’d been home for exactly one day. My dad and I had spent the weekend following his business meetings playing tourists in Toronto, and I even managed to drag him to Canada’s Wonderland and made him ride roller coasters with me. My dad was older by a lot of people’s standards at the time, pushing forty when I was born, so I was used to the questioning looks we got. A lot of people assumed he was my grandfather, a lot of people frowned at my tightly shaved and clipped haircut. Their kids were running around looking like Johnny Rotten or Corey Hart. I looked like Opie.
But I had spent most of my life trying not to be judged for how awful my brother was, and there was no question that a boy in a crewcut always looked trustworthy. I felt bad for my dad, because a lot of people assumed he must be abusive if he managed to keep me in such short hair, and I could see the looks they sometimes gave him. I suppose the fact that he wasn’t above taking his belt to us when we misbehaved backed up their beliefs. After we returned to Calgary, I’d just stumbled down to breakfast, when my mom casually mentioned that the Campbells were coming over that night for dinner. “It will be nice for you to see Bryce,” she added. No, it wouldn’t. I hated Bryce Campbell, Bryce Campbell hated me. Bryce hated me because his father was one of those dads who wasn’t opposed to public shaming or scolding, and if he happened to be praising another kid at the time, so much the better. Mr. Campbell always thought it was a compliment to my parents to praise something I’d done, like be polite, or comment on my tightly shaved haircut. Bryce thought it made me a suck-up, a kiss-ass, take your pick. I was the enemy because his father praised me over stupid things like the length of my hair.
“Is something wrong?” my dad asked me, noticing that I wasn’t jumping for joy at the thought of seeing Bryce Campbell. “Bryce and I are not friends,” I admitted, rubbing my recently-trimmed hair absently. “Mr. Campbell always makes a point of shaming his kids into good behavior by praising me, which makes them mad, and they hate me. And it embarrasses me. Can I please be somewhere else when they come over?” My mom glossed over that idea, insisting that it probably wasn’t that bad, it just felt that way. If there was anything I had learned at boarding school, it was how not to ask a question that made it sound like you were mouthing off or being sarcastic. I was, however, thirteen years old the only thing I wanted to say was “If it feels that way, isn’t it actually that bad?” My dad actually laughed and said that he knew Mr. Campbell could be a bit… like a school teacher sometimes, but one day, Bryce and I might find that we actually had a lot in common. I doubted that. “I’ll wager that our dinner conversation tonight centres around Mr. Campbell asking me, as though it is any of his business, whether I’ve been beaten at school, how often they beat the kids, whether they do it publicly, and he won’t care if it makes me uncomfortable, because it’s supposed to make Bryce and Ashford feel lucky.”
“Lucky?” my mom asked.
“Lucky,” I repeated. “Lucky that he doesn’t hit them with a belt when he’s upset with them. Lucky that he doesn’t make them cut their hair with clippers and takes them to a pricey salon for their haircuts, so why can’t they just be grateful? Lucky that he doesn’t make them attend boarding school where the teachers gather the bad kids every Friday and whack them with birch canes in front of the rest of the school. In his mind, Bryce and Ashford will thank him on the drive home for being such a great dad, because he could be abusive. But he isn’t. So isn’t he great? He could have that conversation over breakfast, like we’re doing, but he makes a point of having it in front of others. And singling me out when he does, because they’re lucky they’re not me.”
Dad looked stricken, and I felt bad. “Andrew, am I that bad?” he asked me quietly.
“No,” I insisted. “Mr. Campbell just needs approval so badly, he doesn’t mind using you, and me, as examples to make his kids feel like they don’t have it so bad. He doesn’t realize that when does that, he makes you, his friend, look bad. He makes me look like a little wuss who can’t take a lickin.’ It’s not about us, he’s just too selfish to realize that.”
“If that actually happens, I’m going to feel horrible,” my mom admitted.
“If that actually happens, I’m going to fake like I have a throbbing headache,” I declared. “Please, at least, tell me that Kevin isn’t home tonight.”
My brother Kevin was still a bully. If Mr. Campbell used me to guilt his kids into behaving better, or being grateful that he didn’t march them to a barbershop every three weeks for a shaving, Kevin would taunt me for days. I didn’t need them all at once. Kevin was, mercifully, off with his friends celebrating the end of high school.
