Read The Sign
Read The Sign – Vam
I was in a rush to get the final grades published for my American military history course because I knew how important those grades were for my ROTC students, who were on their way to duty stations. That class was a blur to me, lectures to 127 students, I didn’t know any of them. Although some had really excellent grades, I didn’t know any, not one.
The secretary, Louise, called me as I ran down the hall to my office. “Dr. Rawlson, you have a very important message for you from one of your students.” She was waving a piece of paper, but more important to me her firm breasts were jiggling as she waved the message. I ran back after a moment and said, “Thanks Louise,” and took the message from her after hesitating to look at her breasts. “It was marked urgent, not that that means anything,” Louise said as she turned and walked back to her office. I thought to myself that watching her was one of the privileges that come with tenure!
The message read, “Dr. Rawlson, Please meet me at Wally’s Clip Joint, the barbershop next to the base entrance, with my grades from history 456. My unit is going to the Persian Gulf today and I have to know if I made a 3.5 average. My name is K. Carsonni and my student number is 130-46-9056. This is urgent I am shipping out at 2:30 from the base. Thank you. K. Carsonni.”
I remembered the name, but couldn’t put it together with a face – most of the students wore their uniforms or fatigues, I thought as I rambled through my final grade standing at my office door. I looked at the grade list: K. Carsonni 92% final exam course grade 90%. That’s why I remembered the name, he had the highest grade in the class. I looked up at the clock, 2:15. I had better get across campus to the base and let Carsonni know how he did.
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The barbershop was about a 10-minute walk from the office quadrangle. I got my weekly buzzcuts from Wally since he and I were Army buddies, I was one of his campus customers. Wally’s business was mostly from the base and the ROTC kids. The walk was short this afternoon because of the demonstrations downtown. I rounded the corner and left campus, 2:25 on my watch. and there was Wally’s sign.
“Hey, Wally, how’s it going?” I said as I entered the barbershop which in 1991 was like something from a museum. Wally was shaking out his cape and spraying his clippers.
“Well, howdy, Rawlson, here for a shapeup?” Wally was busy laying all his tools on the counter, two heavy duty clippers, no frills in this shop, Wally was strictly military.
“Maybe later. I’m looking for a ROTC kid, Carsonni. I got a message to meet him here, his unit is shipping out and I have his grades. Wally, where is your ashtray?” and I searched around for the old chrome ashtray that Wally always had full of long wooden matches.
“New rules, read the sign.”
Above the mirror were two signs, one read “NO SMOKING” and the other read “RECRUITS AND ENLISTED PERSONNEL REGULATION HAIRCUTS ONLY – ABSOLUTELY NO EXCEPTIONS – The Base Commander”.
“I guess I’ll have to smoke my cigar out here,” I said and I went outside and lit up my cigar.
I took a look at my watch, and just then a car pulled up and a young woman dressed in fatigues jumped out wrestling with a duffel that was bursting at the seams. The driver, a young woman, yelled as she pulled away, “I’ll miss you Kathy, write and call if you need anything.” She went into the shop. sat her duffel down. She was so busy trying to get her things together she didn’t notice me.
Wally turned from his counter and said, “Howdy trooper, are you shipping out today?”
She replied, “Yes sir, but my sergeant sent me here for a regulation haircut first,” and she removed her fatigue cap and loosened her black ponytail.
Wally looked over his tools and reached for a box of Kleenex from the cabinet. Then he shook out the cape and said, “Have a seat.”
She stood up slowly and said, “You’re just going to cut it to the collar aren’t you?” she asked nervously, as Wally wrapped the Sanex around her neck and clipped it place.
Wally said, “Read the sign, sorry,” and he combed her thick black hair as she stared into the mirror. Wally said to me, “The Army has really changed, now it’s almost unisex,” he chuckled. The young recruit ran her hands through her hair as though she was saying a last long goodbye. Then he said, “Do you want to keep this?” as he wrapped a rubber band around her ponytail. “A reminder of your last days as a civilian?” She nodded silently. Wally held the ponytail aloft and with a single stroke of his GI clippers severed it at the scalp and handed to the recruit. Then he said, as the loose black hair fell in a frame around her face, “Here, don’t try to be tough. There is nobody from your unit here yet, so you won’t get rassed,” and he handed her a tissue.
That was not a moment too soon because when she saw her ragged hair in the mirror she knew what “regulation” meant. With no ceremony Wally started running the clippers from her nape to her forehead as he pressed her chin to her breasts. The hair fell from her scalp like a black waterfall. Wally handed her another Kleenex and she wiped the tears and the fallen hair from her face. Wally’s strokes were unrelenting, slowly his GI clippers ate through her hair leaving only stubble. Wally said, “Almost finished,” as he sat his big clippers on the counter. The recruit opened her eyes and looked in the mirror at her face. Almost all of her thick black hair, save the two foot ponytail that she clenched in her fist, was on her lap and on the floor. Wally said, “Hold still,” as he rubbed her scalp with lather. “You won’t be able to get a haircut in the goddamned desert, so let’s take care of it here.”
He stropped his straight razor and began to swiftly remove the lather and the last remaining black hair. Wally took his time, wiping the lather off the razor with each stroke. He held her head tightly to her chest as he shaved the stubble on her neck where the ponytail had been, slowly behind the ears and across the forehead, back and forth until the last lather was gone.
“Oh, by the way. Who were you looking for, some soldier named Carsonni, right?”
The recruit in the chair turned away from the mirror clutching her ponytail and tears streaming down her face, her scalp shaved bald and shining like a copper dome, and said very surprised, “Professor Rawlson, I didn’t even see you, you got my message.”
“Yes, you were successful in my course. Your grade was 90%, good work.”
“Thank you,” she said as she got out of the chair, still rubbing her head and, it appeared, still in shock.
“Good luck and God speed. Oh, Wally, see you tomorrow for a haircut, a regulation haircut!”