As we drove back to the barberhsop, I told Jack that I appreciated what it was he had asked of Casey. It was a completely stress-free haircut. I didn’t puke or feel like I was going to have an asthma attack. But I hadn’t been punished, and imposing a curfew for a guy who has no social life anyway isn’t really a punishment. “Mom thinks you aren’t strict enough with me, because you feel bad for me because of how my father raised me. If I walk through the door tonight with whitewalls, she’ll think you made me do it, and she’ll back off of you a bit. I know why you did what you did for me, and I appreciate it more than words can express. But you need a happy marriage, too. And since I want you to keep being my stepfather, you need to stay married to my mother.”
Jack stopped for a light and told me that when he adopted me, he made a commitment to me. That had nothing to do with his marriage. And my mother did think he was too soft on me, but that wasn’t going to be the end of their marriage. “I’ll happily take you back to Casey’s, but it has to be because you want a clippercut, not because you feel pressured.” I said was ready because Casey wasn’t mean. When he had cut my hair that morning with nothing but a comb and scissors, he showed me that a haircut doesn’t need to be cruel. Now I needed to have my hair shaved and buzzed while I had the guts to do it, and it had to come from someone who would be kind. Plus, Jack would be there with me, and that calmed me down a bit.
When we walked into the shop, there were a few people waiting before us, so I had plenty of time to sit and really think about what I had decided. But I knew this wasn’t the cruel head shavings my father had always given me, exposing my cleanshaven head to the world as a sign of his control over me. This was my choice, my decision. Even if I only did it once, I needed to know that I could get through it. Casey was giving a young boy a very close cut, and it was obviously not the first time, because he wasn’t taking much off. He even used the clipper to cut in some hard parts on the side, just to make it find of fun. Casey rubbed his hands over the shaved top, making it stand up a bit and I was kind of envious of this boy. He’d never fear getting a haircut because someone had made his experience pleasant.
When he caught site of Jack and I sitting in his chairs again, he gave Jack a look, like asking if something was wrong. Jack gave him a thumb’s up and Casey went back to work, cutting next the dad and brother of the boy with the supershort buzzcut. They all had their hair cut a little differently, but the one thing in common was that it was extremely short for all of them. I had plenty of time to get my ears accustomed to the harsh sound of the blades and motor running in the various clippers that Casey wielded. I still thought I might freak out at the last minute, but when they had left, and Casey called out number 51, I didn’t need to look at the tag in my hand to know that was me. “This is a bit sooner than I expected,” he admitted, grabbing a cape from a pile that had gone down significantly in the past few hours. I sat down without waiting to be told and this time, the cape was tied a little tighter, a little more aggressively, as though Casey could sense that I was close to changing my mind.
“If you’re back, you’re here for whitewalls,” he declared, not asking. “Or can I have a bit of leeway?” he asked Jack. I felt a sense of fear kick in and wondered if I was making a mistake. “Daniel wants a clippercut,” Jack replied. “I think he needs a clippercut. You know what you’re doing, so I trust that whatever you decide on will look good.” Well, I had said that when I had choices, I panicked. Casey combed through my hair, eyed the texture and thickness, even moved his mouth while thinking. It was the longest ten seconds I could remember in a while. “All right, son, hold still,” he ordered me, and picked up one of the clippers he’d used on the youngest boy of the family. I tried to stay calm, to breathe through my nose. I remembered that kid had a really cute haircut, even if he did look like he was on his way to military school. I barely had time to think before the first pass of the blades ran from nape to crown, the clippers whining away as Casey pressed them firmly to my head. He used his left hand to hold my head in place while he shaved with his right, and I could feel the tickle as the cuttings hit the back of my head before rolling down. I guess it was whitewalls.
Casey continued to shave, and I realized that I wasn’t counting the agony away. I was simply letting the clippers do their work, and wondering what it would look like. That was also progress. After Casey finished with the back, he titled my head to the side and used the now flat path to shave some clean whitewalls, repeating on the other side before he straightened my head and plowed from the forehead back, without stopping to change guards. Now I really did gulp, because I was sure I was walking out of here bald. Whitewalled might have been extreme, but I could deal with it. I was going to be cueball smooth, like my father always kept me. The only difference was this man wasn’t going to strip me and whip me when he was finished. Now I was counting, and it was in anticipation of it being over with. The sooner I was shaved smooth, the sooner the hair could start growing back. “Let’s jazz this up a bit,” Casey said, and I wondered how. I was bald, wasn’t I? That was when I actually looked in the mirror and realized that he had shaved me, but hadn’t shaved me clean. I was sporting whitewalls, but there was still hair on top.
Casey noticed my confused expression and showed me the two sides of the clipper. “One shaves it clean, one leaves it at 1/16th,” he explained. That might not sound like much, but that was the difference between shame and pride. The teeth of the comb still tickled my scalp, as they breezed through the hair, and then Casey told me to hold still again. I wasn’t worried anymore, but I couldn’t say I was excited to see what he was going to do. My head is apparently shaped differently than Jack’s, and Casey opted not to blend the sides with the top. Instead, he took the clipper and shaved a groove into the part, making it deeper. It wasn’t the haircut of a kid who was so scared of his father’s belt and whip that he sat through anything. It was the haircut of a little hockey playing badass. I kind of loved it. Casey soaked a cloth in some sort of liquid and ran that over the clean-shaven areas. “That should help prevent ingrown hairs,” he declared, dragging the comb across the top once more.
