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A More Than Generous Tip by Jack
My plan was to go first thing Saturday morning, super early, right when the place opened at 7:30, so I wouldn`t have to sit aroud for the better part of the day frantically waiting for my turn. So, seven thirty came and went, and there I was, slowly sipping my second cup of black coffee, still in my tee shirt and pajama bottons, not even close to even remotely thinking about getting into the shower. Nine thirty came, and I was still sitting around, blankly staring at my fifth cup of now, cold coffee, anxiously listening to the clock tick away, still not showered, still in the same tee shirt and pajama bottoms. By a little after eleven the subway doors closed behind me, and by a quarter to twelve I was lingering in front of the place, looking like some scary stalker, trying to muster up the courage to go inside. This guy about my age with longish, shaggy hair excused himself and pulled the door open. He flashed a smile, somewhere between polite and flirtatious, and held it there for me. In an attempt to buy a little more time, I motioned for him to go ahead and followed closely behind taking extra-special note of his very pleasant butt as it passed through the doorway. There was this chalkboard to the left where he signed his name then waved at the barber manning the first chair.
The shop was pretty small, only two barbers, the aforementioned guy who was maybe thirty, and a much older guy, probably pushing sixty. The young one had just the faintest hint of dark hair all buzzed the same length, which was just the tiniest bit longer than the stubble on his face. Placing him in the window was a superb marketing maneuver as his effervescent, blue eyes and seductive smile drew a lot of attention to the otherwise unassuming storefront. Stationed next to him was the stern, scowling face of the second barber whose presence commanded a very different kind of attention. Towering well over six feet with easily two hundred pounds of still rock, hard muscle, he looked to be serious, old school and all business. The ring of tightly cropped grey hair circling his baldhead made him appear all the more imposing.
There were two other men waiting when the guy I came in with grabbed a magazine and took a seat. Almost immediately, the young, eager barber spun the man in his chair around and handed him a mirror. His haircut looked great, lightly buzzed up the sides and longer on top, really current, really hot. It was gelled a little and stood up in just the right places. He seemed completely delighted as he handed the barber a twenty and told him to keep the change. When they reached the door the barber put his hand on the guy`s ass and gave him a friendly good by kiss, then called the next name on the list. Instantly, the very cute muscle boy sitting next to me grabbed his gym bag and strutted over to the empty chair, took his place and asked the barber to cut it short on the sides and leave it longer on top. Prior to draping the cape over his exceptionally defined upper body the equally buffed barber kneaded his substantial hands into the guy`s remarkable shoulders.
The action in the second chair was pretty d-u-l-l, some puffy, middle-aged accountant type with male pattern baldness getting what hair was left buzzed back down to its normal quarter-inch status. I watched the ornery, old barber dabble hot lather around the ears and neck, then take his straight razor and adeptly finish the haircut. The guy got spun around but was not offered a mirror. After running his hand over his head he nodded, handed the barber a twenty and told him to keep two. Curtly, he yanked on the chain dangling from his belt and pulled out a flat, black leather purse, handed the now annoyed customer a five, then brusquely motioned to the old, cowering man spilling out of the last chair in the row. This one didn`t look like he needed a haircut at all as it was clipped almost to the scalp, but he eagerly approached the chair anyway. Right away the chair was tilted back and a hot towel was placed on his fleshy, round face. My attention quickly went back to the other chair where the very proficient, hip barber was buzy buzzing the blonde boy`s hair. Watching those powerful biceps bulging out of his very tight tee shirt as he lifted the hair and let the clippers gracefully glide over his comb definetely was way more enticing than staring at the other barber who was now completely immersed in knocking back his Diet Dr. Pepper.
The guy I came in with put his magazine down and glanced over at me, `Nick does a great job, huh?`
`A-huh. Fast, too, and, umm, completely fun to watch.` I turned to face him, `I`m guessing you`ve been here before?`
He ran his hand through his hair, `doesn`t look it today, huh? It`s been a couple of months. Really need to get this mess cleaned up. You?`
`Um, me? Ah, first time.` I cleared my throat, `my regular stylist moved to Miami, and I,`
`Um, stylist?` His eyes teasingly rolled up toward the old tin ceiling. Now slightly embarassed, I sheepishly went on to explain that it was really a pretty big deal for me to be here as I was still trying to get over some really bad haircuts I had been forced to get when I was a kid and hadn`t made it back to a real barbershop since I was around thirteen. He laughed and tenderly stroked my upper arm, `never had a bad haircut here, okay.`
`Yeah. I`ve heard great things about this place, so I figured, what the hell, and here I am.`
Together we watched Nick finish with the guy in his chair who ended up with pretty much the same cut as the guy before him. He seemed equally as happy, handed Nick another twenty and told him to keep the change. `Guess I`m up, unless you,` he hesitated, `you were, technically, here before me.` I shook my head. Before he got up he extended his hand and introduced himself.
