Being a Team Player

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Nervous didn’t even begin to cover it.

Today was Lily’s first day of her first adult job. It was brutal enough for any new computer science grad to find a job right now, let alone one who had a mediocre GPA at a commuter school. So what if the pay wasn’t great, and she only got a job at this start up because the CEO was her roommate’s cousin. She had to prove herself by any means necessary.

She was greeted by Steve, who described himself as the head of HR, and also the feet and arms of HR as well as being their main sales person. There were only 25 employees, so everyone had to wear a lot of hats. He went over the usual introductory stuff- paperwork, making a badge, parking, beginning the arduous task of setting up Lily’s local environment, and introducing her to everyone. She realized she was the first girl they had hired.

By mid afternoon, Steve had finished everything on his checklist and asked Lily if she had any questions.

“Well… one thing…” she hesitated “I hope this isn’t rude to ask but… why is that guy wearing giant clown shoes?”

Steve panicked. He’d forgot all about the monthly humiliation raffle. He hoped it wouldn’t scare her off. It was hard enough to find any half competent employees who were willing to work for what they could afford to pay and weren’t offput by the idiotic mandate to be in office five days a week, let alone an actual girl. Her hire put them at 4% female, which was above average for a tech startup. Plus she came recommended by the CEO himself. Would this tradition make the place seem like a frat house? He thought to himself.

“So uhh… it’s this thing we do… and it’s totally optional, you don’t have to participate, but we do this monthly raffle, and your odds of winning are determined by an algorithm based on the amount of bugs in your code and story points you completed, and the winner has to pick a humiliation at random and do that until the next drawing, so that’s why Akshay is wearing clown shoes.”

He braced himself for Lily to call that practice problematic, if not quit on the spot.

“Oh. Sounds fun.” She responded.

Steve breathed a sigh of relief.

“So you have some complex, bespoke algorithm to determine a winner based on productivity metrics… what’s the algorithm to determine the punishment?” She asked.

“You pick a piece of paper out of a bowl.”

He explained further that every month, they would remove some papers from the bowl at random out and let everyone add a new one. The rules were nothing that would put anyone’s safety at risk, nothing illegal, nothing permanent like tattoos and nothing offensive to any race or religion. He was relieve that she seemed to like the idea, it might not be something traditional HR people would approve of, but it was a fun team building exercise, and, more importantly, cost the company nothing.

A couple months went by. Lily was able to hit the ground running and make contributions right away. After the first month, Mo was the unlucky winner of the raffle, and had to kick off each morning’s stand up meeting by performing the song Photograph by Nickelback on the karaoke machine. The next month, the other Mo had to draw a handlebar moustache on his face every day with a magic marker.

The next month, Lily had been given more advanced tasks and had started to struggle a bit. She figured it might be her turn to win the raffle, and she was right.

Steve held up the bowl. “Time to determine your fate!”

Lily dug around in the bowl a bit. “No looking!” Steve laughed and reprimanded her, and she looked away and felt the pieces of paper a bit more before finally pulling one out.

Steve took a minute to unfold the paper, as it had been tightly unfolded. When he read it, his face turned white.

“Ok you don’t have to do this one, you can pick a different one.” he mumbled in a panic.

“Wow, must be bad, what is it?” she inquired.

“It’s… this one must have been from before you worked here, it’s really not appropriate for you.”

“What does that mean?”

“Just uhh… here, pick something else.”

“No, let me see it.”

Steve’s hand was trembling as he handed Lily the paper. He really couldn’t afford to lose her as an employee, and he figured she’d rather quit on the spot than do what it said. He’d have to find out who put that card in the bowl and rip them a new one.

Lily read the card “SHAVE HEAD COMPLETELY”.

She shrugged. “Ok.”

Steve handed her the bowl. “Yeah sorry about that, pick another one. That’s definitely not within the rules.”

“No, I mean.. ok… I’ll do it, I’ll shave my head. You said nothing dangerous or illegal or offensive, and nothing permanent. It’s not, and it’ll grow back.”

“Are you sure? Keep in mind, this is completely optional, and you don’t have to do it right now.”

“Well obviously I’m not going to just shave my head in the middle of the office like in the Wolf of Wall Street.”

