Let's just say it was a bet I
never thought I'd lose but was happy to.
Most coaches never have an athlete in contention to be National Champion, so when
James, the day of finals, wanted a bet for extra motivation, I asked him what he had in
"If I win you have to get a flattop." My own dark hair at the time covered almost all of my ears and was long enough in back for a small ponytail, with bangs that hung to my eyes. Plus it was pretty curly, so a flattop would be about as drastic a cut as possible. Add to it the fact that my hair had never been much shorter than it's current length and this was no small sacrifice on my part.
But what were the odds he would win? I made the bet, and we were off to the competition. He quickly passed the wager information on to his teammates and all were totally psyched and rooting for him.
To make a long story short: he won. He had the competition of his life and his closest adversaries all made at least small mistakes. After the results were announced James came up to me and ran his hand over his head while making a buzzing sound.
There was no way he'd let me out of this one. We flew home the next day and I gave the team the week off to recover from the long season, so I had a 7-day reprieve before I had to sacrifice my hair. There was a barber across the street from work with the words painted on the shop window "Flat Top Expert." Many of the guys regularly went there and he seemed to do a good job for the type of cuts they wanted so it was worth the chance.
I usually went to a fairly expensive stylist who probably never cut a flattop before so I wasn't going to risk it. Besides, maybe this "expert" could cut an extremely long one, if such a thing existed.
Saturday came and I knew I
couldn't put things off any longer. The guys would be back for practice
that Monday, and since the shop was closed Sundays and Mondays it was now
or never. I brushed my hair one last time and stared at myself in the
mirror, trying to imagine a flattop on me. I couldn't and was already
about it all.
Up to that point I had never
been in a barber shop before, and it was much smaller
than I expected. It was also quite full, as I had to wait for three people ahead of me
before it was my turn.
Unfortunately none of them were getting flattops so I had nothing to watch to prepare me for my ordeal. Just two older bald men getting a trim to the rim of hair they had left, and another kid getting a bowl cut. What I did notice is that the barber worked very fast. Also, that the chair never faced the mirror, but rather faced the big glass window of the front of the shop, the one with the lettering painted on it bragging about his flattop abilities. That meant I'd never get to see any part of the cut, and was totally at his mercy.
That notion didn't help any, and
I tried to busy myself reading the day's paper trying not to look as
nervous as I was, but the shaking of my hands made it pretty obvious: I
was dreading this and really didn't want to be here.
Still, a coach is only as good as his word, so when the barber (Dave) signaled it was my turn I reluctantly sat in the well-worn barber chair. It took Dave a bit to get the striped cape around my neck. He probably wasn't used to having to lift up so much hair in back before fastening the tight strip around my neck. My heart was beating fast making the strip feel almost like it was choking me.
Before saying anything he ran a
comb through my curly mop a couple of
times to get a feel for what he was dealing with, then walked around in front so
I could see his inquisitive face.
"What can I do for you today?"
"Well, I lost a bet..." As those words leaked out you could see a grin
on his face.
He was in his 50's at least and he'd probably heard his share of stories over all the years. "....and the loser has to get a flattop. So here I am." This time he put his hand on my hair, picking it up and studying it's texture.
"Since this is something I really don't want to do, I was hoping you could cut it in a 'real long' flattop, if there is such a thing." He looked at me and shook his head.
"There is such a thing but you have the wrong hair type for it. It requires hair a lot straighter than yours."
For a second I thought I was off
the hook. "So you're telling me that my hair can't go in a flattop?" I was
already getting ready to get out of the chair and be on my merry way.
"Oh no, your hair can go in a flattop..."
My heart sank. I wouldn't get
off so easy. He again put his hands on my hair studying the curl.
"....it's just going to have to be a short one." "How short is short?"
This was not the news I wanted to hear. "Let's just say you're not going
to have much hair left. If it gets
long at all it's going to start curling. The only way you're going to have a flattop is
to go down almost to the scalp."
