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Theatre Major by Tim

I knew I'd have to get a haircut for my part in the play. After all, I was playing one tough marine. I just never realized how short, until today.

"Hair should be cut to an accepted military length," said the director.
I wasn't sure exactly what that meant, so I asked him one-on-one afterwards.
"You know, something like a crewcut, or induction cut. Any barber could tell you better than I."

Barber! Yeah, right! Like I'd go to one of those hair butchers. I went to Jeannie, my stylist. She works out of her own home salon, and she's the best. She's the only one I've trusted with my hair for the past 8 years. It is fairly long but very stylish, and I see her every month so it isn't obvious to the world every time I get a haircut. I hate that. Thus I'd be hating this, because there'd be no way to disguise this haircut from the world. I asked her what options I had.

"Military, huh? Which branch?"
"Ouch! They wear theirs shorter than just about anyone."
"So what options do I have? I want to be believable, but I don't want to be bald."
"Induction cuts are super short. In fact, they're basically bald. A crew cut would be a bit longer but still pretty drastic for you. A high and tight would be extremely short on the sides, but longer on top. Of course a high and tight flattop would be short everywhere. But then a regular flattop could keep some length."

She ran her hands through my thick, straight hair. It covered nearly all of my ears with longish bangs and fell heavy against my collar in back.

"I could just give you a regular short haircut and you could part it." She quickly formed a hard part and combed my hair over from left to right. Then she pulled the sides back a bit uncovering my ears to give me a hint of what I would look like. "It wouldn't look too much like a marine but would certainly pass muster as far as being short enough."

It was certainly tempting, but not at the risk of being believable. I had a major role in this prestigious production, and it could even lead to bigger and better things. The easy way out was not the right thing for this instance. Still, I really was fighting trying not to show my discomfort.

"Which of the ones that you listed could keep my hair the longest?"

She considered the question for a while, lifting my hair with her fingers as she thought. "Believe it or not, probably a flattop."

I looked at her in disbelief. I couldn't imagine anything that radical.

"Not a short one like the traffic cops wear. I could keep it quite a bit longer."

"How short would it end up.?"

"Well, the sides would have to outline your ears. But I could still keep enough length to brush. The back would be above the collar, but I could block it off instead of tapering it like the standard flattop would have."

I felt ill. It was also written all over my face. She looked at me and smiled. "If you want me to do this you're going to lose a fair amount of hair. No way around that. You're trying to look the part of 'clean Marine' after all. But it probably won't be as short as you think."

I grabbed my top hair, noting my bangs fell well into my eyes and the length was about 5 inches or so long up there. Maybe longer. "How much can you leave on top?"

"A lot," she replied confidently.

"Really, a lot?" I wasn't sure exactly how long a lot was, but it didn't sound too bad. Certainly not as bad as the other 'styles' she mentioned. At that very moment a strong urge to see myself with my hair standing straight up, level and at attention, struck me, if only for an instance.

"Will it still be long enough to brush back instead of just standing straight up?"

"Possibly, if you use enough gel."

I wasn't sure how much that meant I was going to keep, but her confidence had won me over. "OK, let's do that then."

I was quickly caped and she combed all my hair back, wiping out the part she just made and getting any tangles out. I fidgeted when she then removed her electric clippers from the drawer of her stand. Never had she used these on me in all the years I had been going to her.

"How long do you think it will take to grow out again?"

"In about 6 months it should start looking pretty much like it does now."

Six months! I swallowed hard. I prayed I wouldn't look awful. Six months was a long time to go if I looked like a dork.

She spotted me eyeing the clippers nervously as she fiddled with them.

"Relax, I'm using a guard on them so I won't cut off too much. Normally I use a number one guard when I cut a flattop. On you I'm using a number four."

"That's longer, right?!"

"Four times longer, OK?!"

