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Chris, Cal and Mr. Cooley by Manny
Chris gathered up his yard instruments and rang the bell to let Mr. Cooley know that he'd finished the landscaping job. Mr. Cooley was a kind, grandfatherly type who always threw in some extra money for "a beer on the way home".
As he waited at the door, Chris mopped back his thick, honey-colored mane off his face and ran his fingers back through his copious locks. He hadn't had a trim all winter, and the look he sported definitely was in the "shaggy" category.
"So you're all finished with the flower beds? On the side of the garage as well?" asked Mr. Cooley.
"You bet!" responded Chris cheerfully. "I predict with the extra plant food I put in, your daffodils will be better than ever."
Mr. Cooley reached into his pocket and pulled out a few big bills. "This is what we agreed to, isn't that right, Chris?" he said as he handed the lad $150 in cold cash. "The flower beds look so nice and tidy!" Then he pulled out an additional 20 dollar bill. "Oh, and here's a little extra -- for a haircut. Your mop definitely needs a spring refresh as well!"
Chris blushed a bit and awkwardly ran his fingers through his hair again. "You're right about that, sir," he replied as he pocketed the bill.
"See that pile of junk on the opposite side of the shed over there? I was thinking about having that cleared out and planting some tomatos there. Would you be able to squeeze in another project for me, say for $150....and I'll provide the plants?" Mr. Cooley asked.
"Sure," replied Chris. "Can't do it tomorrow, but I'm free beginning on Thursday. I'll haul the junk away in my truck or move it into your garage if you prefer."
"Well, most of it can go -- but there are a few boxes of floor tiles I want saved. You're going to earn your bucks hauling that crap and sweat a lot in the process. Those boxes are heavy," he said as he rumpled Chris' thick mane in an avuncular gesture. "There's a good barber near here -- go right on the main street at the light and it's just two blocks towards town. Shop stays open late on Tuesdays, that's today, so you should be able to catch Fred before he closes if you hurry!"
Chris felt a bit nervous...like he was being pressured into a haircut. He reasoned to himself that the old man was being kind....and the simple fact was that he did need a haircut. All the heavy locks dangling in his eyes while he worked were bothersome -- especially if he sweat a lot and the salty substance dripping from the dense fringe stung his eyes. "See you Thursday," he said with a wave as he turned to the truck.
As Chris drove away, he pawed at his mane. Oh, it was long! A good 6-7 inches on top and the shag liberally covering his ears on collar. But, abarber?! Chris had never been to one in his life....and had no intention of going to one either. He didn't want his hair butchered!
As he waited for the light to change on the main street, Chris thought the haircut matter over a bit....perhaps a quick drive by the shop Mr. Cooley recommended. Chris hoped it would be closed for some reason and he could let Mr. Cooley know that he'd checked out the barbershop, but.... Or he could just lie and say he didn't have time, or better yet, not mention it at all on Thursday. He didn't HAVE to go to that barbershop or even get a haircut....
Driving slowly by, Chris noted that the shop was open and empty. The old barber sat in the big chair near the window leafing through a magazine. As Chris swiveled his head to get a better look inside the shop, his heavy forelock slid down in front of his eyes. Hair in the face was becoming a big problem for Chris. If nothing else, the long bangs needed to be cut! Furthermore, Chris realized that the old fashioned shop intrigued him -- the big plate glass window, neon lights, huge chairs, etc. What would be like to actually go in? The idea of letting old Fred take a hedge clipper to his locks began to grow on him. Why not? It might be fun....and, if nothing else, an experience. Chris circled around the block. The whirling striped pole came into view. It sent a slight shiver down his spine. Just a trim....no hedge clippers, thank you very much!....then he'd get what he needed and please old man Cooley.
Chris drove past the shop again, looking for a parking spot, and was forced to circle the block another time. Finally, he found a place and eased his pick-up into the spot. He felt a surge of excitement as he turned off the engine -- his first visit to a real barber! Another glance in the rearview mirror settled the issue once and for all. Way too much hair. The mop needed a serious pruning! And a barber was exactly the person he needed to tackle it. He felt suddenly emboldened, telling himself to forget the idea of a "trim" and request a full-fledged "haircut". He imagined himself telling the barber something like, "yes, I'm here for a haircut." As he walked toward the shop, he toyed with an even more daring approach, "Yep, I'd like a good spring crop...." Or maybe even something quite direct and blunt, "Cut it short for spring." Yes! That was it! Chris would tell the barber, "Cut it short, very short." He felt the thick mane of soft hair and imagined much of it falling away to the floor of the barbershop....
