snips of the scissors cleared away the veil of
hair. When Yorgos looked up from the deep cauldron of cut curls that had
collected on the cape, he was shocked to see a huge white forehead prominent
for the first time. The shorn ringlets had recoiled to the very top of his
forehead and had aligned themselves like a neat, well-clipped hedge. Yorgos
concluded he was looking worse with each snip of the scissors.
The squirming client was on the verge of ordering the barber to stop cutting
when the man in control began sheering off any curls that overlapped onto the
left side of his face. The pruning continued unabated. And then the
scissors took a sharp turn and began clearing away the hair that covered
Yorgos’ large ear. This was no trim! It was a major, major haircut! Masses
of curls and shorn ringlets fell away onto the cape and added to the
cauldron. Yorgos tugged a bit at the cape from beneath and watched a huge
collection of his rust colored locks tumble down to the floor. He felt
strangely satisfied to see the cut hair being sent cascading to the floor.
When he looked up again, both ears were completely uncovered.
Yorgos felt his hand, which had heretofore been clutching the arm of his
chair, begin to relax a bit. He felt resigned. There was no other option
but to accept the fact that the barber was cutting his hair short. Why not
just act like this was his own desire and will? Why not just enjoy watching
the businesslike barber move his pioneering scissors deeper and deeper into
the thicket of ringlets, felling them shorter and shorter?
The shears and comb began a new assault. Lift and chop. Lift and chop. From
the base towards the crown. The flared mane was methodically reduced to a
very, very short length near the bottom, but one which gained in length the
higher on the head the scissors climbed. Nothing much, even on top, was left
very long. All the ringlets were cleared away, leaving an inch and a half
-long curls on top and somewhat tapered remains near the bottom…short and
Then it occurred to Yorgos…that…he was getting a standard businessman’s cut!!
Of course the patch of fluffy curls on top made it look different then the
fellows in his office, but there it was – tapered, businesslike, and clean
cut! A blow dryer could probably make him look like all the others at
The barber finally set down the shears. By now, easily four fifths of Yorgos’
hair had been cut off and very little of any substantial length remained.
Then, the barber reached for the electric hair clippers. A jolting shock
sailed through Yorgos’ body! He looked at Cliff’s tightly buzzed head. Only
some stubby bits of the barber’s hair projected forward as “bangs”. Around
the ears and back he was actually shaved down to the scalp. The rest was the
length of rough sandpaper. Was this what the barber had in mind for poor
As the screaming machine came forward and the barber tried to shove Yorgos’
head forward – just like he’d done to the poor boy in the chair before –
Yorgos stiffened his body and commanded, “No clippers. You’ve cut it short
enough!” He was happy to have conjured up such an authoritative tone.
But Cliff was not deterred and firmly pushed the head down toward the chest
anyways. Yorgos’ resistance melted like butter. The barber would inflict a
tight crewcut, and he’d simply accept it. Why not leave Cliff’s Barbershop
Then came an ironic let-down. “I’m just going to clean up your neck a bit.
Don’t worry.” The humming, buzzing sensation up and down his denuded neck
felt wonderful. Oh, that the barber would push the machine up into the
remaining thicket of curls and clear it all away!
Yorgos found himself wanting to leave the shop looking just like Cliff. He
admired Cliff’s determination, leadership, and firm control in administering
a very short haircut!
But it was not to be. The barber unfastened the cape and carefully pulled it
forward to ensure all the remnants of cut hair fell to the floor. A soft
brush on a long handle gently swabbed away any stray hairs. Leaving the
white cloth loosely draped over the shoulder, the barber held up a mirror so
Yorgos could see what the back of his head looked like. Short, tapered.
Clean cut! Lots of white skin, due to the fact that it had not been
exposed to the sunlight in ages, for longer than he could remember.
“What about a shave?” the barber asked abruptly. Yorgos took a moment to
react. What? Shave his head? “Since you’re a new client, it’ll be on the
house today.” And suddenly the chair reclined so that Yorgos found himself
virtually perpendicular to the barber, floating above the barbershop floor.
Cliff towered over him. Yorgos realized that Cliff was actually muscular,
not husky. It was sort of hard to tell with the professional white barber’s
tunic Cliff wore which buttoned up on his shoulder. Yorgos felt wonderful,
lying under the white sheet while Cliff began to massage warm lather onto his
cheeks and chin.
