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I remember very vividly the summer of 1979.  That June was the last time I got my hair cut in a salon for nearly ten years.  My parents had divorced several years earlier, and my dad was recently remarried.  I had been living with my mom, but chose to stay with my dad and stepmother when she moved so I could stay in the same school with my friends. 

About a week after I’d moved in, my stepmother gave me five dollars and told me to get a haircut at the local barbershop.  I informed her that my haircuts cost twelve dollars, and that I would need some more money.  She said, “honey, twelve dollars is too much to pay for boy’s haircut.  You just go on over to Shirley’s Barbershop and get a haircut.  She only charges four dollars, and you can give her the other dollar as a tip.”  I protested, but to no avail.  I really liked my stepmother, and still do, but I was learning that she was very strict, and once she made up her mind there was no altering it.  

This was a Wednesday, and as is tradition, most business close at noon on hump day in small southern towns.  As I trudged to the barbershop I couldn’t help but think that I wouldn’t get a good cut for such a small amount of money.  Also, I really like the girl who had cut my hair for the last few years.  She did it just the way I liked it, and never took too much off.  Better yet, she was cool, and one of the few people who treated me like an adult.  That’s no small thing for a fourteen-year-old boy who wants to appear grown up.  Then it occurred to me that I had some money of my own.  My dad had given me twenty dollars a few weeks before for getting a good report card, and there was still most of it left.  I could use some of that to augment the meager funds my stepmother gave me and get the haircut I wanted.  The reader should be aware of how desperate I must have been to use my own money for something so unrewarding as a haircut!

Quickly, I detoured and made my way to what was the town’s only unisex salon.  For those who don’t remember, most guys went to barbershops, and women went to beauty salons.  Sometime in the early seventies this started to change and men and women began going to the same places to get their hair cut.  Anyway, I went into the Main Street Hair cutters and asked if Lori was working.  Good news, she was and could squeeze me in right then.  She greeted me, and took me back to the shampoo bowl.  While she was washing my hair, she remarked that it hadn’t been but two weeks since I was last in the shop, and that it didn’t seem like I needed a haircut.  I told her my stepmother wanted me to get it cut, and that I hadn’t had much say in the matter.  She laughed and said we trim it up good and make her happy.  She suggested we go a half inch shorter than usual to appease her, and I reluctantly agreed.

Now, let me remind you again that this was the seventies.  Everyone had long hair.  I had the classic boy haircut back then: straight bangs to my eyebrows, the back just to my collar, and only the very bottom tips of my earlobes showing.  (When I look back at the old photos I realize why my step mom wanted my haircut.  I looked like a doofus.)  Anyway, I thought it was a cool style, and I felt very self-conscious when I left Lori because my hair was a full half inch above my eyebrows and you could see my whole earlobe!  I still laugh at the memory.  However, there was some satisfaction in knowing that my step mom would get off my case about my hair being too long.  I mean, man, this is short!

It was time to head for home for lunch.  As I walked in the door, I heard my step mom call for me to come into the kitchen.  My hair was the furthest thing from my mind.  Currently, I was contemplating the whole wonderful summer that stretched out in front of me.  Before you could say, “beach vacation,” I was brought back to an unpleasant reality.  “I told you to go to the barbershop and get your haircut,” she said when she saw me.  I informed her that I did and pointed out how much shorter it was.  “You didn’t get that haircut at Shirley’s.  I called down there and told her how to cut your hair.   And that is not what I said to do.”  I was dumbfounded.  Tell me how to cut my hair?  I was fourteen, practically a man.  No one told me how to get my hair cut.  I told them!  And anyway, any shorter than this, and I’d be bald!  Good grief, I probably only had five inches of hair.  Can you imagine it any shorter?  No way. 

Well, the interrogation began, and I was forced to tell her how I had financed my haircut.  I thought she was overreacting, but now I understand what was going on.  She was letting me know in no uncertain terms who was the boss of the house.  I protested, but it didn’t matter.  I even tried tears, which had no effect.  After lunch, I was to be taken to the barber for an even shorter cut.  It was almost impossible to swallow my hot dogs with the feeling of impending doom.  A four dollar barbershop haircut would make the laughing stock of all my friends.  Then I remembered!  It was Wednesday afternoon, and the barbershop would be closed.  The death sentence was commuted.  My mind began to work on strategies, which would make my step mom not want to cut my hair by Thursday.  When I pointed out the barbershop would be closed my step mom said, “good thinking, I’ll call down there and see if Shirley will stay a few minutes later so we can get the mop of yours cut.”  Crestfallen, I watched as she picked up the phone and dialed the barbershop.  Vertigo must have claimed me, because my head was spinning, and I was feeling dizzy.  The last thing I remembered her saying was, “thank you so much, Shirley.  I’ll have him there in five minutes.”

