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Pop by A Recruit

The new school year started on Monday, today was Friday. My wife had asked my to take my two young sons to the barbers for their annual back to school haircuts. I had the day of work, and wanted to change the oil on the car, so it wasn’t almost lunch-time before I was ready to take them down to town.

Having parked the car, we walked down a small passage to the small barber-shop, and as it came into view I cursed, instantly remembering the promise I had made to myself last year, not to come on the last day of the holidays, the queue stretched out of the door into alley.

I peered inside, seeing the three barbers beavering away, smartening up three kids, clippers and scissors working away harmoniously. Inside every seat was taken, smaller kids sitting on their parent’s knee, older siblings standing alongside.

Outside was at least another six children, all patiently waiting their turn. It crossed my mind to turn back and come back later, but the queue may be longer next time. I glanced at the boys, their scraggy mops testifying that they hadn’t seen a barber for some time.

Suddenly the queue edged forward, as a man came out with three children, all now sporting the same neatly trimmed haircut, I peered inside again, and saw another young lad climbing down from one of the barber’s chairs, he and his mate took their smart ivy league cuts with them down the street. The queue shuffled forward and we were standing in the doorway. I decided we’d stop, the queue seemed to be moving quickly, and also three lads had started queuing behind us already.

Standing at the door, I watched the three barbers, marvelling at the speed with which they clipped each boys hair, hardly pausing, but never seeming to make a mistake. Nobody was allowed to hold up the production line, as every customer left the shop the queue would shuffle up around the shop, and deposit another child off the end for a barber to seat in his chair.

The shop was as quiet as ever, hardly anyone speaking, and those that were whispering. The radio was drowned out by the sound of buzzing clippers and clicking scissors. I was seated now, my youngest on my knee, and I looked at the carpet of hair on the floor in front of me. Clearly the barber-shop had been very busy since opening this morning. Josh had his nose tucked inside a pop magazine he’d found in the magazine rack.

It was just after one, when at last I could put my younger son Tim, in one of the barber’s chairs. He sat still as the barber wrapped the cape around him. The barber combed his hair and asked him how he’d like it cut. Time as normal was too shy to reply, and looked across at me. I stood up and went over. I picked up a handful of the hair that fell over his collar, and said ‘This needs to go’, then I reached for some of the weighty hair sat on top of his hears, muttering ‘and this - short back and sides today I think’.

Tim said nothing, as the barber took clippers and comb together and sheared away at the unsightly mop, rapidly transforming this young thug into someone a father would be proud to be seen with. Tim sat very still, although he did look a little unsettled as large tufts of hair began falling around his small shoulders, even from my viewpoint back on the bench there looked to be a lot of hair coming off, much more that I’d realised he even had.

The barber parted his hair into a centre parting, and cut his fringe mid-way up his forehead, the scissors snipped away at the style cutting his hair shorter and shorter, until the barber was satisfied that the haircut was smart enough to advertise the quality of a haircut in his shop. Just as he was finishing up, I was aware that my elder son Josh had just climbed into the middle chair, and the barber was securing the cape around him.

Josh had persuaded me to let him grow and keep his hair like his favourite pop star, he’d shown me a magazine cutting of the look he was after. It would take a while to grow the length as long as he wanted, the style seemed to be thick shoulder length hair, the fringe equally long, but clicked back out of his eyes. In order to grew and keep his hair like this he’d agreed to improve on his schoolwork, and had agreed that should he not improve every one of his school grades that hair would have to go.

Well at the end of last term he brought with his the long awaited report card, and it was a clear improvement, though not as good as I’d hoped. It would have been wrong to punish him for improving, so I didn’t remind him of the conditions of our pact, and let him keep his hair for the holidays. My wife and I discussed what we should do, and reluctantly decided to let him keep his hair like this, on condition he continued to keep up the obvious effort he was making at school, I was to sit him down and tell him this over the weekend.

The barber was busy consulting with Josh, who was describing in great detail how he wanted his hair to be trimmed, the barber was studying a magazine cutting, probably the one I had seen a year or so before.

Tim jumped down from the chair and came back across to sit on my knee. There was still a long queue in the shop, despite it being lunch-time. I patted him on the head, stroking his soft hair, now neatly groomed into place, proudly.

Another lad had taken Tim’s place in the chair, and the clippers were raging in his ear. I looked across at the middle chair. The barber, the oldest of the three by probably twenty years, was conscripting another young lad into his private army. This guy had a reputation for always giving much shorter haircuts than the other two guys, many of the older lads were always disappointed if they ended up in his chair, and would often give up their place in the queue to avoid him, unless their parents were there.

The lad in the chair, was losing a serious amount of hair, and rapidly at that! The boy’s shoulders were already covered in long brown strands of hair, falling down the front of the cape to his knees. Occasionally a bundle of hair would topple over his knees on to the floor, only to be replaced by another falling lock from his shoulder.

The barber stepped to one side, and I watched as the scissors removed the hair covering this boys ears, I thought what an improvement this was, and the split second later realised that this was Josh in the chair. I folded away the newspaper I had been reading, and watched.

The barber had used his scissors to cut Josh’s hair shorter than I had ever made him wear it before, but what was odd was Josh didn’t appear to mind, indeed he looked pleased with what he was undergoing. I decided that I would never understand children.

The barber reached for his clippers, paused for a moment to study the magazine cutting he placed in the counter once more, and selected an attachment.

I watched along with the rest of the shop, even more of his hair fall to the cape. The barber removed the attachment, and tapered the hair into his neck, each hair groomed with military precision. He worked around the ears, again tapering as he went. He stood back and brushed away at the loose hairs, before attending to the top.

He sprayed the top with water, and combed the remaining hairs into a side parting, taking special care to trap every hair. Thinning scissors then blended the hair, high above his ears and back of his head, finishing at his now short fringe, which the barber cut into, making it sparse and more natural.

He finished with some wax, worked well into the hair, ensuring the short hairs had no chance of escaping from the chosen style. The barber was finished, and he handed the magazine picture back to my son, he reached for the hand mirror and showed him the new short look, my son smiled, nodding his approval.

In no time, the barber had brushed away the mountain of hair resting on Josh’s shoulders, to join the rest on the floor of the shop, and freed Josh from the chair. Josh had lived up to his part of the bargain after all without any pressure, I admired him for that, in those few minutes he had grown up right in front of my eyes, and I loved him dearly for it. This had been a red letter day, he had honour!

I paid the barber for the two cuts, and walked out proudly, flanked by two smart young men. I thought about asking why Josh had decided to cut his hair so short, but decided against it.

I walked with the boys back into town, keen to reward them both, we ambled into a record shop, and I agreed to buy each of them a tape. As I went to the counter to pay, I looked up and saw a poster of a guy sporting the same hairstyle as my son, and across the top in large red letters, was the name of my son’s favourite pop group.

I walked back to the car, it didn’t matter why he’d had his haircut, I would always be proud of him.

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