Computers can do a lot. The speed and power of their processor are in many ways more efficient than any person’s mind, but yet there are still many ways that a human brain is simply superior to a computer. That’s why I have this opportunity to interview at TMB inc for this great job.
Until 2098, programming and using computers still required a physical gesture. Though the range of physical gestures that were utilized had evolved steadily over the century and a half of developing computers to gradually become more efficient and intuitive, it was still a limitation. Sure, each step along the way had sped things up; pressing buttons on a keyboard and mouse were faster than flipping switches, touching screens was more efficient than using keyboards and mice. Voice commands were sometimes convenient. Hand trackers added more flexibility to touch screens. Eye trackers were even faster still, though hand trackers stayed in use for most everyday functions, since they were more intuitive than eye trackers. But still, there is only so fast a human can do a physical gesture no matter how natural and intuitive it feels. So, when the developers came up with a way to link the computer directly to a human mind harmlessly, it seemed like it was going to be a giant breakthrough.
It didn’t actually work out all that well though, it took way too much concentration for most people, the littlest distraction and you could mess up hours of work. Hand gestures and touching were still more intuitive to people. It wasn’t till one of the developers accidently fell asleep while up late working by herself that the true potential of the technology became apparent.
During sleep the human mind, not hampered with the burden of consciousness, does things we hadn’t imagined. While people had considered the dreams that happen during REM sleep of great importance since the dawn of civilization, the other sleep phases were actually when the *magic* happened.
Of course some brains turned out to be more compatible with the technology than others. It is a complicated combination of physical traits, educational background, and psychology that all have to come together for truly useful things to happen. If you happen to be one of the lucky ones who have all of the right qualities, then you can get a job at TMB inc, and they will pay you to sleep. The unofficial job title is snoozer.
There are lots of details about the job that no one outside TMB inc knows. TMB inc is very good at protecting its trade secrets and employees are barred from talking about any details. I know enough to know I want this job though. Because I will be combining my sleep hours and my work hours, I will have my days free to pursue my passions, like historical reenacting.
I’ve made it to the last stages in the interview process, I have already passed all the qualifying tests, both physical and mental. I sit nervously in the outer office I should be distracting myself reading or something, but I’m too on edge to do anything but wait. Glancing down at my watch I see it reads 1:20, I realize I’ve been sitting for a full 20 minutes. I probably shouldn’t have arrived so early for my 1:15 interview, but I didn’t want to risk being late, and I had no way to know ahead of time they would be running late. I take a deep breath trying to force myself to not look as nervous as I feel. I resist the temptation to start biting my nails.
I feel a slight breeze as the door to the reception area opens. I think I recognize the guy walking in. I think I’ve seen him at a few of the tests and examinations. He walks up to the reception desk and tells the receptionist he has a 1:45 interview. I guess I’m not the only one nervous about being late, which takes a little bit of the edge off my nerves. The receptionist informs him they are running behind today, and invites him to use the drinks machine. Earlier when I had arrived the receptionist had made the same offer to me, but I had politely declined his offer at the time, I was regretting it now but it felt too late to change my mind.
“Hi,” the guy with the 1:45 interview says with a smile as he takes the seat next to me. “It’s April, right? I think I saw you at the skull density scan.”
“Yes, that’s right,” I answer. “Sean isn’t it?”
Sean nods that I was correct, then lifts his drink slightly. “You didn’t want a tea or anything?”
“I didn’t when I first came in, and since now we’re actually past my interview time, I don’t want to only be halfway through it when I get called in.” I explain.
“If you get called in before you finish, I’ll keep it for you out here.” Sean offers.
“Ok, thanks.” I smile as I get up to get myself a chamomile.
As I return to my seat stirring the honey into my brew, I can’t help but admire Sean. He’s a handsome guy. Chiseled jaw with the perfect amount of stubble; the plaid shirt under the jacket of his interview suit giving him a slightly rugged look; his hair brushing his shoulders starting a light brown at the roots and gradually turning a sandy blonde at the tips suggesting he spends time outside in the sun.