And just like that she clicked it on and drove it up along my neck. I felt huge chunks of hair coming off though I couldn't see a thing. She worked very quickly, destroying the work of art she had spent the last 8 years carefully crafting.

I was concerned as I felt my neck exposed, and at how high up the machine seemed to run. But I couldn't see anything and tried to relax.

Then she started outlining my ears, quickly making them visible for the whole world to see. I never realized how long my hair was until I saw how much length was being chopped off. Still, with all the length on top remaining it really didn't look all that short. The top partially hung over the sides and disguised the carnage underneath. Though I tried to look relaxed, I could now see many good sized clipping on my lap, and could see my hair was now far shorter than it had ever been before. Plus I knew a great deal more had to come off for me to look like a marine.

The clippers were turned off and set down on the counter. Instead a water bottle and comb attacked my top hair, wetting it all down. Then Jeannie picked up her scissors and quickly lopped off half of the top length, leaving me with only about three inches. It happened so quickly I didn't have time to say a word. Now my new look was starting to take shape as the short sides were much more obvious. But a good deal of length remained, and I breathed a sigh of relief as the scissors were put down and she fired up the blowdryer. I still had plenty of length on top, and since she was obviously now in the styling phase of this haircut, nothing else was coming off. She truly wasn't kidding when she said she could keep 'a lot' on top. I grinned as I watched her grab at the top hairs to get them to dry standing straight up. As the blow dryer was silenced I saw myself in a very long spiky look. In fact almost comically long. It certainly didn't look flat at all, and wondered how anyone could consider it a flattop.

"That almost looks too long on top," I said.

"Oh, it's not done yet," she said, and I saw her prepare her clippers yet again, this time sans guard, and took out an interesting looking comb. It was very long and quite wide. She walked to my right side and inserted the comb from front to back in the middle of my remaining length. And then the clippers quickly ran over the comb, taking everything above to comb off with it. In a matter of seconds two more swipes of the comb over the clipper, one down the middle and one down the left side, and I was left with a definite flattop. It still looked much longer than ones in pictures, but was quite a shock compared to the length I had even ten seconds ago.

Then she took her comb and clippers and set about blending in the sides and back with the top. In about one minute my reflection was of a very different looking individual. I had a definite flattop, and could now easily pass as a marine. I really didn't like my new look, but can't say I hated it. I was happy that I still had a great deal more hair than I anticipated; especially seeing how much had come off. She showed me the back and I breathed a sigh of relief noting it too wasn't nearly as short as it might have been. However touching my now short mane was a completely different experience.

When I got home I immediately took a shower and tried to see if I could get it to go into a flattop. It wasn't tough though I did need a blowdryer. Then I tried to comb it back, only to learn that this new length required a great deal of gel to get to lay down. It felt stiff as plastic, but did eventually lie down. Then I headed out to a party with friends. No time like the present to get all the 'haircut ridicule' out of the way.

Unfortunately the weather didn't cooperate. In fact this winter has been awful and the huge snowstorm closed the town down for nearly a week. We had to reschedule everything, meaning our show opened two weeks later than originally planned. This also required us shifting venues into a smaller theatre, though the stage was actually larger. But this meant instead of a 4 show/ two week run we would go for an 8 show/ 4 week run. Oh well, more time to be a star.

It was on the third week, only hours before the curtain would rise, after I took a shower that I realized my hair had grown out too much and no longer could pull off a flattop without looking foolish. Not knowing what else to do with it, I gelled it straight back just as I normally did when not on stage. Then I called Jeannie, hoping she was available to give me the slightest trim. I only needed a tiny bit off to hold me for the next two weeks. Much to my dismay she was booked solid. "What do I do?," I cried out.

"Relax, just go to any barber shop and tell them you need just a slight touch-up."

"Really? Any one? You don't recommend one over another?"

"I'm not really in the habit of sending people elsewhere. But I'll forgive you this one time."