The Campbells arrived, as I expected, with their dad ready to lecture about something, Bryce buried in his headphones, and Ashford looking annoyed that he was dragged away from somewhere to fulfill his duty and attend a boring dinner his parents made him go to. “So, Andrew, are you speaking the Queen’s English now?” Mr. Campbell asked me before he’d even got his shoes off. “Probably not,” I replied. “I’m sure I’m speaking some sort of hybrid that makes me sound like a pretentious twat in Canada and a hick in the UK.” My dad mentioned that I’d been playing soccer in the UK, and they were hoping it wasn’t too late to get me into a league for the summer. “Andrew’s been playing goal, because Canadians are not afraid of being hit with a ball,” he added. “Bryce plays in a league, we could check into it,” Mrs. Campbell declared immediately, and Bryce rolled his eyes. “The league started, like, two weeks ago.”
“What would a tone like that earn you in lashes at your school, Andrew?” Mr. Campbell asked me, and I felt that headache coming on. “They don’t give lashes,” I replied. That was technically true. They gave birchings, whacks on the bare posterior, in front of the entire school, at Friday assembly, if you did something that warranted it. A one to two-inch thick birch rod, five times; or if they thought you’d earned it, a sixth (if you were getting whacked in front of the school, you always got the sixth.) They could also use a wicket (i.e. cricket bat- flat, wood, even had a little handle so the Head Master’s grip wouldn’t slip while he was in the thick of the beating. Perfectly designed to whack the asses of teenaged boys.) But they didn’t give lashes. It was a small victory, but I had a feeling it was going to be a long night and I would take any victory, however small.
“Simon,” Mr. Campbell chuckled awkwardly. “What’s the point of sending your son away to be beaten by others if they don’t enforce corporal punishment?” Dad gave me an apologetic look. “They have corporal punishment,” he clarified. “I think Andrew’s point was that they don’t give lashes. And it’s not like in the movies; it has to be well-deserved before they’ll subject a boy to a public beating. I’m sure taking a tone, as you called it, results in a far less harsh measure.”
Mr. Campbell knitted his brows together for a moment. This was not going according to his plan. His kids were supposed to leave our house feeling grateful that their father didn’t beat them like mine did, didn’t send them away to be beaten by strangers. But I wasn’t suicidal, or bruised, or cowering in a corner. I was just a teenager in a radically shaved haircut. “But they do have discipline?” he pressed me. “Yes,” I threw him a bone. “Every teacher has a ruler he can use if he feels you’ve been disrespectful, or vulgar.” Now Campbell was excited. I half thought he was going home to wank about it. “They have discretion, whether they whack your hands or get you across the face. It all gets reported to the Headmaster, and sometimes a boy gets called out of class to explain himself.” Ashford looked mortified at the prospect; Bryce looked bored. He’d probably heard repeated variations on the threat. “If you’re birched, it goes on your record and your parents get called.”
“How many times have they called you?” he asked my dad now. Dad made a show of looking bored, and I knew he was annoyed with his friend. “Called me?” he repeated. “Yes, to let you know you that your boy had been birched.” Mom interjected that I was much better behaved than that, and then stopped, probably because she felt like she was doing exactly what I’d said Mr. Campbell did. Compliment me by making me sound like a little wimp who can’t take a lickin.’ “Yes, Andrew always had a healthy fear of your belt, didn’t he?” Campbell nodded, thinking he was quite wise. “I’ve never gone easy on him,” Dad replied curtly. “But we didn’t send Andrew to boarding school to have someone else raise him for us. Or hit him for us. If he’s done something to deserve a lickin’, he gets his from his own father and not by proxy.” The headache getting worse. “But you have to admit, it is a good system. Send him away when he’s a teenager, let someone else smack him around and clip his hair, get him back when he’s past the miserable stage, and he holds all the beatings and the short haircuts against them, not you.”
“I’m pretty sure Andrew remembers every lash I’ve ever given him and holds it against me,” Dad ventured, then stopped again. It was easy to get lured in by Campbell. “Actually, my school doesn’t like clipper haircuts,” I added. “I had to ask Dad to take me to a barber’s when we were in Toronto.” I knew that would annoy the shit out of Bryce, but I felt like rescuing my dad. “You did that willingly?” Bryce gasped. “Dude, you look like you’ve just escaped military school.” Dad then went in for the kill. “I usually take Andrew to a little shop around the corner. One of those old-fashioned places where your choice is crewcut or something that will grow into a crewcut in a few weeks. But he couldn’t wait for us to get back to town, so Gunter will have to wait for a few more weeks before he can give his favourite client a good shaving.” Mr. Campbell filed that all into his memory. That was Dad’s plan. “You must know the place I mean,” Dad added, ensuring he made his point. “Same plaza as the Safeway and the Dairy Queen.”