Chris' stride picked up pace as he headed to the small shop. Crossing the street, he noticed another man heading to the very same destination -- a middle aged man with a standard, non-descript haircut.
The door had just drifted shut when Chris grasped the handle and pulled it open. Old Fred was just getting up from his chair to make room for the first of his two clients.
As the man took a seat in the barber chair, Fred looked at the moptopped lad who had trailed in behind. "Hello, it shouldn't be too much of a wait," he said as he eyed the overgrown thatch.
Then he turned to the man in the chair and snapped open the cape, "Been idle for two hours and then two come in at once! Crazy day...."
"You should start taking appointments," the man quipped as the barber fastened the cape over a strip of tissue.
"This isn't a high falluting salon, you know, with prancy-prissy stylists who do the unisex thing," he said as he turned a bit to look at Chris.
"No one ever accused you of that, Fred, I'm sure of it!" chuckled the man.
And without another word, the old barber forcefully nudged his client's head forward into a bowing posture and applied the clippers to the nape.
Chris was sort of startled that there was no dialogue about what kind of haircut the man wanted or any sort of instruction. The barber just went to town with the clippers, peeling off layer after layer of overgrowth! Perhaps he was such a long-standing client, there wasn't a need for any instructions.... But it seemed like the man under the cape was given a pretty aggressive makeover.
Chris watched in wide-eyed amazement as the man's hair was cut shorter and shorter. The clippers reduced the bulk at the sides and back to a very tight taper all the way up to the crown, and the hair on top was lopped off extremely short. The entire haircut transpired amid idle conversation about the weather and sports. Neither man seemed to mind terribly that the once pristine white cape was almost totally covered with shorn clumps of hair.
A few strokes with the duster to chase away stray hairs heralded the end of the haircut. As the barber held up the hand mirror so his client could see the back he commented rather cheerfully, "Gave you your money's worth today, Hal."
"You sure did!" he noted. "But it looks good, like always. Can't go wrong with a standard crewcut."
Chris shifted nervously as he watched the previous client pay. The man kept feeling how short the back had been cut, running his hand up against the grain of the bristles.
"You can take a seat in the same chair there," the barber instructed Chris as he fumbled with the client's change. Chris felt torn between being eager to hop up into the big, comfortable-looking chair and getting out while he could. He glanced at himself in the mirror and winced at the amount of copious hair he saw. Without a word, Chris stepped toward the chair.
As the man headed out he winked at Chris, "He's in fine form today and primed!"
What did that mean?! Probably that he was in line to get one very short haircut! Chris considered getting out of the chair while he could and bolting from the shop, but just then Fred shut the cash drawer and headed over. The haircut would proceed!
"First time here?" the barber asked curtly.
"Yep," Chris gulped. Anticipating the next big question, Chris felt torn between reverting to the safe "just a trim" approach or going forward with his "cut it short" instruction.
The cape flew through the air and Fred secured it into place with a large metal fastener. Chris felt as if he'd been imprisoned, chained to the chair. "So, what'll it be today? A crewcut like Hal got?" the barber suggested.
"Oh no!" Chris blurted out instinctively. The forelock flopped in front of his eyes and his trapped arms could not do anything about it. He gulped and then blurted out, "Cut it short, but not quite that short." Chris' stomach churned. What was he getting into?!
The next thing Chris felt was the barber's firm hand clamped atop his head and forcing him to bow, just like he'd done with the previous client. That meant the clippers to the nape was next! Chris panicked. He did not want a clippercut....but that's what he was about to get. He heard the machine roar to life.....
....almost instantly, metal teeth were plowed into the plush locks that hung from Chris' nape. A jolt flashed through his body. The vibration of the clippers at his sensitive nape made him shiver. Fred forcefully drove the clippers tightly up through the mass of hair and then pulled away about mid-way towards the crown. The denuded strip felt the cool breeze for the first time and Chris shuddered.
"How long has it been since you've had a haircut, young man?" Fred asked as he began a second drive with the clippers.
The machine screamed as he mowed off thick sheaves of Chris' honey-colored hair.
"A very long while, sir," the timid lad said softly.
"And you were sent here by someone to get a decent haircut?" the barber persisted.
"Yes, sir. By my employer," Chris eeked out.
This time, the barber did not pull the clippers away from the back of Chris' head midway up. Instead, Fred pushed the powerful electric hair clippers almost all the way up to the crown. "How would your employer like it if you got a tidy crewcut, just like I gave Hal?"
Chris' heart beat rapidly. He could feel the muffled thud under the cape. "He would like that very much," the caped lad replied in a shaky voice.
