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New Man in Ohio by Recruit
During my senior year of college at Franciscan University in Ohio, I took a part-time job with a local security firm. Working as a security guard allowed me plenty of time to study for my courses. And besides, I'm about six-foot-three and weigh about 275, so my physical size seemed to fit the role, even though I have never needed to physically overpower anyone on the job. By the time I had finished my degree, I was earning decent pay from the security company, so I decided to stay full-time. The company assigned me to an evening shift at the front desk of an office building on the outskirts of Steubenville.
Until I started working as a security guard, I had never been too concerned about my appearance. In particular, I paid little or no attention to my hair. I had let my hair grow to about four or five inches long on top and combed it straight back. I would often throw a baseball cap on my head in the morning, rather than spending time making my hair look good. Whenever I needed to look like something other than a sloppy, overweight college boy, I would comb a handful of gel into my hair. Once every couple of months, I would get my hair trimmed and styled at one of those franchised "chop shops" by a thirty-something woman named Sandy.
I knew that my new job would demand a little more attention to neatness, but I kept my hair long on top as usual, and surprisingly my boss didn't say a word about it. In fact, I had been with the company several months before I thought about changing my haircut. A big bottle of gel from Wal-Mart had replaced my trusty baseball cap as my daily hair weapon, so I went to work every evening with my hair slicked down like Mike Ditka. Several people even told me that the slicked hair looked good with my big body and my black security guard uniform.
One Thursday evening last April when I arrived at work, I stepped into the men's room to take a leak. I saw my reflection in the mirror, and at that moment, something changed inside of me. I realized that my appearance needed an overhaul; I was just plain tired of the way I looked. For one thing, I had gained a lot of weight, mostly in the form of abdominal fat. Above all, though, I was tired of my greasy hair. For a moment I though about using some hand soap to wash out the gel right then and there.
"Hello, Dryden," a voice called to me. I turned around and saw Steve, the guard who worked the shift before mine. Although he was old enough to be my father, I regarded Steve as a peer and a close friend. "You look deep in though, brother," he said. "What's going on?"
"Oh, nothing important. I was just thinking about…about cleaning up my looks. I feel sloppy with all this goopy hair. Maybe I should try a flattop like yours." The words slipped out of my mouth before I thought about what I was saying.
"Hey, I think it would be a good look for you," Steve replied, touching his salt-and-pepper hair, which was cut in a perfect flattop. "I get mine cut at Joel's Barber Shop in the Fort Steuben Mall. Really, I think you should do it if you're thinking about it. Tell him I sent you."
"Maybe sometime," I said, and then the conversation shifted toward the day's events. I hadn't meant the flattop comment literally, of course; I was just making conversation. Still, it sounded odd to hear my own voice say it, and my own words kept reverberating through my mind.
Thursday night passed uneventfully. Around noon on Friday, I went to work out in the weight room at my apartment complex. The weight room seemed particularly hot that day, even though it was just in the 40s outside, and I kept having to use the front of my shirt to mop the sweat off my face. Needless to say, the mound of hair on my noggin didn't help, so I began to think again about getting a haircut. As I was drying off after my shower, I took another look at my hair. Yes, it definitely had to go. As for the flattop…the idea was growing on me. After all, anything would be an improvement.
After lunch, I had about three hours free before I needed to report for work. I didn't have anything really important to do, so I got in my truck and went for a drive around town. I ended up-of course!-at the Fort Steuben Mall. I had thought about going to my usual "chop shop" for a trim, but my mind was set on change, so I decided to check out Joel's shop. Worst case scenario, if a flattop didn't look good on me, I could just have him shave my head bald, even though I wasn't eager for THAT much of a change.
I stepped into the mall and found Joel's shop quickly. The traditional red and white pole outside the door made the shop easy to locate, even though it was at the end of a hallway. The middle-aged barber, whom I presumed to be Joel, was working on one customer, and two others were waiting. I guessed that the wait might be a half hour or longer. Once again, the call of nature hit me suddenly (urged on by a little too much Mountain Dew), and that gave me one more chance to see myself in the men's room mirror. I raked my hand through my gelled mop one final time and said aloud to myself, "Yep, it's coming off." The thought, now spoken, raised my pulse rate a little. I walked straight from the men's room back to the shop, took a seat, and picked up a year-old issue of Outdoor Life to help pass the time.
"Your turn, buddy," Joel called after the last customer had paid him. No one else was waiting, so I took a deep breath and climbed into the chair. "What will it be-trim it up a little all around?"
"No, I think I want something short, like a flattop." Okay, I had said it-no turning back now.
Joel seemed a little surprised. "Okay, we can do that, but that'll be quite a change. Sure you wanna go that short?"
"Yeah, let's go for it," I said. My pulse rate kicked up a few more notches.
"All right, buddy. You have a lot of goop up here, so I'll need to shampoo your head first." As usual, I had gelled my hair again after my shower, not really thinking that I should have gone into the shop with clean hair. Oh, well…good old 20-20 hindsight strikes again! Joel reclined the chair and washed my hair within a couple of minutes, faster than I could have done it myself. I had never had my head washed by a barber, but I found it quite relaxing. In fact, if he had not done it so fast, I might have fallen asleep.
Now all of you have read stories on this site of men who have gotten their first flattops, and I can't honestly say that my experience in the chair was much different. It seemed like just a few minutes went by before Joel turned me around and said, "There you go. How do you like it?"
I looked into the mirror and saw a new man. Instinctively, my hand went right to my freshly-cropped and perfectly flat hair. "Thanks, Joel," I said, not even trying to conceal the big grin on my face. "This looks awesome!" I paid him and included a generous tip, then I reached out my hand and shook his firmly.
"I agree, if I do say so myself," Joel said. He handed me a jar of butch wax. "Here you go; it's on the house. Come back soon." I assured him that I would. I couldn't wait for people to see the new and improved me.
As I walked from the mall to my truck, the brisk wind blowing across my shortened hair brought me back to full alertness. I glanced at my watch and saw that I still had a good hour before I needed to report for work. Despite the best efforts of Joel's vacuum system, some prickly little hairs had slipped down my shirt and were causing my back to itch, so I headed back to my apartment and took another shower. I made an effort not to look in the mirror until I had put on my security guard uniform. I couldn't believe how much better I looked, at least from the chest up. Now the potbelly was another matter…
Steve was looking down at some paperwork when I walked in, so he didn't see me until I was right in front of him. "Ready to call it a day, Steve?" I asked.
"Hey, Dryden," he said without looking up. "Yeah, I'm about done…." He trailed off in mid-sentence as he saw me with my new style, and a broad grin spread across his face. Without another word, he came from behind the guard desk and reached out his right hand and grasped mine solidly. Then he really surprised me by giving me a bear hug. (Needless to say, that's not something that men in our profession often do!) "Went to see Joel, eh?"
"Yeah, Steve, thanks for the recommendation. I feel like a new man."
"And you look like one, too. See you at Mass tomorrow evening?"
"I'll be there."
Because I work the evening shift, I don't see many people coming and going from our office as Steve does, so only a few regular "night owl workaholics" noticed my new haircut and commented on it. Saturday evening Mass was another matter. Several friends and the priest complimented my improved appearance. I didn't receive a single negative comment.
That was almost seven months ago, and I still go to Joel's once every couple of weeks to get my flattop trimmed up. Almost every day, I pull out my driver's license picture to remember-and to remind the people in my life-how shaggy I used to be.