Mom announced that dinner was ready, so we moved to the dining room. “So, you haven’t been whacked?” Mr. Campbell persisted after we’d sat down. “Do they often have discipline at assemblies, then?” Bryce rolled his eyes. “There was a kid in my math class who didn’t do his homework,” I shared. “Every day, he got the ruler to his hands. On Friday, he got birched.” I knew the word would give Campbell a hard-on. “Why do they call it that?” he asked, eyes growing excitedly. I explained that because the strikes were given with a birch rod, it was known as birching. “He hadn’t done his homework in any class, not just maths. It’s still uncomfortable, though. Whether he deserved it or not, it’s kind of embarrassing. Nobody likes to watch someone else get hit.” Are you getting this, Campbell? Nobody wants to discuss it over dinner. That kid just stopped showering after his public beating, please pass the butter. “I bet that taught him,” Campbell persisted. Well, you can teach a lesson without hitting someone, too. This might actually prove to be fun. “No, he just stopped bathing after that. Clearly, he wanted something that he wasn’t getting at school.”
It was actually sad. I think he just hated school so badly, he was hoping he’d get sent home. “Can you imagine getting a call like that, Simon? Bad enough they had to… birch… the boy, but then, what, they had to drag him into the showers?” I buttered my roll and nodded. “A few of the teachers had to drag him to the bathroom, in his clothes. Beating him solved absolutely nothing.” I wondered if Campbell was really getting this. I doubted it. “His parents were diplomats, stationed somewhere dangerous, so they’d sent him to boarding school to keep him safe. But he missed them so much, he wanted them to come back, because if it wasn’t safe for him, why were they there? He was worried sick.”
“He must have been very lonely,” my mom winced. “I hope you didn’t bully him.” I replied that I knew what it was like to be bullied. Bryce didn’t get the jab. “I’d be worried if I were him, too. He just wanted his parents to come home and be safe, no matter how he had to go about it.” Campbell then asked me if it was less strict at my school than at home, which I really didn’t think was any of his business. “You probably don’t remember, but I was here the day you got your first belting,” he added, as though that fact made us friends. Like he was there for my first steps or first words. Nope. He was important because he was there the first time I got the belt. “I’ve blocked most of that day from my memory,” I replied. “Understandable. I could hear the whacks from downstairs. I gave Bryce a timeout and a scolding, but you got the worst of it.” My father looked embarrassed. “Was I being mean to you or something?” I asked Bryce. “No. Actually, I think I broke one of your toys and you were mad at me. You shoved me.” Bryce looked embarrassed. I remembered it now. Bryce had smashed one of my toys and just laughed. I was pissed and I pushed him.
My dad taught me, with several licks of his belt, that I needed to hold my temper better. “You were so close to the stairs,” Dad tried to explain. “Bryce could really have been hurt. I thought I’d teach you well enough that you didn’t need to learn twice.” It was my Lego Death Star and my Lego Millennium Falcon. I’d gotten the Lego for Christmas and spent days making those space ships. I got the Star Wars action figures for my birthday. Bryce had laughed at me when I showed him my prized possessions, and smashed them. We were near the stairs. Dad wasn’t wrong to have whipped my ass. But I didn’t need Mr. Campbell throwing it in my face over dinner. “It worked,” I said to Dad, not Mr. Campbell. “I didn’t want to feel that discipline ever again.”
“It was probably stupid of me to teach you to hold your temper by losing mine,” Dad allowed. “But your boy never did like the lick of you belt, did he?” Mr. Campbell persisted. “Did yours?” Dad retorted. “Oh, well, I don’t, I mean. My father was strict. I promised myself I’d never hit my boys. Even when they probably deserved it. I don’t think they realize sometimes how lucky they are.” Mom looked over at me when she heard the words. You would think I was some sort of amazing psychologist. “Well, I regret every single lash I ever gave Andrew,” Dad declared. “After that debacle with the pen, I couldn’t take that lickin’ back. There were a million ways I could have taught him a lesson without hitting him. He might have forgiven me sooner if I had.”
