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It took 40 years by Tim
My heart is pounding as I pull into the small parking lot. It has been constantly increasing in rate the closer and closer I get to this shop. I wonder if I’ll have the nerve to go through with this. Each time I ask this question, but I have yet to be in a situation where the elements are right.
I want to get a flattop. I don’t know why, but it’s one of the things I want to do. I just turned 40, and it seems now is as good a time as any. My new girlfriend loves short hair and even mentioned that her favorite cut of all is a flattop, though I doubted she knew I was listening or would even consider such a thing. So it certainly wouldn’t disappoint her for me to go out and get one. It wouldn’t bother me at work, as I’m out in the hot sun all day, wearing a hat, doing construction. My co-workers probably wouldn’t even notice. Besides, almost all of them have a flattop or some short cut. I’d just be fitting in. It would probably feel a lot cooler during these summer days. What I’m trying to say is there really isn’t any reason for me not to get a flattop.
But I am very resistant to change. And changing my looks is a big deal to me. And this would be a big deal. After all, my own hair is fairly long, though not as long as it was just a few years ago. Back then my girlfriend loved very long hair on guys, and I grew mine out long enough for a reasonable pony tail, which she loved to play with in the bedroom. That was fine by me. Since going out with my current girlfriend I’ve ever so slowly had it trimmed a bit shorter each time. Now it just covers my collar and ears, and my bangs don’t quite reach my eyes any more. But a flattop would mean losing a lot of hair. So why do I want one?
As best I can figure it is just something I’ve always wanted to experience. I know if I were a girl I’d want to have extremely long hair, like long enough to sit on, and then experience all the things a stylist could do to it, like updos and curls and all. I think it would be fun to be pampered and change my look so easily without cutting off anything.
But since I’m a guy I think I’d like to experience a real short haircut, namely a flattop, at least once in my life.
I did have a similar type experience many years ago when I got my hair cut for a Halloween party. I went as a clean cut all-American boy from the 50’s. I visited a barber shop to get it done (I never went to barber shops, only expensive salons) figuring they would give me the best look. What was terrifying at the time was the shop had the clients face away from the mirrors, so I couldn’t see what was happening. I ended up with my ears fully exposed, surrounded by slight ‘whitewalls’, with the back tapered a good deal shorter than anticipated. The top was left relatively long but parted on the side and slicked over with some type of old fashioned ointment. It lay perfectly straight and tight to my head. Quite different than normal, since my hair is naturally so wavy it is almost curly. I discovered the next day that my bangs were cut at a relatively sharp angle that resulted in the haircut only looking good if parted on the side, and awful any other way. Plus it only looked good if it was slicked down straight, which I refused to adopt as a daily style. I didn’t want to be a modern day ‘greaser’. So instead I found myself wearing my hat a lot, and using things like gel or such in quantities just big enough to get my hair through another day without being laughed at. It seemed to take forever for that haircut to grow out. I remember absolutely hating the whole experience and saying I would never do anything so stupid again.
But looking back on it I discovered it was one of the more exhilarating hair experiences I ever had. I often longed to do that again, if only I didn’t hate how I looked in the haircut. That’s what really stopped me, and that fear is probably what has stopped me from getting a flattop. After all, a flattop is so short it can’t be combed into another style if you don’t like it, unless you want to go even shorter, like…bald. And I have no desire to experience that. So what would I do if I got a flattop and hated how I looked? From watching friends with one, I know it would take many months for one to grow out.
I also fear being told my hair might not be able to go into a flattop. After all, flattops only look good if the hair stands up perfectly straight, not wavy or curly. I’d hate to go through the whole procedure only to be disappointed by the outcome. It would be like destroying a fantasy or something. That possibility also keeps me from pushing the issue further. The fantasy can remain alive that way, and without fantasies life isn’t nearly as exciting.
But right now I want to get one, if for no other reason than to make my girlfriend happy, though deep down I know it’s to satisfy my own strange desire. Just once and I’ll be over it. And I need to do it before I start losing my hair and can’t get one. I hate looking back on my life regretting things I should have done. Something as easy as a haircut shouldn’t fall in that category.