Cliffs’ sharp razor stroked Yorgos’ cheek with skill. Yorgos’ closed his eyes
and thought what a wonderful experience this trip to the barbershop had
become. It was almost hard to imagine him as a fierce protector of that
unruly mop of curls. He was glad Cliff had taken the initiative to shear off
that obnoxious mane. Yorgos’ eyes fluttered open and he surveyed the
marvelous, clipped style Cliff sported. Why had he so vigorously objected to
the clippers? He longed for a haircut just like Cliff’s. Yorgos began to
think there was no reason he could not request that the barber “go shorter”
on the hair after he finished the shave. Yes, he would tell Cliff to unleash
the clippers and go for broke. Clip him down to the wood.
A sudden sting of aftershave snapped him back into reality. The chair was
returned to the upright position and Yorgos saw again his made-over image in
the mirror. Tight curls close to the scalp on top and tapered sides. Huge
white forehead. Ugh. Big ears. Ugh! Lots of face. Little hair. What a
reversal of fortunate from just an hour ago.
With a flourish, the cape was removed and Cliff made it clear that it was time
for Yorgos to stand up, pay, and leave. As he stirred to comply, Cliff
patted the curls on top and commented, “Left it a little too long up here.
Next time, though, I’ll take this down closer.”
Yorgos smiled. “How short would you have to cut it to get rid of all the
curls?” He surprised himself with the boldness of the question.
“For one, I’d have to use the clippers. But, you seemed pretty much against
that today,” replied the barber. Yorgos blushed. “What’s your name, by the
“Yorgos.” After an awkward pause, he added, “It’s Greek for George.”
“Okay, George, that’ll be $13.50.” Yorgos quickly fished out $15 to include
an appropriate tip. He glanced at himself in the mirror as he paid. How
short his hair had been cut! How would everyone react?
“Keep the change,” he said as he placed the bills into the barber’s
hand. “And I’ll see you again soon.”
“Bye, George,” Cliff called out.
Yorgos left the shop. He felt a little upset that Cliff was calling him
George. Yorgos was much more of an exotic name, unique…a name that went
with…with the old obnoxious, loud curly mop headed Yorgos. The short
business cut definitely tended towards “George”, he conceded to himself. He
didn’t care if Cliff called him George. He liked it that he and Cliff were
on a first name basis.
Then he realized he’d never called the barber “Cliff” to his face. He wished
he had called back, “Bye, Cliff.” At the same time, he remembered the reason
he’d ever stepped foot inside the shop to begin with…directions to Jackson
Yorgos turned around quickly and re-entered the shop. Cliff was sweeping up
the cut hair – his famously, unruly ringlets and curls – into a huge mound.
He wore a happy face as he swept the shorn mass together. Yorgos was a bit
stunned by the amount of cut hair he saw on the floor. Looked like a
bootcamp barbershop on induction day! Cliff looked up from his work as the
door swung open. Yorgos stammered, “Ah, sorry, uh, but could you tell me how
to get to Jackson Avenue from here?”
The directions were fairly simple. Yorgos realized he needed to find his way
back to Cliff’s for phase two of his mane reduction! Before leaving, Yorgos
stuck out his hand awkwardly, “Cliff, thanks a lot for the haircut. It looks
great! But, uh, next time, yeah, next time you can use the clippers on me!”
“With pleasure, George! I’ll tighten up that taper, plenty! No problem!”
Cliff flashed a huge grin. He’d won a convert. And the convert was going to
embrace the new, low-maintenance style with zeal!!
As he hustled toward his car, Yorgos felt the back of his head for the first
time. Hair was hardly long enough to grasp at the base, but the top felt
puffy. He definitely would try blow-drying away the curls on top. Maybe
that would help cover the bare forehead that loomed large on the scene.
As Yorgos drove down the street he, away from the scene of his transformation,
he took one last look inside the barbershop. Cliff was comfortably seated in
the throne nearest the window, casually turned away from the mirror, reading
a magazine. He looked so…so professional in his white tunic that buttoned
up on the shoulder.
An image flashed through Yorgos’ mind. This time he himself was dressed like
the barber in a white tunic, swirling the chair back towards the mirror and
casting a white cape around Cliff’s well-built torso. The sandpaper grain
would be taken down to extra fine with a heavy duty Oster clippers in his
hand! To give Cliff a haircut, what a thrill…. As Yorgos drove away, he
wondered who did give Cliff his haircuts. His hair looked so perfect, so
trim and neat.