I wasn’t sure how much I despised Mr. Campbell in that moment, but I knew that I felt horrible for Dad. “I forgave you that night,” I assured him quietly. “When you heard that it wasn’t me, that was all I wanted, was for you to know that you hadn’t raised a thief.” Dad still looked stricken and I wondered what kind of friend used that kind of embarrassment to prove a point to his kids. Dad was supposed to be his friend.
“But you still keep your hair clipped short,” Campbell added, and I was pretty sure my mom was going to stab him with her dinner fork. “If you know that your father will never hit you again, the beltings must have worked if you still let him make you cut your hair so short.” I inhaled, so that I wouldn’t sound rude when I replied. “He doesn’t make me cut my hair this short. I prefer it clipped.” Yes, my dad loved the sight of me in a barber cut, but I liked it, too. It wasn’t a big concession to make. “Well, I wish I could get my boys to prefer having their heads shaved.” I could swear I saw both Bryce and Ashford roll their eyes. “Andrew, you look like you might be getting that headache back that you had earlier,” Mom threw me a lifeline. “If you want to be excused…”
I could have hugged her right there. “Thank you. I might get started on some of my summer reading if that’s okay.” I wished Bryce and Ashford could develop headaches, because I suspected they were properly sick of hearing about what crap kids they were. No wonder Bryce had always hated me. Not long after dinner, there was a knock at my door, which I didn’t hear, because I was listening to my Walkman. But I did see the shadow lurking, trying to get my attention. “Sorry if I’m disturbing you,” Bryce apologized. I looked down at The Iliad and shrugged. “I have the feeling I am never going to get through this.” That was true. I figured I’d start with the longest one first, but it was slow going. “So, um, I think I owe you an apology. I think I owe you a lot of apologies,” Bryce looked around nervously, and I wondered if his father was standing down the hallway listening. “Let’s start with Star Wars. My dad thought all that stuff was for nerds, and of course, he doesn’t want us to be nerds. I was such a non-nerd, I broke your toy.” I was very proudly being a nerd with my Lego toys. “That was probably so much work to put together, and I just broke it. So, sorry for that, for starters. And for the beating after you pushed me.”
I heard voices outside in the backyard and realized that Bryce was there on his own. I closed my bedroom window, because voices in the backyard usually meant stinky cigars when Mr. Campbell was visiting. “I could have broken your neck if you’d fallen the wrong way down the stairs,” I reflected. “I deserved that lickin.’ But you know, if corporal punishment and barbershop haircuts are what make a good kid, what is Kevin’s excuse?” Bryce wasn’t letting me off that easily. “This is why my father is right and you really are a better kid than we are.” I laughed. “And I’m sure you don’t get sick of hearing it, and, occasionally, want to smash my Millennium Falcon.” Bryce shrugged acknowledgement. “Or, be the crown attorney in a mock trial for theft. I’m sorry about that, too.” I laughed again. Sweet catharsis, my teachers would love that I was learning the meaning of the word. “You’re sorry. Simon has never apologized and meant it.” Bryce said that was kind of awful. “He plays in the same soccer league as me,” Bryce added, a slow smile spreading across his face. “I’m pretty sure the goalie on my team hates playing goal, but there’s nobody else willing to stand in front of a ball.”
I knew where this was going. “Well, Bryce, the thing with being a kid who was belted on occasion is that I am not afraid of a bit of pain, or of being hit with a ball.” Bryce grinned and said they practiced next on Tuesday at six. He’d come by and pick me up before he left, and his mother could give mine the details of the league and coaches’ phone numbers and stuff. “Hey Andrew?” he asked me, before he left. “What’s it like?” What was what like? The belt? Boarding school? Being the kid all the parents loved and all the other kids hated? “Buzzcuts,” he explained, sensing I wasn’t sure where he was headed. “Dad always makes is sound like a clipper cut is tantamount to being beaten half to death. But you seem to like it.”
“It depends on the barber,” I replied, honestly. “Some of them really enjoy making you uncomfortable, like any kid whose father is asking for hair that short must be a brat, so they enjoy shaving you clean. You still have a really good haircut when they’re done, even if they were kind of dicks about it. If you get a good barber, like someone who takes pride in what he does, then you end up with a haircut that grows out for the next few weeks and looks good. I actually find I feel sloppy when I’m at school. Like, I lose my mind when I can feel hair touching my ears.”