“So, what do you think the chances are the Yankees will win the world series this year?” Sean asks.
“Slim.” I was happy to have some relaxed conversation to take my mind off the interview. “Their best pitcher is on the disabled list. It’s been nearly 60 years since they won one, last time was in 2082. What are the chances they could break that long a losing streak without Miller?”
The next 10 minutes just fly by as Sean and I chat about baseball. Smiling at each other. I giggle a couple of times as I brush my long naturally brown hair behind my ear.
Then we talk about history, he’s not a reenactor like me, but he’s interested anyway. His favorite period is the 20th century, especially the cold war era.
“April Gardener,” the receptionist calls. “You can go back now.”
“Thank you,” I say to him, then turn to Sean saying “Good luck.”
“Good luck to you too.” I can tell he wants to say more. I think it’s the same more that I want to say, Want to exchange contacts in case this is the last time I see you. I don’t want to voice the possibility that either or both of us might not get the job though, so I just start walking to the back.
I pass May on the way back, who I had met on our first day of applicant orientation and had become quite friendly with when we bonded over both our parents having followed the annoying fad of naming kids for when they were conceived, at least both April and May were names people used before the fad started. She stops to wish me good luck and assures me the interview wasn’t bad. Her amethyst color hair swings gently to just below her shoulders in the precise step cut that is getting just slightly out of fashion.
Her hair was the subject of our second conversation. She was considering going for the natural look like mine, and was wondering about how I kept mine so healthy looking. I told her about my conditioning routine, and regular use of a laser duster to eliminate split ends. She asked me when I had decided to commit to the natural look, if I’d used a growth stimulator to get it to my full length, and how long it had taken to grow it out. I felt a bit odd admitting that I hadn’t grown it out because the natural look was suddenly the latest fashion, but that I had just always had long undyed hair.
We talked about the stimulators anyway. The advertisements said typical results were hair growth at 3 times normal rate. I had read an article that said that the rapidly grown hair tended to be less healthy, and sometimes had an odd texture or color that would not match the rest of the hair. She was still undecided at the end of our conversation if she wanted to go for the stimulator, get extensions, or just wait while it grew for a year or two on its own.
After a quick hug from May, I continue down the hall and find the office that has “Friday Jones, Human Resources” on the door. I knock gently and am invited in immediately.
“Ah, April. I’m glad to meet you. Feel free to call me ‘Fry.’” Mr. Jones says warmly as I walk in.
The interview goes well, and I’m offered the job the next day. They send the employee manual and contract to my personal library to read before I’m to start in 2 weeks. I’m told there are some requirements that some people object to and that I should read it very carefully before I sign the contract, since once I sign the contract and start orientation, there are steep penalties for backing out. I’m assuming the one most people object to is the extreme secrecy demanded by the company.
I put in 2 weeks notice at my current job as a waitress, and study first the contract then the manual each night. It’s exceedingly boring reading though, and I keep falling asleep on it. By the end of the 2 weeks, I still have several sections of the manual I haven’t really looked at.
The last night, I managed to make it all the way through the section on health risks, as I ran my hair through my duster. The swirling brushes of the duster smoothing out the hair so that the precise laser can zap any ends that are beginning to fray. From what I can tell, the health risks associated with the job are less than the warning that came in the owner’s manual of my duster.
The morning I am supposed to report for my first day of training and orientation at TMB inc, I quickly skim over the dress code and grooming section. It’s one of the last sections I have to look at, I was prioritizing reading other more important sections. From what I can get to before I need to leave, most employees are simply supposed to be clean, neat, and professional. Snoozers, will change at the lab into comfortable sleeping clothes. I glance at something about optional access to the complimentary salon at the office. I skip most of that part since I don’t get my hair done anyway. I’m sure others think of it as a nice perk, but I don’t plan to use it.
I arrive at orientation with just a bit of time to get settled. While getting myself a rose hip tea, I almost don’t recognize Robin whose huge afro has been replaced with a short blue mohawk. I wave tentatively. Then go to find my seat.