Then his thoughts turned to his own hair. He could not believe the ringlets
were a thing of the past and that he had been given a standard businessman’s
cut by Cliff! He felt the short hair in back. He’d look just like the
others at work (more or less). No more nervous twirling around the
ringlets! Was that good or bad? To think, he had asked for a trim! He
relived the first plunge of the shears at the nape and the horror of
realizing the “trim” was not to be. Then Yorgos’ recalled the smirk, the
smile of delight on Cliff’s face as he swept up the mound of shorn hair. A
pang of anger shot through his heart. What an awful man! But, then, the
wonderful sensation of having his face shaved and the delight of looking up
at the clipped scalp on the barber. The promise to allow his to unleash a
clippers on the rust-colored curls during the next visit! Yes, it had been
made, and Yorgos – that is, George – knew he would return to keep his
appointment with Clip – that is, Cliff!
No sooner had he gotten home, than George was in the bathroom with the blow
dryer working on a normal looking businessman’s cut. And, he was able to do
it! Sort of… A wavy top, but not a curl in site. He was unrecognizable!
The new clean-cut look inspired him rush out to the mall and buy an expensive
black suit and muted tie. No one would recognize him at work, that was for
sure. Certainly, the new George would impress everyone, and he promised
himself to be the perfect, friendly, helpful colleague.
The transformation worked wonders at the office. Everyone gasped when they
saw the conservatively dressed man with the short businessman’s cut.
Suddenly, George felt very accepted – people smiled at him, they initiated
conversations! At first, it almost always centered around what had inspired
him to get the big chop – “oh, just tired of all that hair…” – but then a
whole new world of topics opened between George and his colleagues to
exchange views on. Of course, his new attitude of being nice and polite must
have had something to do with the change in dynamics. However, George
remained very suspicious that the ringlets had been a threat to others, but
the clipped locks very acceptable.
To new business contacts he introduced himself as “George” and gradually the
name Yorgos was heard less and less in the office. He basked in the non
-descript image of the new “George”!
Within days, the wonderful success of the makeover made it clear to George
that he would need to get back to Cliff’s as soon as possible (without making
it seem too awkward to immediately be back in the chair). He longed to push
open the glass plate door and chime out, “Hi ya, Cliff!” then confidently
take a seat in the chair and willingly bow his head in anticipation of the
clippers to the nape.
Ten days after the dramatic haircut, George noticed the wavy locks were
beginning to get a bit unruly – big and bulky even with lots of blow-drying.
The trimmed nape, which had been so short the hair laid flat was also
beginning to bulk out and get a tad wavy. At that moment, he determined to
be back in Cliff’s chair exactly two weeks after the curls first got axed!!
George was brimming with anticipation…to see the neon barber’s pool swirling
around and Cliff in his starched white tunic welcoming him into the old
Then the target Wednesday arrived. As he slowly drove past the shop looking
for a parking space, George noticed that a youngish, thin fellow who was
obviously overdue for a haircut was just climbing into the chair. He had
olive skin and thick, lanky black locks that fell down straight on all sides
and seriously overlapped their appointed bounds of eyebrows, ears and
collar. It appeared to be sturdy, Hispanic type hair.
George parked quickly and decided to watch Cliff at work from the donut shop
before venturing into the barbershop. By the time he settled into his front
row seat, Boston cream filled donut in hand, the cape was already in place;
Cliff was nudging the fellow’s head down toward the chest, clippers poised to
strike. The first swipe was a killer! The tunic-clad barber drove the
machine up the back, tightly, and mounds of glossy hair fell away in
sheaths. Cliff pumped and pumped up the back and sides, quickly stripping
away the shanks of heavy hair and leaving a tidy buzzed swath in the
clippers’ wake. Then he tackled the top, first with shears. The dense
forelock which dangled precariously above the hair-covered cape got lopped
off near the hairline. Chop, chop…and it was nearly all gone.
As the whacking continued inside the shop, George suddenly realized that the
guy in the chair was getting turned into Cliff’s clone – the same minimalist,
buzzed down pate! But, from what he could see, the gaunt fellow did not have
the same build for the bold, shorn style. He began looking more like a
Soviet-era prison inmate than a trim, muscular fellow with a super crisp
style. The makeover was finished with a few dabs of shaving cream around the
ears and nape, and a clean skin-smooth surface before the fellow walked out
of the barbershop, scalped.
George left the donut shop and crossed the street. Again, he noticed a bit of
a delighted look as he watched Cliff sweep up the remnants of the thick,
glossy mane which was left on the floor behind. It made him feel cautious,
and a bit queasy. Maybe he should ask Cliff for another trim…that was his
thought as his hand pushed the shop door open. Then he remembered his
promise to submit to the clippers…. Perhaps he shouldn’t even go….