Bryce thought about this for a second, when Ashford came up to let him know they were leaving. “Okay, I’ll see you Tuesday, yeah?” I asked, and he said he’d come by and we could go to soccer together.
I still wasn’t sure how I felt about this new friendship of ours, but I thanked him and noted that he didn’t need to apologize, but he had and I appreciated it.
It was true, and I wondered, as much as his father always wanted his kids to feel grateful for how great he was, if it had backfired on him. My dad had never lorded it over me that he was willing to hit me, but I didn’t resent him for doing so.
Two Buzzcuts, Clean For Summer
“What the hell happened to your hair?” I asked my friend Bryce when I saw him that night. I was still getting used to the idea that he was my friend. Bryce’s father was friends with my father, and we’d spent years being pitted against each other and compared to each other. Bryce’s father made it well-known that he’d never laid a hand on his kids, whereas my father never hid the fact that he had a leather belt and was not afraid to use it. Bryce’s father made it known that he wouldn’t ‘torture’ his sons with barber shop clippercuts, and my dad made it well-known he wouldn’t tolerate anything less than a clean cut, in a barber shop, or at home if we didn’t get there on time and needed a ‘tidy up.’
Bryce had always hated me because his father was always comparing him to me, commenting on how polite I was, or how much he liked my shaved hairstyle, even though he would never inflict such a haircut on his own children. I hated Bryce because his father, in trying to make his sons be grateful for how great he was, was actually kind of a dick to me and my father to make his point. Somehow, that summer, Bryce and I had buried the hatchet and found that we enjoyed each other’s company when our fathers weren’t around to have a pissing contest.
Bryce dropped onto the chair in my room and groaned. Now, we would look back at what he was wearing on his head as a mullet. At the time, it looked like a disaster. In retrospect, it hasn’t improved. The top had been cut shorter than the rest of his hair, down to about two inches, and permed. The back was left longer, and the sides had been shaved. It was hideous. The stylist had even shaved little parts into the sides. “That’s not a flock of seagulls,” I reflected. “What is it, exactly?” Bryce groaned again. “It’s horrible is what it is. My dad made a big show of saying that that he wasn’t a big fan of clippercuts, that I should be allowed to have my hair longer if I wanted. I don’t want my hair longer.”
I felt bad for him. Say what you will about the shaves my father loved on me, I don’t look back at pictures of myself as a teenager and groan at the 80s hairstyle. There is no eighties hairstyle, mine are firmly in Mayberry, shaved tight at the back and sides, barely anything on top. Just enough to say I have hair. My boarding school preferred finger-length, and my summer home was proving to be a time where I realized that I liked my hair cut shorter than finger-length. My father admitted that he missed our trips to the barber’s while I was at school, but I suspected he would be okay if got Bryce to tag along at our next one. We had a nine a.m. ‘tidy up’ scheduled at our favourite barbershop the next day. Gunter had a talent with clippers and I would leave his shop with about three quarter inches less hair than I’d walked in with. That might not sound like much, but it did mean there would be more hair on the floor than on my head. “Hey, Bryce?” I asked, tentatively. Bryce groaned. “If you stayed over tonight to watch movies, would you be offended if my dad and I took a quick trip to the barber’s tomorrow morning?” Bryce mumbled something about the barber not wanting him in his shop for fear that people might think he’d given Bryce that awful haircut. “Yeah, that is a risk. He might even ask if you wanted a haircut to fix that up.” Bryce looked up. “How likely do you think that might be?” I answered pretty high, because Gunter spoke German as his first language. He didn’t have a problem letting someone know that their hair needed cutting. And he didn’t have a problem firing up a clipper and taking care of a cut inside of five minutes. That was what I hated about my boarding school haircuts- all that combing, cutting over fingers, combing, cutting over the combs. Gunter would have me shaved and out of his chair half an hour ago, and I’d still be getting trimmed with scissors.
“Will your dad be pissed? I know he likes taking you for haircuts. It’s like, your bonding time.” I suspected Dad would be okay with a tagalong if Gunter was allowed to clean up the mess that was Bryce’s haircut. “But what if I chicken out? I’m not joking, when she was shaving the sides, I nearly peed myself. I don’t know how you get your head shaved without feeling like you’re being punished.” I countered that a short haircut was not a punishment, so I looked at it like it was no different than showering or putting on deodorant. “And if you chicken out, you’ll have that mess on your head to live with, so how bad is a clipper cut by comparison?”
