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The Pledge (by Tim) by Ryan
It is with great trepidation that I step into the barber shop. The one thing about the 70's is that, hair-wise, long hair properly 'styled' is a key to being socially accepted. My own hair certainly reflects that belief, as it is quite long even by the standards of today (1976), and I am quite obsessive about it. I even think one of the reasons I've stayed in town to go to college is just so I wouldn't have to fine another stylist. Renee is the best, only taking off what I ask and leaving my hair looking great and full and long.
So why am I walking into a barber shop, one of the few remaining that haven't been killed off by requests for long hair 'styles' instead of short butchered haircuts? Because I'm a pledge, that's why. Because as a last act to show loyalty to my fraternity I'm supposed to make a sacrifice, and the seniors making this decisions chose for me 'a haircut in a Barbershop.' Dave, one of the seniors in the frat responsible for overseeing this task, is with me. Because I'm not just getting any haircut. In fact, I'm not even sure what kind of haircut I'm getting. I'm supposed to get a haircut just like whoever is in the chair ahead of me. If it's a longish style similar to mine (as if!) then I'll be lucky and spared any extreme humiliation. However if it's something awful like a (gasp) crew cut, then that's what I'm doomed to end up with. Dave is here making sure I don't back out, and follow the instructions explicitly.
Amazingly the three chair shop is quite full, and I have to suffer sitting for quite some time listening to the awful sounds of the place: the sound of electric clippers reducing heads of healthy hair to nothing but stubble or at least into cuts that might have been fashionable 20 years ago but certainly aren't today. I can't remember the last time I ever had my hair so short it required clippers. Possibly when I was very young, but no sooner did the Beatles hit in '64 then my hair was long and full.
After 30 minutes the last patrons in front of me started being called up and I could start predicting who I would end up with. The three barbers were all quite different. There was a short old guy on the left, with thin balding gray hair. In the middle was a fairly attractive woman barber, especially for a woman pushing probably around 40, with straight jet black hair that fell nearly to her waist. Certainly not a person you would consider as being a barber. On the right was a younger guy, maybe late 20's, who looked fresh out of the marines with a short crew cut of his own.
Watching thus far led me to some conclusions. The woman barber was the slowest of the three, and she did some style work requiring scissors with some longer haired clients rather than just using her clippers. I started praying she would be my barber, maybe after she cut a long 'style' on someone ahead of me. The young guy was the fastest but also seemed a little sloppy. Maybe he was very new. The old guy was very methodical but, in fairness, seemed to do good work (even if all his cuts were way too short for my tastes).
The last 3 patrons were now lining up. There was a guy with hair only a bit shorter than mine. Then there was a business man, his hair just covering the top half of his ears and the top parted neatly on the side and drawn over. Finally there was this old guy, bald on top, with just a rim of hair to cut. The lady barber got the long haired guy. Much to my delight he was getting only a trim. While it would still end up a good 4 inches shorter than mine (covering the collar still, but mine was starting to hang down my back, kind of like David Cassidy on 'The Partridge Family'). Since he was in the chair for a good ten minutes before Mr. Businessman was called up by the young barber, I felt pretty secure that I would get lucky: the female barber/stylist and still keeping most of my length. Still, what if the young guy finished first? I stared at the hair of the man in his chair. The top still kept quite long bangs, not much shorter than mine, as they had to be to be drawn over so purposely. I figured I could go right back to parting it in the middle like mine now was once I left the shop. But the sides were being cut so only the tops of his ears remained covered, and in back it was above the collar. To end up with such a cut would be awful, and take at least the rest of the year to grow out. I was willing him to slow down, as the lady was moving almost in slow motion with her client, being very chatty and constantly rechecking her work.
The old barber finally finished his customer, who left with an incredibly short flattop. The sides and back were basically gone, and what little remained on top formed only a Horseshoe of hair. Thank God that wasn't the look I'd end up with!
But then, rather than the old guy taking the bald man next to me, he announces he's going to step out to get a cup of coffee. And suddenly he's gone. I sat there in shock. Now I needed the young barber to work fast, so he could take the bald guy, and then for the lady to finish her customer before the old barber came back and called me up to his chair.
Dave started laughing, recognizing my dilemma. "You might not get out of this so easily, huh?!" is all he could think of saying. But he had this big grin on his face like he couldn't wait to see me scalped.
I sat silently praying for the young barber to finish. Thankfully, he did, as the woman kept rechecking how she did the back. But then the businessman, who the whole time has been sitting there reading a hot rod magazine, looks at the finished cut and declares he wants it even shorter. He wants the sides taken up so all his ears are exposed, and wants the back tapered (whatever that meant). The Barberette was now moving in with a blow dryer, meaning she was done cutting! It was a fine haircut that I wouldn't mind too much having, especially compared to the other choices of the businessman cut (that was getting shorter all the time) or the…Flattop. I kept looking at the door hoping the old dude would walk in any second to take the bald guy in front of me so I'd end up with the lady. But he didn't.