I nervously set out to find a barber. The first shop I drove up to had a room full of people waiting, so I opted to search out another. I saw the familiar spinning pole a few blocks away and set out for a small shop I really had never noticed before. The shaded window gave me no chance to see if the shop was crowded or not, but the total lack of cars out front gave me confidence it wasn't. I pushed opened the door to be greeted by the barber sitting on his chair reading a newspaper. I was his only customer.

"Hello Sir, have yourself a seat," he said as he leaped to his feet. His was mid-60's with a full head of wavy gray hair and a likeable smile.

I sat down nervously and he quickly had a robe around me cinched fairly tight.

"What can I do for you today?"

I looked up to see… the wall. There was no mirror! I wouldn't get to see him cut my hair. Then I saw him standing in front of me.

I reached up to touch my hair, amazed at how much gel I had put in it and how stiff it felt. "Well, I know it's hard to tell right now but I have a flattop."

At that note the barber started running a comb through my hair, breaking the bonds of the gel down and allowing him to see what he was dealing with.

"It's pretty long. Looks like it's been a while since you last got it cut. Did you want another flattop then?"

"Kind of. Actually I just need a light trim. Just enough so it looks like a flattop again. Don't take off any more than you have to. See, this is for a play which only goes for another week, and then I plan on just letting this grow."

"OK, just a trim then." His comb had now broken all the bonds of the hair gel. "What kind of play did you say this was for?"

"The military drama over at the dinner theatre. I play a marine."

He chuckled. "Good thing you're getting a trim then. This sure doesn't look like any marine I've seen before."

He started fiddling with his clipper. I feared he might still be planning on taking too much off, especially after learning of my part in the production. "Well, it really never was that short. I don't want it any shorter than it has to be."

"I understand. Don't worry, I'll just give it its' shape back. You won't be leaving here with a high and tight or anything."

With that the clippers came to life. Unlike Jeannie he started on the right side and made quick work of outlining my ear. I had rather hoped that he would have left the sides and back alone, but since the clippings I saw fall were quite small I wasn't overly concerned.

He quickly shifted his attention to the back. Again it didn't seem like much was coming off, though at the lower section of my hairline it seemed like he spent an inordinate amount of time. It also seemed like the clipper ran up a bit higher along the back then I remember Jeannie doing. But just as I was getting a bit nervous he stopped working on the back and attacked my left ear. I could feel it soon match the right. How I wished I had a mirror to look in.

I expected him to wet and then blow dry the top before attacking it, but this barber didn't. He just quickly stepped behind me, brought the comb forward of my face, drew it back into my hair about an inch or so, and then quickly ran over it with the clipper. He repeated this motion heading back a bit until he finally worked his way to the crown. It all happened so fast I almost didn't realize it happened. But then Jeannie did this part quite quickly too. Obviously producing a flattop was no big deal for this hair professionals.

However the barber then repeated this procedure, front to back, though this time quite slowly and with great focus. His touch was very gentle and though quite concerned now I really couldn't feel that anything was actually coming off. Only the sound of hair meeting the blades of the clipper clued me that more was being cut.

He made two complete passes like this, then stepped in front of me to survey his work. I tried not to show my concern on my face, all the while hoping a third pass wouldn't be necessary. The barber went back and gingerly touched up some little spots. He seemed much more precise than Jeannie had been. This certainly seemed like more than a light trim. As I felt him blending the sides in with the top I knew I was nearly done. Even this part of the haircut seemed to take him much longer than Jeannie. Finally the clippers were silenced and I breathed a sigh of relief.

Then he unexpectedly put some shaving cream along my back hairline and around the ears and scraped it off with a straight razor. I froze hoping not to be cut, and wondered just how short my hair was now. Finally he put some kind of product in my hair (it felt too thick to be gel) and spent some time reshaping my flattop. This last part relaxed me a bit because at least I could feel him working with my hair again, meaning I still had some.