I could tell that Bryce was nervous the next morning while we were eating breakfast. I hoped that Gunter’s magic would show him that there is joy in a good haircut and not always a need to panic. That a good going over is the opposite of punishment. Gutner smiled when he saw us walk into his shop. I hadn’t had a Gunter haircut since before Christmas. “Hello, Andrew. I have missed having you in my chair.” That actually made me feel good. Bryce gulped. “Who your friend?” I introduced Bryce and Gunter immediately asked “We are getting rid of that mess, yes?” Bryce laughed nervously and said I had been right. Gunter didn’t hide his thoughts on a bad cut. “Let’s start with me and if I don’t leave your chair in tears, we’ll see if Bryce can endure a second haircut in as many days,” I hedged, sitting down. “And, you, Shimon, you need tidy up, too, yes?” Gunter asked my dad, as he wrapped me in a long cape and tissued my neck. “Yes, I do,” Dad agreed. “Andrew has missed your clippers, though, so give him a good welcome home.”
Gunter never needed permission, exactly, to cut hair. He was already scraping across the top of my head with a comb, guiding my hair in the direction he wanted it to fall after he’d shaved. “You need proper haircut,” he tsked at my strands, taking a clipper into his hands and plunging it down at my forehead. “We still go with one-sixteen blade on top?” Yes please, I replied, so that Bryce could see I was not forced into this by my father. With quick, efficient strokes, Gunter plowed away from forehead to crown, and my clipped locks rained down in his path. “Much better,” he commented, to nobody in particular, as he shaved away, combing off stray cuttings that hadn’t fallen on their own. “Now we clean up the rest.” With that, the 1/16 guard was replaced with the 1/32 and I was ordered “chin down.” I could feel the the blades working up the back, the tickle of fresh air hitting newly exposed skin. Each pass of the blades left more shavings to roll down my back, hitting the floor and creating little anthills of shaved hair. Gunter titled my head sideways and shaved clean tracks across the sides above each ear, running his clipper from the temples back. I felt the cuttings fall into my face, dust my ears, and I knew that once Gunter had finished, every last stray hair would have been clipped and wiped off.
I wasn’t sure how Bryce was holding up, but I felt more and more like myself with every swipe and every buzzed up section. “You like?” Gunter asked, as he ran his finger over the back of my head, checking to see if he’d missed any areas. If his finger dragged, he took that as a sign that he needed to pass over that section again. “I love it,” I replied, honestly. “It will be very easy to take care of.” It would. This was beyond wash and go. This was more like I could barely work up a lather to wash. It felt great. Gunter took a wet towel to scrape off any stray cutting, and blasted the rest away with a hairdryer (the only time he ever used a hairdryer in his shop was not to dry hair. His cuts did not require such methods. But he did use the blast of air to scatter any rebellious little cuttings. “This is great, thank you,” I added. “I feel like me again.”
Dad stepped into the chair next. I don’t know if he really believed that Bryce was actually going to get a haircut from Gunter, or was trying make it easier for him. Gunter snapped a guard onto his clippers and started buzzing away at Dad’s hair. Dad had always sported a pretty conservative business man’s cut, but had never gone too short. There was always just enough length for it to fall and not stick straight up, but not enough to look sloppy. It took about five minutes to get Dad straightened out. As Gunter swept away Dad’s cuttings, Bryce asked me, quietly “If I look stupid after my haircut, promise me you won’t make fun of me?” What? “That would be pretty rich, wouldn’t it?” I asked. “I’ll make fun of you if you keep that haircut, not if you change it.” Bryce exhaled. “You ready for your buzzcut?” Gunter asked him, as casually as if he was asking Bryce if he wanted a refill on his drink or what his favourite colour was. Bryce gulped again, but stood and walked to the chair. “I’m a little nervous,” he admitted.
