Maria – The new barber By Jim B.
The week had been slower than usual, so I decided I would take an extra hour of sleep and open the shop a little late. Everyone else had opened as usual and for some reason business was better than any other Saturday. When I arrived I had my usual cup of coffee at ‘Vic’s Restaurant’.
Vic and I were two of the first to open shop in this little shopping center, of twelve businesses. Over the fifteen years we have seen businesses come and go, with about six holding their own. The center was well located, about two miles from the downtown business district and a half-mile from the suburbs, where everyone lived and played.
As I was having my second cup Carol, who owned ‘Nice-N-Sweet’, a candy and soda shop two doors from my barbershop, came in with a rush. “Come here, both of you,” she said waving her hands in the air. “Just got a call from Ken Miles,” she whispered as she looked around us, for some reason. “The owners have an agent from their insurance company coming to look things over. He said the agent was told to look for anything that would cause any problems for them.”
She went on to say that Ken, one of the owners’ rental agents, did not hear what they would be looking for. But, he had heard they were trying to ‘unload’ the center. We agreed we would look out for anyone who became ‘nosy’, and would call the others.
It was around 1pm when Little Ron, we called him ‘Little Ron’ because his father was named Ron too – but he was not Ron Jr., accompanied by his mom, Sue, for his monthly haircut. For him this was worse than having his kid-sister tagging behind him. After all a “thirteen young man”, as he would put it, should be able to do a few things without mom’s help. But then again, how could he get around without her, or his dad?
As they entered the shop he was ‘having a little discussion’ with her. The same one they have been having for the last three years when summer comes around, one mom always won even when dad had taken his side. But for some reason it looked like Little Ron was going to be a winner this time.
“Mornin’ Sue – Little Ron,” I greeted them as they walked and he sat in the chair.
“Please mom,” he reasoned. “All my friends are gettin’ a crewcut for the summer.” Sue sat looking up from the magazine she had picked up. In the mirror I could see his puppy-dog eyes beginning to get to her. “Pleeease,” he begged one more time.
“Alright,” she said as if it were her decision. “But, not too short – like Mike has his.”
“Mom,” he replied somewhat quickly and angrily, as he looked at me, as if to ask for help. “That’s a crewcut.”
“Sue,” I calmly said as I pulled the cape around his neck and pinned it in place. “A crewcut is short. Besides it’ll take all summer to grow out.”
They looked at each other, she with the look a mom gets when her little boy is becoming a man and he with his puppy-dog eyes. “Your father had better not get on me about it,” she told him as she returned to her magazine.
Before she could change her mind I had the clippers buzzing away with a quick pass down the center of his head.
“No turning back now,” he told me softly.
I patted him on the shoulder as I began buzzing the back. Sue looked up and saw how short her son’s hair was clipped. I could see a little tear sliding down her left cheek. Usually you see this when a mother gets her son’s hair cut for the first time, at about age two, but at thirteen?
I had changed the attachment to a number one when the telephone rang. I turned off the clippers and picked up the telephone. “Sam’s Barber Shop,” I answered proudly. It was Candy, Carol’s daughter.
“Mr. Sam,” she began saying as if she had her hand over the telephone’s mouth. “Mom said to let you know that agent is here now. She had been to some of the other shops. She is leaving ours now. You should see her walking by, unless she’s stopping at yours.”
I looked in the mirror and out the window just as she walked by ‘Al’s Hardware Store’. You could tell she was someone who was looking for something. All business, from her dress to her looking around as she walked by. I turned the clippers on again and returned to clipping Little Ron, as she walked past. I caught her reflection in the mirror as she entered Vic’s restaurant.
As I was taking the attachment off the telephone rang again. “Sam’s…” I started to say.
“It’s me – Vic,” the called whispered. “She’s headed to your shop. And, she asked a lot of questions about the center and a lot more about your shop.”
“I see,” I answered questioningly. “What did… Let me go,” I told him as she entered the shop. “She’s coming in now,” I whispered to Vic and hung up.
“Mornin’,” I greeted her as she smiled and looked around.
“Do you cut women’s hair?” she asked.
“Sure do,” I told her, pointing to the signs above the mirror and on the wall. She smiled and picked up a magazine and began reading it.
“He’s real good,” Sue told her as they smiled at each other.
