Monday, September 3, 2012

Close Shave

I walked into the luncheonette, parked myself on one of the cracked faux leather red stools, dropped the newspaper on the counter and pretended to read.

“Welcome. What’ll it be?” The guy behind the counter was pushing 60. Stained teeth contrasted with his bright white t-shirt and oversized chef’s hat. I didn’t make eye contact.

“Egg whites. Sliced tomatoes. Whole-wheat toast. Dry. Coffee. Black.” Fucking doctor had me eating shit all day.

“Coming right up. That’s nice and healthy. New around here?”

I ignored the question. Chef Hat’s smile shrunk as he turned toward the grill. It was Saturday morning, the place fairly quiet. I turned another page in the paper, but I wasn’t reading. I couldn’t keep my mind off the barbershop next door. More specifically, the old-fashioned cash register in the barbershop, its wide-open, now empty cash drawer glistening off the early morning sunshine. Beckoning.

“Here you go, my friend. You’ll live to a ripe old age eating this kind of food. Need some jelly or anything else?”

I looked up from the paper. “The barbershop next door, what time does it open?”

Chef Hat’s wide smile returned. “Old Charlie? Nine o’clock sharp. Yes sir, nine on the nose. You can set your watch by it.” He looked at his own. “Nine to five. That’s Charlie. He’s been cutting folks’ hair from nine to five for fifty years if it’s a day, of course, today being Saturday and all, he’ll be in the shop cutting hair fast as he can to keep up with all the heads. Everyone likes to get a hair cut on Saturdays it seems. Me? I like Mondays, don’t know why, just do. Anyway, I keep telling him, Charlie, I’d say to him, why don’t you give it up. You know, you and Doris pack it in and go get you a lake house and do nothing but fishing and relaxing all day and forget about work and enjoy yourselves because…”

My head was ready to explode. The fucking guy wouldn’t stop. I couldn’t hear myself think. But he was right about one thing. Most people get haircuts on weekends. The register would be full.


     At two minutes before five o’clock, I walked into Charlie’s barbershop. The old fart was alone, slapping an apron against an ancient chair. “Getting ready to close,” his voice soft.

“Oh, that’s too bad. I was hoping to get a haircut.” I glanced at the cash register. “Busy day?”

Charlie waived me to the chair. “Always have time for one more haircut. Have a seat. Make yourself comfortable.” I sat down. Charlie tightened white tissue paper around my neck, pushed by collar down, and snapped a gown around my neck. He spoke above the drone of the electric clippers. “Oh, can’t complain. Who’ll listen?”

It was twenty minutes past five. Charlie unsnapped the apron, loosened the tissue paper around my neck and began trimming my sideburns with a straightedge.  I adjusted myself in the chair and pulled a gun from my pocket. It was still daylight, and too many people were walking on the street in front of the barbershop. Most waved to Charlie as they passed and he waved back. I couldn’t make this obvious. I pitched a tent with the apron, pointing the Dan Wesson Commander Classic Bobtail toward the old man. “Okay, old-timer. That isn’t my dick staring at you. You aren’t my type. Thomas Jefferson is more my type, so very carefully, walk over to the register and empty out all of those nice Jeffersons and any of his other bearded buddies you have in there and gently place them in my hand.” My left hand emerged out from under the apron. From the corner of my eye, I watched him nonchalantly remove the bills and bring them toward me. At the exact moment my fist closed around the presidents, the back of the old barber chair gave way, lurching me backward with a sudden thud. I was laid out flat, as if in a chaise lounge sunning myself at the beach, staring at something shiny. With one swipe of the straightedge, the old geezer gave me my last, and closest shave.