I left that shop feeling like a real person. I know I was meant to be punished and being home by ten o’clock on weekends pretty much meant I was punished. But I felt like a decent person in that haircut. My mother did love it, and told Jack it was about time he laid down the law with me. Jack hadn’t told me to do so, but I knew that my mother needed an apology for my behaviour the night before. After all the she and Jack had done for me, they needed an apology. What shocked me was when Jack asked my mother if she had anything to say to me. I could tell she was annoyed, but she had basically told me that I deserved the beatings my father had given me. “I don’t care if you were angry when you said it, you still said it.” She agreed that he was right and told me she was sorry.
I visited Casey for the rest of high school. When Jack noticed me having to put effort into getting my hair to lay flat, or being annoyed with the nape hitting my neck skin, he’d look up over his breakfast and announce “See that your hair’s been cut before you come home tonight.” Then he’d pass me money to pay for the cut. Or he’d ask me over dinner on Friday night what time hockey was the next day. “Good, that gives us time to see Casey and get our hair taken care of in the morning,” he’d reply, as nonchalantly as if he’d asked me to pass the butter. It always made my mom happy, because she thought it was a sign that he was strict with me.
“I bought something you’re going to like,” Casey told me once, the week before grad photos. I was curious, until he turned on his new hair clipper and I barely heard any noise. “Seriously” I asked him. “Do they even cut hair?” Casey said they were merciless. “Two passes and you’ll be whitewalled, before you even realize it’s happened.” I had grown my hair out a bit by then, having moved toward more of an allover brushcut, tapered shorter at the back and sides. Whitewalls were something I normally did for the summer but we let it grow in more the rest of the year. I was feeling nostalgic that day, remembering my first haircut in this shop. “Wish I’d had these the day I met you,” Casey added. “I’m kind of missing the whitewalls,” I admitted. “Let’s give them a whirl.” Casey did not ask twice, turning on the new tool and he was right. I felt the shaving at the back of my head, but barely heard a thing over the sound of the radio playing. Even when he shaved above my ears, when you would expect to hear the motor, I felt the crunch of my hair being shaved off, felt the air hitting skin, but barely heard a thing. It sounded like a distant air conditioner or refrigerator humming.
“What are we doing on top?” Casey asked, after he’d easily cleaned away the sides and back. “I thought we’d go with the 1/16,” I replied, and realized that I was sure. I watched the cuttings fall, grateful that Jack had been so patient with me. “Let’s go for a hard part,” I added, and Casey happily obliged, clipping and trimming with his quiet little assassins. It was by far the shortest haircut I’d had in a very long time, but I loved it. And I love that Casey had thought of me when he came across these quiet hair clippers. “What did my dad say to you that first day?” I asked him, as he took another pass over the nape to ensure he’d cleaned it fully. Casey looked down, as though remembering it hurt him. “Just that your biological father had always used haircuts to torture you. That you needed to learn how good a haircut could feel, and that might take time.” Figured. “He didn’t tell you that I’d been caught drinking in Stanley Park the night before with my hockey friends?” Casey assured me that part had been left out. “I don’t even want to drink on grad night,” I admitted. “One night of cheap vodka has soured me for life.”
“Let’s be glad that a few whitewalls haven’t soured you from those,” Casey grinned. “This is such a good cut on you, it would be shame if you were still shy of clippers.” I said I didn’t even need to psych myself up anymore, because I had always trusted him to cut. Just like I had always trusted Jack to do the right thing for me. Before I left for university, Jack said he had a surprise for me. I was not shocked in any way that he drove us to Casey’s shop, or that he suggested we go for tight whitewalls to last me until Thanksgiving. I didn’t want anyone else cutting my hair other than Casey, and Vancouver and Boston aren’t exactly close. “Maybe we should go fully clean,” I pondered, thinking that might last me until US Thanksgiving, my first break and trip home. “I promise this won’t hurt,” Casey assured me, firing up his quiet clipper and plunging it across the top of my head. If I was only thinking it, it was too late now. Inside of a minute, my head was shaved clean and smooth. (Not that I counted. There was a clock on the wall and when I sat down, there was a commercial on. When my haircut was finished, the commercial just ended.)
By the time frosh week was over, I had hair back, but it remained short enough that I didn’t need a trim until Thanksgiving. Casey buzzed it but didn’t shave it clean, because he know I would be back a month later. Jack and I visited him the week before Christmas and I once again had him shave me clean. I no longer associated a head shave with a horsewhipping. It was simply part of an ordinary day, between picking up a new toothbrush, or meeting up with friends. I owed that to both Jack and Casey. Jack’s hair had started to thin, so we now had identical haircuts, but for different reasons. I realized that if I ever had kids, I would take my son to Casey for haircuts and it occurred to me that he would probably be retired before that. That made me sad.
Casey cut our hair the day of my mom’s funeral, and on my wedding day. Both times we opted for whitewalls. He gave me a tight brushcut the day of my son’s Christening and when it was time for Jacob’s first haircut, I knew exactly who I wanted to give it to him. It was indeed a sad day when he told us he was retiring, but his parting gift was to teach me how to cut Jake’s hair and to teach Jack how to cut mine. Jake has never, ever had hair that touched his ears, his collar or his eyebrows. He has a ten o’clock curfew, and plays defense. He has never been struck, and he is not as much of a fan of whitewalls as I’d like him to be, but he does like clipper designs shaved into the sides and back of his head. The deal is he can have those every second cut, if he lets me give him whitewalls in between. He gets a haircut every fourth Saturday, so neither of us ever really has long to complain about the style between cuts. Jack moved in with us last year, and he no longer trusts his hands to be steady while wielding clippers, but Jake has watched me enough times that he thinks he’s ready to give me a haircut this weekend.
He suggested he do mine first, and then if he’s terrible at it, we’ll just have to shave it clean, and then I can get revenge by reciprocating.