“You should be nervous,” Gunter tied the cape around Bryce’s neck firmly. “You have this haircut, I would be nervous too. Not to worry, we fix.” With that, a wrap of tissue to his neck, and Gunter examined the horror of Bryce’s cut. He made a few noises of disapproval as he examined the length on top, and the longer back, the shaved sides that ended abruptly at the longer top. The curls. “We have not many options,” Gunter finally declared, tugging on the length at the nape. “We cut this off. For sure.” Bryce nodded. He’d expected that much. Now a scowl at the curls on top. “We buzz this too, I think. All off. Shave it, gone.” Bryce’s eyes grew wider, but he had a perm for God’s sake. “This we maybe have to live with,” Gunter tapped the sides, with the shaved-in parts. “But we will be short everywhere so it will not look so funny. You sit still, yes?” Bryce pressed his lips together and nodded. He was terrified. He had the worst haircut in the history or the world, but the prospect of Gunter’s clippers was just about giving him a heart attack. “Um, would it be better if you used scissors?” I asked Gunter quietly. “I don’t know if my friend is used to being shaved.” Bryce let out a breath, and seemed surprised when he realized he’d been holding his breath. “No,” Gunter replied, picking up a wide clipper and snapping on the power. “Better if we clean it up quickly. The sooner this mess is shaved, the better.” Bryce nearly fainted, but he realized that Gunter had a point. The sooner Gunter started shaving, the sooner that awful cut would be gone. Why prolong that with scissors and waiting?
Gunter didn’t wait to see if Bryce agreed with his theory, didn’t ask permission. He did, however, turn the chair away from the mirror. “This will help,” Gunter explained, then he plunged down his clippers at Bryce’s forehead and swept back. In less than a minute, all of those silly looking permed curls had been shaved off, and met their well-deserved place on the floor. “Much better already,” Gunter smiled, then he pushed Bryce’s head forward and began to shave up the back, quickly taking away all that length at the nape. Another pile of hair rolled down the cape and hit the floor behind Bryce, who could not see what was going on. He had only his imagination to jump to conclusions for him. I figured he was probably making it way worse in his mind, and then I figured that was Gunter’s plan. If Bryce could see his hair being cut, he would be devastated. If he felt it, he’d make it way worse in his mind, and then he’s just see a nice, short, buzzed style.
Now that Gunter was done with the top and back, the sides, the only parts that had been shaved when Bryce walked into the shop, were the longest part. Not for long, as Gunter titled Bryce’s head and shaved away expertly, combing off the cut strands and sending them down. Bryce’s eyes grew wider when he saw the cuttings fall forward, as he must have realized that his shaved sides were being shaved again. “We cannot get rid of this nonsense unless we shave it off,” Gunter indicated the shaved-in lines that had been part of Bryce’s salon cut. “Um, how bad is it if they stay?” Bryce asked. “You tell me,” Gunter turned the chair back to the mirror.
The look on Bryce’s face was pure relief. He’d felt the clippers against his head and assumed the worst. But Gunter had simply given him an allover buzzcut. He’d barely tapered anything, Bryce still had hair at his nape, above his ears. The perm was gone, the inexplicable length at the nape, that was all gone, but his head showed no skin, no shiny patches. “You want to go shorter?” Gunter asked him, completely straight-faced. “No, this is a good start,” Bryce exhaled. “Thank you. That is way better than whatever it was I had before.” Gunter nodded agreement and said “You can always come back for shorter next time.” I almost had to laugh at that point, because I was pretty sure Bryce would need weeks to recover from this day. “I see you in three Saturdays, yes Andrew?” he asked me. “Yes, sir,” I replied, patting my own shorn pate. “Can I make that appointment now?”
Gunter was happy to write that down in his appointment book. “Two cuts or three?” he asked, looking directly at Bryce. “Can I see how this grows out before I decide?” Bryce hedged. Gunter chuckled and said “You will be back.” I found it comforting that Gunter had such confidence. “There we go, two buzzcuts. Clean for summer,” he added, ringing up the sale.
When Mr. Campbell came to pick up Bryce after soccer, he was not happy. “I spent so much money on your haircut, and you just went and shaved it all off?” he bitched. I was annoyed. Mr. Campbell always lorded it over his kids that he was such a great dad, because he didn’t make them get their hair cut short in a barber shop like mine did. He’d never laid a hand on Bryce or his brother Ashford, but he was just as abusive as he considered my dad to be. My dad smacked me, but he never berated me. “You spent money on that?” my dad asked him. “You’ll have to be mad at me, not Bryce.” Bryce and I exchanged a glance. We’d always hated each other and now that we were friends, our fathers were about to have a falling out? “You’ve always said that you wish your boys would get a good barbercut, so I took Bryce with us when I took Andrew for his clippercut. When Gunter asked if Bryce was getting a cut, too, he was too polite to say no. So I took the liberty of asking Gunter to give him the kind of cut you’ve always said you wanted him to have. I felt bad for him, because he seemed to be afraid that he’d get a bad cut, and Gunter gives such good short cuts, I’m glad that Bryce isn’t missing out on that anymore. I’m sorry if I overstepped.”
