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Some Things Don't Change by Tim


The last time I had been in a barber shop was over 20 years ago. I hadn't even turned 10 yet. I was brought to the shop 3 blocks from home every other month so the barber there, who looked at least 100 years old to me, could basically hack all my hair off. I don't remember my dad or mom ever giving him instructions, and later when I was just given some money and told to get my haircut with no parent tagging along I don't remember giving him any instructions either. It was always the same cut, way too short and hideous.

There wasn't even a mirror to watch the cut, so it was just sit and pray. The prayers were never answered. The only bright side was the lollipop or piece of gum I was given on each visit. My sister finally convinced my mom to let me get my hair styled. I went to salons for the longest time after that until the unisex salons opened, and then places like Supercuts.

They cut my hair the way I liked it: so it was just above the collar in back, covering the top 1/4 of my ears, with the top long and combed back in such a way to disguise the fact my hairline was receding. My hair had a bit of wave to it and I liked it to look full, not tight to my head. It was also important to me not to look like I had just got a haircut. I would get a trim about every 4 weeks, and was proud of the fact no one at work had known when I'd last received a haircut for over 10 years. It just looked the same every day.

Then came the time I was unemployed. I didn't think it would take me as long to get rehired as it did, and for a while funds were very tough. I cut back on eating out, then cancelled cable TV (that hurt), then cancelled my daily paper, and started changing food brands to the less expensive generic brands. Down the street from me was a barber shop, The Valley Barber Shop, that advertised all cuts were $5 every day. With Supercuts up to $12 the savings started looking more appealing each month.

But my past negative experiences as a child made me hesitate. Finally I walked past the shop once intent on looking in the window and seeing if it was worth the gamble. Surely barber's had changed over the past 20 years, with all the long hairstyles that had come and gone. They wouldn't all be like the barber of my childhood. I was pleasantly surprised as I strolled leisurely by and looked in. First off, both barbers were female. One looked in her thirties, with straight black hair reaching halfway down her back, and the other looked to be in her 40's, with a full head of shoulder length curls that had to be a perm. I 'd only let women cut my hair for the past 10 years since they seemed most receptive to my desires.

I trusted them more. Secondly, there were mirrors on the opposite wall so I'd actually get to see my haircut. I'd be able to speak up if things were going badly. And lastly, many of the people waiting had hair as long as I. While I didn't have time just then for a cut, I figured it was a safe bet for my next trim. Every dollar saved would come in handy.

The next morning bright and early I headed for the shop, hoping to beat the rush. Not only did I beat the rush, I was the only one in the shop, and both ladies were sitting on the chairs chatting. Although I shouldn't have been nervous, my heart was going a bit. It's amazing how long childhood memories can endure. But the local pop music station was on the radio, just like at Supercuts, so I calmed down quickly. The older barber, the one with the curly hair, quickly hopped up and motioned to her chair. I was kind of hoping for the other one as she was cuter but obediently took a seat.

The chair was facing away from the main mirrors with the counter full of barber tools, but the large mirrors on the far wall made everything just as visible. Before even asking what I wanted she put the cape around me and placed the tight white tissue-thing (I never have learned the proper name for that choker) around my neck. It seemed a bit tight but I quickly got used to it.

She walked around front and looked at me with a comb in her hand. "How would you like your hair cut today?" she said as she ran the comb non- chalantly over the top. I gave her the exact same instructions I had always done for the past countless years. "Just a light trim. I like it just to the top of the ears on the sides, and just above the collar in back. Just a bit off the top so it combs back nicely." It was not too hard, right? Nothing that takes a rocket scientist to figure out. "Do you like the back blocked or tapered?" I had absolutely no idea what she was talking about. The back always was layered just like the rest of the cut, so it all blended in nicely. "I ....don't know, what's the difference?" "Blocked is cutting a hard straight line across the bottom, and tapered is where you blend it in."

I still wasn't sure what she was saying but didn't want to seem too dumb. I tried to interpret what she was saying myself. A hard straight line didn't sound right. My finished cut never seemed 'hard.' Now then, tapered 'blended it in.' That sounded right, full and ....blended with the rest of the cut. "Tapered then," I told her confidently. At least at that moment I was confident. Then she pulled her first surprise. She turned the chair so it faced out the front window of the shop and locked it in place. Now neither mirror was in front of me. I turned my head either way a bit to see if I could see a mirror.

The chair was perfectly positioned so I couldn't see myself without turning at least 90 degrees either way. My heart started going again as childhood memories again flashed to life. If I was unsettled then, the next sound rattled me. It was the sound of a pair of clippers being switched on. I was expecting her to wet my hair with a spray bottle and then use a pair of scissors. At Supercut's clippers were only used to finish the cut, trimming the stray hairs on the neckline. And those clippers had a high pitched hum to them, while these sounded more like a weed-wacker. I already wanted to get up and leave.

