Fenmore Military Base was located 11 miles East from our town of Blasey, Kansas, across the creek and fields of corn. It got built at the height of the Vietnam War to train young draftees from all over the state, and had for that reason maintained a sense of discipline and pride over the years. Many folks in Blasey worked for the base in some way or other, and I was about to become just one more of them.
A young sergeant named Bob led me down a fluorescent hallway, his boots clacking on the hard tile floor. We reached a door that looked like all the others we’d passed, except this one said “barbershop” on it in big old brass letters. Unlocking the door and flicking on the lights, Bob showed me to my new workplace.
“You’ll be working with two other barbers,” he said in a reedy voice. “Janis is civilian like you, though she been working here for years now. Mark is retired from service now, but he used to be a lieutenant here, so people still treat him as such. He still drills the guys from time to time, too. I think he misses it is what it is.”
I nodded, familiarizing myself with the shop. It was plain old school: a row of three big leather and steel chairs lined against a wall painted all white, with a mirror and counterspace in front of each chair. On the wall opposite the barber chairs, rows of folding chairs lay in a line from corner to corner. There was easily enough room in here for 20-odd people to wait to get their hair cut, which struck me as a crazy big number for just three workstations.
Bob walked up to the station on the far right. “This here’s yours,” he said. “You’ll find some clippers and scissors and whatnot in the drawers, but if you’re ever short on anything I’m sure Janis or Mark’ll be able to help you.” He opened the top drawer, revealing two shiny pair of clippers, one small and one large, along with a comb, two pairs of scissors, and some packs of single-use razor blades. On the top the counter lay a folded black cape, all freshly ironed and cleaned. Bob picked another dark folded garment next to it.
“…And this here must be your apron.” He said in a not unkind way, offering it to me. Had it not been for the voice and the acne scars, I might have found him cute.
Bob awkwardly watched me put on my apron for a while, before finally saying: “Well, I best be off. Recruits should be arriving right about now, so they’ll need me in the yard, and then in about an hour, your first wave of victims should be over. All the best, miss!”
I unpacked my things and settled them into my new workspace. The officer who’d recruited me had said I could bring over whatever extra equipment I deemed necessary, so my mom had gifted me with a bunch of goodies from her shop: specialty lotions, lathers and aftershaves, along my own towel, brush, scissors, and clippers. I arranged everything into drawers and along the counter, making sure I kept track of what was mine and what was the base’s. Lastly, I lay my mom’s straight razor sideways upon a felt towel on the countertop.
As I was doing this, Janice and Mark arrived and introduced themselves. Janice was probably in her early to mid sixties, a short broad woman with a well-manicured silver bob and horn rimmed glasses. She had a cheerful demeanor and her eyes crinkled when she smiled. Mark was an equally cheerful-looking guy, though this seemed to bely a cold roughness beneath it. Though he seemed at least as old as Janice, he was incredibly built, his appearance made even more commanding by a close-cropped white beard and a smoothly shaved head. He still wore the military uniform, with dog tags hanging at his beefy neck.
“It’ll be nice to have some fresh blood in the shop!” He told me, laughing heartily.
I laughed along, a bit nervously. I hoped I wouldn’t make a fool of myself today. The military was entirely new to me. The closest I’d ever gotten to Fenmore was the highway.
At 10am sharp, a crowd of young men in fresh uniforms came flooding in, followed by Bob and two other soldiers that I did not recognize. One of them appeared to have a similar ranking as Bob, while the other was clearly their superior, guiding the entire procession.
“Alright, fellas!” this man bellowed. “Our lovely barber staff here will be taking care of your precious locks. If any of you decide to give these people a hard time today or any other day, you will be hearing personally from me and my boot! These barbers are responsible for cutting the hair of every man, woman and dog on this base, so I want them treated right!
Standing by the chair to my right, Janice turned over to me and said in a quiet voice: “It ain’t true that we cut dog hair. Bill’s just being dramatic for the new guys!” And with that she cackled and turned back to face the crowd.
The soldier named Bill moved towards the line of new recruits and began walking past them, selecting three guys seemingly at random. “You, you and you. Up in the chairs now! The rest of you will stay standing until I call you up! Once you are done, return to the yard to begin your first session of exercises!”
The recruit closest to me rushed into my chair. He was small and wiry with a curly hay-coloured mop. He couldn’t have been older than 20. I caped him and pumped my chair up. Turning on my big pair of clippers, I proceeded to administer my first induction haircut. First, I attacked the top of the young man’s scalp, raining hair on his lap. Where the clippers passed, they left nothing but pale stubble and even paler scalp.