Plus I finally figured out what I was waiting for. I wanted all the elements to be right again. I most definitely wanted it done in a Barbershop. It had to be some place that did a gazillion of these things every year and could do them right. And not just any barbershop. I wanted one with someone I consider a ‘classic’ barber. Not some young kid, and definitely not a woman.
Furthermore I wanted to duplicate that experience of not seeing it happening just like that one barbershop experience so many years ago. So it had to be a shop that didn’t have mirrors all over the place. Just blank walls to stare at while the transformation was taking place.
So over the past two years I’ve been going to different barbers each time it was time to get a trim, hoping all the ingredients were right. If they were, I planned on asking for a flattop. If not, just an ever so slight trim. Unfortunately (or was it fortunately?) every shop I visited had mirrors all over the place, even the one I went to way back when for Halloween (the barber who did that cut retired some time ago). One shop I visited didn’t have the mirrors, but had some young punk kid doing the cutting. I walked out of there not bothering even to get a trim. Another shop without mirrors only had lady barbers. I didn’t subject myself to that either. And in all the other shops I ended up just getting a trim. The barbers usually took off about an inch too much, so it would take me several months of waiting between cuts before I was due for another.
And that leads me up to this moment. The familiar rush of adrenalin as I drive up to yet another barber shop, one I’ve never been in before. Will I get the nerve today to ask for a flattop if everything is as I want it? I wonder.
This shop has a bunch of cars in front. Obviously popular. I’ll wait. I have no other plans today. In fact I enjoy watching the barbers attacking and hacking at the hair of their clients. It seems all of them always take off a bit more than asked. I wonder if I should ask for a ‘long’ flattop so I don’t end up bald? Nah! That would sound stupid. If I’m going to do this I might as well do it right.
I walk into the shop, overcome by all the noise as three barbers are all hard at work, clippers whining. It has the familiar smell of talc and old time hair tonic. The wood chairs to wait on are old and uncomfortable. A ball game is on the television (black and white!), and old ruffled sports and car magazines sit scattered on an end table. No attempt to make it all neat and orderly. I’m already loving this shop.
The walls are nearly barren! Some old pictures of ‘celebrity’ clients who no one has ever heard of, and a few ancient oil paintings that probably cost about $5 each, (and that’s including the frames) are all that adorn the walls. Besides the mirror that runs the length of the wall by the barbers, there are no other mirrors in the place. The clients are all currently facing away from the mirror into nothingness. Obviously that criteria would hold true in this shop. My nerves get a little more tense and my hands feel clammy as I realize this might be the day.
I look at the other gentlemen all waiting (not a woman in the place). I feel so young compared to most, as they all look to be in their 50’s or more. Even though I’m 40 now most people still don’t figure I’m much over 30. I’ve stayed in shape, though it’s getting harder each day to do so. These men all look their age. There look to be five people ahead of me. I figure at least a 30 minute wait. I head for a seat, trying not to show how incredibly nervous I’ve become.
All three barber look up and either say ‘hello’ or nod in greeting. I get Goosebumps looking at them, as they all look straight out of an old movie. If I wanted to cast the ‘typical’ old time barber I’d have a tough time finding better qualified looking individuals. They all look to be 50 or older, with graying hair held in place with some type of greasy tonic.
I was home! If I was going to do it, this was the place. It didn’t matter to me which barber I got. Any of them looked to be the perfect barber for my scenario. As I prepared to sit down I look at my reflection in the big mirror. My hair looks so very long now. I reach up to touch it in back. I can easily grab huge handfuls of length. It probably could make a small ponytail again, or at least it seems like it. My bangs fall into my eyes, almost like a dare to ask for the cut and send them falling to the floor. I quickly try to imagine myself in a flattop and, as usual, can’t.
I sit and try to make myself seem comfortable as I waited my turn, constantly wondering if I will have the nerve to say it when the time comes. Much of me is begging not to go through with it. It seems to be a very even battle raging in my mind.