“Come in, George! Seat’s waiting just for you!” the barber chirped as he left
off his sweeping. The black hair lay out like a carpet around the chair
nearest the window. It was great seeing Cliff again (and being addressed by
name, like a worthy regular client!).
Just as he was about to respond, a streak of panic surged through him. The
chair and all the cutting paraphernalia awaited him!! George smiled meekly
and forced out a “hi, Cliff.”
“Clippers are waiting for you this time!” the barber added unexpectedly.
George’s heart sunk. He was going to get scalped…look like another prison
Then, as he ascended the throne-like chair, George noticed the waves pushing
up from the top of his head; his anxiety subsided as quickly as it had welled
up. It comforted him to know that the wily waves would be knocked down flat
as a board by Cliff. George felt calm and relaxed as he waited for the cape
to be fastened snuggly into place. Cliff manipulated the cloth gently, but
firmly. What a sight, to be swathed in a starchy white cape with an
impeccably dressed barber in an old-fashioned white tunic preparing to attack
“No telling me how to do my job this time,” Cliff commented with a tinge of
glee in his voice as he picked up a huge set of Oster electric hair
clippers. “Today, you’ll get a proper barbershop haircut. You’ll look like
a fine 1st lieutenant when I’m finished with you, a real gentleman…”
First lieutenant!! Oh no! The George heard a click and hum and his head was
pushed down toward the snowy, white cape. Might as well just relax and enjoy
it, he thought to himself. The first swipe of the clippers set the tone…not
much was going to be left on the sides and back, that was clear. He could
not believe that less than a month ago he had first sit in the very chair he
was in now with a huge set of unruly ringlets and curls that had for years
been his pride and glory. Now he was meekly submitting to a tightly tapered
clipper cut…. Clumps of his auburn hair fell to the cape as Cliff clipped
away. The vibrating teeth pressed tightly against his scalp felt
therapeutic, and at his nape positively wonderful.
Cliff finally set the machine down and let George take a peek at his work in
progress. A wide band of lily white skin marked the lower reaches of his
scalp. George felt that a few years had fallen away with the shorn locks….he
looked almost boyish with the clippered hair. But the rebellious waves still
remained on top.
Then Cliff picked up a set of thinning shears. He set right to work with a
rapid succession of vigorous crunches that chewed through the tough curls. A
periodic comb would rake away bales of whispy hair. The locks were thinned
down until they barely held any body or will.
Then a bit of a spritzer wet the remaining strands. Cliff began scraping a
straight razor across the hair, further reducing it bulk. Then snips of the
shears took away any remaining significant presence of the once mighty
curls. Amazingly, George’s hair lay down perfectly flat as the barber
fashioned a very severe part on the left and slicked the emasculated hair
down and to the side. George thought he looked like a 12-year old ready for
his first communion, circa 1963!
The wonderful feel of warm foam soon was traced around his ears and nape.
Gentle scraping, and then a stinging splash of witch hazel! The works!
“Well, what do you think?” the barber asked as he held up a mirror to show off
the tightly-clipped back of George’s head? He looked like someone from
another era! “We’ve come a long way since you first dragged that hippy hair
of yours in here, I’ll say!”
George nodded approvingly. As the barber began removing the cape, George
suddenly was inspired to ask, “The fellow before me, what style did he
request? It looked a lot like the way you wear your hair, Cliff.”
“He really doesn’t ask for anything. Just comes in every six months and I
know what to do -- mow down the thatch. I give him what’s called an Ivy
League, for Ricky, a ‘tight’ ivy…seems to feel he gets his money’s worth
from me. But don’t get any ideas, George…I want you in this chair every
“So who gives you your Ivy League, Cliff?”
The barber stole a quick, wistful look at his trim salt and pepper hair in the
mirror before sighing. “For the last 17 years, my old partner, Jack.” He
glanced at the empty chair. “It was in that very chair that Jack gave me my
first Ivy League. I was fresh out of barbering college myself and had just
shaken hands with Jack to assume the second chair here – this place used to
be called Jack’s – a year test period before full partnership, was what we’d
agreed to. After shaking hands, Jack stared disdainfully at my well
“You wore a pomp?!” George cried.