The barbershop was now filled with the hum of three pairs of clippers going at it. Besides me, Janice was making quick work of another gangly young guy with short dark hair. In the time it took me to tackle the top of my first recruit’s head, Janice had already almost completely shorn hers. This only motivated me to work harder and faster. I made my passes faster and more deliberate, peeling away the straw hair in droves. Pretty soon, my first inductee was all done, his scalp all shiny and bare. I unclipped the cape, brushed his neck quickly, and said “You’re done. Next!”
As soon as my first guy left, another guy took his place. This one had close-cropped thick black hair. I gave my clippers a brisk oiling and brushing, and went to work on this next recruit. The clippers howled when they made contact with his hair, but they mowed through just the same. With a flick of the wrist after my first pass, I made a tuft of dark hair tumble down, and then another, and another. There was something incredibly satisfying about making all this hair fall limply down onto the cold hard tiles of the army shop.
My raven-haired client was followed by a sandy blonde, and then a redhead, a dirty blonde, and more. Locks cascaded from our three barber chairs, with recruit after recruit taking their seat in our incredibly efficient shearing stations. By ten to eleven, we had finished the whole group, and I collapsed into my chair, too tired to care about all the loose and spiky hairs digging into my leggings.
“How you doin’, dear?” Janice asked me as she began to clean up her workstation. I could see that she was equally weary, though not so nearly as exhausted as I. “It takes it out of ya, doesn’t it?”
“It sure does!” I responded. “I was trying to match your pace as best I could, but I don’t think I’ve ever worked this fast, so it was quite the workout!”
“You killed it out there,” Mark chimed in, approaching the two of us. “You’re Laura’s daughter, aren’t ya?”
“That’s right!” I answered. “How did you know?”
“My wife’s a regular at her shop. I see you got your mom’s same talent at cutting hair. Laura’s always trying to get my Nichole to cut her hair short!” He let out a good chuckle.
“Oh, you’re Nichole’s husband!” I said, making the connection. “Yeah, mom does love giving her ladies the pixie treatment!”
“I see she got you too, sweetheart!” Janice said. “And a fine job she did. It looks terrific on you!”
“Aw thank you!” I responded, starting to feel a little embarrassed by all the attention, but also liking it quite a bit. “It’s been lots of fun to style and play with!”
We kept bantering as we finished up cleaning the shop, and then took our lunch break. We had another hour until the next wave of recruits showed up, and then after that we would have one more and final wave before the end of the first induction day. This would go on for the rest of the week, after which we would be opening up the shop for regular operations.
“You’ll see,” Janice said, “Once we get into that regular schedule, things are far more relaxed around here. It’s just the induction weeks that are this boot-campy.”
“Yeah,” Mark added, “The rest of the time, it’s very casual and stuff. I read my paper or listen to the radio until someone comes in for a touch-up, and most of my customers are guys I know back from my time in the service here. It’s the best semi-retirement a guy like me could ask for really, if it wasn’t for having to work with Janice here!”
“Hey now, I make sure you’re not messing up anyone’s haircut, so you better watch it, sir!” Janice chided in a playful tone.
By the end of the day, I was ready to collapse into bed and veg out. The shearings blended into each other in my mind, becoming just one big blur of clippers buzzing and hair falling in big clumps. My wrist was achingly sore, and my legs felt like they were about to give out under me. Still, I managed to find the energy to clean up my workstation adequately, and to shamble back to my mom’s place.
That night, I mostly kept to myself in the hopes of recuperating for the next day. I did my chores, ate a hearty meal, and relaxed in front of the TV before calling it an early night. I shared how my day had been with my mom a bit, without going too much into any details just because of how tired I was. The following day, I woke up still feeling tired, but with enough energy and drive restored to get my ass back to work.
This second day was a bit easier though. I started getting into a rhythm and flow with the shearing, my passes becoming more efficient with each head I shaved bare. It became a steady pattern of top, left side, right side, nape, and around the ears, again and again, with the slightest break between one recruit getting out of the chair and a new one getting in. By the time Friday came, I almost felt ready to do another two days, but then on Saturday morning I felt different, and slept in well into the afternoon.
When I woke up, I decided to walk over to my mom’s shop, just to be in her company. Her tight flattop had grown out into a very short, faded pixie, which I had helped trim and shape for her. As always, she looked like the glamourous Rockstar that she was, at her workstation giving a regular customer some new highlights.