The clients on the chairs now are done almost too quickly, or so it seems. None of them sport flattops. But all of them end up with hair shorter than they would have received in a salon. A lot shorter. These barbers don’t mess around. Again I start wondering if I should ask for a ‘long flattop’. Would such a think exist in here?
Three new clients are in the chair. The barbers work fairly quickly, but make sure they aren’t so fast that they do a sloppy job. I can appreciate that. Unfortunately none of these clients are getting a flattop either. I was hoping I could watch one in progress. By the look of the other two men ahead of me they won’t be getting one either. Of course looking at me you wouldn’t expect me to ask for a flattop. Oh God I am nervous! Should I do it? There’s really no reason not to now if I truly want to go through with this. I figure I only have another 10 minutes or so to wait.
One of the barbers is done already! Of course the old guy he just finished was basically bald to begin with, so he didn’t really have much to do. Still, my moment of reckoning is coming up fast. Phew! The barber is taking a break for lunch. I’ll have a bit more time.
The middle barber finishes. With two ahead of me odds are I’ll end up in his chair, unless the first barber returns in record time. One of the two ahead of me mounts the chair and gives directions. Shucks, no flattop again. Just a trim.
The third barber is really taking it off of the guy in his chair. He doesn’t look like he’ll end up with much hair left. Some kind of crew cut I guess.
I have to smile. The guy in the middle chair is getting a cut like I did for Halloween so many years ago. Short sides and back, long on top, and slicked over hard with a side part. I wonder if the barber will put some kind of grease on his hair?
The third barber finishes up. The last man in front of me mounts the chair. He’s not getting a flattop either. I start deliberating about not getting one until I see how proficient they are on someone else first. Stop it you coward! Just go for it. You may never get a chance like this. If I come back to this same shop in a couple of months for the cut it will lose some of its sense of adventure. To really run the whole gamut of excitement it needs to be here and now.
Another client walks in the door and has a seat. He looks to be about my age. His hair is already really short. I wonder what he’s here for?
It looks like the middle chair will be my destination after all as I figured. This guy’s ‘trim’ looks pretty severe to me. Yet he doesn’t seem to mind the huge clumps of clippings dropping to the floor. Part of me wants to just ask for that Halloween look again. No! I hated how I looked, and growing it out was sheer hell. Just go ahead and ask for the flattop.
But it’s a flattop! It’ll be really short! If I don’t like it there will be no way to disguise it! Maybe that’s what most worries me. Once I get one I’m stuck for a pretty long time. Even that Halloween cut could be disguised a bit in about a month. A flattop will take a good deal longer than that I figure. But wait! With my natural wave it might only last a matter of weeks. I wouldn’t be stuck after all! Have some balls and go for it.
Oh no! The guy in the middle chair is done. Sure enough the barber did apply some type of oil to his hair. His hair is now plastered down tight and glossy to his head. That cut sure brings back memories. I wonder if anyone saw the grin on my face watching the client transformed into a greaser. The barber is quickly paid, and I’m just about to get up when the barber heads to the back room. Was I going to end up with the third barber? He looks to be about half way done with his present client. He was really taking it off the back. I unconsciously run my hand through my hair again. It seems longer still than when I walked through the door, and wavier too.
The middle barber comes back in, broom in hand, and quickly sweeps up the area around his chair, and as a courtesy the area around the other two barbers too. I see his nametag says Fred.
Fred! Sounds like a good name for a barber.
As he starts heading back to put the broom away he looks at me.
“Go ahead and have a seat. I’ll be right with you.” Then he disappears in the back.
I stand up trying to mask my nervousness. I take a good last look at myself in the mirror. God my hair looked shaggy. I certainly am due for a trim. But a flattop! That would mean losing almost all of my hair.
I sit down in the chair and nervously run my hand through my hair, still not sure what I will say when asked. The wall in front of me is totally barren. Not even a picture frame with glass that could reflect a silhouette of my image. I won’t get to see any of this. But then that is what I want, isn’t it?
Fred returns by my side and snaps the robe around me, fastening the tissue perhaps a bit too tight around my neck. As soon as my hands are covered I death grip the arms of the big old chair. I hear him walk to his counter and take out a new comb from that big jar of combs floating in blue liquid. I always wonder what that liquid is. It sure has a distinct smell to it, and it leaves that smell on your hair. Actually that is kind of a fun part of barbershops, strange as it sounds.