Fred paused and smiled. The old barber allowed Chris to sit up straight. The long hair was still falling in his eyes. The barber took a long, black comb from his chest pocket and struggled to comb the massive forelock forward. Next, the old man snagged the honey-colored locks with the comb and lifted them up slightly off the forehead. "My guess, then, is that he would like a nice tight butch cut on you even more."
Fred raised the screaming clippers again and drove the clippers up through the massive forelock, severing it at the roots, and running the clippers tightly over the top of Chris' head. Masses of hair fell away in every direction, tumbling to his shoulders and then streaming down the cape. Chris watched in a sort of shell-shocked numbness.
"A #3 butch all over!" the barber declared as he continued mowing off every bit of length from the top of Chris' stunned head. "You won't have to struggle to keep all that hair out of your face."
As he watched the transformation from moptop to fuzz-top in the large mirror, Chris savored the feel of the clippers vibrating against his scalp. The amount of shorn on the cape was startling, but Chris was glad Fred had made an executive decision about him getting butched. The previous client was right....old Fred was certainly primed, a veritable speed-demon with the clippers!
Just then, the door to the barbershop opened and another customer walked in -- a man in a dark, business suit with a conservative, executive-style haircut. "Hello, Mr. Sanders. Have a seat. It won't be but a few minutes," instructed Fred with a tone of deference.
Then he returned his attention to Chris' shorn head and clipped it all over one more time so that there was a uniform pelt of clipped hair. "What do you think, son? Better?" the barber asked as he dusted the clipped head.
Chris' nervous smiled broadened into a happy, satisfied, affirmative response, "Yes, much better! That mop was really getting on my nerves."
Fred fondled the stubble gently. "Can't go wrong with a butch. What do you say I take Hal down all the way next time? Just like this tidy butch cut you got?"
"Yes, give him his money's worth!" chirped Chris.
The cape came off. Chris stood and looked down at the floor in amazement. He could not believe how much hair the barber had cut from his head. He felt his own shorn pelt slowly. The mop was gone! He loved the sensation.
The businessman in the waiting area smiled and nodded approvingly. "Looks like you just got a major makeover!"
"Yes, sir," said Chris. "How does it look?"
"Very good," the man said, standing. He looked at himself carefully in the mirror. "Oh to be young again and not worry what others' expectations. If I had my way, that's exactly the haircut I'd sport. Can't go wrong with a simple butch cut. My own father used to clip me down tight every year about this time. A good spring shearing, he called it. My brothers and I drew straws to see who would go first. Baldies, we called them! I loved the feel of my freshly shorn head. But now, well, I'm in an office...." he said adjusting the lapel of his expensive suit jacket.
Chris shuffled over to the cash register and handed Fred the $20 bill. "Did you head what the man over there said?" he asked the barber.
"Sure did," he answered back with a wink.
"Mind if I hang around to watch it happen?" asked Chris.
"Not at all -- grab that broom there and make yourself useful," he said.
Chris dawdled while he watched the barber cape up with the suited businessman and carefully comb is wavy, salt-and-pepper hair.
"Just a trim," he heard the caped man request.
Fred shook his head 'no' and replied, "I don't think so, not today, with that warm spring weather outside...."
Then he picked up the clippers and comb. Gently, the barber lifted up the bangs off the forehead and snapped on the machine.
The businessman looked on in excited terror, "You wouldn't...."
"Wouldn't what?" asked Fred.
"Give me a baldy...." the man murmered.
Instantly the clippers zipped across the top of his head and clumps of his thick, salt and pepper hair fell in the wake of the machine. "You heard him say 'give me a baldy' -- didn't you, son?" he asked Chris.
"Sure did!" Chris squealed. "And he told me himself that one 'can't go wrong with a simple butch cut'. This is your lucky day, mister!"
"Yours too, son!" Fred laughed as he reached over and carressed Chris' shorn head.
Chris shifted anxiously as he waited for Mr. Cooley to answer the door. He ran his hand up the back of his shorn head -- oh, how wonderful the velvet-like pelt felt. And no heavy locks constantly falling in front of his eyes.... His morning hair care routine had been a breeze!
Mr. Cooley opened the door and seemingly did not recognize Chris. "Yes, can I help you?" he asked curtly.
"Mr. Cooley, it's Chris. I'm here to work on the junk by the shed," he replied.
"Chris! Oh my, you got a butch cut! Let me see....why, I didn't recognize you! Oh that haircut looks so much better, and more practical too."
"You were so right, Mr. Cooley. Thanks for the extra dough and for recommedning Fred. He's the one who thought the butch would suit me. And it does!" gushed Chris.