As I walked in, the shop’s bell chimed, and the customer and my mom looked up.
“Hey Andie!” My mom greeted me. “Didn’t expect to see you here after all the haircutting you did this week. You want to do more or what?”
I shrugged and laughed. “I don’t know, I just felt like stopping by and saying hi. Hey Trish!” I said to my mom’s customer.
“Hey Andie! Ooh, I love your new hair! Your mom’s been telling me about your new job. It sounds so exciting! You must see a lot of good-looking guys in the army!”
“Thanks,” I replied, before giving another shrug. “They’re okay. It’s a lot of new recruits, so they’re mostly too young for me. Not that I’m interested or anything, just none of them have really been my type.”
“You just wait till Mr. GI Joe shows up and swoops you off your feet!” Trish laughed at her own comment. “That’s how I was when I first saw Glenn. He looked so strong and self-assured in that uniform, I just knew he was the man I was gonna marry!”
I was starting to lose track of all these military guys and their spouses, and was also starting to lose interest in this conversation, so I fixed myself a tea in the back and pulled up a chair and book in the shops waiting area.
“I think I might keep my hair short, at least for the time being,” I told my mom. “Would you be OK giving me a trim later today?”
“For sure dear! Once I’m done with Trish and my next appointment, I can do that for you!”
“Thanks!” I said, before getting back into my book.
However, I did not have time to do much reading before a woman came bustling in. It was Ramona from the hardware store across the street. She was a no-nonsense woman just a few years older than me, with a plain appearance to reflect her attitude. She always wore utilitarian work clothes and kept her shoulder-length chestnut hair loose or in a ponytail. Today was no exception, with her hair flowing down her overalled shoulders.
“Hey gals!” she said to both me and my mom. “Sorry to burst in like this, but I’m just really in the mood for a haircut right now, you know? So I was wondering if you guys were free for a walk-in. If not, I can book an appointment and come back around later!”
My mom was now working on her last booked appointment of the day: a short bob with an undercut for a young lady working as a teller at the bank. She stopped her work and looked over my way. “How do you feel, Andie? Would you be ok doing Ramona while I finish up here? No pressure though.” She turned over to Ramona. “Andie here just started a job cutting hair at Fenmore, so she’s busy all week!”
Even though I was physically tired, the prospect of cutting some more hair sounded appealing to me. I was excited to see what Ramona wanted done. So, I cheerfully replied: “I’d be happy to!”
I brought her over to my station and set her up. “So, what are we thinking today?” It was nice to say after having done nothing but shave heads for the past week.
Ramona played with her hair, looking pensive. “I’m not sure, honestly. But I know I want something short. I’m tired of this mess: it’s plain and boring, plus it gets in the way all the time. I’m thinking maybe something like your length, or maybe even shorter? I don’t know. What do you think?”
I looked at her hair, the way it fell down and framed her face. Then, I looked at her facial features and the shape of her head. “Hmmm…” I said, thinking my response over. “We can definitely do a cute pixie, but I think with your skull and face structure you could really pull off a bowl cut. What do you think?”
“Ooh I would love that!” Ramona answered. “That’s totally my vibe. I leave myself in your hands.” She said comically, making a grand gesture.
“Alright,” I chuckled. “Thanks for giving me that trust. Here goes nothing.”
I sectioned off the top of her hair at the occipital bone, and then cut off the bulk of the bottom section. Then, I brought in my small clippers and shaved everything down to a near-bald stubble. After this, I undid the top section and brush down her remaining hair straight. With my scissors, I made a straight line across her entire head, making the longer hair end bluntly right at the start of the shaved section. This made the hair at her forehead blend seamlessly into neat little bangs. With my straightening iron, I flattened out her hair and made another pass with my scissors, making the line even more straight. The end result was a crisp and modern-looking bowl cut.
Ramona was beaming. “I love it! It’s so cute!”
As I was wrapping up, I asked “I can razor the shaved part if you want a nice and smooth finish. What do you think?”
She thought about it for a moment, rubbing the shaved part with one hand. “I can’t get over this as it is, so maybe next time? This is amazing! Thank you so much Andie! You’re the coolest, just like your mom!”
As she got up after I’d uncapped and brushed her off, she tackled me in a big hug. I was caught off guard, and felt emotions swell upon me. It was so gratifying to feel appreciated, especially by someone other than my mom. This gave me further confidence that I had indeed made the right choice committing to this haircutting business. Maybe buzzing inductees’ heads wasn’t so bad after all, if I also got clients like Ramona from time to time?