He starts combing through my hair, tugging a bit as the slight curls are smoothed through. “What’ll it be today?” he asks as he works his way around, combing my bangs back a bit to one side so they no longer fall in my face.
“A flattop.” The words somehow come out though I don’t remember saying them. But they come out somehow. I sit in shock a bit that I actually said them. Then I wait to hear him say my wavy hair won’t work in a flattop.
“Very well,” he says as he finished combing through all the tangles. Then he stops and returns to his counter of tools.
Oh my God I said it! I can’t believe it. How many seconds do I have now to back out before it’s too late? Is he going to ask me how long or short of a flattop I want?
The clippers roar to life.
He stands behind me and puts one hand on my head, leveling it out and making sure I hold still. I’m looking straight ahead, frozen, knowing I have only moments before this becomes a reality. My heart is pounding. My hands are moist with sweat. I take a deep breath and hold back the urge to change my mind.
The clippers are placed on my neck just above my collar and pushed up just an inch or two. I hear them hit hair and carve into it. I can feel that a sizeable chunk was just removed. My neck feels a bit cooler already.
He removes the clipper and starts in again at the base of my neck, a little to the right of where he just attacked. Another chunk is hacked off. I figure I still have time to change my mind, or at least ask for a ‘real long’ flattop. Right now all I’m stuck with is a taper in back.
Another pass, and another, and another. As best I can tell I no longer have any hair reaching over my collar. My neck feels exposed. I’m enjoying this so far. My heart rate is still increasing. I can feel it pounding in my ears.
The clippers are starting to extend up the back of my head now. I can feel them tight to my skin. Still not too late to chicken out, but I’m quickly running out of time. I can tell it’s already as short as that Halloween cut in back.
Oh God! The clippers are running high now. It feels like they went clear to the top up the back. Say something you fool! You don’t really want this! You’re going to be bald! You’ll look like a fool for a long, long time!
He’s going over and over the back still. The sound of hair falling is diminishing. It almost feels a bit like a massage the way it’s running up and down now. My head feels so very different now. But the hair falling over my ears and towards my eyes fool me into thinking little has happened thus far. A big part of me wishes I could see what has happened back there. Or better yet, a video of the entire thing. That would be great!
The clippers are on my left side now, starting at the front. I close my eyes as I feel the hair covering my ear quickly peeled away. I open them just in time to see a handful of hair fall in front of them down the apron to my lap. Wow! I didn’t realize how long it was. These hairs look nearly six inches long. The clippers are hugging my head ever so tight. I can’t believe I’m doing this. They’re reaching high and higher. Isn’t that too high? I’d swear it is. He did hear me ask for a flattop and not a buzz cut, didn’t he? My mouth is dry. Nothing can come out even if I wanted to. I’m just glad he isn’t trying to carry on a conversation. I don’t think I could without sounding like an idiot. It is so strange right now, all my senses on such high alert. My eyes are darting around trying to sneak a look. Not a chance. Nothing to do but grin and bear it.
The right side is being subdued now. I see more hair fall to my lap. It looks so very curly. I can’t believe I’ll actually end up with a flattop that actually stands up straight. Part of me hopes it won’t work, so I’ll walk out of here with clearly shorter hair, but with no one knowing I’ve got a flattop. The waves and curls will hide it.
No! I want it standing up straight, damn it! I want to experience the feel of running my hand over a level, prickly surface. What a great thrill that will be.
The right side feels basically done now. My ears are tingling. I can feel some small stray hairs tickling them now. They aren’t used to being exposed. What a peculiar sensation. I better get used to it.
The clippers are shut off. Now what?! The barber brings a whisk broom and quickly flicks away all the stray hairs. I seem them falling every which way. The feel of the broom against the sides and back is so very unusual. How much hair is left now? I can still feel all the length on top, and my bangs are falling in my eyes once again. I really want to reach up and explore things with my hand.