As they chatted I finished buzzing Little Ron and was removing the cape when Sue looked up. “Ooooo, my God,” she said as her hands came to her face.
“I didn’t think it was going to be that short,” she said as she got up and walked to the chair.
“Ooooo – mom,” Ron cried as she brushed her fingers over his head.
I was tucking a towel in his collar, “What’s that for?” she asked.
“Trim shave,” I replied as I stood by the shaving cream dispenser.
“Do you have…” she began to say.
“Mom,” Ron cracked out. With that she sat down and watched closely.
As I was spreading the lather my new lady customer patted Sue on the knee, “He looks like a young man.” Sue wanted to bust out, but she knew he was.
When I was finished Ron stepped out the chair gleaming with pride. “Well?” he asked of her. “What do you think?”
Sue stood by him, her fingers brushing over his head. “Feels a little stiff,” she told him. “A lot like your dad’s face when he has gone without shaving for a few days.”
Sue turned to get her purse when Little Ron surprised her.
“Your turn – mom,” he told her as he pointed to the chair.
“What?” she said, surprised and somewhat shocked. She looked at him pointing to the chair. “I do need a trim, but I can come back later next week.”
“Trim?” Ron said. “Who’s talking about a trim?”
Sue looked at him. “You don’t mean…? Your father would have a fit,” she disappointingly told him. “Besides, women don’t get crewcuts.”
“Come on mom,” he continued with a more manly voice. “This is the nineties. There is no such thing as what a woman can and can’t do. And besides, you said you wanted to do something different with your hair for the summer. What better than a new haircut?”
“Miss Ryon got a crewcut,” he reminded her. “And no one thought she would give up her braids.”
“Mr. Sam can’t give a woman a crewcut,” she countered as she looked at me.
“No different in cutting,” I told her as I held the cape out.
“Dad will like it,” Ron commented, “he told me you look better with your hair short. And, he likes…”
“Well, it does sound a little strange,” she said looking at herself in the mirror. “Your grandparents would have a good laugh, and they need one. But, your dad…”
“Trust me,” Ron replied as she sat down, “I know dad… and he’ll love it.”
My new lady customer, Maria, she told me later, looked up at her. “I have seen a lot of women in New York City with crewcuts and they look very impressive. And, like your young man said, ‘this is the nineties’.”
Somewhat hesitantly Sue looked at me standing there, cape in hand with a look she could not interpret.
“Did you cut Miss Ryon’s crewcut?” she asked.
Looking at her I smiled and shook my head yes.
“Alright, what the hell?” she said half-heartedly and sat in the chair.
Quickly I tossed the cape across her, pulled it around her neck, and fastened it in place. She shook her head, as she usually does, and I readied the clippers. I could see her looking at me in the mirrors, as I cleaned and oiled the humming clippers.
As I put on the #3 attachment I turned to the chair. Little Ron was standing at the foot watching me. He gave me little stare of disbelief, “A crew cut Mr. Sam. Not something that…”
“What’s going on?” Sue asked as she tried to see what Ron was talking about. But I knew and changed the attachment to a #1. I looked at him for approval and he smiled. I motioned for him to sit down, and clicked the clippers on.
“What is going on – that I could not see?” she asked again, as she tried to turn her head to me or to look up into the mirror. I held her head firmly.
“Relax,” Maria said with a smile, “A crewcut is short. And, Mr. Sam knows what he is doing.” This surprised me to hear someone unknown tell a customer that. Someone I had just met and did not know much about.
Sue relaxed somewhat.
“I guest you’re right,” she told Maria. “He hasn’t given me any bad trims, so I guess a haircut wouldn’t be hard for him. Even a man’s haircut to a woman.”
Before she could say another word I began moving the clippers up the center of her neck. The hair fell behind the chair where she could not see how much, or how short her hair was being clipped. As I began the second pass, to the right of the first, her head leaned back as if to meet the clippers. This time the clipped hair slid down her right shoulder and into her lap.
“Oh my God!” she let out when it came to rest. “Is my hair that long?”
I said nothing and began the next pass, sending more hair slipping down over her shoulder and into her lap. Before it could come to rest I began the pass over her ear sending more clipped hairs past her eye and into her lap. I rested my hold on her head, and she was able to look in the mirror.
Her eyes widened, “Oh shit, that is too short!”
