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The Buzz at the School by Deke Cutter

It was 1970 and most schools in the country had dropped restrictive dress codes and hair rules after a few faced court challenges and others just didn’t want the hassle. Constance Place School District, though had "hung tough." The small school district was home to many World War Two veterans and men and women who worked at the airplane factory that built civilian and military aircraft. These folks were part of that "silent majority" that Nixon talked about. But they did not stay silent when the subject was dress codes and boy’s hair length. They wanted their daughters in knee-length skirts or dresses and their sons to "look like boys." The clothing issues were handled by sending offenders home to change or to sit out a 3-day suspension that, they were warned, "went on your permanent record."

Young men’s hair was a different story. The Vice Principal roamed the halls and stood at the entrance each day making sure no male hair was too close to the collar (of the required button down shirts), ears were fully uncovered and no hair was brushed and flattened to make it look like it was meeting the standard. Bangs could not come below the midpoint of the forehead and if they were to that point, it meant the young scholar was due for another haircut.

If Vice Principal Cropper (an aptly named man) tapped you on the shoulder and said "haircut," it meant get it cut by tomorrow. If the tap was followed by the dreaded words, "my office," you were out of luck and in for a "Cropper Special." The Cropper Special was for first offenses. For Glenn Roven, the tap and call to the office came the Monday after Thanksgiving. Glenn had a good head of wavy hair that he loaded up every school day, with the Suave Hair Cream, his father used. It kept that waves and curls somewhat flatter and did make the hair on the sides and back cling closer to the head. He was careful to get the neck trimmed up regularly. Good old Harry at the local barbers was smart enough to hold on to his young customers like the Suave Hair Cream clung to the hair, and he followed their requests carefully, unless, of course, those requests were countermanded by the kid’s father. You were a "kid" according to Harry, until you were 25 years old or 21 with a kid of your own.

Unfortunately for our friend Glenn, his luck ran out on that rainy windy Monday in November. He normally got to school before Cropper arrived at the front entrance. The wind and rain had devastated Glenn’s work on his hair and the bad weather meant he had to wait for his mother to get the younger kids ready for school before she could drop him off. Then the car wouldn’t start, so Glenn had to walk and, of course, didn’t wear a hat, way to uncool. So, even though he tried to repair his hair with the comb he always kept with him, "Cropper the Hair Copper," as the kids called him, caught him on the way in. "My office, Mr. Roven."

Glenn arrived in the Vice Principal’s office to find a wooden chair with newspapers on the floor underneath it. He was soon joined by three other boys who had also been caught at the entrance. "Roven, in the chair, you three turn and face the wall." (Glenn was relieved that his embarrassment would not be witnessed by the other boys. An old bed sheet was tied around Glenn’s neck and Mr. Cropper went to work. First he combed all the hair down so that he could gauge the length. In Glenn’s case, the hair covered over half his ears and reached down to his nose. The bangs were the first to go. Snip, snip, snip. Glenn now had short bangs barely an inch from his hairline. Then, each ear was uncovered by the shears. To add insult to injury, all the hair left on each side was then combed forward and anything extending beyond the hairline was cut off. A pair of thinning shears were then liberally applied to the hair on top of the head. Finally, a pair of clippers removed any sign of sideburns, created a noticeable arch around each ear, and moved the hairline on the neck up one inch to assure it would take plenty of time for it to dare get anywhere near a shirt collar. Mr. Cropper then ran a comb through Glenn’s shortened hair again. "Those bangs are to stay as they are for the remainder of this school day."

Rushing out of the office to the restroom, Glenn saw the destruction wrought upon his head. He almost wanted to cry. It looked like the worst home haircut ever inflicted on a kid. But worse was yet to come as his classmates razzed him all day long. Granted the other recipients of Cropper cuts got the same treatment, but Glenn was convinced that he got the worst of it. He had no idea what would face him when he got home that night. His father took one look at him and shouted, "what on earth did you do to your hair?"

Once Glenn explained, his father started to laugh. "So, Cropper finally caught you. Well, I warned you, didn’t I? I told you to get that birds nest seen to. Well, you look ridiculous. Get up. Let’s see what Harry can salvage. This gave Glenn some hope, since Harry was a sensible man.

"Good grief, Al," Harry said to Glenn’s father, "did you do that to the boy?" All you had to do was tell me how you wanted it cut and I would have done it for you!"

"Oh cripes, Harry, "Al Roven responded. "I would never attempt to cut the boy’s hair. It was the school that did it, the Vice Principal, in fact."

"Well, get up here in the chair, Glenn, let’s see what we can salvage." Glenn did as he was asked. Harry combed through Glenn’s hair. Two or three times, Harry made an audible intake of breath. "Oh my, this is quite bad. He has cut the bangs so short and the uneven shearing leaves us with little choice. I’ll have to cut the hair pretty short so that it will grow out in a decent way."