“Of course, of course not, in fact maybe you can just wear a swimmer’s cap or something.”

“No, I mean, I’ll do it when I get home tonight.”

 

Later that night, she sat in her bathroom, staring at the clippers she had just bought from Wal Mart. The box was still sealed and the receipt was on top of it, in case she needed to return them. She had been procrastinating by searching for wigs on Amazon, but hadn’t bought one yet.

Lily had flirted with the idea before. A few years ago, she had been playing around with a snapchat filter that showed what she’d look like bald. She loved it, but never had the courage to go through with it. How would she explain it to people? Senior year of college, there was a fundraiser where some students, including a few girls, shaved their heads to raise money for the children’s hospital. She wanted to join in, that would certainly be a valid way of explaining why, but the idea of having to ask people to donate money made her too anxious, so she never inquired. Plus, what would the boys think? Well that didn’t seem to matter, since her long, mousy dark brown hair hadn’t done her much good. At 23, she had never had a boyfriend and was still a virgin.

“Ok, let’s do this.”

Lily tied her hair into a ponytail and picked up a pair of scissors. Nervously, she placed them below where the hair was tied. She had second thoughts and put the scissors down.

Wait, she thought to herself. If I’m going to donate this hair, I should get as much of it as possible in one piece. She finally opened the box with the clippers and plugged them in, placing the 1/4″ guard on the head. Taking a deep breath, she placed it just above her ear and hesitated… and hesitated.

“Fuck it, lets do this. No rag-rets.”

Lily shifted the placement of the clippers to the center of her scalp, turned them on and pushed them back. There was no going back now. The vibrations felt soothing as she made pass after pass, severing the strands a quarter inch from her scalp, moving quickly in order to finish before she changed her mind, although it was obviously too late now. She had to feel the back of her head to find where the last strands were, but once she found them, the ponytail fell to the floor.

Lily’s heart was racing, she was sweating, and the room felt like a sauna. The girl staring back at her in the mirror was just as she had imagined- bold, brave, decisive, sporting a short buzz cut and a wide grin.

She wasn’t done yet.

Next, Lily popped the guard off the clippers and made another pass even closer to the scalp. Only the faintest shadow of hair remained now. She reminded herself of the exact wording of the paper- “Shave head completely“.

Lily had some shaving cream and razors that she would use to prepare her legs and underarms for a date night, just in case. After digging through some boxes from her old apartment that she hadn’t bothered to unpack in the last three months, she found them. She ran a hot shower, rinsed her scalp and covered her head with shaving foam. Going by feel alone, she passed the razor over her scalp again and again until she was satisfied that it was completely smooth. She figured, while all the tools were out, she might as well shave everything else too, although it had been long enough that the razors alone wouldn’t have been able to get the job done without some aid from the clippers.

 

Everyone was shocked when Lily showed up the next day at work. It had been assumed that someone had taken it too far and ruined their little tradition. Mikey even bet Brandon 20 bucks that she wouldn’t do it. Not only did Lily not quit, she did it, and did not take any half measures. Brandon bought her lunch with the 20 dollars, it only seemed fair. After a couple weeks, people started to notice that her scalp was still perfectly smooth and assured her that she didn’t have to keep shaving it every day, but she insisted that it was in the spirit of the rules. Productivity took a big jump when people realized how serious the punishments could be, at least it did according to the metrics used to set the odds.

Lily had a new found confidence with her shaved head. Not only did she start being more assertive at work and lead a new project, she also found a boyfriend. A cute guy at her gym, who previously she had only exchanged awkward hellos with, commented on it, and they struck up a conversation. After a couple dates, she assured him for the fourth or fifth time that it was only temporary and she would grow it back after the end of the month. Much to her surprise, he told her that she looked better that way, and if she wanted to keep shaving it, he wouldn’t mind one bit. She took him up on that offer, and he even started to help her with the shaving and work it into their sex life. For the first time ever, Lily had a sex life.

Her career was booming too. With all the neurodivergents and non-conformists in the tech industry, nobody batted an eye at a bald woman. She still hadn’t gotten around to buying a wig. At an investor meeting, she was drawing a diagram on the whiteboard, and only then did Steve realize whose handwriting had been on that card all those months ago.

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