My stomach felt ill as the lady barber finished with her customer and he quickly paid and left. She looked at the bald guy and grinned saying "come on up Ed." Obviously Ed was a regular customer here. And as he sit I realized I would not escape this place with anything close to my present length of hair. I'd end up with a cut like that businessman, or with a Flattop. While both were awful to think of, the Flattop was clearly the worst of all worlds. I felt like running over and locking the door so the older barber couldn't return before I was in the young guys chair.
Dave was now smiling a huge grin of satisfaction, understanding my panic as well as I, and enjoying every second of it.
I looked at the side parted style of the man in the chair, and felt the top of my head, trying to imagine my hair in anything but its familiar center parting. I bit my lip as I learned that a taper in the back meant extremely short, going from absolutely nothing at the bottom to basically stubble up towards the top. And as I saw his ears harshly outlined (I think the term is 'whitewalls') I seriously started considering not following through with this pledge ritual.
Suddenly the young guy stops and starts talking with the guy in his chair about some car in the hot rod magazine. They just stand there, yapping away. I just stare at them, wide-eyed, casting occasional glances at the front door hoping Mr. Coffee gets run down by a truck or something. It is then that I hear the words "Next" called out. I look over, stunned, noting that the lady barber is sweeping off her seat as the old guy is digging his wallet out of his pocket to pay her. She was done! And next meant me!
I stared at his hair, or what was left of it. The guy was basically bald to start with as his shiny dome glared under the fluorescent lights of the shop. All he had was a rim of hair on the sides and back which was now quite short. I recognized the 'taper' of the back, and the 'whitewalls' around the ears are even more pronounced than Mr. Businessman in the next chair. I looked around the shop, hoping she meant someone besides me, but to no avail. She was looking at me, as were the few other customers who straggled in since Dave and I had been seated.
"Get up there Lyle. You're next," said Dave. He amazingly kept a straight face, though I knew inside he was dying of laughter. Almost in a trance I found myself sitting in the big leather chair, and then watched the white robe placed around me, a tight choker of tissue around my next.
Renee stepped to my side, her long black hair falling in front of her shoulder nearly touching my arm. It seemed like her marvelous tresses were almost mocking my predicament.
"What can I do for you today," she said, as she touched my hair a bit, getting a feel for what she was about to work with.
Of course right then Mr. Businessman steps down, pays and leaves. I sneak a peak at the amount of hair he still has left, knowing I'm about to end up with far less. I can't believe I'm sitting here wishing I could ask for his style.
I don't know how long I just sat there without answering, but then Dave spoke up.
"This is Lyle Hamilton, one of our tri-Delts newest pledges. He's here for the final part of his initiation ritual."
"Nice to meet you Lyle," she said, giving me a polite handshake. She then asked, with a look of one who's about to hear something quite unexpected, "How will you be getting your hair cut today?" The question was worded correctly. She obviously knew I didn't want to be here, and that I was about to ask for something that I didn't want.
"I'm supposed to get mine cut like that last guy."
"Like the man Stan just finished with?," she said, pointing to the young barber.
"No, like the guy you just finished with."
"Oh, you mean Neal, with the long hair?" She flashed a huge smile and threw her hair behind her back. "Well that won't be so bad at all."
Dave cut in once more. "No, not like Neal. Like Ed."
She stared wide-eyed looking at Dave, and then at me. She pointed out the door. "You mean that Ed? Old Ed? Bald Ed?"
I reluctantly nodded.
She ran her hand over the top of my hair ever so lightly. "So basically you want me to shave you bald?"
I just closed my eyes and gulped, noting I was starting to shake.
Dave cut in again. "Basically, but keep the rim of hair on the sides and back, just like Ed."
At that point a prolonged shop-wide burst of laughter rang out as all the patrons figured out what was to become of my long locks. Renee tried to be polite and suppress a laugh but couldn't contain a big grin. "Are you guys serious or is this some kind of joke?"
"I wish I was joking," I said. "Unfortunately, I'm serious."
"Well, OK. I thought the Mohawk I cut last year for you guys was the strangest request thus far. But this one's got it beat."
Dave laughed. "Yeah, the Mohawk thing was the talk of the frat for quite some time."