"Well, if I had known that's what you wanted, I would have volunteered to give you one myself. Still got the clippers I used on my sons once upon a time. Every spring when the weather would begin to turn warm, the three of them would line up and I'd peel off the winter shag. They loved their 'spring shearings' when they were young."
The old man reached over and stroked Chris' velvet pelt. "Hmmmm, a little long for my liking. The boys would get clipped with a #2 all over -- 'baldies' was what they called their spring buzzcuts. Then the 70's came and they resisted the home haircuts...begged to go to unisex salons....couldn't tell the boys from the girls. Same sorts of moptops like you sported earlier this week -- that is, before you came to your senses, Chris!"
Then the old man changed subjects. "So, let's go over to the shed and I'll tell you what I want kept." As they walked, the old man instinctively reached over and rubbed Chris' shorn head. Chris loved the feel of the old man's hand moving against the grain of his velvetine pelt. He wondered what it would have been like to be one of the Cooley boys waiting in line for the spring baldy cut.
As Mr. Cooley was giving instructions near the shed, a car horn tooted several times in the drive. Then they heard a voice call, "Dad, are you out in back?"
"By the shed, Cal," Mr. Cooley called back.
"I got something I want to show you!" Cal replied. "You'll never believe this...." As he came into view, Cal announced, "Look! A baldy! Just like when I was a boy!" He rubbed his shorn head proudly, as if savoring a big victory.
Chris' mouth fell open. It was the businessman from the barbershop who had been given the butch by Fred! Like the day of his makeover at the barbershop, Cal was all dressed up in a very nice dark suit which seemed to contrast with the brutally short butch. Then the man caught sight of Chris, "Oh, it's you! What are....."
Mr. Cooley broke in, "What a coincidence....both of you suddenly showing up here with baldy cuts! And I see that the barber didn't clip either of yours short enough." He felt his son's velvety pelt. "You know what, I'm going to put things to right myself. Both of you! I'm taking you down another notch! You'll both leave here sporting proper butch cuts." He said it with an air of finality.
The two shorn fellows looked at each other in surprise. "Oh, Dad, I'm not sure about that. I'm actually heading to work. And it'll already be a bit awkward for me showing up like this....if you cut it shorter, it'll take longer to grow out."
"Nonsense, son! You'll do as I say! You too, Chris. You can draw straws for who goes first...." he said as he headed to the house. "I'll be waiting for you in the kitchen. Just give me a few minutes to find my clippers in the basement. I think I know what box they're in."
Cal and Chris stood awkwardly, at first, looking at each other. Finally, Chris spoke, "You're not mad at me, egging on old Fred the way I did, I hope."
"Mad? Well, I have to admit I was pretty rattled. I still can't believe the old man just took the clippers to me and buzzed me down like that." Cal fondled his shorn pate.
"But today you seem excited and pleased," noted Chris.
"Funny thing -- even when the clippers were first sailing across the top of my head, I felt excited. But, from the first moment, I've also been worried silly about what everyone will say at the office. I didn't even go to work yesterday -- spent a lot of time running to the mirror and looking at my clipped noggin. No, I'm not mad. Just a little nervous....." Then, after a pause he broke into a shy smile and added, "But I'm glad I got butched."
Chris suddenly moved close and took his hand to Cal's shorn head. "You look great! And a lot younger too. Without the salt and pepper, you shed 15 years."
"But a baldy and a business suit don't really match. Everyone will be looking at me and sniggering," fretted Cal.
Spontaneously, Chris clapped a bearhug on Cal. "Screw 'em! I think you look handsome! And, just maybe you don't need the suit and tie," the lad suggested as he began unknotting Cal's tie. "My name is Chris, by the way," he said as he looked up into Cal's eyes.
"Fred really scalped you too," the embarrassed businessman said. "Seeing all that hair on the cape -- it was such a nice honey color too -- brought back memories of my childhood and my 'spring shearing'. Well, with the #2 butch my father is going to give us, you're going to see how much difference an eighth of an inch can make when your hair is so short. From a velvet to sandpaper -- get ready for another big change!"
"Cooley's Barbershop is open again after a 40-year hiatus!" the old man called from the kitchen window.
"Okay, we're coming, Dad," Cal replied. "We drew straws and Chris is going first!"
Chris felt excited as he entered the kitchen and saw the huge set of electric clippers on the counter next to their original box -- Oster Fast Feed Electric Clippers. "Got my #2 guard all ready! Now take off your shirt Chris. I've got a towel and clothes pin to drape around you just like when Cal and the others were boys."
Chris pulled off his shirt and Cal admired the bulging muscles.
"Can't wait to feel the clippers again! I loved the sensation of the vibrating teeth all over my scalp. Cal said you're going to make this pelt feel like sandpaper!" exclaimed Chris as ran his hand over his velvetine pate.
