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**PRINT: FRIENDS FROM CINCINNATI: Installment 24 features this part coming-of-age short by Chicago's Patrick Somerville, author of the Trouble collection of shorts out in 2006. | PAST BROADSHEETS |

Featherproof Books

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Pitchfork Battalion (Todd Dills, Anne Elizabeth Moore, Al Burian)

To be a barber cutting the hair of rappers at one of those old places in an old neighborhood where the old men tell jokes and stories, often one and the same, and rappers watch from the chairs, shaking their heads: James did not want to be, son of Jesus, or brother of Jesus, or disciple of Jesus, or barber.

To be a rapper, to be Common, on whose Be album James's favorite song didn't address the condition of old neighborhood barbershops but rather corners, outside, on the corner where people he couldn't understand the words after that, really, expect for dying, but he was in the kitchen before school and the jam on his toast was green and he told his Mom it was his favorite and she rolled her eyes, and he smiled, cause he liked that, James did, her disapproval.

To be a roller skater, professional, a derby queen like those city women, a king of

To be in the condition of the city and a barber with shears for

To feel the heat of the crowd, ensconsed in the crowd at a summer music festival his mother wouldn't let him attend because she'd heard Ghostface's new one and, though she laughed at the eBay reference, the rest she said "was not right for a nice white kid."

To use the shears to trim the hedges James did not want to do, no, rather let's cut the dog's hair, take the beast out back and give him a little trim, the shaggy shepherd.

To be a dog whose owner never cuts its hair, a journalist who never checks her facts -- all this and more, in the condition of something too busted-up to name.

Karl didn't just want to be a barber, Karl wanted to be a great barber, the best barber, in fact. The kind of barber who, even when you simply walked by someone whose hair he'd cut -- some weeks ago, even -- it'd inspire you not only to get a haircut, but to go directly to that barber for it, however expensive, however inconvenient, however long you might have to wait. And Karl would have become this barber some time ago, too, except for the fact that he had a blockage of the kind psychics call "a psychic block."

Karl was afraid of the sight of blood.

Now those of you familiar with the haircutting process will note that blood is not really an inextricable part of the deal. A fair number of haircuts, in fact, are pulled off on a daily basis without the shedding of so much as a tear of regret, much less a drop of our most vital of bodily fluids. But Karl's fear of blood wasn't the precise reason he couldn't just get a stripey pole and open up shop, although that was what he told people. In fact, it was the reason Karl was afraid of the sight of blood that kept him from pursuing his barbing dreams: Karl had lost a hand in an accident and thus was physically incapable of, well, most tasks that involved the simultaneous use of two hands. Cutting something with one hand while measuring it with the other, for example. Or combing while fluffing. Whisking and holding up a hand mirror. Hand mirror: to Karl, it seemed a cruel mockery.

The story was known, sort of, by everyone in town: he'd been, you know, screwing around on an implement of farming. A thrasher, maybe. The details are a little muddy -- he didn't live in a farming community. And he fell, or his arm did, and then there was screaming and, well, you know how it goes.

But again, for Karl it seemed to be about the blood, because a great many people are impervious to the sight of blood until they witness it gushing in great bursts from a newly acquired orifice of their very own, which was definitely Karl's case. Plus he had one less hand.

Yet it was a block, he told people, that was psychic in nature, and so when he told his big life story, how he wanted to be the greatest barber that ever lived but he had a single fear that kept him from his dream, he told the story so engagingly, and in such vivid detail, that no one noticed that he gestured exclusively with his left hand.

Eventually he became known as the Failed Barber around the neighborhood, and even though it was not the glamorous haircutting life he'd envisioned for himself, with his stripey pole and in-demand feathering technique -- and even though plenty of one-handed people pursue careers in drumming, cooking, hand modeling (haircutting, even) -- Karl liked the way it worked out: Girls threw themselves at him, just as if he'd been a real barber. He got the best seats in all the fancy restaurants, immense car discounts. The local paper quoted him at length on issues of the day. A nearby college gave him an honorary degree. Things were named after him.

Karl may have never faced his fear -- nor, for that matter, learned to be honest with himself -- but he got a lot of action. And to Karl, that was way more important.

I think the really big revelations in your life happen when you're very small -- when you're five years old, or six years old, or seven years old -- like when you grasped the concept of injustice. Now injustice is just this thing that's punching us in the face every day, but when you first get the idea...

I had a socialization error occur to me in kindergarten, and I'll tell you about it. In the kindergarten I went to we had a thing we did every Wednesday -- we would play Model Town. We had a little model store, a little post office, a little fire department, and we would write down occupations, pass a hat, and every kid would pull an occupation out of the hat and you would spend the day doing whatever thing. And it sounded like kind of a fun game, but even then, in kindergarten, as everyone did what the adults did, sitting there and doing the same thing all day, it was dawning on the kids that this wasn't really all that great.

Except for me, because the first day we played town I pulled "policeman" out of the hat. And I enjoyed being a policeman, because I could do anything. I could run red lights, I could go to the store and take a can and I didn't have to pay for it. I could do anything. And when the teacher pulled me aside and told me that I couldn't just do anything, I said, "What do you mean? I'm the policeman. No one can stop me." And they explained to me that the policeman has to follow the law too, and that there's no way to be above the law, which now I know isn't true. But I screwed up, and I was reassigned the next week, and was I asked to work at the model post office, to be a barber, or even to pick up the trash, anything useful? No, I was asked to be a grocery store bagger, which we've all learned to accept -- we've all had it beaten into us that that is an acceptable, OK thing to do with your time, but when you're seven years old, it's obvious that this is a completely useless thing to do. You can just put your own groceries in the bag. So standing there, with this bag in my hand, realizing it was just all a complete sham...