“With pride, back then. It was piled up high on top, thanks to my dense,
natural waves. I was very solicitous of my pomp…frequent trips to the
barbershop to keep the nape and sides buzzed close, but on top…well, it
added a few inches to my height! I guess I was at the barbershop so often, I
decided to become a barber myself.”
“…on that very first day, he motioned me to the chair and dead-panned, ‘Lesson
number one: worse thing for business at a barbershop is a barber with long
hair.’ I thought he’d tidy up the pomp a bit, maybe take it down an inch or
so. Boy, he had a surprise in store for me. The clippers went straight up
the back of my head, over the crown, and sliced my pomp off at a half inch
from my scalp. One sleek, continuous motion from nape to fringe decimated my
precious pomp. I just stared at the huge wavy clumps on my lap…and thought,
oh well, a new beginning for me! Once Jack had finished my ivy, I liked it!
Of course, he let me know who was the boss even though we looked like twins.
Jack and I established a routine. Every Thursday after work we’d take turns
giving each other haircuts. One week Jack was in the chair, and the next was
my turn. We’ve kept each other trimmed for 17 years… Even after he retired
a year ago, Jack would keep coming back every Thursday at closing time for
our ritual.” Then Cliff paused; he seemed a bit melancholic. “And,
tomorrow, an era comes to an end. Jack moves to Florida on Saturday.
Tomorrow will be the last time he tightens up my ivy. I’ll miss that guy.”
“Wow, sounds as much a friendship as a partnership,” exclaimed George. George
began fishing for his wallet to pay.
“Forget the payment, if I can ask you for a favor instead. There are several
heavy boxes in the back that I need to move out to the ally, including one
that’s a little too bulky for me to handle alone. A moving van is picking
the things up in about an hour, and I need to get them outside.”
“Sure, Cliff!” said George eagerly. The two men ducked through the curtain
into the back. George felt like he was in the holy of holies, where the two
barbers would kick back and relax after work or when the shop was empty. An
easy chair, a little television, a coffee machine, some professional
barbering journals -- in summary, quite a little comfortable nest.
And hanging neatly on a hall tree, still on a Laundromat hanger, was a
starched white tunic with a nametag on the chest pocket – Jack. Suddenly,
George had a vision. The embroidered tag bore his own name. He would become
Cliff’s new partner! What a dream…this would be his nest! Cliff and he
would continue the Thursday after-hours routine, and he would get an Ivy
League, just like Cliff! And then he remembered that he himself had just
been tightly tapered with Cliff’s clippers. Jack’s hand drifted up to the
buzzed nape and he felt the prickly mane with satisfaction as Cliff moved
some boxes around.
Cliff jolted him out of his fantasy by indicating which boxes needed to be
moved. After ten minutes of labor, Cliff offered him a coke out of the small
fridge in the backroom nest and motioned for him to take the easy chair.
Cliff settled into an older barbershop chair that was wedged into the corner
– obviously an item that had formerly been used in the shop and now served as
the other barber’s recliner. “Thanks, George, I really appreciate your
“Could I ask you for a favor, Cliff?” George ventured in a subdued, serious
tone. The barber nodded. “Could I try on Jack’s tunic?”
Cliff looked surprised, but quickly agreed. “Why not? It’s one of the things
he decided not to take with him in the end.”
George’s fingers almost shook with excitement as he removed the tunic from the
thin plastic covering and slipped into the jacket. He buttoned it in place
at the shoulder, savoring the moment of his virtual transformation into a
professional barber. George laughed to himself. To think, his entire
experience with cutting hair amounted to a few half-hazard whacks at his own
ringlets from time to time! The tunic fit like a glove. He wandered into
the neon lit shop and stared at himself in the mirror. He was indeed the
picture of a professional barber, especially with his new, closely tapered
Just as he was admiring himself, a boy pushed opened the door. The entrance
of a young teen sporting a huge afro-like collection of loopy blond curls
intruded on his dream world. George stammered, “Uh, just a minute, someone
will be right with you.” Then he added, “Uh, go ahead and take a seat.”
George scurried into the backroom and told Cliff about the curly headed kid.
“Ah yes, his visit here today is the result of a bad report card! His father
called and left instructions for little Jimmy to receive a nice butch cut.
That afro has been driving his parents crazy for about a year now. I think
they’re almost relieved he failed biology this quarter! No wonder – how can
the kid even see what’s going on with that mess hanging in his eyes. Cliff
peered into the shop and saw Jimmy sitting uncomfortably in the chair. Then
he looked at George in his perfectly fitting tunic. “Want to take your
barbering pose one step forward?” he asked with a sly look on his
face. “Curly, out there, needs a haircut…”
George’s heart leapt. “Oh, I couldn’t!”
