Brand New Man

Tony slicked back his hair with the comb he kept in his pocket, and smoldered at his reflection—hair was getting too long. Well, that wouldn’t do. Annie wouldn’t be as attracted to him like this, wouldn’t be as submissive, might start seeing other men (with better hair).

Tony called his barber and made an appointment for 3PM. It was 2:30PM.

He spent 20 minutes in front of a coffee shop bathroom mirror, fixing and reworking his hair, but it was just long enough to be just less than gorgeous. He waited for cappuccino, 5 minutes in line behind a tallish, model-type young Arab woman; he hated himself for not scheduling the haircut earlier. He took one sip of the cappuccino and threw it away, disgusted with himself.

He got to his appointment just a little late, but purposefully so. If life was a party, it was always fashionable to be a little late.

“Hallo, Tony,” the barber said to him. “How are you?”

“Fine, I guess,” Tony said. “Trim her up, will you?”

“Sure, boss. Brand new man after I finish!”

I’d rather not be, Tony thought. What’s the saying?—if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

“The usual is fine.”

“Sure, sure,” the barber said.

Tony plopped himself in the barber stool. The barber draped a checkered cape over him. Brand new man, he thought, scoffing. Why would anyone want to make me a brand new man?

The barber set himself to work, snipping, clipping, trimming. It was a somewhat stylish barber shop, somewhat chic; you had to have an appointment and the walls weren’t bedecked with those photos of men and women from the 90’s with haircuts from the 80’s, fake smiles and too-white teeth. It was a fine establishment, fine enough, anyway. Tony had been going there for six years. No hassle, no wait, no changes in the pricing. $80 for a haircut wasn’t cheap, but it wasn’t outlandish, either.

The bell over the door rang. Someone entered the shop. They sat down on the bench behind the barber stools.

“Hallo,” the barber yakked, still cutting Tony’s hair. “Do you have appointment?”

After a pause, the man mumbled, “Yes.”

“My next appointment not ‘till four-thirty. Are you my four-thirty?”

The barber trimmed the back of Tony’s head with an electric trimmer. “Yes,” the man said, and then rose from the bench and approached the barber from behind.

“This is for my brother, Amilio,” the man said, and stabbed the barber in the spine. The barber didn’t scream, only uttered a last breath and gawked, his mouth agape. As the man slipped the knife out of the barber’s spine, the electric trimmer slipped and mowed over the top of Tony’s head, nearly scalping him, shearing an electric-trimmer-wide strip through Tony’s hair.

Tony shrieked. The man with the knife ran for the door as the barber began to dribble up blood, most of which landed on Tony’s head, cheeks, hands, and the checkered barber cape draped over him. Tony yanked at the two separate nests of hair on his head, screamed, and then stumbled off the stool and out of the barber shop.

Outside, he paused; surely this wasn’t really happening. No, it couldn’t be—would Annie even answer his calls, now? Would she sense the horror? Half-drunk with incredulity, Tony sprinted over to the nearest storefront—a cafe. The patrons in the cafe, the ones closest to the street-facing windows, ogled at him in fear. He attempted to go into the cafe where there would be a mirror somewhere, but the proprietor rushed to the door before he could get in, refusing him entry.

He stumbled away, and then found himself in front of an antique shop with an exquisite but unpolished mirror on display in the window. Tony stared at the reflection; who was that hideous creature? It couldn’t be him. It simply couldn’t! He flung the bloody barber’s cape off of himself and stared at it on the sidewalk, as if it might come alive. Maybe that had been the cause, maybe now he would see his reflection and see himself, handsome, dashing, every lock of hair in place. But looking in the mirror, it wasn’t so—those were his clothes, his suit and tie, his $1500 watch, and his alligator-skin belt. They were all in fine condition, but stained by the blood that had dripped beneath the barber’s cape. But worse than the blood, worse than what it would cost to get the stains removed, was his hair—it was a catastrophe.

One half was wet, the other dry and wavy; the center was a pale runway of flesh, nicked here and there by the trimmer. Homeless, that’s what he looked like, homeless and deranged. The whole world was ending. It was.

Well, no, be rational; he’d just have to get a haircut—another haircut. The pedestrians walking by glanced at him suspiciously. He approached one and asked, in a rather manic voice, where the nearest barber shop was.

The pedestrian, kind despite feeling nervous about this crazed-looking person, pointed Tony in the direction of the barber shop he had just been to.

“No,” Tony squealed, a little mouse with bloody paws. “No!

He jogged down the street, down another, and down one more. 67th and Park Avenue—the Upper East Side. “I’ll find a barber here,” he mumbled to himself, nodding and scratching like an addict at his chin. “This is the Upper East Side. I’m fine. I’m fine.”