This seemed to be all that Al needed to hear. "Well, you know, Harry, if you have to cut it short and the school wants it short…shoot, I hate the dang long hair. Just give him a good old Number 2 buzz cut."

"Dad, no, please! Not a buzz. Everybody will laugh at me."

"I’m not going to laugh. You mother won’t laugh. All the boys playing sports at your school won’t laugh because they almost all have short hair. The coaches require it. Right Harry?"

"Keep me out of this Al. All I can say is that the boys who play sports do come in for short haircuts, but they have made the choice to play on those teams."

Al retorted, "be that as it may, this boy is getting a buzz cut." And so, he did. Al picked up his clippers, adjusted the guard and went to work cropping Glenn’s remaining hair down to a consistent quarter inch of stubbly brown hair. The work that Mr. Cropper had done around the ears and neckline made some of Harry’s usual work unnecessary, but he went through the process to make sure the cut looked as professional as possible.

When Glenn stood up, Harry looked at him and said, "you are lucky that you are a good looking young man. This may not be your choice, but you wear the cut well."

Al, added, "well that is good because he will be returning every two weeks to keep the cut fresh and well within the school guidelines."

The next day Glenn went to school and there were the usual comments he expected—‘did you join the army,’ ‘hey buzzcut boy,’ etc. One guy that didn’t razz him was Simon Wilkes. Simon was a quiet kid who was in one of the high school service clubs. Glenn could never keep them straight. And he was on the golf team at school. The golf coach was one of the least strict about haircuts for the boys on the team. The coach had gone to college with one of the big names on the tour and worked at the Country Club course on weekends and summer, assisting the Club ‘pro’ and teaching golf lessons there. Because the Vice Principal was golf-mad, he got him free passes and good tee times, in return for giving the golf players some leeway on their hair length. Anyway, Simon’s thick chocolate colored hair was brushed back off his ears and was just centimeters off the top of his collar. All Simon said was: "you O.K. about the haircut? It looks pretty cool." Glenn thanked him.

Simon, however, went home that night in a froth of emotions. Simon was hooked on short haircuts. He had never had the courage to get one himself, but he loved to see pictures of crewcuts, and flat tops and buzzcuts. The only person who knew about his obsession was his girlfriend, Stacy. She had caught him looking at a couple of guys on the football team who had come in with flat tops. This was about the same time that Simon was trying to get to second base with Stacy. She asked him outright, "Simon, I see you checking those guys out, do like boys or something?" Simon remembered his checks burning and explaining to her that it was just a kink he had about short haircuts. After a very intensive make-out session, she believed him.

Simon thought that Glenn’s buzz was a one-time thing and he figured he would have a week or so to enjoy seeing it, before the hair started growing in. Imagine his surprise when Glenn showed up with a fresh Number 2, two weeks later. Glenn found Simon and told him. "Hey man, you were the only person who didn’t give me sh*t two weeks ago. I’m going to be getting these buzzes every two weeks, so I appreciate you having my back."

Simon went about his day with thoughts of how much he wanted to cut his hair short. But what if it looked bad or what if it looked bad AND his father decided he should keep it short. Finally, an idea formed in his head. He caddied on the weekends at the Country Club. There was one foursome that he always avoided. It consisted of local businessmen, including John "Uncle Johnny" Rochambeau, who, with his wife, ran a wildly successful day camp in the town. The kids at the camp all called him "Uncle Johnny," and the name stuck. Uncle Johnny wore a flat top haircut like he had had as a marine back during the war. He drove a red, white, and blue, striped Cadillac convertible. If you were a male counselor at Camp Rochambeau, your hair was cut short, repeatedly during the summer. The two other businessmen shared his Hawkish conservative views. The fourth member of the group was the football coach who was another known hater of hair. These golfers always took the mickey with the golf team guys that caddied because of their long hair. But what if Simon managed to lose a bet with Uncle Johnny and had to get a buzz cut? It was well known that the golfers loved to wager against each other, so this might not be a stretch.

Simon made sure to get there early and sign up to caddy for the foursome. Luckily, none of the other caddies working that morning were on the school golf team, and they all had fairly short hair since they were students at Simon’s school. As soon as Uncle Johnny’s Coupe DeVille arrived, Simon made sure he’d combed is hair to its most fluffy extent. "Good morning, sir, I’ll be your caddy today."

"Simon, is that you under that "Lady Breck" hairdo?"

"Yes sir, "Uncle Johnny.’ It’s within the golf coach’s guidelines."

"Well it sure as heck isn’t in mine. You look like one of those Cuban commies. Why on earth don’t you get it cut?"

"Well, for one thing, I am saving money for a sweet new driver that I want to use this season."

"How about if I give you the money for the haircut and add in some for the putter," suggested ‘Uncle Johnny.’