“Hi April,” May says behind me just before she takes the seat next to mine. When she is in my view I’m surprised. I knew she’d been talking about changing her hair since she was bored with the old style, but in none of those discussions had she mentioned maybe getting it cut shorter, she only mentioned growing it out and changing the color. It’s still mostly amethyst but she’s added metallic gold streaks and had it cut into a short new style. The amethyst parts of her hair are cropped very short, while the gold locks were left longer giving them the look of feathers.
It’s a style I’ve seen before, the flutter cut, though usually the color contrasting longer locks are a fair bit longer than May had gotten hers cut. I’d estimate that the longest of the gold locks are only 6 or 7 centimeters long, the amethyst looks about the usual 2 centimeters or so. My cousin Jill got the more usual version about a month ago, she showed me pictures ahead of time and we discussed all the details. Hers was black with metallic silver. She said she was asking for 30 centimeters for the longer feathery silver locks, and 2 centimeters for the black cropped hair.
“That’s really cute. Changed your mind about growing it out?” I say.
“Well considering how great this job is, it was a pretty easy choice.” May says casually. “Bill, my stylist, said it would be a classic style and won’t look dated as quickly as the step cut had. I’m really happy with the gold. What do you think you’ll do with your hair?”
Do with my hair? Why would May think I was going to do something with my hair? I’m about to ask May what the hell she’s talking about when Sean suddenly sits down on my other side.
“Hi, April, May. That’s a really great style May,” Sean says as he brushes back his shoulder length locks. “I guess you decided to take advantage of the free salon too, April?”
“Huh?” Why would he think I was planning to use the salon here?
Before he gets a chance to explain, Friday Jones is at the podium in the front of the room clearing his throat and all conversation is suddenly ended. Fry explains that we will each be given individual schedules and maps to follow and we should go to each room as closely to the time listed as possible. Then he goes over some legal paperwork we all fill out, and sign. It’s so official they use actual paper. Then we all are off to follow our schedules.
My first stop is pajama selection, room 1257, the door is painted with blue striped classic men pajamas. They have a wide variety of options to choose from, long flannel night gowns to silky negligees and everything in between. I’m told to find anything that will be comfortable and to take one for each work day plus one extra. I pick out my five all of the same flannel boxer shorts with camisole style I find comfortable, but each in a different color. The guy at the desk puts them in a box with my information and says they will be in my locker ready for my first shift, and explains about coming back when they start to wear out or if I’m not as comfortable as I thought I would be, since sleeping on the job is a little different from sleeping at home.
Next stop is the pillow room, which has a feather painted on it’s door. It goes pretty similarly to the pajama room, except the lady who takes my selection says it will be at my sleeping station, not in my locker. The mattress room, with a cloud painted on the door, goes very fast since I only get to choose between firm, medium, and soft.
I suspect my next stop will be the slipper or blanket room, but when I arrive at the door to room 1128 it is painted with red and white diagonal stripes which has nothing to do with anything sleep related I can think of, so I have no idea what to expect when I open it.
I find myself staring into what looks like a hair salon. There are two styling chairs facing the wall with a mirror that reaches floor to ceiling, interrupted only by small cabinets on wheels with glass tops. One chair is vacant with a translucent cape hanging over one armrest and a sweeper robot cleaning up the rather large pile of black hair around its base.
In the other chair sits a red haired girl I’d seen around during testing and orientation, but not really met. She stares at the mirror with a sad look. She’s draped in a gossamer cape that I can just see her hands nervously twisting in her lap through. Most of the hair that had hung down her back nearly to her butt when I saw her this morning is now scattered on the floor. Next to her stands a stylist working away with scissors on her already half short hair.
I watch the redhead wince slightly as the scissors close with a snap, and a rope of hair drops to the floor.
On the wall opposite is a row of fairly comfortable looking waiting chairs, Sean is in one of them looking at a tablet in his lap and lazily swiping. Next to him is one of the other women I’d seen around testing and orientation, her turquoise hair in a simple blunt bob.