Jeff`s instructions were exactly the same as the guy before him, and I assumed, the guy before him: short on the sides and leave it longer on top. My spirits totally sank as I realized that I had just pretty much sealed my own fate and was now going to get stuck with the other, not so amazing, barber who by this point had already finished shaving the big guy`s face and was running the clippers over the top of his head. With his distinctive, sour expression he intently completed his task, never smiling or even making the slightest overture to engage in polite conversation. Meanwhile, Nick was happily buzzing the shaggy hair away from my new friend`s neck. Big clumps of dark hair fell off Jeff`s head as the two of them playfully joked around and flirted with each other. My head continued to bob back and forth between the two chairs, first watching the irritable barber massage shave cream all over his customer`s sizable scalp, them back to Nick, where the scissors were now out and he was enthusiastically chopping away at the hair on top of Jeff`s head.
As I sat there closely scrutinizing the two of them my mind wandered back to images of those horrible haircuts I had been subjected to when I was a kid and how terrified I had been of the brutal barber who mercilessly hacked off my hair every third week. Suddenly, it hit me that I was next, and then, that same hysteria started building all over again: the big lump in my stomach, the dry mouth, the sweaty palms, the uncontrolable sensation that I was going to throw up and embarass myself in front of all the men sitting around. For all the time that had passed, there I was catapulted back to being nine, timidly twisting my hair and biting my upper lip like some prepubescent dork afraid of his own shadow. With each stroke of the straight razor my heart raced faster. Any second now the somewhat hostile, irritable, barber was going to finish up and motion for me to climb up into his chair and I was going to have to assert myself and explain how I wanted my hair cut. Why hadn`t I accepted Jeff`s offer to go first? Stupid, stupid, STUPID IDIOT.
An uneasy glance to my left confirmed that one side of that man`s head was now completely cleared, but as the barber moved onto the other side, I heard the distinct souund of clippers humming again. With renewed hope, I looked back to see that Nick had loosened the cape and was already cleaning up Jeff`s neck. Wow, this guy was fast! He grabbed the tube of gel, massaged some into his hands and ran it through the hair. His co-worker, whose demeanor was frighteningly not at all unlike the barber responsible for my extended absence from a real barbershop, was still working on the man with the now completely shaved head, which he was lathering up for a second go-round. Jeff looked elated as he stared in the mirror. Nick got another twenty and I got a wink and a nice big smile before the new Jeff, with the really sexy haircut, opened the door and scooted out.
With total confidence and a light heart, I approached Nick`s chair, but instead of acknowledging me, he looked over at the other barber. `Ah, Pop, I`m headin` out for a sandwich.` He motioned to me, `mind takin` this last guy?`
He got a brusque nod and a grouse request for a Big Mac. My spirits completely sank as I watched Nick disappear out into the bright afternoon sun. Within a few seconds the barber left behind was collecting another two-dollar tip from the man with the cue ball of a head and motioning for me to come forward. He still didn`t speak. Diffidently, I edged toward him, attempted a smile, and went to climp up into his big, leather chair.
`Why don`t ya take that nice shirt off, son.` His index finger directed me to the coat tree standing compliantly next to the door.
My confused expression only seemed to irritate him as he stood rigidly by with his arms crossed, sizing me up. Without dissent, I unbuttoned my shirt and hung it up. `Um, I was thinking that I`d like to go short, you know,` I lifted the hair around my ears, `um, on the sides here and a little longer on top, kind of like,`
Before I could finish my instructions, he gruffly spun me away from the mirror, `yeah, yeah, yeah, I get it, okay?` Conversely, as he purposely jerked the chair up higher and higher the sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach became even more acute.
`Short-sides.` His clipped delivery of those two, very basic words reverberated in my ears. As I craned my neck to face him he grabbed the hair that was covering my forehead, `and longer on top.` Without further discussion he finished pumping up the chair, but did not bother to cape me like he had the others. The clippers started humming, then rested on my right sideburn, and then they started edging ever so slowly up that side of my head. Like a diver somersaulting off a high platform, the first clump of hair glided to my shoulder and tumbled down my chest. Almost automatically my head followed it. Being an experienced barber, presumably very accustomed to dealing with squirming little boys, he firmly secured my head in this vice-like grip then continued to ease the clippers further and further up stopping just below the crown. After finishing the first side he not so tenderly shoved my head forward and started up the back, his free hand still planted on the top of my head. His technique seemed totally different from Nick`s, as he obviously didn`t use the clipper over comb process this early in the game. Warily, I tried to convince myself that every barber must have his own style and, anyway, whatever it was that he was doing felt incredible. Gradually, I began to relax into it and found myself passively listening to the repetitive humming sound drowning out the obnoxious footbal game blasting out of the radio, until I realized that I was starting to get hard. By the time he hit the other side, I had a full-blown erection and was finding it increasingly more difficult to sit still.