"See if this is short enough for you," he said as he handed me a small hand mirror. It took me a while just to find my face, and the mirror was so small it was difficult to truly see my whole head. When I finally got myself in frame I saw the almost familiar flattop staring back at me. In fact this one looked even flatter, if such a thing is possible, than the one Jeannie gave me. It also looked perhaps a bit shorter than I had hoped, though I couldn't be sure. At that point I was content with the barber's work.

"A true marine would be a good deal shorter than this, which I can do for you if you'd like," he added.

"This will be fine," I said, noting that it now looked even shorter than a moment ago. My pulse quickened a bit.

I stood up and paid the barber, and then got my first real look at my reflection in a full sized mirror. I was glad the barber couldn't see my face, as he was busy getting change from his register, because it was not the face of a happy client. My hair was definitely shorter than my first flattop from Jeannie. While the top seemed only a bit different, the dramatically shorter sides, unnoticeable with the small hand mirror, were the giveaway. While Jeannie had left me enough to actually brush back, all that remained now was a bit of stubble with some of my scalp peeking through. This was just supposed to be a trim to last me a few weeks.

As soon as I sat in my car I touched my fresh cut and became very alarmed. The sides felt awful, and the back seemed even shorter, though I couldn't be sure. The top was stiff and at attention from whatever product he had put on it. At first I didn't think it was shorter than what Jeannie had originally done until I tried to grab it and discovered it couldn't have been longer than one inch in front, and much less back toward the crown. I'm surprised I didn't get a speeding ticket as I raced home.

When I got there I ran to the bathroom and gave myself a good hard look. It looked even shorter than it had in the car just seconds ago. Now I could clearly see the sides had been taken down so far that only the slightest trace of hair remained. I grabbed a hand mirror and looked at the back, stunned. It was nolonger blocked on the bottom, but tapered! That is why he spent so long back there. Plus it was quite a short taper that ran almost completely up the back, the rest not being much more than a few days worth of growth. I touched it, shocked that it basically felt bald.

I turned to look at myself again, and then dropped my head in disgust. I hated this. I looked up a bit at my reflection, unsure if what I saw really was there. At that point I learned that the carnage on the sides and back was not the worst of it. The top was now so short that much of my scalp nearly showed through like a bare patch, and the back of the crown had very little left at all. In fact the hair back there could only be a fraction of an inch long at most. I was basically bald, and to think the barber even suggested making it even shorter to look like a 'true marine.'

In panic, I jumped in the shower and washed it, alarmed by how little there was to shampoo. I quickly toweled it off only to notice it now looked even shorter, as there was no product to stretch it out. It also immediately went back into shape, and no amount of brushing, product, spray, or hair glue could alter that. I now truly had the flattop of a marine.

While fellow cast members and the director applauded me for the sacrifice I made, and friends were not nearly as cruel as they could have been, I couldn't wait to grow it out again, and to have my old familiar length. To make matters worse, it took forever to grow out, and I found myself forced to parade around in a flattop for nearly a month before it was long enough to start gelling back. It was nearly two months before it stopped automatically drying into the horrid level shape. After three months the taper had finally grown out, my ears were once again partially covered, and I couldn't get the top hairs stand up at attention if I wanted to, though I tried several times for some reason. Perhaps to assure myself that my flattop days were really behind me.

But were they?

Over the next month I found myself buying all kinds of products trying to get my now longish hair to stand up in that level shape again. I didn't care how much junk I had to put on it or if it felt like plastic. For some reason I just wanted to see myself in that look once more. It didn't work.

I found myself watching a videotape of my theatre production, and for some reason just staring at my image in that short haircut. Was I hallucinating or did I really look…. OK in the short cut?

Over the next month I must have watched that videotape a dozen times, especially the parts that showed close-ups of me. Plus I seemed to notice ever other person around me who wore a flattop. For some reason I was…envious. What was that all about?