Now my day was really ruined. But a deal was a deal. I sighed and sank back into the chair. "OK, if that's what I have to do. Go ahead." "I tell you what, I'll try cutting it longer just on the chance it might work. I can always go shorter."
It was a nice gesture and
hopefully it would work. Maybe I'd be lucky.
"Yes, I'd appreciate that."
He walked behind me and raised the chair to the desired height and straightened it. All I could see is out the window on a cool sunny spring day, and the faces of the two people waiting in line. I think they were licking their chops anxious to see me shaved bald. I tried peeking to the sides to see if there was any mirror in view but there wasn't.
So this was the price for my athlete's success. He took his comb and a squirt bottle and quickly dampened down all my curls.
My bangs now reached over my eyes. It would be a while before I'd be able to say that again. I enjoyed the sensation one last time of the hair covering my ears and reaching down just to my shoulders in back. Dave was done combing, and went back to prepare his clippers. It seemed an eternity and I almost relaxed, but then the clippers roared to life and my nerves once again started full throttle.
He walked over to my right side, lifted the hair by my temple with a comb and placed the clippers underneath the hair against my head. It felt strange and I realized right away he had some kind of guard on the clipper to keep it from cutting too short. As it started slicing the first hairs it slapped me with the reality that this was no dream. I was actually doing this and about to lose a great deal of hair. With a few quick flicks of his wrist huge handfuls of hair fell on the apron in front of me.
Then he stopped and turned off
the clipper and combed the new shorter hair a bit.
He handed me a small hand mirror so I could look. "Sorry, but as I thought you can see the hair is still curling even at 1/2 inch. The only way this is going to happen is if I go real short."
I peered in the mirror and was
shocked to see a giant section on the side of my head cleared away. It
looked like a lawn mower plowed through my hair. But unfortunately he was
right. The short hair remaining was already curling back on itself. I was
doomed to have a 'real short' flattop. If the barber called it real short,
that meant I was in trouble.
"It looks like I have no choice. Do what you have to do."
Dave walked back and you could hear him readjusting the clippers. Then
he walked in front of me and gave me a bit of a smile. "I guess sometimes
you have to be careful what you bet on." I think he meant it in a nice way but right
now it was almost adding insult to injury.
As he stood there I got a peak
at the clippers as he turned them on. There was no guard covering the head
now at all! He wasn't joking this was going to be 'real short.'
He returned to the place he had started. This time he didn't need to lift the hair with a comb since it was now only 1/2 inch long. He set the clippers directly against my
scalp and started moving them up and back.
At first it was barely
noticeable as just the short hairs trickled down. I knew with it
tight against my head that my side was going to be basically bald. Then he continued in on the long hair over my ear, first lifting it with his comb so he could slide the clippers underneath. The huge wads came tumbling down and I could feel my ear exposed to the world. The clipper continued, reaching high towards the top of my head, higher than I thought it should be. My hands were gripping the chair arms tight.
He seemed to be taking his time.
Maybe because he knew how reluctant I was
about all this and rushing it would make things worse. Maybe because he was enjoying
the whole thing a bit. I could relate knowing if the roles were reversed it could be fun for
the barber. In no time the right side of my head felt totally bare.
He walked behind me and used his
comb to lift the long hairs off my shoulders so he could see where to
start in with the clippers. I shuddered as I felt them pressed against
my neck and then pushed upwards. The size and weight (thanks to the water) of this
dispensed section was so great it made an audible plop as it hit the floor.
It took him 4 or 5 more passes of just my lower hairline before he cleared enough of a path for him to continue up the back of my head. I had always been known for having lots of very thick hair. After today I wouldn't be.
The feeling of now having no
hair against my neck was very strange. It was at this
point that, accepting my fate and way too far in to back out, I basically relaxed and just
started taking in all the sensations. My head already felt lighter and cooler, and almost
started leaning to the left on it's own from the additional weight on that one side.