“Too late mom,” Little Ron said with a smile. “I don’t think hair can grow back that fast.”
With her eyes closed I began clipping the left side of her head. Each pass mirrored the passes I did on the right side. The first slid down over her shoulder and into her growing lap of hair. With each pass hair slid down and landed in the pile in her lap.
As I moved behind her again she brought her left hand from under the cape and brushed it up her neck and head. Her head rolled back as it reached the top of her head, where sat unclipped hair. Her hand pulled the remaining top hair through her fingers. She looked at me in the mirror, her eyes still wide open, as I moved to the left side of the chair.
I brushed her hair to the right side and placed the clippers, still with the #1 attachment on, and pushed it into the top hair. As the pile of hair was pushed with the clippers she closed her eyes just as it began falling before them. With a soft ‘thump’ the pile landed in her hair covered lap.
I placed the clippers next to the first clipping, as she opened her eyes. Pushing the clippers forward I watched as her eyes start to close, but just as the pile of hair began to fall she opened them. She let out a little cry.
Walking around to the right side, Sue’s left hand came from under the cape and brushed over the clipped left side. I pushed the hair over to the left side and quickly began pushing the clippers forward. Her left hand moved back under the cape quickly.
As I made the last pass, and as the pile of hair began falling before her eyes, Sue commented, “Son, if your father go crazy over this… this crewcut, you’d better have a good excuse for him why you wanted me to get it. Do you understand?”
Again Little Ron told her, “Trust me mom, dad’s going to like it. And, in more ways than one!”
“What?” she said as she looked at him with a questionable stare.
“Trust me, mom,” he replied. “Just trust me that all you’ll have to do is trust me on this one.”
I removed the attachment and tossed it on the shelf. Sue was looking at herself in the mirror, both hands come from under the cape and were brushing her newly clipped hair. Her head turned quickly to the right when I popped the clippers back on for more work.
Placing my left hand on top of her head, and tilting it to the left, I noticed a questioning look on her face! I smiled and began pushing the clippers up to the arc of her head. First in front of her ear, then over it.
When I began buzzing behind the ear I noticed her head relax. Again her head leaned back as I pushed the clippers up the back of her head. I worked around the back to the left side. First, sending a pile of newly buzzed hair to the floor behind the chair, then pushing a pile up and over the ear.
With the buzzing finished I put the clippers away. She again brought her hands from under the cape and brushed them over her head. A little smile came to her face, a grin almost from ear to ear. Her head arched forward as she brushed her fingers backwards over her head and newly clipped haircut. Her eyes moved from side to side as they viewed her new hair cut. The look they gave was of approval, not one of disappointment as I thought.
I undid the cape and let it slide down her shoulders, and into her lap. She tilted her head and began brushing her new haircut more forcefully, causing little clippings of hair to float around like dust. Before she could look up I was tucking a large white towel in her collar.
When she realized this, she looked up at me in the mirror. “You’re not going to…?” she inquired with a puzzled look.
I smiled. “No. No way,” she continued.
“Relax mom,” Little Ron said as he patted her hand.
I piled some warm lather in my left hand. She was shaking her head a little as I began spreading the lather along her hairline. In the back I lathered a little higher, close to the little notch. I wiped my hands clean of lather and picked up the straight razor, and began stroking it across the leather strap.
As I began shaving she closed her eyes. With skill I outlined her cut, first on the right then on the left. I left the back for last. As I tilted her head forward I noticed she had a high hairline.
I placed the edge of the razor just a little below the notch and began shaving. Her head rose upward. I titled it back forward and continued shaving. When I was finished I cleared the lather away from the hairline with a warm towel. As I was putting hair powder on the duster she brought her left hand to the back of her nape and brushed her fingers over the shaving.
“My God ….. there’s nothing there!” she said, and continued fingering across to behind her ear. “My neck is bald.”
As I dusted over the hairline and the neck she began smiling. As I lowered the chair she brought her left hand behind her head and fingered her shaved neck. “I think Ron’s going to like this part,” she told me as the chair came to rest.
When she stepped out the chair Little Ron came up to her and gave her a big hug. “Dad’s going to like your crewcut mom,” he told her. He reached in his pocket for his wallet. “This one’s on me.”
As she was getting her purse she could not keep from brushing her crewcut. She looked like she was proud she let Little Ron talk her into the crewcut, as well as his.