The next few minutes were a blur.  We piled into our green Ford station wagon (complete with the fake wood sides) drove the half mile to town where I was led into the barbershop and right into Shirley’s big red leather barber chair.  A cape was thrown around me and then everything slowed down and I remember it all so vividly.  Shirley walked over to the door and locked it then flipped the closed sign and walked over to my step mom.  “It’s good to see you, Brenda.  I’m glad you caught me in time.  I looked for little Bill here earlier, but never did see him.”  At that point my step mom recited the whole story to Shirley.  By the time she was done I sounded like public enemy number one.  Brenda looked at me and shook her head in dismay, “disobeyed your mother.  That’s terrible.  Well, I guess your looking at being grounded for a while.  And now mom has to pay for two haircuts!  What are we going to do with you!”  That’s when the death sentence was pronounced.  “I’ll tell you what we are going to do, Shirley,” my stepmother said.  Since I am paying for two haircuts today I want this haircut to last twice as long.  Which means it will need to be twice as short!” 

Butterflies swirled up from the abyss of my stomach.  My cheeks flushed hot.  I remember trying to protest, but being unable to get the words out.  “Well, let’s get started,” Shirley said.  Whoa, they weren’t even going to shampoo it.  Didn’t she know what she was doing?  “Don’t worry son, we’ll do this right and you won’t need another haircut this su
mmer,” Shirley said cheerily.  “Now, Brenda, which one of these do you want me to use?”  Which one what I wondered.  My back was to the mirror (which I wasn’t used to) and I couldn’t see what my stepmother and this lady were talking about.  I now know they were selecting an attachment for the buzz I was about to receive.  Then my mother had a seat in the chair in front of me, and Shirley stepped in front of me holding the biggest pair of clippers I had ever seen.  Only once had clippers ever been used on me, and that was when another lady cut my hair just a little shorter than usual in the back.  She used a small trimmer to shave my neck.  I don’t think I even knew they used clippers on people’s hair!

Then Shirley uttered the classic line, “it’s no big deal, hair grows back.”  Well, it may not be a big deal to you, but it seems like a big deal to me!  At that point it happened, the unthinkable; Shirley lifted my bangs carelessly with a comb, put the clippers against my forehead, and quickly drew them back to my crown.  I was speechless.  I knew grave damage had been done, but without the aid of the mirror I couldn’t tell.  Additionally, the clippers had pushed my hair off the back of my head in their initial swath across my scalp.  There was no tell tale hair clippings in my lap to give me some clue as to what had just happened.

“Now, that’s a number four, Brenda.  How’s that?”  My stepmother considered and asked Shirley her opinion.  “Well, if it were up to me I’d probably drop down another notch or two.  His hair is really thick and probably grows fast.  The cut’ll last a little longer and grow out smoother if we do.  Not to mention it might help you teach an important lesson,” she said with a chuckle.  My stepmother then said, “you’re the doctor.”  My hair was going even shorter?  This was crazy talk, but sure enough, that is exactly what happened that first Wednesday in June 1979.  Shirley turned off the dreaded hair removal machine, I heard a few snaps as the new attachment was selected and the then the ravenous clippers returned to life.  Shirley wasn’t brutal or quick like a marine barber, but she was just as deliberate.  The clippers were once again place on my forehead and drawn back over the freshly shorn hair.  “I think this is going to work out much better, Brenda.   I also think this is going to be a nice look for him.  So much more clean cut than most boys his age.”    Shirley then methodically peeled the rest of my hair off.  Strip by strip, then repeating the procedure “to make sure no stragglers are left!”  At one point during the buzz I must have started crying.  Shirley not unkindly said, “son, I really hate tears.  Makes me feel bad to see you cry, so turn of the waterworks, or so help me, I’ll shave you completely bald.”  That pretty much ended the crying.  After the shearing was over she recommended to my stepmother that the sides and back were tapered in shorter to give it a more professional appearance.  Consent was given and the sides were shaved clear down to the skin above my ears and gently tapered to the quarter inch, which was left on top.  One last new experience was bestowed on me that day: a vacuum was run over my head to pick up any loose clippings.  I will never forget the alien way it felt.  Fifteen minutes after the ordeal began it was over.  Shirley was paid and we were heading home.

Later that week, my mom and I ran into Lori, my stylist, in the grocery store.  She commented on the change and my step mom told her the whole story again.  Lori gave us a warm smile and said, “I really like it, Brenda.  We probably should have done this a long time ago.  I realize you don’t want to spend so much on his haircuts, but if you decide to bring him into the salon, don’t worry, we always do exactly what the mothers ask.”

Time went on and my hair grew back.  It was kept in a traditional short boy’s taper cut for the rest of school years.  Shirley cut my hair after that every two weeks.  My mother had apparently consulted with her and I was no longer asked how it was to be cut.  The only time the rhythm was broken was that first week of June every year after that until college when I was shaved closely enough to last the whole summer.

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