Dave seemed to take a lot of time in the back, but then I had a lot of hair there too. He placed the clippers against my scalp at my neck and just ran straight up with them, reaching nearly to the top. Again it seemed to be reaching too high. With each pass I could hear the hair bouncing off the apron to the floor. Quite by surprise, by the time he was doing his last passes in the back I was actually enjoying the massaging feeling of the clippers running up against my skin.
Then he was over to my left
side, lifting and buzzing, and again I could see the huge chunks of hair
fall in front of the apron and come to a rest on my lap. Both ears were
now uncovered. At least my head now felt balanced again. I was just
starting to enjoy the feeling of the clippers rolling above my ear when he
shut them off. Then he got
a brush and started brushing off the areas he had already attacked. I took a deep breath, then the clippers roared to life once more. I was waiting to feel him chop off the top but instead he attacked my lower hairline once again, slower and more meticulously.
The clipper felt a little different this time and I heard a few more hairs giving way and falling to the floor. Could he be going shorter still?
He proceeded to go around my hairline and about halfway up with the slow, steady rhythm. I was very anxious to see what he had done thus far. It felt like he had removed all the hair from the sides and back. I realized my heart was no longer beating in fear but in anticipation.
I heard him hang up his clippers on their hook and quickly wash off his hands, surely covered with many a long stray hair by now. Then he returned to stand behind me.
Suddenly a hand and comb reached in front of me and drew my bangs straight up. The room seemed brighter as a result, without my hair acting as a sunshade. This time he was using scissors and with one swift squeeze my bangs were no more, and they bounced off my nose on their downward plight to the apron. He let go and nothing fell back into my line of vision.
Working from front to back, he combed up another section and quickly lopped off (I guessed) at least half of the length on top. I knew it was going to be shorter than this and wondered why this intermediate step. He continued section by section until he had worked clear to the back of my head.
Again he stopped, and I caught my breath wondering what was next. The curious noises behind me gave me no clue. Both hands quickly slapped at my remaining hair, depositing a huge amount of some type of thick product into my hair. He massaged it in making sure it was uniform throughout. I was almost relieved by this feeling knowing there was still what seemed to be a fair amount of hair left up there. Maybe only the sides were going to be short and the top was going to retain some length. This might not be so bad after all.
A blow dryer roared on full
speed and Dave combed the hair every which way in an attempt to get it to
straighten out and stand up. After a couple of minutes he stopped, then
mysteriously wet it again and put on another large dosage of product, at
least twice as much as previously. I guess the first try didn't work. He
used the blow dryer again and a different brush that really gripped my
hair and yanked it up. It was almost painful but obvious he was trying his
best to keep whatever length he could.
He continued for several more minutes.
My scalp was getting hot from
the dryer. Then he turned it off. "It just doesn't want to be straight
and stand up, and I've given it my best shot. I'm afraid I have no choice
but to go for a horseshoe with a landing strip."
"I have no idea what that means. Is that still a flattop?" "Yes, just a very short one. It just means at one point the clipper will be resting directly against the top of your head. The exposed streak of scalp it leaves is known as a landing strip. The horseshoe is the rim of hair that remains defining the flattop. I know that'll be shorter than you planned but it's the only way. Do you still want me to do it or just blend what's left and call it a day?"
It was nice of him to be so courteous about the bad news, but there was no turning
back. I was starting to imagine the bald jokes I'd be hearing upon leaving the shop.
"Thanks but I'm supposed to have a flattop. So go ahead and give me this landing
He went back and washed his
hands of the product, then dried them and
rearmed himself with his clippers. I was again shaking as they where switched
on. He started in front with the comb sideways, drawing the hair up and
running the clippers directly over the comb from side to side. I could feel him
lift up on the comb before passing the clippers over them so maybe there was still some hair left.