I had heard about that Mohawk. Of course Rob, the recipient, was in ROTC anyway, so he started out with extremely short hair. It really wasn't that much of a sacrifice. Staring at my beautiful long hair made it perfectly clear. This was a BIG sacrifice. To make matters worse, I was required to keep it like this for a week before I could make any changes. I hoped my hair would grow back fast. Like, overnight!
Renee turned my chair so it faced the back wall. There was still a small mirror there I could watch this whole torture. Then she started gently combing through my long locks, getting all the tangles out. I couldn't believe how long it looked, as the sides reached as far as my shoulders, and the back seemed like it was extending quite far down the back of the robe. Then she was done and back fiddling with her tools. I death-gripped the chair, trying to think of what I would tell my friends the next time they see me. Or my parents for all that mattered!
Then she was at my side with a huge pair of clippers in hand. "Are you sure you want to go through with this?"
"Yeah, go ahead," I said trying to not only convince her but to convince myself.
"Well, I'm going to start by just taking most of the bulk off. So you won't be bald, (BALD! How horrible that word sounded.) or at least not yet. Then if you change your mind your hair will still be short, but it won't look like Ed's."
I guess that sounded all right, but it kind of seemed to be prolonging the agony. Still, I gave her a nod to begin. The clippers came to life with a loud clack. I could see the huge guard on them insuring that I still would have some length left. That relaxed me for an instant, until I saw her place them in front of my forehead and push them back into my hair. And then just like that it began. In only a matter of seconds the clippers had run straight back sending huge handfuls of hair to the floor. What length that remained was only about an inch long, and my center part almost instantly vanished. The remaining length was all standing upright kind of haphazardly.
Renee didn't give me any time for remorse, as quickly the clippers were back in front again, just a bit to the left side, and making another vicious pass. My shoulders were bombarded with clippings, which slid down into my lap.
I stared wide-eyed as pass after pass was made, and then suddenly I saw it: my left ear. It was no longer covered by hair. The remaining length just grazed the top portion of it. I can't remember not having hair covering my ears. I just stared at it, momentarily taking my eyes off what Renee was doing, just studying this thing sticking out on the side of my head. It looked huge and awful. By the time I came back to reality, she was nearly finished with the right side, making it a match of the left. Now both of my ears were exposed. I looked awful. I felt awful too.
Renee pushed my head forward as she started in on the back. All I could see were huge handfuls sitting on my lap as I felt the machine running up the back. It was odd feeling my neck exposed. My head felt so light and….cold. She kept running it up the back again and again, clear to the top of my head, until finally the clippers were shut off. I kept looking down, not sure if I had permission to return my head to level.
"I need to sweep this up real quick so I don't slip," she said to me. As I heard her walk to the back for her broom I looked up in the mirror. The person staring back at me looked terrible. All my hair, or at least most of it, was gone. I basically now had a long crew cut. The hair on top was shorter than that businessman just left with, though the sides and back still had some length. My ears looked like two huge car doors. I reached up and touched it, taken aback at how little was still there. I felt physically ill.
Renee quickly swept the huge pile of hair around her feet into a dustpan and poured it into the trash can. In moments she was back, again preparing her clipper.
"Did you really want it just like Ed's, or just something similar? I could leave the back and sides longer so it grows out quicker, and maybe not… expose so much of the top."
I was about to agree with her but Dave spoke up first. "Just as short as Ed. That is the only way he passes this initiation."
"OK then, just like Ed," she said, shaking her head with a slight grin. With that she took off the guard on the clipper and switched it on.
I feared she was going to start making me bald, but instead she walked to my left side and started taking down the length. I grimaced as I watched her outline my ear. Quite quickly nothing was touching it at all, and in the next moments I could see the 'Whitewalls' that Ed had being formed on the side of my head. I couldn't believe one inch of hair could look long to me, but by the time she finished that side, the length remaining on the right looked extremely long in comparison. At first I was sure she was making mine even shorter, but had to admit that Ed had left with very little left. In fact his thinning gray hair looked even shorter than my dark brown hair.
Renee quickly stepped to the right side, making it match the left in only a minute or so. Just like that both ears were now even more obvious, seemingly sticking straight out. Compared to the now longer top, my head looked quite thin and elongated. But I knew the top we be gone shortly. Even that short flattop was looking attractive to me now.
Renee then started in on the back, spending a great deal of time on the lower hairline. I could tell I was getting the short taper treatment I had seen several times in the past 30 minutes. It almost tickled, and if I hadn't been suffering so I might have even giggled. Plus, it alarmed me how high the taper seemed to be running up the back. I did need to keep some of my hair back there. Renee spent a great deal of time making sure the back blended in with the sides. By now I was resigned to my fate and basically kind of relaxing. Of course the top hadn't been done yet. So when she shut off the clippers and returned them to her counter, I knew what was going to happen next, and once more I felt the nerves return and the heart rate go up. I was about to be bald! I was about to look like my grandfather!
