All Cracked Up

by Sergeant Major (Ret) George S. Kulas

It was the first time I had it done in years, but it seemed like only yesterday. "Relax now, relax," the chiropractor said as he twisted my neck.

My thoughts took me back to that day in April of 1967 at Phu bai, South Vietnam. My first sergeant gave me the "evil eye" that morning while saying those dreaded words, "Marine get a haircut!"

I had been avoiding getting clipped by any of the Vietnamese barbers in the local village. Like all Marines, I did not trust any Vietnamese, unless I was absolutely certain they were not Viet Cong (V.C./Charlie).

I walked cautiously through the village, searching for a friendly looking barbershop. Soon I had given up on friendly looking, and stepped into one that was a suspicious looking, run-down, small shack, like all the rest.

The barber jumped from his chair. He was a middle-aged man, about 5 feet tall, and his wide smile showed only a few teeth that were so black they looked like fangs of coal. For a second I felt a sense of relief for not having to visit a dentist in the village.

The barber said, "Welcome, welcome Marine, I Charlie; I give you number one cut." A shiver ran down my spine as I thought, "this is all I need, a Vietnamese barber named Charlie who wants to cut me."

I reluctantly sat down in the barber chair, and ordered his "A" package: a haircut, a shampoo and a shave. The haircut and shampoo went fine; I was even starting to feel relaxed. But after lathering my face and neck, Charlie pulled out the longest, sharpest, brightest, and most dangerous looking straightedge razor I had ever seen. My eyes must have resembled lollipops; a searing pain rushed through them as they frantically shifted from the blade to Charlie and back to the blade.

Charlie slowly drew the razor over my Adam's apple to the tip of my chin. Suddenly it seemed very quiet. I didn't dare move anything except my eyeballs and they were still racing. I thought to myself, "one swift swipe of the blade and there will literally be one less Marine at head-count tonight." I imagined Charlie sneaking off to his V.C. friends that night, opening a box, and showing off his trophy--my head.

After what seemed hours, Charlie finally finished his carving and I began to breathe normally again. Then, in a flash, he wrapped his arms around my head and quickly snapped my neck. My heart was skipping beats as a terrifying realization that I hadn't been exaggerating Charlie to be a "Charlie" rushed through my mind. As I heard and felt the cracking in my neck, I was certain he was trying to break it.

I jumped to my feet screaming, "What the !@#$ was that!" Charlie laughed loudly and said, "You no like, first time huh?" Rubbing my neck I realized that it didn't hurt but instead it actually felt relieved. Still I didn't take Charlie up on his offer to, "crack the other way." I paid him and left in a hurry.

Because a Marine needs haircuts (often) and because I didn't want to experiment with another barber, I returned to Charlie many times during my tour. I always ordered his "A" package and he always threw in a neck cracking. I actually began to enjoy them. He chuckled each time I returned to his shop knowing how worried and nervous I was the first time.

I don't know if Charlie survived the war or its aftermath. If he did he may have continued barbering. But there is a strong possibility that he quit barbering and eventually became one of Vietnam's "crack" chiropractors.