“Come on Ron,” she told him, “let’s go get a banana split at Miss Carol’s. My treat, ‘young man’.”
As they walked out, she with her arms around his shoulder, Little Ron looked as if he didn’t mind her doing that, nor being with him. It was if he was proud and glad she was there.
“Well, she sure did look like she liked the crewcut,” my new customer, Maria, said as she walked to the chair.
“Yes,” I replied to her as she sat in the chair. “And, she’s going to get a bigger surprise when she gets home.”
“Why’s that?” Maria asked as I caped her. “By the way my name is Maria.”
“Well, it was a setup – somewhat,” I began. “See, Ron, her husband, has wanted her to cut her hair short for years. Little Ron told him he should just tell her and she would – but Ron told him ‘you don’t know your mother’. So, he made a bet with Little Ron. If he got her to cut her hair short he would start putting money in a savings account to buy him a car when he turned sixteen. But, I don’t think Ron meant this short. So, he may be in for a surprise himself.”
“I see!” Maria said. “So, do you get many requests from women for crewcuts?”
“Nay,” I told her. “Mary, Miss Ryon, and Sue are the only two so far. I don’t think you’ll find many women around this part of the country getting crewcuts, or any other male type of haircut. Then again, the teenage girls are cutting their hair shorter every year. So, I guess it could catch on when they get a few years older.
“So, how can I help you?”
“Well, a crewcut sounds great, with all this heat,” Maria sparked. “But, I had something shorter in mind. Say… shaving my head bald!”
“Shaving your head…?” I replied with a choke in my voice. “Now that is a haircut request I don’t even get from the men, nor teenage boys. Why would a lovely lady like you want to have her head shaved?”
I stood there cleaning and oiling the clippers, waiting for her answer. I had heard that women in New York City, Los Angeles, and a few other cities, had shaved their head. Then, I never thought I would have a lady ask for a crewcut like Mary Ryon, and now Sue.
“Well, I had a crewcut a number of times, even got a nice high-n-tight once at a military barber shop in Florida,” she told me as I stood with clippers in my hand, ready to do work. “I did shave my head last summer, myself. But, I’ve never had it done by a barber. Since, I was here, and saw you were open, I thought I would pop in and ask.”
“Well, I think I can handle that,” I told her. “All you have to say is ‘do it’, and you’re on your way to being shaved bald.”
With that Maria looked at me, “Well, let’s do it.”
Before she could change her mind I had the clippers buzzing her head with the #2 attachment – in case she changed her mind. When her head was clippered she looked at me. “Bald… Bald and smooth.”
I quickly removed the attachment and began buzzing her head to about an eighth of an inch. I could not believe I was doing this, nor could I believe a woman was sitting in my chair wanting her head shaved. But, here it was, a woman sitting in my chair wanting her head shaved bald, and me doing it for her.
What other kind of surprise could happen today?
As I made pass after pass over her head she just sat there, as if it was just another haircut she was getting. One that she said she had a year ago, but done by herself. With her hair buzzed as short as I could get it, I took to the task of washing her head, a little.
First, I applied some warm water with a wash cloth, then I applied a little shampoo and washed her head. Having never shaved anyone’s head before I don’t know why I was doing this, but it seemed like the thing to do. With her head clean I wrapped a warm towel, like we do when shaving a man’s face, around her head. I let it sit a few minutes, removed it, and applied the warm shaving lather.
With a pile covering the eighth inch buzzing, I wrapped another warm towel around her head and let it sit a little longer this time. I piled up more shaving lather in my left hand, pulled the towel off, and lathered her head, again. This time I rubbed the lather over head making sure all the little hairs were covered, around and over, ready for their removal.
I changed the blade on the straight razor and stropped it over the leather strap. Slowly I moved the blade over the strap, as I began to wonder if this was just a dream. But, after a few seconds, when I looked up at her sitting in the chair her head all lathered, I knew it was not. If it was a dream it was one that would make a lot of barbers in New York City pretty lucky.
I brought the razor up to the center of her head and began shaving downward. I could not help but look into the mirror to see what kind of reaction she was making. But, she just sat there like she was just getting her hair cut. Just like another woman would sit getting her hair cut.
