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Jackson at Home by Marc D

Jackson read, "Choose your battles carefully. Compromise is essential in dealing with your teenager. For example, many parents complain that their son's hair is too long or 'dirty'. The teenager, for his part, may want to look 'fashionable'. Both parent and child must be willing to literally 'give an inch'. The parent must be willing to allow the teenager to let his hair grow an inch or two longer, and the teenager must be willing to cut off several inches in order to reach a compromise."

"Jeez," said Jackson, "when was this thing written anyway?"

He'd found this self-help book in a box in his parent's attic. From the looks of the cover, it had been printed in the mid-seventies. He leafed through the pages. Inside the title page, he found "copyright 1969", so this paperback must have been a reprint.

Reading through it, Jackson was struck by how quaint a lot of the advice seemed. "What to do if your daughter burns her bra?" That sort of thing. "War and Peace for the Vietnam era." The happy, all-American family depicted looked more like college students dressed up like a family. They might as well have been from Victorian England.

Jackson turned back to the passage he'd just been reading about grooming "for the Young Man". Think about living in a family where your father decided what you'd look like. Jackson almost couldn't imagine it. His own dad hadn't even taken him to a barber shop since…well, since he was very little. His mom had booked appointments for him at her hairstylists. Even his father started going there when Jackson was thirteen or so. The women who washed and cut his hair were young and really cute, which made one more reason why Jackson liked the place so much. Jackson's family couldn't care less what style he picked out, especially now he'd graduated high school, and his father had never had a cross word for Jackson in his entire life.

But think about it.

He reached up and grabbed a handful of his light brown hair. "Son, you'd better get this mop cut, or I'm going to throw you out of my house." He tried making his voice deep and authoritative.

No go.

He tried again. "Look at this mess of a head. What are you, a boy or a sheepdog? Something's going to have to be done about this."

Better. He let go of his hair and went into the bathroom. He turned on the light and stared at his reflection in the mirror.

"That mop is disgusting," he said to his reflection in a stern voice. "I don't know how you can see through that sheepdog mess-and where are your ears?"

"Sorry, Dad," he said in his own voice. "Here, if you comb it like this, it looks much neater."

Jackson took a comb, wet it down, and slicked his hair back close to his head. It looked ridiculous.

"It looks ridiculous," he scolded himself. "No son of mine is going out in public like that! Jackson, I'm calling my barber, and he's going to give you a real haircut."

Jackson stopped. He stared at his reflection, water dripping off his earlobes. That last part had just come out. Wasn't he getting carried away?

"Joke time's over," he told his reflection. His reflection just looked back at him seriously. That lasted maybe thirty seconds.

Then he found himself searching for a copy of the yellow pages. He scanned down the page for "Barbers", stabbed a finger in the middle of the list, without looking.

He took a deep breath. "Do you really want to do this?" he asked himself.

The answer must have been yes, because his fingers dialed the number of Mel's Barber Shop, fumbling so much that he had to start over twice. When Mel picked up, Jackson disguised his voice, speaking in the gruff voice he'd used in the mirror. He told Mel exactly what to do.

"I don't quite know how to say this, Mel, but my son is going through a rebellious phase. His clothes, his hair, his attitude. All unacceptable. I've decided to take a stronger hand in raising him, and as part of that, he's being sent over to you for a appropriate haircut for an upstanding young man. Now, whatever he asks for, you're not to listen to him. He'll try and talk you out of it, but if it's not short enough the first time, I'm going to send him right back down there."

And then Jackson gave Mel a description of himself.

Over the phone, Mel sounded a little confused, but seemed willing to go along with Jackson's "father's" wishes. As he hung up the phone, Jackson exhaled a long, whistling breath. He considered backing out. After all, all he'd have to do is not show up at Mel's.

"On the other hand, I can always back out after I see the place," he said.

So he climbed in the car and drove, sweaty palmed, to Mel's. It was in a strip of small shops on the first floor of a building that held doctor's and lawyer's offices. Unfortunately, Jackson couldn't see through the front windows very well without being too conspicuous. About the only thing he could tell was that they used fluorescent lighting, and they had an old-fashioned barber pole out front. The window had been painted with big red letters that said "Mel's Barber Shop" and gave the hours.

"Oh, well," Jackson thought, "I can always just look around inside, and take off."

By now, of course, he knew that he wouldn't be doing any such thing. He straightened his shirt and pulled the door open. As he stepped inside, he heard the sound of 50's style music playing on tinny speakers, half obscured by the banter between the barbers and customers and the clicking and humming of the haircutting implements. It was a large shop, with six barber chairs. Only three of these were currently in use, however.

"You the kid whose father called?" said one of the barbers.

Jackson nodded.

"I'm Mel. Take a seat over there, and I'll be right with you." He gestured toward a row of folding chairs lined up against the opposite wall.

Everyone else ignored Jackson. He felt his heart try to climb out his throat. Why the hell had he done this to himself? He sat down and tried to keep his face blank while he watched the barbers snipping away. He also checked out the other customers, hoping there was no one he knew in the shop. Thankfully, there wasn't. Everybody in the shop seemed to be much older, or in one case, much younger. One of the customers had apparently brought in his thirteen year old son.