But I didn't want these ladies thinking I was a fearful child. I was a full grown man and this shouldn't be a big deal. I stayed put. She walked over to my left side, brought the clipper next to my head just in front of my sideburns, lifted the hair with her comb and flicked off a chunk with lightning speed. A large wad of hair passed my eyes and fell to the apron. I lowered my head to look at it and was alarmed as the hairs were several inches long.

This was my monthly cut. The hairs should have been no more than a 1/2 inch long. What had she done? "Did you say you wanted the sides short?" "No, just to the top of the ears." "That's what I thought you said." Now I was confused. Did she think I said short, or did she think I said to the top of the ears? She made another pass with her comb, lifting the hair over my ear and again whisking a large section off with the clippers. I didn't feel any hair return to my ear. "You're not cutting it short are you?" "No, I'm just doing what you asked." That relieved me for a second, but she kept going with the comb and clipper. I felt her lift good sized sections with the comb, and then heard the clippers run by.

More clumps fell onto the apron but I couldn't look down to see them. I could tell the hair on my side was shorter than I wanted. The magic question was how much shorter? She kept making pass over pass on the side. I could feel the comb slide in at the hairline above my ear, lift the hair, and then the clipper do it's work. Finally she stopped and walked to the right side. During that time I tried to look down and see the hair on the apron but she was too quick. She caught my head with her hand, leveled it, and then started in at my right temple.

The first run again caused a huge wad of hair to fall just in front of my eyes to the apron. Again I felt her lift the hair off my ear and clip it. I was waiting to feel some touch it again and couldn't. I didn't expect I would either. After countless passes with the clippers she walked behind me to start on the back. "You said you wanted it tapered, right?" "Um... yes." I didn't sound so confident this time.

She placed her hand on my head and pushed it forward so my chin was on my chest. Now I could see all the hair on the apron and was even more alarmed. The pile was already huge and all she had done so far were the sides. "You didn't make the sides short did you?" "No, did you want me to?" "No. It's just I hate walking from a haircut with it obvious to the whole world that you just got it cut." "I know what you mean." That conversation relaxed me just a bit. It would be short lived.

She started at the bottom again with the comb, lifting it up and clipping. It seemed slightly shorter than usual but not like what had just happened on the sides. She was working very fast going all along the base, then methodically working her way up. It seemed to me she was continuing up a little too far. I expected this to run about 1/2 way up the back but she kept continuing up and up. Some of the hairs started falling forward on the apron. They were only about an inch long.

That was a bit too much but she sure could have done worse. Finally she stopped her climb up the back of my head and I started relaxing. Then she started at the base again and made another pass! This time I could feel, at the base, the clipper cutting very short. The comb was still lifting the hair, but the comb was resting against my skin as the clipper ran over it. Again she continued going up and up, though not quite as high as the first pass. I knew by now walking into this shop had been a big mistake.

She started in at the base of the neck again. A third pass? This time all I felt was the clippers tight directly against my skin. Was she shaving me bald? This torture ran up a couple of inches from the hairline. She was supposed to cut it just above the collar, and blended in. I knew that wasn't what she had just done. Then she continued her run with the clippers up the hairline behind my ears, then she folded my ears down and ran around them! I started feeling sick. I heard her turn off the clippers and put them down. Thank God! She walked behind me and drew my bangs straight up with her comb and fingers.

The familiar sound of scissors slicing through hair was next. At least she was using scissors this time. She made a quick run from right to left. A large curtain of hair fell past my eyes to the apron. She had obviously also cut off too much there too. It happened so fast I couldn't tell how much though. She kept working her way from front to back, drawing the hair straight up and then lopping it off. It only took her one run across the top to do the desired damage, and then I heard her put the scissors down.

Then the clippers came to life yet again. Now what? She busily went to work blending in the top with the sides and the back. I wondered if I had any hair left at all. I knew it would be some time before I needed another haircut, and it sure wasn't going to be in a barber shop.

After what seemed like an eternity she put the clippers away again, picked up something else and walked around in front of me. I could see another pair of scissors in her hand with funny looking teeth. "What do those do?" "These are just thinning shears. They'll help your hair lay better." Before I even had time to ponder that answer she attacked my remaining hair. The comb again lifted it up and the 'thinning shears' were placed directly against my scalp as they munched through my hair. It felt and sounded like they were removing everything I had left.

She made countless runs with them on top, racing like she was being timed, and then continued all along the sides and the upper back. I figured the lower part of the back didn't have enough hair left to bother with. Finally she stopped and just started combing my hair this way and that. Not satisfied with the complete destruction, she made another run over the top with the thinning shears. Then she put those down and picked up her regular scissors. She walked around in front of me and combed my bangs straight down.