"You'll look and feel real macho!" Cal gushed.
"Take a seat on the stool then," the old man directed. Then he fasted the white towel around Chris. "Remember the last time I had you on my kitchen stool like this, Cal?
The shorn businessman recounted that eventful day, "It was 1974. I was teary-eyed; I didn't want the baldy look any more. Hell, there wasn't another fellow that didn't have long hair, over the ears and collar. And I was probably the last in the whole high school whose father was still insisting on the spring butch!"
"You jumped off the stool right at the last minute and ran out screaming like a maniac. Your brothers followed suit," the father recalled.
"A total mutiny," Cal laughed.
"I knew my days as an amateur barber were over," Mr. Cooley said with a sigh. "My nice, cleancut boys were going to turn into moptop sissies, spending hours in front of the mirror each day arranging their precious locks. I reluctantly packed away my clippers."
"But you didn't get rid of them!" piped up Chris. "Go ahead, Mr. Cooley. Buzz me down. I want the clippers to take me down tight all over!"
The clippers sprang to life and Chris willingly bowed his head so that Mr. Cooley had easy access to his nape. The sound of the clippers hitting the velvetine pelt was like music. Chris shivered as the clippers chewed off his hair closely to the scalp.
"Yes, a true baldy is what you're getting, son," the old man murmured. "And you'll be welcome back on my kitchen stool as often as you want. There's no reason the butch has to be just for spring!"
"You're treating me just like your son, Mr. Cooley," Chris replied tenderly as the old man began clipping down the top.
Mr. Cooley's hand gently rubbed the stubble, "Ah, yes, that's the way a butch should feel! Cal, you're next. Get ready and peel off that business suit," he snapped authoritatively.
Cal was considerably less enthusiastic than Chris had been, but he complied meekly. In a way, he was glad to be back under his father's thumb. At the bank, he was the boss, but in his father's kitchen he was the boy who would be on the receiving end of instructions (and haircuts!).
Mr. Cooley took off the towel from around Chris' neck. "How does he look, Cal?" the father asked.
"Awesome! Perfect head shape!" Cal said as he rubbed Chris' stubble. "Ah, yes, like a medium grade sandpaper! I remember the feel ever so well."
"Now it's your turn!" the father snapped. "No dawdling."
Cal was submissive and compliant. Mr. Cooley was quick with the clippers and began taking his grown son down another notch. "This is why I didn't get rid of the clippers, Chris. I knew my son would come back to his baldy cut one day."
Just then, the phone rang. Mr. Cooley seemed rattled, "Oh, it's 9:15 - that's my lawyer on the phone about estate planning. I can't put off this call. Chris, why don't you finish Cal off for me. I think you can handle it...." And with that the old man fled from the room anxious to answer the phone while it was still ringing.
"No doubt, I can handle it!" Chris cooed in Cal's ear.
Cal looked nervous.
"Fred took you down to a #3; your dad's taking you down to a #2....and guess what I'm going to do," Chris said mysteriously as he popped off the plastic guard....
"Take me down to a #1?" Cal guessed very nervously.
"No!" laughed Chris. Then he snapped on the machine with NO guard. "Sit still!" he snapped as his prey squirmed to dodge the balding machine. "You're going down all the way -- to the skin!" The shieking machine came up towards Cal's cowering scalp, threatening to take the salt-and-pepper off at the scalp.
Cal gasped. "What will everyone say?"
"The only person you should care about is your new barber. Chris is my name, baldy boy!" Then he fingered Cal's left earlobe. "Hmmmm. I'm thinking about a double piercing here. Two small hoops. We're going to shake up your stodgy image!"
"Oh, no!" pleaded Cal.
Just then, old man Cooley came back into the kitchen. "Wasn't the lawyer after all. I can finish off my son." As he reached for the clippers the man noticed the naked teeth, "Oh, the guard accidentally came off. Saved you from a skinhead look just in the nick of time, Cal!"
Cal shot a nervous glance at Chris and gulped. "Ah, actually Dad, uh, I, ah....I want the skinned look. Chris thinks the #0 cut will solve my graying problem once and for all and give me a more contemporary, edgy look."
"Well, then, perhaps he should do the honors!" Mr. Cooley chirped. "Go ahead, son, take Cal down all the way! Skin him!"
"Sure, Mr. Cooley," replied a gleeful Chris. "And afterwards, lets run by the mall for some new clothes, Cal."
"With a pit stop at the piercing pagoda.....?" the caped Cal said with a huge grin as the balding machine swung into gear clearing a shiney, smooth swath down the center of the top of his head.