He approached another pedestrian, an elderly lady with baby-blue hair and baby-blue eyes and a fake fur wrapped around her neck, but after his frantic questioning, she only widened her eyes as if she weren’t sure what she was really seeing and said, “Oh, God,” and walked away.

A police cruiser, its lights and sirens whirring, sped past him in the direction of the dead barber. It dawned on him, they’re going to be looking for me. I’m as conspicuous as a donkey at a pony show.

And then he saw it, faraway, on the corner of 69th and Park, the candy-cane swirl of a barber shop sign.

He just barely squeezed through the door before an old man with the walker. There were three people ahead of him on the waiting list? No, no, that wouldn’t do. “I need to be seen now,” he told the barber. “Excuse me?” the barber asked. “Do you see me?” Tony yelled. “I’m a F-ing mess!

An older man waiting his turn gasped. “Don’t you curse in here!”

“You try not cursing after your barber gets stabbed in the back while cutting your hair! You try not cursing! You try it!” Tony yelled.

The barber’s face darkened. “Get out,” he said.

“Wait, wait. I’m sorry—”

“Get out!” The barber, a fat man with impressive forearms, grabbed Tony by his shirt collar and chucked him out of the shop, onto the sidewalk.

Sprawled out on the cement, Tony whimpered, “But—please?

“Get out!” the barber said, and slammed the door to his shop.

“I am out,” Tony whined.

“Out!” the barber yelled from inside.

Tony put his forehead against the sidewalk. Rock bottom. Because this was the worst! Out of all of the problems in the world, this was the worst one. He lifted his head and wiped the sweat away with his palm. He stroked the hairless strip on his head. This must be what it feels like. All those disfigured people on the subways. And to think I always pitied them.

If only money would restore his hair. He had plenty. If only someone would be willing to just buzz the rest of it! He hadn’t had a buzz cut since he was ten. He hated it then, too. In his opinion, his hair was a magical facade for a rather egg-shaped, lopsided skull. But a buzz cut would be better than whatever this caveman-ish absurdity was. If only there was someone he could ask.

Annie—Annie! She would do it for him. If he called her, she wouldn’t yet know how hideous he had become. Over the phone, she would assume he was still as stunning and beautiful as ever. She would do whatever he asked her to. Stunning—yes, he could still be stunning on the phone. He just had to call Annie.

Annie agreed to meet him at his apartment in an hour, bringing with her an electric trimmer that he promised he’d pay her back for as soon as she arrived. It took him an hour just to walk back to the Lower East Side. He dodged cops the whole way, cops who probably weren’t really looking for him, but of course vanity comes in numerous forms.

Tony didn’t have a hat of any sort, so to disguise what he had begun to call the “most calamitous tragedy in his lifetime and maybe the history of the world,” he fashioned a silken, paisley pocket square around his head as though it were a bandana. It was a definite improvement, which wasn’t saying much.

Annie was right on time, if not slightly early—if life was a party, Annie was always unfashionable. Tony stood in the doorway but didn’t invite her in.

“What are you wearing?” she asked. “Is that a bandana?”

“No. Yes. Never mind this. Do you have the trimmer?”

“Yeah. Are you going to let me in, or?”

“No. I, uh, have to leave soon. Here’s the money for the trimmer.”

“Wait. Are you kidding? It took me almost an hour to get here!”

“Look, I’m sorry,” Tony said. “But it’s not my fault you live in the Heights.”

“You’re such a jerk! You want the electric trimmer? Fine, take it.” She dropped the trimmer at his feet. The box landed with a heavy thud. Tony bent down to pick it up, and she yanked the pocket square off of his head. “Give me this. You looked like an idiot—oh my God!

Tony sprang up, horrified. “Give me that!”

She held it from him. “What happened to you?”

With sweet, ashamed, boyish eyes, Tony stared at her, and said nothing.

“Oh, Tony.”


Annie hummed cheerfully as she buzzed away the last strip of Tony’s hair.

Disgruntled, Tony glared out the window towards Manhattan’s skyline, and every now and then, asked her to quit humming. This was no time for humming. She didn’t, though.

Admiring her artwork, she said, “You know—you sort of look like a soldier. It’s hot.”

Tony perked up, eyes wide. “Can I see it? Can I look at it now?”


Tony hurried to the full-length mirror in his bedroom. He rubbed his head with his hands and smirked. I do look like a soldier, he thought. And you know what, I’d probably be a damn good soldier. And imagine how the girls would react when I returned home. Hell. I’d feel like a brand new man.