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New Town Transformation by Manny


"You made it!" my new boss exclaimed as I entered the suite of offices on the ground floor of The Professional Building. "How was trip? Did your move go smoothly?"

I wasn't surprised to find Mr. Philbert so warm and friendly. His graceful manner in the interview was one of the things that helped clinch my decision to leave big city life behind for a small town.

He shook my hand enthusiastically and quipped, "You look like you just stepped off Madison Avenue. That's a fine double-breasted suit. But, do take off your jacket -- we have a more relaxed atmosphere here."

I complied quickly, but noticed he was still giving me a bit of a once-over.

After a few more pleasantries, he came back to my appearance. "Office attire is slacks and a dress shirt -- short-sleeved in summer and long sleeves when the temps finally cool a bit. We don't want to intimidate our clients. They tend to be simple folk who need legal advice or assistance. Wills, property issues, labor disputes, guardianship documents, that sort of thing."

I suggested taking off my fine Armani silk tie, chosen especially to make a good first impression on Mr. Philbert.

Mr. Philbert beamed, "We'll make a good country boy of you yet, Jim. Is that what you go by?"

I'd always used my full birth name, Jameson, but it seemed a little presumptuous. "Yes, Jim is fine," I replied, noting I'd have to get used to people calling me 'Jim'.

The day went by quickly, and I was convinced I was going to like my new work environment. But, socially....I was a bit concerned. Issues were small and social circles appeared to be even smaller. Everyone seemed to know and be involved with everyone else.

It was as if Mr. Philbert could read my mind. "I asked Tony Purcell to stop by when we close up shop. We can get a drink down at the corner saloon. He moved here from Chicago about six months ago. New minister at the Episcopal Church -- a nice guy. I thought he could give you some tips about what it's like for a young professional to transition from the slick city scene to, uh, well, let's just call this place...paradise! Tony adjusted quickly. Just yesterday he told me how happy he is here in Mt. Rhea."

"That was thoughtful of you," I said, though slightly worried I might get roped into going to church. I was a Christmas and Easter type and intended to stay that way!

Any apprehension I might have felt quickly evaporated the moment I met Tony. We clicked instantly. He seemed very intelligent and an excellent conversationalist with a quick (and slightly sharp) tongue. Furthermore, he was fairly handsome and obviously athletic. He'd moved to Mt. Rhea after his spouse had been killed in a car accident. It was obviously a devastating blow for the newlywed minister.

After a round of beers, Mr. Philbert excused himself. "I'll leave now so that Tony can give you the low down on Mt. Rhea and its citizens. And, Jim, if you need some extra time in the morning, don't feel like you have to be walking in the door precisely at 9:00 a.m."

What did he mean by that, I wondered? Things were never direct with Mr. Philbert. It could mean "be on time," but it could mean "take the morning off to get settled."

Tony was surprisingly upbeat about his move to Mt. Rhea. "I thought I'd miss big city life more, but I really haven't looked back. When I came here, right from the beginning I decided to follow the lead of the locals. Good solid people, really. I just love Mr. Philbert!"

"I guess I'm trying to get used to his indirect communication style. He's a master of nuance, and there are indications you need to be alert for," I explained.

"Yep, you're a quick learner!" Tony quipped.

"His very first comment was about me looking like I had just stepped in from Madison Avenue. At first, I thought he was complimenting my clothes and my general style," I remarked.

"Hardly!" Tony laughed.

"Nope, the penny dropped. After a few minutes, I understood his meaning and took off my tie," I laughed.

Then, I noticed Tony eying my hair. It was my best feature! I was a regular at the salon in order to ensure my thick blond hair looked its best with perfectly feathered sides, a center part and to flowing full, to the base of my collar.

"I wore my hair just like that when I arrived -- perhaps a tad longer," Tony said.

I suddenly felt unsettled. I had not thought at all about his hair length until Tony's comment. My eyes darted around. All the men in the bar had short hair. Most sported a traditional short back and sides like Tony -- or had military crops.

"Let me show you," Tony said.

He pulled a photo out of his wallet. "Taken with my spouse on our honeymoon..."

"OMG! You look totally different. Hair, glasses -- radically changed. And that Tom Sellek mustache!" I exclaimed.