Hairs about one inch long fell in front of my face. He worked with great concentration and took his time, and it took 6-8 passes over the comb to totally work his way to the back. I never even felt the comb against my scalp so hopefully Dave had exaggerated how short it would be. The notion that he was making my head appear flat was kind of fun.
Then he brought the clippers and comb forward and started making another front to back pass, still lifting the comb a bit but not much. More little hairs fell. This time at the very back I could feel the comb resting against my scalp as the clippers did their job.
Then he came back around for yet another pass! Each pass went a little slower than the previous as he paid great attention to detail. This time the comb w as resting firm against my scalp as the clipper passed. I wondered if any hair was left at all.
After he finished this slow pass I was ready for even another. But he didn't come back to the front. I felt one hand on my head, which was now alive with tingles from the exposed scalp, and he asked me to hold still as he held my head steady.
I guess my nerves were shaking my head a bit. Then I felt the clipper touch down on top of my head directly against my scalp. It slowly worked it's way back carving a path against my pale white skin. He repeated this run several times. I now had a landing strip.
I thought by now he was done but he wasn't. Instead he returned to his comb/clipper combo and blended the sides and back into the top. Again I could feel the comb laying tight against my head.
As the clipper was shut off and
returned to it's hook, I started eagerly anticipating
the unveiling in the mirror. It would still have to wait a bit more. Dave was spritzing my
hair with a layer of hairspray, and then drying it with the blow dryer on a low, cool setting.
I didn't know why he bothered as I didn't feel any hair anywhere on my head. "You're a good sport for keeping your side of the bargain", he said, as he unlocked the chair from it's position. I was so anxious to see my new look that I almost turned around but let the suspense build as the chair slowly rotated.
Finally I could see myself. At least I think it was me. The person staring back looked totally different. My eyes looked bigger, my neck looked thicker, I seemed taller, even my whole physique looked stronger.
It was definitely a flat top,
and it was peculiar to see my hair so rigid, though it was only a 1/2 inch
tall ridge standing up. From straight on I couldn't see any hair at all
on thesides, but noticed as I turned my head that there was some stubble
left that got just a little longer as it reached to the top. At what once
was my hairline over my ears, as I had
thought, there was no hair left at all.
Then I tilted my head forward a bit to see this "Landing strip." It was at that point when I really noticed how extremely short my hair now was! The ridge that was the flat top was just that, a ridge. It had a depth of less than an inch, and the horseshoe shape was quite obvious. Besides that all you could see was my bare white scalp.
Dave handed me a mirror and turned the chair again so I could see the back. It was similar to the sides, with absolutely no hair where once there was a hairline, ever so slowly increasing into little stubble at the top. From the back the flattop ridge was hardly noticeable and I basically looked bald.
"Well, now you have a flattop. I
apologize again for having to make it so short."
"Don't worry about it, you tried your best." With that I paid him and gave him a
I walked out of the shop
immediately greeted by the cool outside air on my head.
It woke me up fast and again I was trembling. I quickly got in my car and looked in the
mirror at the new me. Finally I got to touch my new cut and really enjoyed the dramatic
difference. The ridge of hair was very stiff and spiky which I never thought my hair would
do. I ran my hand continually over the level surface. I just couldn't stop touching it and
enjoying the sensation, and by now was even starting to like my new look.
So did I get ridiculed by the kids upon returning to work? Yes, but that was to be expected. It only lasted a couple of days though, and then life continued normally.
What wasn't expected was how much I liked my new cut. And as it grew out a bit
I could actually get my hair trained to stand up because it had never known another style.
I ended up letting it grow out again a couple of months. It stopped standing up and started curling again and I decided I'd rather keep my new look. I marched back in to see Dave who looked quite surprised to see me. When it was my turn in the chair, he asked me what I'd like.
"A Horseshoe flattop with a
landing strip," I stated confidently, and I
wasn't nervous in the slightest bit as I again felt the clippers tight against
the side of my head and running down the middle to form the strip. I had become a convert, and still am to this day.