Being that this was the first time I had shaved anyone’s head I took my time, to make sure I did not cut or nick her scalp. With each stroke of the razor I still could not believe I had a lady, at that, sitting in my chair while I shaved her head. Nor that she had asked me to shave her head. Again I wondered what else could happen for me. If I could get lucky in another way!
As I shaved around the back she tilted her head without me having to move her head. Her skin stretched as she did this, allowing the buzzed hairs to stick out more, so the shaving would be real smooth to the touch. I wondered how often women, and how many, got their head shaved in cities like New York City!
I had never been there. But, having heard how things that are unusual to others are not unusual there, I began to think maybe it was more often, and by more women, than I could ever think of it being here. I was wondering how other women would take to seeing Sue with a crewcut.
Many looked at Mary as if something was wrong with her. But, after a few months they did not pay any attention to it. Not even the men who were in the shop when she came in for a haircut. I wonder how many of her female students went home and asked their parents if they could get a crewcut. Not many I thought, because I would have had seen some of them walking around. Or, had a few come in with their moms to get one.
With the shaving finished I put the razor to rest and wrapped another warm towel around her head. I let it sit a minute and removed it. I brushed my fingertips over her head, but it did not feel as smooth as I thought it should.
Her hand came up and began gently moving over her head.
“I think a safety razor would have been better,” she told me. “That’s what I used last summer when I did it.”
I had to agree with her.
“Yes,” I said. “But, this is the first time I have ever shaved anyone’s head. So, it’s trial and error for me. I think,” I told her as I looked in the glass cabinet where I keep my things. “I think I have one in here.”
I looked around a few minutes then I looked in the drawer under the counter and found it.
“Here it is,” I announced as I pulled it out. “Let’s do this head shaving over. This time it’ll come out smoother.”
I looked at myself in the mirror.
“What the hell was I saying?” I thought to myself. “Let’s do this head shaving over. This time it’ll come out smoother.” What was I thinking? It was as if I had been doing this for years; that I had women, or men, come in my shop and get their head shaved two or four times a day.
“Oh well,” I told myself. And I began all over. Wrapping her head, again, with a warm towel. With her head well lathered I began shaving her head. Again, she sat there as if there was nothing unusual about it. After each stroke of the razor I gently rubbed a fingertip over the area to make sure it was shaved smooth. This time I took a little longer than I did with the straight razor. I could shave over a shaved part and did not have to apply any shaving lather, like I would have to if I were still using the straight razor. The lather’s oil was still on her scalp, which made it easy to do this. I also was able to pull the skin in the opposite direction, so as to cause the hairs to stick out of her scalp a little more, as I shaved.
When I was finished we both agreed her head was very smooth, smoother than after the straight razor shaving – which she found to be very enjoyable.
I cleaned her scalp of any remaining lather, applied a little skin oil to keep her head from drying out. I applied some hair powder to the duster and dusted her head, which tickled, she said.
When the chair was lowered she got out and walked to where she had sat, waiting her turn while I gave Sue a crewcut, and started to open her purse.
“No. No way,” I told her. “It’s on me.”
She smiled and offered a little tip, which I also refused.
As she was leaving the shop, I got that other surprise I was wondering if I was going to get. She reached for the little sign I had in the window, the one that said, “HELP WANTED – TRAINED BARBER FOR SECOND CHAIR.”
She pulled it out and handled to me, “Think your customers can take to a woman barber? One who shaves her head at that!”
I took the sign from her with a smile.
“Don’t know about them, but I think it wouldn’t hurt the place. A woman barber would liven up the shop, and one with her head shaved… Well, that is going to be an interesting one to see.”
“When can I start?” she asked.
“I’ll see you early tomorrow morning around 8am,” I told her as she walked out the shop. Again as if she had gotten just a hair cut, and not gotten her head shaved.
I reached for the telephone. “Hello, Carol,” I told her when she answered the telephone. “Met you over at Vic’s in a few minutes. And I don’t think you’re going to believe what I have to tell you, either.”
We never saw anyone from the insurance company come around, nor do we know what the owners did with the center. But, I do know that Maria is still cutting hair in the second chair and keeps her head shaved or buzzed.
And yes, her, and my, customers did take to her hair cut. Even had a few of the women customers I have start getting their hair cut by her. Summer is in a few months, and I’m looking forward to seeing what happens then.