"The makeover happened on my first full day in Mt. Rhea!" Tony said. Frankly, it was for the best. A quick pivot...."

"You got here, took one look around, and got yourself a makeover?" I asked.

"No, not exactly. There were circumstances... I arrived in a U-Haul and some men from the congregation were at the house to help me unload. As I looked down to secure my footing while unloading a dresser, my glasses slipped off my sweaty face. I accidentally stepped on them and crushed them," Tony explained.

"Those trendy aviator frames look quite fragile in the photo," I noted.

"Next day, I went to the only glasses place in town. I was shocked when the clerk said new rimless frames and lenses would take six weeks. I can hardly see without glasses....no driving, etc. The clerk brought out these clunky plastic frames. He said it was the only model the store had with lenses on-site in my prescription. They looked more like the 1960s than the 1980s! Just as I was trying to stomach wearing them temporarily, the clerk mentioned they were the most popular frames sold in the store. Look, that guy over there is wearing the exact pair!" Tony remarked, pointing to a fellow at the bar whose hair was shorn down into a tight crewcut.

"I see the interim solution became permanent. You're still wearing them!" I laughed.

"Hey, it's about fitting in, looking like the locals," Tony replied.

"And the hair?" I asked.

"I walked out of the glasses shop with my new clunky black glasses, feeling different. Feeling upbeat, actually. Then, I spotted a twirling red and white barber pole. It was like a beacon calling to me. I ran my fingers through my city coif and decided it would be a day for several big changes," Tony said.

I glanced at the photo again. "Wow! A lot of hair hit the cape that day. You weren't nervous?" I asked.

"My emotions were all over the place walking into that time-warp. In a way, it was really neat -- the huge barber chairs perched on massive enamel bases, the checked linoleum floor, more clippers hanging from the counter than one could quickly count, and the curious jars of combs submerged in what looked like mouth-wash!" Tony replied. "The barber quickly vacated the chair he was lounging in and told me to take a seat."

I was really getting into Tony's account. He was an engaging storyteller!

"When he pulled the big white cape tight around my neck and fastened it in place, that's when I felt some nerves in my gut. There was no turning back, but I still had options. Looking at myself in that mirror...." Tony said.

"....you decided to go for a short haircut?" I asked.

"When he asked me how I wanted it cut, I explained I was new in town and inquired about haircuts for men my age. He pointed to a chart on the wall and said that taper cuts were a safe bet or something very short. So, I opted for a taper and played it safe with "medium" instead of "short". Next thing I knew, my head was pushed forward, facing straight down, gazing into the expanse of white cloth. I heard a click, followed by a hum, and then felt a very energizing vibration on my neck. I'll never forget the sensation of those clippers coming up tight at the nape! I gripped the arms of the chair. It was like a jolt of electric current running through me. The barber was quick in scooping off the first massive wad from my salon helmet! The second drive with the clippers went further up the back."

"And you were deep in regret at that point?" I inquired.

"On the contrary! I felt energized. Another vestige of my old life falling away. My mind kept returning to the chart as the barber clipped and clipped. The very short haircuts on the charts sort of bewitched me! I knew that one day I would get one of them...." Tony explained. "Since then, I've become a bit obsessed with the flattop! One of the altar boys has one -- it's phenomenal. A deep pile and so perfectly shorn! My neighbor has one too!"

I stared at Tony, imagining him with a flattop.

"Do you think Mr. Philbert would prefer me with short hair, like yours?" I asked, warming to the idea that a haircut might be part of my own adaptation to life in Mt. Rhea.

Tony grinned. "What do you think?!" he joked.

I squirmed in the chair. "I think I need another beer! That's what I think," I laughed.

Tony rose to get us another round. As he did, he tussled my feathered coif. "And, I think we're going to end up in the barber shop this week -- you and me, both! A big set of Oster's mowing off all this fluff..."

His fingers lingered in my soft locks. It was a more-than-pleasing sensation!!

I could think of nothing else while Tony was getting the beers -- me, in the big chair, watching clumps of my blond locks falling to the cape. But, the idea was frightening. Definitely, not energizing or exciting. But if it meant a bonding experience with Tony....I swallowed hard...I was game. At least, I was open to the idea.