By the end of the next month I definitely needed to go see Jeannie again and get my hair trimmed as it was in dire need of shaping. It wasn't quite as long as it once was but was close. My bangs were in my eyes now (did they bother me before like they did now?) and my ears were basically totally hidden, though for some reason each morning I found myself gelling the sides back to show as much of my ear as possible. In back my collars were once again covered by the length. Did it always look so…shaggy?

I made an appointment and drove to her salon. But for some reason I didn't pull into her drive. I just kept going until I came up to that small, almost unnoticeable shop. Once again there were no cars out in front of it. I stepped in to be greeted by the barber and an otherwise empty shop. There was only the faintest look of recognition on his face.

"Hello Sir, have yourself a seat," he said. I once again sat on the huge chair, recalling that I wouldn't be able to watch the haircut as I looked at the blank wall in front of me. Part of me was wondering what I was doing here instead of with Jeannie.

The barber stepped in front so I could see him. "What can I do for you today?"

"I don't know if you remember me or not. I was here about 6 months ago and got my flattop touched up for a play I was in."

He thought about it for a bit and grinned. "Oh yeah, the marine. Right?!"

"Yup, that was me."

He ran his comb through my hair, pulling it down over my ears. "I remember you said you were going to grow it out afterwards. You certainly did."

I chuckled a bit. "Yeah, I sure did."

"So what now, a bit of a trim?"

I should have been shaking now but wasn't. For some reason I was quite calm.

"Actually I'd like another flattop."

The barber grinned this time. "Want to look like a marine again."

I smiled. "I guess so, just like a marine."

"Coming right up," he said as he disappeared to his tool counter.

The clippers roared to life and started at my right temple. Soon a huge pile of clippings were forming on my lap. It didn't seem possible that the sides could feel even shorter but they did. I just attributed that to the fact it had been so long since I last sported this style.

The back was next to go, and this time I could feel him tapering it. That was fine. In fact it was what I wanted for some reason. I didn't remember the back being tapered as high as it seemed now. It was nice to feel my neck exposed again.

The left side soon matched the right, and as my bangs fell forward, poking into my eyes, I was anxious for them to go too.

The barber made quick work of the top, at least initially. But like last time took his time to insure a perfectly flat surface. As he pressed his comb against my scalp on the last run, I tried to recall this sensation on my first visit. I couldn't.

The sides were soon blended in, and then the shaving cream outlining the ears and along the back told me he was nearly done. The all familiar product dispersed to lock my style in place told me I was done.

"There you go. You look like a marine again." He handed me the small mirror.

Despite knowing I was getting this haircut the unveiling was still quite a shock. I just looked so different in a flattop. It was so much shorter. Even shorter than I remembered. But it was perfectly level and standing at attention. I only glanced at it for a second before thanking him and giving him back his mirror. I didn't even look at myself in the full sized mirror. Just confidently paid the barber, tipping him well, and strode out the door. The cool air greeted my now shorn head. It was invigorating.

For some reason I didn't even look at my new haircut on the drive home. I did touch it a bit, wondering if it truly was shorter or if it was just the radical difference from what I had that morning that made it feel so extreme. I let it go until I got home and looked at my reflection in the mirror. It was then I realized my flattop didn't just seem shorter. It was shorter! A lot shorter, if that was possible. I stared, a bit stunned, wondering what I said that might have caused the barber to cut my hair this way. Then I realized I got exactly what I asked for. The first time had been for a light trim of an existing flattop. This time had been for the initial cut, and I asked to be made to look like a marine. That is exactly what I got.

The sides of my head were basically shaved smooth. Only the very faintest stubble remained. The back matched the sides. The flattop was actually only a thin horseshoe of hair, with the rest of the top of my head as short as the sides and back. This was the flattop a marine would wear. This was what I was now sporting.

I touched it trembling, no knowing whether to laugh or cry. So much of me hated what had become of my hair, but part of me really liked it. It will be interesting to find out how I feel about it in a week or two.

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