Much to my relief he turned the clippers off and the scissors came out. The cold metal scurried across my forehead and sliced at the front a few times sending what seemed like incredibly long hunks of straight, brown hair sailing directly past my wide eyes. And then, as abruptly as it had stopped, the humming started all over again. I felt a comb lift the hair in front and then the clippers ran over it. Here it was at last, the famous clipper over comb technique that Nick so masterfully employed. Unfortunately, this interlude was cut surprisingly short, and instead of continuing front to back, he dismissively discarded the comb. The clippers landed flat on the crown, still virgin territory at this point, and were thrust resolutely forward. I jerked back. While continuously pressing them into my scalp and shoving them back to front several times he mindlessly whistled the hauntingly, familiar chorus from Sweeney Todd. Before I had time to adjust to this strange, new sensation he retrieved the comb, pulled it through the hair in the front, ran the clippers over it again, and then the humming stopped. When it resumed, only a split second later, it sounded a little different, a slight variation in pitch, and as he took the first swipe up the right side of my head, it even felt slightly different. Foolishly, I attempted to turn around to see what he was doing but that didn`t deter him, it only made him more insistent on the task at hand. The new clippers methodically moved completely around my head, just short of the crown this time. By now, I was definitely not able to relax into their repetitive drone, more concerned than ever that he had already covered this ground once and was overzealously buzzing way too much off. Out came the comb for a third cameo, rapidly rounding my head, clippers perfectly synchronized to its every move. Deftly he maneuvered them across it until he was completely satisfied that they had passed over the innocent comb enough times to make me noticeably uncomfortable. Prior to moving on he ran his enormous hands slowly over my entire head several times. While continuously smacking his lips he massaged some warm lather around my ears and neck. His trusty razor ran efficiently through the foam. He wiped it off, grabbed some gel and pulled at the hair on the front of my head one last time just as Nick bolted through the door chomping on a quarter pounder.
He swallowed hard and stared at me, `didn`t think a nice, preppy boy like you would go so short, man. Should a stayed around for this one, huh, Pop? Don`t get to go down that tight much, huh?` He dropped the McDonald`s sack on the counter before he zipped a couple of fingers up the back of my head. I got even harder. `Whadya use, the triple-zero tapered up to, what, um,` his hand ran over the top, `a, a, 1, um 1A?`
For the first time that day, the obstinate barber`s eyes lit up, `the outliner to a zero, nice, huh, Junior?`
`Awesome. But that bumper,` he shook his head, `I dunno.`
Expeditiously, the two of them spun the chair around to face the mirror. I reached for the top of my head as someone I barely recognized stared back at me. Not kidding, there was really just bare, white scalp, one miniscule, fraction of a fraction of a millimeter long wrapping the lower half of my head. Absolutely everything was gone except for the artfully blended, scant shadow above that led to the gelled quarter inch standing at attention in the very, very front. My eyes were literally bulging out of their sockets as I watched my chin drop and my lips slowly form a perfect `O`.
The barber responsible for the slaughter ran his hand over what had formerly been my sideburn. `Nice short sides, just like ya asked for, huh? I can take that front down shorter if ya want, son.`
My voice lilted up, `what the f***?`
Before I could say anything more the clippers landed on my forehead and moved straight back. Three quick passes and that landed in my lap, too. Nick stroked my head again, `yeah, awesome, that`s radical, dude.`
Completely stupefied, I slowly lifted myself out of the chair. As I yanked my shirt off the coat tree the door flew open again and Jeff stuck his head in. He took a quick look at me and stopped dead in his tracks, `that, um, that guy I came in with, is he gone already, Nick?`
With my sad eyes facing the shiny linoleum floor, I ran my hand over my bare head and started to speak, but before I could even get a couple of grunts out, he bolted and that was the last I ever saw of him or his incredibly cute butt. Despondently, I pulled the shirt on and edged my wallet out of my back pocket. My hand was actually trembling as I counted out thirteen dollars then reached deep down inside the front pocket of my jeans and pulled out a quarter. Facing my reflection, I handed the money to the old guy then grimaced and acerbically told him to go ahead and keep the two-bits for his trouble.
Nick reached in front of me and opened the door before taking the liberty to grab my ass as I walked past him. He shrugged his big, broad shoulders and shot me the most mischievous, little grin, `so, umm, sure hope to see you here again real soon, stud.` Those piercing, blue eyes looked especially provocative as he arched his thick eyebrows and massaged his stubbly chin, `and, next time, I promise to take extra-special care of you myself.` I did a quick double take and flashed a very strained smile back at him as I stumbled over the threshold figuring it would probably be at least another fifteen years before I`d even come close to going inside a real barbershop again, Nick or no Nick.