The broom stops. Silence again. What next? The top? I wonder if a flattop FEELS like a flattop? Will my head feel level? Will my hair feel like it’s standing straight up? The clippers return to life. I guess I’ll find out soon.
Not yet. He’s going over the back again. I hear more hair coming off. Is he going even shorter? He seems to be pretty much just concentrating on the lower half. Does a flattop taper up the back? I don’t think so, but I don’t know.
He’s working on the sides again. Shorter still. Folding down my ears so he can get in there real good. I don’t know if I have anything left. Should I ask how short he is going? No! Don’t be a sissy. Just let this happen and enjoy it.
The clippers are silenced again. I hear them being hung up by the counter. My bangs are poking hard in my left eye. It’s really annoying. I want to reach up and push them back, or at least shake my head, but I don’t want to do anything to jeopardize this haircut.
Fred returns, comb and scissors in hand. He combs up my bangs and quickly slices into them. Some return falling forward again, but nowhere near long enough to bother my eyes again. He works quickly but steadily back through my top hair. I can feel it quickly being reduced in mass, though it doesn’t seem short at all. Maybe I was going to end up with a ‘long’ flattop after all, even without asking. I find part of me wants to ask for a short flattop. Shut up! Just let it happen. Just let it happen.
He stops cutting. I hear the scissors and comb returned to the counter with a loud clack. Now what? I can’t be done. I’m sure my hair isn’t a flattop. But maybe it is. Maybe it won’t feel anything like it looks.
Water! He’s spraying water on my head. It feels so very cool, especially on the sides and back where it is dripping straight down. No hair left to slow its fall. He towels off the sides and back, rubbing my ears ever so quickly to remove the excess moisture. All is quiet again.
A blow dryer comes to life. I’m almost disappointed that a barber shop would utilize such a ‘modern day’ appliance. What did they do in the ‘old days’ before blow dryers when someone asked for this cut. He starts brushing through my top hair as the dryer hits it. He tugs at it a bit, brushing it this way and that. I figure he’s trying to straighten it all out. Good luck. It’s not going to happen. Any second now I’ll be told this style isn’t for me. What’ll I do then? What choices do I have with the back and sides now so clearly void of hair?
I’m enjoying the sensation of all that hair up there. It still must be quite long by the feel of it. Do I get to keep all that, or is more still due to come off?
The dryer is shut off and returned to the counter. My hair feels really strange now. I can’t feel any bangs against my forehead any more. Did he actually straighten out all those waves so quickly? I had never been able to straighten out my hair before, though I had tried many a time, and used a great deal of gels and stuff in the effort. Was it really that easy to do? I must really be incompetent with it. Maybe I’m done. Maybe I’m now sporting a perfect flattop. I’m anxiously waiting to see in the mirror. I bob my head up and down a bit, trying to feel if the hair truly is standing up straight.
The barber returns to my left side and puts one large hand on my head, stopping all the movement. He tilts it just so.
“Now keep your head very still,” he says. Obviously there is more to come up there. I obey with a focus of a man holding a bomb that would go off with the slightest of movements. My hands are white-knuckling the armrests.
The clippers clack on once more, and I feel a large comb lift up my front hairs. The clippers then run over the comb. I can hear the steel meeting plastic. A wave of hair rains forward of my face. Not too long of clippings. Maybe an inch in length at most.
He works his way steadily to the back. Comb lifts and clipper makes a run. Soon he is all the way back and runs out of head to work on. Is that it? Is it now a flattop? I try to feel it. It feels different. Shorter. But I can’t say it feels flat.
He comes forward again, repeating the procedure. More hair rains on me, some stopping on my nose. I try and wiggle it off. It won’t go that easy. The comb and clipper combo is still working its way back. I can tell it is getting quite short up there. Now it definitely feels different.
Fred starts yet another pass. This time I feel the comb lying directly against my head, and the clipper running tight over the comb. My eyes open wide. Any thoughts of ending up with a ‘long’ flattop are now gone. I wonder if I’ll have any hair left at all. I want to speak up in opposition of what I just felt, but don’t. What difference would it make? Just let it happen.
Damn this is fun!