Mel finished up with the burly older guy in his chair. As far as Jackson was concerned, the customer could have left with a cockatoo on his head, since all Jackson saw was the tan leatherette of the open chair, waiting for him. As soon as the older guy took out his wallet to pay, Jackson sat down in the chair, hands under the backs of his legs.

After what seemed like half an hour, Mel showed up in Jackson's line of vision, and swirled the cape around him with a flick of his wrist. Mel carefully fitted a tissue around Jackson's neck and tucked it in firmly. A couple of pumps of the chair, and then he swiveled Jackson around to face the mirror.

"You must be Jack," Mel said.

Jackson nodded.
"Your father called earlier and told me you'd be coming over. You seem a little old to have your father pick out your haircut for you."

"I'm seventeen," Jackson lied. He'd turned nineteen three months ago.

"Uh-huh," Mel said. "Your dad tells me it's time to start acting your age. He wants you to have a much shorter haircut, for starters."

"Um, couldn't I just get a little trim," Jackson said, remembering his role.

Mel replied, "Your dad also said that if it wasn't short enough, he'd send you 'right back over here', and we don't want that, do we?"

"No," said Jackson.

"Pick a number between one and twenty," said Mel.

Jackson was a little surprised. "Seven."

"Number seven," said Mel, pointing to a poster mounted high on one wall that displayed a wide variety of men's haircuts. It looked like it had been printed in the 50's.

Mel said, "The Boy Scout."

From where he was sitting, Jackson couldn't see "the Boy Scout" or any of the other haircuts, and when he tried to crane his neck, Mel grabbed Jackson's chin and turned him firmly back to the mirror.

He grabbed Jackson's head with one hand, palming it like a basketball. Jackson heard the click-thunk-hum of the clippers as Mel switched them on. Jackson's bangs fell into his eyes as Mel tipped his head forward slightly, so no one could have seen him wince as he felt the metal blade contact the nape of his neck. The sound of them shifted from a hum to an angry-sounding buzz.

"So that's why they call them 'buzzcuts'," Jackson thought.

Mel moved around the sides of Jackson's head, shearing hair in big scoops, like a man dishing out ice cream. Jackson felt the clippers digging their way in behind his ears, and watched alarmingly large piles of hair skidding down the cape. Finally, Mel's hand lifted off Jackson's head, and Jackson got a good look at himself in the mirror. The hair on top of his head still grew long, long enough to cover his eyes in a big swoosh across the front, long enough to stick out over the sides, which had been clipped military-short a handwidth above either ear. He didn't even recognize himself.

Next, Mel stowed the clippers, parted the hair firmly and cleanly on the right side and used an enormous pair of shears to cut several inches off the top, roughly shaping the hair. parted the hair firmly and cleanly on the right side. Each snip of the shears was accompanied by a decisive click as the shears closed completely. As he worked, he turned Jackson away from the mirror until Jackson couldn't see his own reflection anymore.

Then, Mel took out a pair of scissors that looked like they had combs instead of blades. He noticed Jackson staring at them and said, "thinning shears. They'll make your hair lie better; they only cut some of the hair, so you'll still be able to make it lie down."

This part of the haircut went on for a long time. It felt like Mel held these scissors very close to Jackson's scalp. Jackson had never had any haircut like this, and wondered if thinning shears took a longer time to use than regular shears. A lot of hair seemed to be hitting the cape, and he wondered if he'd have any hair left when Mel was finished with him. He tried to get a look at himself when Mel turned away to get some shaving cream, but Mel's body blocked his view. Mel came back, and spread warm shaving cream around Jackson's ears and along the nape of his neck. Then, working very carefully, he scraped the cream off with an old-fashioned straight razor.

Jackson wondered what would happen if Mel ever slipped.

Mel combed his hair with water, and then again with something that smelled kind of like talcum powder or medicine.

"Voila," said Mel, spinning him around, "Say hello to the new you!"

Jackson was speechless. He looked at his reflection. His reflection looked back accusingly.

"I look like a kid," he thought. He reached up to touch his head, and the reflection matched him. His forehead and ears shone in the mirror, and as Mel lifted a second mirror behind him, so did the back of his neck. Jackson felt really exposed. His hair was tapered closely on the sides of his head, blending seamlessly into ultra-neatly parted hair on top, no longer than a couple of inches anywhere, and certainly not nearly as thick as it had been before. He could see his scalp reflecting in the furrows made by the teeth of the comb, and in the laser-sharp part.

One "Boy Scout Haircut", as requested. Jackson wondered if his old uniform would still fit. He looked like a recruiting poster for cleancut boyhood, several years younger than he actually was, younger even than he'd lied and said he was.

He paid Mel, without even listening to what the man was saying. Mel brushed him off with a whisk broom and said something about keeping it up in a few weeks.

As Jackson drove home, he had to keep pulling over to touch his head, running his fingers over the now velvety sides, patting the slightly oily, slightly crispy rows of parted hair up top. He checked his reflection repeatedly, not quite believing that he'd been stupid enough or brave enough to do it, depending on his mood that second. He briefly thought about where he was going to find a baseball cap to cover this up until it grew back, and then briefly thought about keeping it like this for a long, long time.

Jackson was still undecided as he lay in bed that night, reading and stroking his belly; getting up several times that night, running to the bathroom to stare at the stranger standing there, wearing fresh jockey shorts and a fresh haircut from the days before he'd been born.

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