I stand frozen in the doorway. Why am I here? I don’t want to change my hair, I like it the way it is. I didn’t say I wanted to take advantage of the complimentary salon services to anyone. Maybe they just schedule everyone to stop by and get a consult so they know what’s available. I suppose I could see about deep conditioning treatments. My feet haven’t moved.
“Come on in, and sit down.” the stylist says then looks at the tablet on her rolling table. “April isn’t it? I’m Lisa.
“I’m afraid we’re running a bit behind now, September got called away for an emergency.” Lisa nods at the empty chair. “One of your fellow snoozers got tangled. So, I’m here by myself for a bit. Don’t worry about the next thing on your schedule, when I’m done I’ll get you a revised one.”
That seems like an awful lot of trouble to go to since I’m not planning to actually get anything done, but I’m not sure how to say it, so I just walk in and sit next to Sean. The tablet on his lap has a picture of him with a short hairstyle on it, he swipes it away, and another one pops up.
“What do you think of this one?” Sean asks, tilting the tablet towards me so I can see it better. It’s very short on the sides, with just a bit of length on the top slicked back.
“It’s ok I guess,” I say. “I like what you have now better.”
“So do I, but under the circumstances…” Sean frowns while speaking. “Have you picked out a hairstyle already?”
“I just want to keep my hair the way it is.” When I say it, Sean gives me a sympathetic look.
“I understand, but since you can’t have you thought about how you want it cut?”
“Why can’t I just keep my current style?” My mind races to make sense of what I’m hearing, then I think about how little I read in the section about the complimentary salon. “I kind of skimmed the dress code section, but it said using the complementary salon was optional.”
Sean sucks in a deep breath and looks at me funny. “Using the complementary salon is optional, but that’s just because some people prefer to get their hair cut by their own stylist. The haircut is required. Well I suppose unless you already have hair short enough, like that lady, Val, with the fuchsia pixie we went to the skull density scan with. She won’t need a haircut.”
Suddenly what May had said earlier started to make more sense. And this explained why Robin had gone from the afro to the mohawk.
“I have a sinking feeling I should have read more carefully. Why are we required to get haircuts?” I ask as my stomach knots up.
“Long hair gets tangled in the equipment.” Sean explains. “Snoozers can’t have hair any longer than 10 centimeters.”
“Shit.” I let the expletive slip softly from my lips as I run my hands up into my loose hair. I lean forward and rest my elbows on my knees.
“Hey, it won’t be too bad.” Sean tries to comfort me patting my back. “You can get any style and color you want as long as it isn’t too long. I’m sure you can find something that will look great on you.”
Of course the only style I actually want is very long. I look across the room at the wall of mirror to catch my reflexion. My hair is gorgeous, bouncy and healthy. It’s dark brown with the perfect amount of waves. I have always thought of it as one of my best features, even when it was really out of fashion. I have never really thought about getting it cut or colored.
Damn, I wished I hadn’t thought the dress code section was unimportant. I sigh. Hey really though, knowing about it sooner would just have given me more time to fret about it, it’s not like I was going to turn down this job over anything short of guaranteed permanent physical harm. A haircut doesn’t really count, since it’s not permanent and most people don’t even view it as harm. In my heart, it does feel like harm. Maybe I would have turned down the job, I don’t know. It doesn’t matter whether or not I would have turned it down, it’s too late now, I can’t back out without incurring pretty significant penalties I can’t afford.
This is going to be a huge blow to my historical reenactor status. Period appropriate hair has always been seen as making one extra dedicated. What will all my friends think when I show up for the Battle of Monmouth with all my hair gone. I suspect in all those papers I signed is a stipulation that I can’t even explain why I suddenly cut my long hair off, there’s a really good chance that it’s part of TMB Inc’s long list of secrets to keep anyone from trying to reverse engineer the technology. I had to sign all kinds of secrecy agreements just to apply for the job. Hair can get tangled in the equipment might be a very small clue about how it works, but it is a clue. There’s got to be a reason that I’d never heard rumors that being a snoozer required short hair.
I start biting my thumb nail.