I didn't know how long they were but knew they weren't even close to my eyebrows any more. She focused hard as she cut a straight line across no longer than the middle of my forehead. More than that, I didn't think the line was straight. I could swear she had just cut them at an angle, with the left side definitely longer the right. Then she ran a whisk broom all over my head and face to bat away all the stray hairs.

She loosened my apron and removed the tight choker from my neck. I figured I was done but no such luck. She walked to her counter and got a handful of hot lather which she quickly ran all along my hairline. It was then removed, quite competently I must add, with a straight razor. I was sure now that my hair was way too short around my ears and back and it would be many months before it grew back again. There would be no disguising this haircut from the world.

She toweled off the last of the foam, then walked back to her counter one more time. The next thing I know she was massaging into my hair some type of ointment. It was far too watery to be a gel. It smelled awful, like a hospital ward or something.

She started combing my hair once more, and I definitely felt her parting it on the left side, combing the top over and back towards the right. That's not how I wore my hair! After running her hands over it and patting it down she was done, and she put her comb down and rinsed off her hands. She walked over behind the chair and unlocked it. "Well there you go, a GOOD, SOLID Barbershop haircut." With that she turned the chair slowly to the back mirror so I could see the damage. I didn't even recognize myself.

She had hacked my hair so badly I was in shock. It was even worse than I had imagined. Sure enough she had parted it on the left side in a pronounced, straight line and it was drawn across the right plastered flat against my head. Only it wasn't even wet, it just laid there with no body or volume at all. The sides were the same, combed straight down and flat. My ears stuck out like open car doors as the hair that once was over them was gone and clipped so short my pale skin glared out like white-wall tires.

All I could think at that moment was I was glad I didn't ask for it to be short on the sides. I guess here short meant bald. To make matters worse the lack of length and volume now made it painfully clear how far back my hairline was. It made me look 10 years older, which was something I was not trying to accomplish. "Can I see the back?" I asked with dread. She gave me a hand mirror and angled the chair so I could see the reflection off the mirror behind me. My eyes opened wide in horror. "That's a traditional Barber Shop taper," she commented. If by traditional she meant ridiculously short she was correct. I figured over 90% of my hair back there was gone.

At the very bottom I had absolutely nothing, which slowly grew (so this is what 'blended' meant in a barber shop) to tiny stubble so short my scalp was clearly visible. That stubble only got a bit shorter until the very top where it then reached a whopping length of about one inch. Even though I knew she had been cutting it too short, nothing prepared me for this. I was speechless and almost in shock as she took her hand mirror and removed the robe. I stood up and again looked at myself, this time in the big mirror by her tools.

My head looked tiny, my neck looked long, and I looked like I was going to a Halloween Party as the World's Biggest Geek. I was miserable as I handed her a $10 bill. She gave me back five one dollar bills, probably hopeful for a tip. She wouldn't get one. I left the shop immediately greeted by cool air on my head and neck. My head was cold. I reached up and touched the hairline stunned by the feel of basically no hair.

I ran my hand over and over it, hoping the motion would make it all grow back again quicker. After I sat in the car I reached in my glove box and got my brush (I never used a comb). I tilted the rearview mirror so I could see myself and brushed my bangs forward. I had been correct, they had been purposely cut at about a 30 degree angle.

The shortest part had barely any length at all. I combed the hair back like I normally did, getting rid of the side part. My hair just laid back flat and straight to my head as if wet. It looked horrible. I was hoping it was just the awful smelling product she had applied causing all this. I decided to shower first thing when I got home. I ran into my house hoping none of my neighbors saw me. Once in the shower my hands washed a totally foreign head of hair. It was so short that the small amount of shampoo I used was definitely overkill, and I couldn't grip it very well to lather it up. The sides and back were so short it seemed a waste of time to shampoo them.

By the time I towel dried it off it was almost totally dry. Usually I needed a fair amount of time with the blow dryer to perfect the look. It still had absolutely no volume or even the slightest hint of a wave. It just laid flat against my head.

As I ran my hands through it I discovered the thinning shears had certainly earned their name. It felt nothing like the thick healthy hair it had once been. Now it felt like a candidate for Rogaine. I spent the next hour trying different gels, thickening products, my blowdryer, everything to get it to have some bit of life or volume. It all failed. In fact combing it back like I wanted ended up looking so bad I opted for the side part instead. I tried having a messy, casual side part but that didn't even work, so it ended up looking like the one the barber gave me. I hated the look but it was the lesser of two evils.

I just sat stunned recounting the whole event step by step, wondering what I could possibly have done to avoid this outcome. I dreaded going out in public, or job interviews, or on dates. Childhood scars from bad haircuts would be nothing compared to this hack job.



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