Once more she asked if I wanted to back out, or if I wanted to do a less drastic version. Both times Dave made sure she set her sights to make me Ed's twin.
Suddenly, and inexplicably, she turned the chair 90 degrees so I no longer could watch myself in a mirror. Instead I was just facing the back of the shop, noting the guy in the third chair grinning at me as he got his hair cut much like the businessman not so long ago. How I envied his side parted style. I wondered how long it would be before my own hair would be even that long.
A different pair of clippers, with a higher sound came to life, and I got a quick glimpse noting they were much smaller than the ones she had used previously.
She leveled my head with her hand. "Here we go," she said. "Make sure to hold still."
I froze, not wanting to get cut, but closed my eyes as I felt the clipper touch down just above my forehead and slowly start working its way back. She did very little strokes, only an inch or so, before repositioning the clipper and starting back again. It was a very peculiar sensation knowing I was having all my hair up there removed. As the carnage continued, I could hear giggling in the shop, and the guy in front of me was obviously laughing at my expense.
Soon she had worked her way to the back of my crown, and started working down the back a bit. Then she shut off the clipper and combed through what remained. I was hoping she was done but no such luck. The clipper came to life and I could feel the top portion being made even wider, and the back part extended down a bit further. Then she shut it off and walked around me, studying her work from the front.
"That's a good start," she said, and gave me a reassuring grin.
The clipper started up again, and she delicately set about doing even more, seemingly focusing primarily on the back of the crown. I closed my eyes trying to envision what was happening, and to stop looking at the grinning customer in front of me.
This whole process had a surreal feel to it, and I found myself relinquishing my death grip on the chair and just accepting what was happening. I found myself admitting that Renee was quite good for a 'Barber', and a very attractive woman for her age. The constant methodical running of the clippers was almost hypnotizing right now. Then she stopped the machine and combed over the top once more, and then stood back to survey the results yet again.
"Almost," she said, and then returned to her tools.
I couldn't believe there was anything left for her to take off. Yet amazingly the top was made even wider, as I swore it was starting to go down the sides of my head. She kept running the clipper over and over, until eventually I could hear nothing being cut off. Then it was silenced and returned to her counter. I suppose not being able to see all this was designed to make the whole ordeal easier for me to take. I had to admit it might have worked. If I didn't know better, I'd swear I still had quite a bit of hair up there.
Then Renee was back, this time with shaving cream. She dispersed it liberally on the top of my head. I was truly going to be a skinhead! But she was only doing what she was asked to do.
I'll never forget the sensation of the straight razor scraping across the top of my head. It seemed to go everywhere, and as she attacked the back portion I doubted I was going to end up with even the rim of hair that Ed had. More shaving cream went around my ears and lower hairline, and soon it was gone too. Then she ran a towel over my head removing any excess.
I thought I was done, but I wasn't. The big clippers came to life yet again, and she made a last run making sure everything was just right. I could feel the air of the shop on top of my head, and strangely found myself looking forward to the unveiling.
She shut off the clippers and returned them to her counter, and then ran a whisk broom over her finished product taking off all the stray hairs.
"You're a trooper for going through with this," she said to me.
"Fortunately it will grow back," I added.
Then the chair was spun toward the mirror and I got my first look at the new me. I didn't know whether to laugh or cry, because what stared at me was both comic and tragic. My formerly glorious head of hair was, for all purposes, gone. All that remained now was a smooth dome surrounded by the faintest rim of short black stubble. My ears now how huge whitewall around them, insuring it would be months before any hair came even close to them again. The top was totally devoid of any hair, and if it weren't for my scalp being so pale truly looked like I was naturally bald, as the transition line to hair was very believable. She showed me the back with its severe taper mixed with the bald section which reach downward almost halfway. It was astounding. I truly matched Ed down to the slightest detail. All I could do is laugh.
"Oh my God!" I said. "How long do you think this will take to grow out?"
"The top should start filling in over the next few days. In a month you'll never be able to tell you were bald."
"How long do you think it will take to grow out to where it was."
"That's going to take a while. Probably a year or more."
I knew that was coming, but it was hard to hear.
The robe was removed and then I stood up and paid her, including a tip. She had done a good job after all and gave me numerous chances to back out. I tuned out the jibes of the other people in the shop as I left, instead exploring the very odd sensation of feeling the top of my head without hair. It was almost fun, if it would just last for a few seconds. But no, I was stuck for a long, long time.
I found this by using the 'wayback machine' feature of the internet archives. Many unrecovered stories remain there.