"What if we make it interesting?" Simon now played his ace. "If you shoot 4 under par, I’ll go to the barber and get a buzz cut. If you don’t, you give me the 30 bucks I need for the golf club?"

The camp owner took about two seconds to put his hand out and reply, "deal."

Simon was a real student of the game and watched most of the golfers in the Country Club play many rounds of golf. He knew John was one of those who could up his game when he had a wager on, that he wanted to win. As the foursome proceeded around the course, John was very nonchalant. By the time they reached the back nine, he was two strokes up and Simon made sure that John noticed him ‘subconsciously’ running his hands through his hair. By the conclusion of the match, John had gone six under par. As John signed his scorecard, he called Simon aside. "Well, young Simon, time to pay up. Why don’t you go get rid of that mop, then come back and show me. I’ll be in the 19th hole waiting. Simon feigned despair and left.

Once he had showered up and got to the street where Harry’s barber shop was, Simon started to feel a bit or remorse as he realized this was finally happening. But a bet is a bet, and he was no welsher. ("Was it welsher or welcher," Simon wondered. He’d have to check that out in the big dictionary at the library.) Simon steeled himself and entered the shop. He was a little disappointed that he was the only customer and Harry immediately invited him into his chair. "Well, Simon! This is a surprise. I usually only see you every 6 weeks and its barely been three".

"Yes sir," Simon replied. "I’m here because I made a silly bet and lost. Now I need to get a buzz cut. The one you gave to my friend Glenn looks pretty good on him, so could you give me the same one. I think he said it was a "Number 2 all over."

"That is going to be a big change for you, Simon. But maybe this will serve as a lesson about gambling."

"You are right about that sir, but I have to pay off my wager."

The feel of the clippers against his hairline and being pushed back across Simon’s head sent a jolt through him like nothing he had ever felt before. He could not believe how quick his response was and how tight his trousers felt in his nether regions. Harry worked quickly clearing Simon’s thick healthy hair and pushing it on to his shoulders and then down onto the floor. Simon thought that he was very glad to be wearing dark trousers because he was now past the point of no return. He somehow managed to stay unmoving in the chair, as Harry cleaned off the sides of his head and then moved on to edging the haircut. It was over too quickly. Simon looked in the mirror and loved what he saw. He remembered to play the part of a young man who had just lost his pride and joy. "Oh well, Harry, I guess I’ve learned my lesson. Do you think I look too goofy to go out without a hat on?"

Harry gently took Simon’s hand and rubbed it across the stubble on top of the young man’s head. "Simon, you look great. I know you young fellows all want long hair, but ten or 12 years ago, this would have been ‘a keeper’ for you."

Simon paid Harry, thanking him for the haircut and went straight to the Country Club where John waited for him. "Now that is what I call a fine haircut, Simon," John said. "In fact, if you wanted to keep your hair like it is now, you could have a job as a counselor at the camp this summer." With the wheels turning in his brain, Simon smiled and excused himself.

Simon’s parents were surprised by his buzz cut. He explained the story to them, and they said pretty much the same thing Harry the barber had said about ‘the dangers of gambling.’ Simon, as an aside, mentioned what "Uncle Johnny" had said about a job at the camp, secretly hoping it would plant a seed with his parents. His father was quick to urge him to consider it. "Heck son, your hair is short now, so how bad would it be to keep that way through the summer. It would make for an interesting Senior picture for you too, come August." Simon rolled his eyes and said in that tone that teenagers always use about parental suggestions and said that he would think about it.

The next day was Sunday and Simon was looking forward to seeing Glenn at CCD class after Sunday mass. As the parents left the church, the kids moved over to the parish school. Glenn was a bit ahead of Simon who came up behind him and tapped him on the shoulder. Glenn turned around and his expression was priceless. Simon thought about cartoon characters whose jaws dropped to the ground. "Simon, you got a buzz like mine," said Glenn, then threw his arms around his friend and gave him a hug. "Dude what happened? You look great though, are you keeping it. Oh, this is so cool that I won’t be the only one."

"Slow down, buddy," said Simon who then told Glenn about losing the wager. "I knew I had to get a buzz," he said, warming to his version of reality, "so I told Harry I thought yours looked good and to please give me the same thing. Then, "Uncle Johnny" liked it so much, he offered me a job as a counselor at the camp, if I keep my hair like this through the summer. I mentioned it to my dad and I think he is going to make me do it."

"Your kidding, right?" I’m going to be a counselor there too this summer. I guess we are going to be ‘buzz buddies for the next 5 months."

So, the boys became buzz buddies and Glenn started going out with Stacy’s best friend, Marla. The girls came to love the feel of their boyfriends’ buzzed heads. It’s probably why the whole golf team volunteered to get buzzed to show support for a student who was diagnosed with cancer in the following September. But, that, as they say, is another story.

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