“Butch cut – that’s an even length all over, quarter inch, very easy too…if
the kid doesn’t squirm. You look the part. You look great! I miss not
having a partner…”
George nodded eagerly. To hold the clippers and administer Jimmy’s butch!
Now that was an exciting proposition! Ironically, it was a dream that had
developed and materialized all within a half hour. Suddenly, he was to be a
“I’ll go get the cape on him and set the clipper to the quarter inch length.
All you have to do is mow! Start from the forehead and clip the top first
moving straight back to the crown. Then switch to back and sides, moving
tightly up from the nape, etc. Watch out for the ears! Don’t worry if you
screw up – Jimmy shouldn’t have let his grades slide!” Cliff was obviously
in a real punishment mode. Poor Jimmy.
Cliff seemed animated as he went out to set up the scene for George’s
inaugural act as a real barber. Once everything was ready to go, he motioned
for George to come out and take over. Cliff whispered as the two crossed
paths, “Be confident and firm! Press the clippers tight….and have fun!”
Jimmy was uncomfortable and twitched under the cape. He tugged at the neck,
trying to loosen it a bit. Cliff had obviously used a strong hand to fasten
it. In his unsuccessful struggle, Jimmy had sent his curls flopping down in
front of his face, obliterating his view. George felt a surge of power and
authority as he picked up the clippers and snapped them on. “It’ll take just
a few seconds to get this mess under control,” he said. “Your Dad said you
are to get a butch cut – quarter inch all over. Is that the case?”
“Yes,” eeked out the poor kid.
George grabbed the loose curls that dangled down past the teen’s nose and
lifted them up off the forehead. Then, he plunged the chattering sharp teeth
right into the dense mane. George lifted off a huge clump of blond hair,
like he was an Australian sheep-shearer! Wonderful showers of glossy blond
curls tumbled down in all directions. Cliff watched approvingly from the
threshold of the backroom. George immensely enjoyed shoving Jimmy’s head
forward as he tackled the curls from the nape. The whole transformation was
quick. Months of growth dropped from the head in a matter of minutes. The
teen was stunned, but cracked a surprise smile at the end of his ordeal. The
dreaded order to march down to the barbershop had been fulfilled, and now
there was no further punishment hanging over his head…or curls hanging from
it either! All that remained was a soft, bristly pelt of straight blond
George looked at his own shorn pate as he unfastened the cape from Jimmy’s
anxious neck. How nicely his rust-colored hair lay, flat as a board -- just
barely long enough on top to lay flat and thinned down to a minimum. And the
whitewalls! What would folk at the office think? Oh, the office….reality
intruded. Being Cliff’s partner and wearing a starched, white barber’s tunic
every day, that was all just a dream.
Jimmy handed him ten dollars and ran out the door, free as a bird, feeling his
“Nice job!” chimed Cliff as he walked toward George carrying a broom. “Now
earn the rest of your keep by sweeping up the threshing floor!” George
looked down and was surprised to see shorn auburn flecks peeping out from
under the flaxen curls. And at the bottom, the huge clumps of thick, raven
straight hair. He’d forgotten about Ricky’s scalping! George collected
quite a mound of hair as he swept around the sturdy base of the chair. To
think – hair one minute, gone the next. Maybe Jimmy would study harder this
semester…less hair care, more study time, in any event.
“Thanks for letting me do that,” said George as he finished dumping the last
dustpan filled with shorn hair into the trash. “You don’t know how much I’d
like to come here every day.”
“Then come tomorrow. I’ll have Jack explain to you how to achieve a perfect
ivy as he cuts my hair, and maybe you’ll find yourself with a once-a-week,
part-time job. We’d make a great team!” George wanted to give Cliff a bear
hug. Instead, he took one final look at himself in the mirror before
reaching up to un-button the tunic. “Here, let me help you with that,” said
Cliff. He leaned close to George, and carefully unbuttoned the tunic
emblazoned with Jack’s name. “We’ll have to get you your own name patch for
this pocket if you take up my offer!”
“You bet I do! What time should I come?”
“I close shop at 6:30 p.m. on Thursdays. But come as soon as you get off
work. You can hang out in the back room or perhaps be my apprentice again.
You handled Jimmy perfectly.”
George felt like he was in 7th heaven as he stepped out of Cliff`s. There was only one thing left to do -- find the nearest barber school and enroll post haste!