Bryce was about to speak up and admit that it was not my dad’s idea, but he stopped himself. His father was always complaining that Bryce and Ashford wouldn’t get their hair cut as short as mine, and it might help if he believed that Bryce had been forced. A few weeks later, as we were leaving soccer again, Bryce asked me if we were still on for movies the next Friday. ‘Yeah, sure,” I replied. “I have a haircut on Saturday, so if you haven’t recovered from Gunter’s last go-over, you might want to sleep in.” Bryce patted his head, tugged on the nape area that had grown in quite a lot in the two weeks since his big barber cut. “I think that might be why I want to stay over,” he admitted. “I’m just not sure what I’ll do when you take off back to England. I’ve totally let your dad take the blame for this, and you won’t be back until Christmas.”
“How does Ash feel about it?” I ventured. “He wishes he could just cut his hair short in a barbershop without it being some sort of weakness in Dad’s eyes,” Bryce confessed. “Invite him over next Friday too, then,” I suggested. “Dad can twist it somehow so that you guys get ‘forced’ to keep an appointment with Gunter every three weeks while I’m gone.” I had confidence in my father’s abilities to hold his friend accountable for his words. Sure enough, the next weekend, as Gunter was cutting Bryce’s hair shorter than he had the time before, and then giving Ash his inaugural clipper cut, Dad simply booked appointments for all three of us for three weeks later. “That will be Andrew’s back to school cut,” he warned Gunter. “He has to have finger-length at school.” Gunter said he would have to console himself by shaving Bryce instead. Bryce didn’t argue. Our parents had another barbecue that night, and Dad laid it on so thick, you could have eaten cake with it. “I bet you’ve seen a change in your boys since they’ve buzzed their hair,” he said to Mr. Campbell, as he sprinkled pepper onto his potatoes, like this was a casual conversation about the weather. “Andrew heads back to school in a few weeks, but I think Gunter has booked your boys in for a few more cuts while he’s gone.”
It was kind of delicious. Mr. Campbell was cornered. He’d always bitched about his kids’ hair length, and now that they’d cut it short, he just had to maintain it. So long as they didn’t seem too happy about it, he’d get to act like he was a really strict dad, and his kids hated it, etc. “I, well, yes, I do like them in their buzzcuts,” Mr. Campbell stammered. That was when I realized that he had fairly long hair himself. Certainly next to his closely-shorn kids, he looked like a hobo. I had heard enough of his crap over the years, I couldn’t stop myself. “Dad, maybe Mr. Campbell is afraid of the clippers,” I suggested quietly, as though I was trying to spare him some embarrassment. I was not in any way trying to spare him. “Well, yes, my father used to make my brother and I get short haircuts at the barbershop, and we didn’t like it much. But I do like the look of the boys with their haircuts.” I would have felt bad, but that man had singled me out so many times, I did not have it in me to be empathetic. Ashford was kind enough to say “You always made it sound like a clippercut is really bad, but Gunter gives such a good haircut, maybe you’ve just never had a good barber.”
Mr. Campbell did not come with us three weeks later when Gunter held his fingers to my locks, measured exactly how long that was, and snapped a quarter inch blade guard onto his clippers. He shaved and then asked if I thought he could taper that down closer to my ears and nape. “They must be okay with that?” I had about a week before I got back to school, so I said he could probably even take off another eighth of an inch on top. “So, one eighth less than one quarter? I can use the one eighth guard to clip you?” That seemed right to me, and you would think I had just handed him a Christmas present.
When I got home for Christmas that year, Dad drove me straight to Gunter’s for a haircut, and let him know I had three weeks at home, so as long as my hair was finger-length in three weeks, Gunter had carte blanche. He gave me his usual one-sixteenth going over, and casually mentioned as he shaved that he wasn’t a big fan of Bryce and Ashford’s dad. “I give him extra special buzzings when he comes in and is annoying. Bryce gets straight up brush cut, it works with his hair. Ashford, he needs more taper, like you. Dad? He always gets clean buzzcut.”