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Anything For The Team by A Recruit

I am a police officer in a large city assigned to an elite task force within our precinct. All 14 guys on the task force except one wears a crewcut, flat top or shaved head. (Im bald on top and get a #1 around the sides and back every 2 weeks). The one guy who doesn't is Mike. He's a ruggedly handsome Puerto Rican guy, who works out 5 times a week and has the physique to show for it. His hair is very dark black with a real luster; its extremely thick and extremely straight. But unlike many with that type of hair, Mikes hair isn't coarse, its very soft and easily falls into place.

He wears his hair in a three quarters part, and it falls gently over his forehead to his eye line. Even when he gets his hair cut (approx. every 6 wks according to my observation--and always a scissors cut), its never above the middle of his ear and the back is very thick and over his collar. The police force haircut regs are pretty liberal and I've never heard of anyone being told to get a haircut in my 20 years on the force. Mikes hair is always immaculately groomed. At the Christmas party he even had gel in it and it was combed into a pompadour with a few strands of hair that fell over his forehead. Every wife/girlfriend at our table commented on the gorgeous guy. Mikes nickname is Guapo (Spanish for handsome), which was given to him by a street walker some time ago and stuck.

I have a personal rule: I never talk about hair at work, but of course I listen very carefully when the topic comes up. Ive heard Mike say that he's 36 years old and had the same hair style since he was in high school and doesn't like change. Ive also heard him say that he doesn't understand his teenaged nephews, who shave their heads bald.

Mikes been teased about his long hair--he's literally the only guy on our team who needs a comb. Despite his long hair, he's an excellent cop (best marksman in the whole precinct) and a hard worker. He tends to be shy, which some take to be stand-offish or stuck up, but Ive become friends with him and know him to be a stand up, very nice guy.

Mikes been on the task force just one year and the day he got his annual review, he asked if I wanted to grab a beer after work. I went and he confided in me that the bosses (3 guys) who did his review said he was great at the job (that is he knew police work, did his paperwork, had skills, etc.), but he was 14th out of 14 men when it came to being perceived as a team player by the other guys. He was told that he was aloof and didn't seem to make any efforts with the others. This compromised their trust in him which was dangerous in the field.

The bosses pointed out that he often eats alone, spends downtime alone (he's shy and often does paperwork at his desk), works out alone (most guys work out before the shift starts; Mike stays late b/c its less crowded), etc. They even asked why he had kept his Hollywood hair rather than getting a military cut that was a trademark of our task force. (There are no special haircut regs for our force and many guys today obviously have military cuts, so the short hair no longer distinguishes anyone). Mike was upset about the whole review. I told him I thought their criticism was unduly harsh. He appreciated the talk and we each went home.

The next day, Mike was at the gym--before work, when the other guys tend to go. After our shift, I asked if he wanted to grab a beer. He said he'd like to but he was planning to stop by a barber shop first. My heart jumped. I couldn't resist and said I needed to go myself (which thankfully was true). As we left, Mike said was planning togo to a barbershop just up the street (our station house is located in a working class Latino neighborhood). He usually went to a salon near his house but he didn't think the lady who cut his hair would be good at the military stuff. At this, my heart began racing, but I tried to play it cool. We made small talk as we walked--and I didn't break my rule, but I was dying to ask what he was thinking about his hair.

When we walked in, the shop was empty (it was about 5 on Tuesday). There were two young Hispanic barbers, one still a teenager, the other a big guy in his mid-20s with a high and tight. Judging from the music and posters on the wall (showing long Latino guys in various fades) this shop was used to short styles and young clients. The older one told the younger to attend to me. Then he told Mike, "I'm the only one who can cut with the scissors." Then the phone rang and he left Mike for like 3 minutes--my haircut was half over.

The barber returned, caped Mike and combed his hair, saying when he finished, "You got crazy nice hair, poppa." Then he asked what Mike wanted. I held my breath. Mike said, "Give me a flat top." I nearly exploded. The barber chuckled and said "You playing?" Mike said, "I wish I was." Realizing Mike was serious, the barber asked, "Oh I know what you mean. You want it spiky on top, right? So you could gel it up, like a Ricky Martin pretty boy cut?" Mikes voice was decisive, "No pretty boy cut. Make it short, military." Still disbelieving, the barber asked, "You want it mad short like that? Cause you got real good hair, I know girls be lovin' this." The barber was saying everything I was thinking and Im sure Mike was tortured by all this talk about how nice his hair was when it was about to be chopped off. Mike paused and for a moment I was sure he was going to change his mind. Then he said, "Cut it off." The barber smiled broadly and said, "You got it."