"So, the whole time your hair was getting cut short, you were totally cool with the change?" I asked, incredulously, once I'd started my third beer.

"When the barber finally finished the back and let me sit up straight, I was surprised to see myself looking virtually the same. Most of the hair that had been taken off was at the back of my head and had fallen straight to the floor. Then, the barber clamped his hand on top of my head again and cocked it to the side. I watched as he took the clippers straight up the side, up through my temple, in a fairly tight taper. A massive swath of shorn hair fell to the cape and my ear was exposed. WHOA!! I must have winced as the barber asked if everything was okay. He continued clearing off the one side. Medium length, I discovered, was incredibly short! After he finished one side, he did exactly the same on the other side. The cape was full of cut hair. Finally, he turned his attention to my forelock. He combed my bangs straight down, over my eyes. Then, he was quick with the scissors. Very efficient. SNIP, SNIP, SNIP. And very SHORT! Two-thirds of my forehead was exposed! And the bangs were at a bit of an angle. That was followed by an intense session with thinning shears. My short, bulky bangs were reduced significantly in volume and shortened even more. The top was the grand finale. Lift and chop, lift and chop, lift and chop. Nothing left on my head was longer than three inches. But, the total impact only came really into focus when I put on my new glasses. It was like a double whammy. A total 1960s nerdy-look! It was hard to recognize myself so altered."

"It's not nerdy!" I exclaimed. "I think you're handsome...."

Oooops. That slipped out so unexpectedly.

Tony blushed at the spontaneous compliment. He touched his hair gingerly with one hand.

"Just wait till you see me with a flattop," he winked. "Telling you that story has my juices flowing. I want to feel the clippers grazing the top of my head. I want a landing strip!"

We sat there momentarily, in a bit of awkward silence. I regretted calling him handsome. But, he didn't seem to mind.

"Oh, and here's a P.S. to the makeover story -- I went straight from the barbershop, back to the glasses store and canceled the trendy replacement frames! The clerk was a bit sorry to lose the sale of such an expensive pair of glasses, but complimented me effusively on my new haircut!" Tony beamed broadly.

"So, you think Mr. Philbert would like it if I cut my hair too? Do you suppose that's what he had in mind when he told me it would be all right if I came in a bit late tomorrow?" I asked.

"BINGO!" Tony exclaimed. "The barber shop is closed Monday, but opens at 9:00 on Tuesday morning."

"Will you go with me?" I asked impulsively. "You can get your flattop!"

"Now you're talking!" Tony said playfully. "Maybe you'll get inspired...no interim taper cut for you. Straight to the flattop!"

"Absolutely not! No flattop for me," I stated adamantly.

"Oh, and a final point on my transformation. When I got home, I raced up to the bathroom and fully took-in my new appearance. There was only one family feature...the flashy mustache I doted on. Why not but an end to it too, I dared myself?! It was large and luxuriant. Yes, the Tom Sellek stache had to go with the rest of the old look! I turned on the hot water....my hand shook as I lathered it the massive chevron of hair. With razor poised in hand, I hesitated a bit. But once the decision was made, I got psyched! It was coming off! And, yes, I felt naked without it for a long time. But, change is good, Jim. Change is very good!" Tony said.

I pawed at my long hair absentmindedly. To be without the stylish coif...?! I glanced at Tony.

He burst into laughter. "You're warming to the idea!"

I blushed. He was right! A trip to the barber shop was definitely in the cards. I was ready to shed the helmet hair.

Tony held up his fingers like clippers and then set them in motion. "It's amazing how quickly the barber took off all the length. But then, he spent forever with the final touches. Lather on the neck. A straight edge razor scraping bits here and there. Warm, moist towels. Witch hazel. A duster full of talcum. A bit of a shoulder massage with this odd machine. Combing, smoothing....showing off the work with a mirror. Suctioning the hair snippets with a little vacuum. The deliberate removal of the cape that was absolutely covered with my cut hair. All so slowly and carefully compared to the quick assault at the beginning with the clippers and shears."

"Should we meet at the barber shop in the morning?" I blurted out.

"For sure! Let's make it our first date, Jim! Which of us, do you think, will the flattop suit best?" he asked.

I gasped. Surely, he was thinking that I would go for a flattop...!





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