Everything about it was grown-up. Catching a lift with my dad in the big car, his, fumigated with Pall Malls, the radio tuned to his hokey 50,000 watt farm station that played Beatle songs without words before telling you the price of corn and wheat. Going to my dad’s work was on the other side of the universe. We crossed two bridges. My dad never talked to me outside of the house. It was left unsaid that pretty much we go our own ways once out the doors. He taught me that he had other things to do than the unwatched walk from his curb of his business to the barber shop millions of miles away across the street. A kid never has to worry about him holding the sweaty hand of an eight year-old loner and big boy who’s barely afraid.
Trucks pulling open trailers putters by smelling of diesel and cattle idling in low gears shake with the turns dropping hockey pucks of poop, waiting for their turn to get out of here. Police cars and brown square government sedans suspiciously patrol probably looking for greasers or other delinquents who skipped school before going back to their spaces under the oak trees that surround the court house and fire department. I think about putting a foot down off the curb onto the feverish moving street. More cars and trucks on both sides go by. Suddenly there’s a parade. In the heat the trucks and cars bend as they waiver through the small town under piercing sun. The milk man, a blur in white pants, shirts and truck, sloshes as he moves down the road. Cattle trucks heavy with the stench of moos and belly aches, jingles along the roadside with chains that bang the trailer frames in disapproval, on the way to the stockyards. A red flag tacked to the top waves lazily good-bye from the back of a long flatbed flush with over-sized lumber wrapped tight with fraying dirty brown rope bracelets. Shorn and stack high, the wood sways in the stuffy air while the truck sputters slowly playing tag with a trailer less Semi moving like a lady in a golf cart. Braking, then starting and stopping with tiny hops almost touching the open back of the squat bulldog of a truck while plumes of smoke from the tall silver exhaust stacks on each side passing pops of grey fumes into morning soup.
A man in a suit with a string tie who might know my dad stops his Chevy pick-up and signals with his outside hand for me to cross. I look behind to see if anyone’s watching. I can hear the voices now yelling at me if I was to be hit by a car on my own. I’d be in big trouble if my Dad has to leave his office.
There’s something coming. Cars and trucks appear around bends and out of the sunken valleys of the busy country road, sizzling and dazzling in the hot waves of the summer’s light. I can’t wait until I can have real sunglasses like the surfer guys in California wear. Mine look like flower decals or are stupid and big like the kind you’d give to a clown’s kid. The air hangs thick dampened with cattle sweat. The oppressive gravity belies its confidence in me. Honk goes the pick-up. The guy grips the wheel twisting the bumpy, round circle waiting for me to do something. He hates me now. Somebody I don’t even know has given me an even break. Made room for a spoiled kid in the parade of things and all I can do is stare. Honk goes the guy. His left arm moves like Plastic Man almost cupping me to the other side. His hand punishes me in quick angry motions encouraging me to cross the street now while vehicles on both sides are frozen in space. Rattling and growing impatient, the trucks and the cars growls running in place as drops of liquid drools and vanishes on the baking pavement while the world waits for an eight year old to cross the street. His face’s says there weren’t going to be any more third chances if my butt doesn’t do something soon. Putting a foot down, I dig in. Lifting one foot after another, I take my chance. Pulsating, rising thighs moving in concert like pistons in a barracuda of locomotion. I shed skin crossing the street. A truck spits at me, two dry cylinders coughs and leaves. The driver never speaks to me again.
The door chimes close with a girl’s bike bell. I sit next to the free standing ash-tray, still smoldering from one of the inattentive guys reading newspapers or magazines. A cylinder of blue water that holds three bobbing combs that gently rise and then sink to the bottom like seahorses stands next to its imaginary double reflected in the chipped mirror that covers the walls behind his prize chair. I push a button on top of the ash tray, spinning open a lid full of stories told by bragging men who don’t know how to put out a cigarettes. A forest fire of smoke creeps out of the furniture and John the Barber tells me not to touch that. I wipe my hands on my cut-offs while John The Butcher says my mother called. I know it’s all over for me. Any dreams of hair more than a quarter of an inch sticking out of my melon are gone. Though she promised, I mean promised—promised in the sense this time would be different, that I could have a boy’s hair-cut from that stupid chart on the wall instead of that stupid crew-cut I always get. She promised that I could pick out my own hair-cut. I’d be in charge! One phone call changed all that. I’d seen it before with my older brother when she’d call from home. I was there when she screamed into the phone; I don’t care what those boys say. Cut it short.
He knows he has to put the bench down for me. He still asks every time. The bench so temporary, not anchored, slides and gives and sways like a duck boat in choppy waters. I yank myself up into what should have been the driver’s seat. A narrow band of paper surprises my neck as it collars my jugular shut. A shedding cape of off-white plastic with strands of grey hair on it pulls my arms down to the sticky arms of the red plastic barber’s chair. My knees buckle as my legs are compacted to the cushion of the chair. The phone rings as I wait looking at the older guys reading and drinking coffee wondering if they like my Dad. They must know him. My nose itches with someone else’s hair and I can’t move to relieve my discomfort like a man. The Butcher slams the lever of the chair down, raising the chair closer to the beast. The Butcher wears thick after-shave, Brylcreem, cologne imported from Canada, mouth-wash, and other close public protectors that are meant to last the whole day. In the morning, his facade stings your eyes. He runs the cold side of the scissors across the shiny ridge of my ear. My legs want to run but the boy in the iron chair won’t let me. A plug finds its way into the wall. A motor purrs. A firm hand led by a prong of four pointed fingers tilts my head forward and then rests a hand on my left shoulder like a pardoned criminal getting ready to watch TV. He cuts my hair the way my neighbor does his crops. Indiscriminate and indifferent.
He plows whistling to a far away tune trying to beat the sun and the end of the day. I can’t see the mirror but I know its all fleshy head back there. I know he doesn’t care about the truth. Doesn’t care what happens inside my house. Doesn’t care what I want. What I was promised!
I know no matter what I’m told, it’s never the truth. Unless it’s bad for me. Nobody has a problem telling me bad stuff about myself.
A fat guy folds a Field and Stream on his lap and laughs at something The Butcher has said. He doesn’t care I’m not getting the haircut I was supposed to get.
Ten years later the cape is lifted and slides down in an angle towards the floor but never touching. The Butcher gives it one slight shake before laying the blood stain mantle on the second chair that he never uses. The shearing instrument have been returned to the hook that no longer flaps empty as he pushes the drawer that slides open on its own shut with his hip. His dirty yellow comb goes back to the jar that swims with the two other wide-gap smiling combs in the bluish water that’s slowly turning pond-green. He rips the paper away like a matador freeing an innocent child’s neck. Breathing is once again unrestricted. On the leap down I almost catch the brass foot plate of the monstrous, iron-works of the bottom half of the enormous chair. He looks at me for the last time in exhaustion and disgust knowing he’s gonna have to cross the street himself if he wants to get paid. My head goes down trying to find the way out without knocking over anything. The girl’s bike bell squeals as the door yawns open sucking me out to the harsh daylight as another victim enters. I disappear into the burning sunlight rubbing the back of my head wondering when I’ll be older.