The barber grabbed the clippers and slapped on a #2 blade. He held the humming clippers for a final beat just next to Mikes sideburn, as if to give him a last chance to back out. Mike seemed to understand the unspoken question and said, "Do it." The barber paused ever so subtlety, then plowed a strip up the side of Mikes head in front of his ear. Mike grimaced as the barber made this first stroke, a pained but resigned smile. The barber moved along, expertly gripping Mikes head, guiding it to the side or front, peeling off huge, thick chunks off Mikes shiny black hair. As the barber worked, Mike looked at his lap, which was rapidly filling with hair. Once finished with the sides and back, I was grateful to see the barber switched to a #1 blade; Mikes hair was so thick you couldn't see scalp with the #2. The barber then tapered the cut, exposing Mikes white scalp and beautifully blending the hair. Mike somehow seemed more vulnerable with his scalp exposed.

The barber stepped back then with the water bottle, sprayed the top of Mikes hair, which became even shinier and more lush when wet. His hair seemed impossibly thick. The barber then combed Mikes hair straight down over his forehead--the fringe just covered his eyes-- and grabbed his scissors. Mike said, "I dont want a scissor cut, I want the top short too." The barber smiled devilishly and said, "Oh it gonna be short, amigo. You gonna see." Then the barber clipped off all but an inch of Mikes bangs. The scissors made sharp clicks as they snapped through Mikes thick, thick hair. This totally changed Mikes appearance, he now seemed to have a Russell Crowe-like Caesar in Gladiator. He looked great. But the barber grabbed the blow drier and forced Mikes hair straight back for the final phase of the cut.

Grabbing the clippers, he sheared off Mikes hair on the top of his head. Long, lush chucks fell to his shoulders. After getting rid of the bulk of the hair, the barber worked with excruciating precision, cutting it shorter and shorter, getting it perfectly flat.

My haircut long since finished, I was in ecstasy watching Mike get his hair cut. And my young barber was equally studying the cut. What I found fascinating was that Mike didn't watch the haircut at all. He had looked up when the barber had finished shearing the sides and back, and after his bangs were cut, but I never caught him looking up again (until the cut was over), he kept his eyes downcast at some point on his lap. I guess he couldn't bear to watch himself shorn so severely.

As the barber put the finishing touches on the cut, he finally spoke, "I bet you broke up with your lady. She liked that pretty hair but now you could get the cut you want, right?" Before Mike could answer, the other barber very perceptively said, "No way. If anything, he had to get it cut. You could tell he didn't want to cut it." Mike smiled, but didn't answer. The barber asked if he'd ever had it cut this short before. Mike said that he'd gotten a business man's cut when he went into the police academy, but that was 15 years ago. He'd always worn it long and (I was thrilled to hear) when a few years after he joined the force, he once let it grow so long his sergeant told him to get his hair cut. Mikes barber said he hadn't had long hair himself since he was a kid. He asked Mike if the long hair had been hard to deal with. Mike said he had always been lucky, his hair was easy. He just washed it and combed it, didn't even use a blow drier.

The barber dusted Mike off and there was an enormous pile of hair on his lap.The barber had done a phenomenal job: he'd managed to leave the front about 3/4 of an inch high and get the top perfectly level, with a light landing strip down the center. Mike turned his head from side to side and carefully touched the top and ran his head over the back and sides. He looked like he didn't recognize himself.

He tipped the guy well (he'd worked on him for 30 minutes). The younger barber asked as we were leaving, Think you gonna keep it that short? Mike smiled and said he wasn't sure. The kid then said, The girls ain't gonna like it but your boys'll give you props cause you had balls to do it. Mike and I both smiled, thinking how true that was. As we walked out, I finally felt sorry for the guy.

The next day at the station everyone commented on Mike's hair. And the kid was right, most of the women hated it. All day long, they came by in groups of 2 or 3 from around the precinct and said things like, "Oh its true, you cut off your beautiful hair." Mike blushed the whole day. I loved when one asked why he did it, he said temporary insanity. A few women did say they thought looked sexy. Many touched his head. The guys all razzed him, but good-naturedly. They said, "Guess we don't have to worry about Mike running away with our wives. And no one's gonna think you're Tom Cruise any more." Mikes had his hair cut only three days. I'll let you know if he keeps it.

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