“Damned, did you really have to cut it that close?” It’s a lady wearing pajamas walking in with a man. She is looking at her reflection while fingering a section of her short, but I would say more than 10 centimeter long hair, where a chunk is missing leaving behind about 2 or 3 centimeter tufts.
“Yes, I did have to. I saved as much length as I could. Be glad I didn’t just take the razor to it, or let the technician just yank it out. I’m way behind schedule because I spent so much time trying to save some length for you.” The man, who I’m guessing is September, says with exasperation. “Next time the technicians say they think you are overdue for a trim, listen to them. I’ll do what I can to make it look nice after we have taken care of the new snoozers. They need to not fall too far behind on their orientation schedules.”
The lady with the messed up hair sits in the far waiting chair looking sulky. September picks up the cape he has draped over the arm of his chair and looks down at his tablet.
“Hi, I’m Sept. Who’s Gertrude?” September asks us, the woman with the turquoise bob gets up. “Sorry about the delay, what have you got in mind?”
“I like things pretty simple,” Gertrude says much more cheerfully than I would expect from someone in our situation, “so I thought just take it to a centimeter all over.”
“Well that should help us get back on schedule.” Sept says cheerfully. “My laz’r Klip’rz come with an optional vibrate feature, want it on or off?”
“Off, please.” Gertude says as she settles into the chair and Sept places the cape on her. “The vibrate always just feels like ants crawling over my head to me.”
Sept picks up the small device with a logo from Laz’r Styl’r, the same company that makes my duster. My soon to be completely useless duster, maybe my sister will want it. Sept taps it a couple of times, I guess programming the length, then gives it one last decisive tap. The blue light comes on, it plays the “Pop goes the weasel” tone and then starts melodiously humming a vaguely familiar tune.
Sept raises the humming clippers to Gertrudes hair line, it’s got teeth like a comb that rest on her forehead. Sept starts slowly pulling the device back, the teeth gliding into her hair, the hair just barely enters the teeth though before the strands start to fall away. The strands drift down to Gertrudes shoulder as she sits there looking bored. when the clippers reach the top of her head and Sept pulls them away, the slight fuzz left behind makes my stomach drop. I close my eyes and remind myself I don’t have to go that short. When I open my eyes. more of Gertrudes hair is on her shoulders.
“What do you think of this?” Sean asks me, and I am very grateful to have an excuse to look down at the tablet he has once again tilted towards me.
“Meh.” I say as I gaze down at the picture of Sean with a rather boring cut labeled Classics Collection: #3-The Businessman. He pulls up another image and shows it to me. It’s pretty similar to the last, but slightly sharper. #4-The Executive. I nod, “better.”
I look over at Gertrude again, her turquoise hair is now reduced to an even fuzzy pelt, and Sept is using a smaller blue glowing device to shave a clean line around the edges. It doesn’t take him long though. Soon he is brushing off her neck and shoulders.
“There you go.” Sept says cheerfully as he whisks the cape from around Gertrudes shoulders. “One centimeter overall.”
“Thank you.” Gertrude says and gets up to leave. She is happily rubbing her head as she walks out the door.
“Sean? You’re next.” Sept says gesturing Sean to sit in his chair. “Do you know what you want?”
“I think I like this one the most.” Sean says as he settles himself in the comfortable looking styling chair and hands the tablet over.
“Good choice, it goes well with your face shape.” Sept says as he shakes out the cape and starts draping it on Sean. Sean looks very stoic as the cape closes tightly around his neck.
In Lisa’s chair, the red haired girl’s hair is mostly only a few centimeters long, but has several pieces of hair that are about 7 or 8 centimeters long. Lisa is applying some kind of coloring to the longer bits. I suspect the effect will be similar to May’s flutter cut when it’s done.
I’m wondering how I’m going to decide what haircut I want, when I don’t really want one at all. I look down at my tablet and see that there is a new app flashing on the screen, I open it and a menu pops up. I have to choose between “snoozers” and “other employees.” I click on “snoozers” and up pops new subcategories, classics, punk, retro, pop, etc, each with an example of one the styles on a picture of me. I hate them all. I so don’t want to cut my hair. I click on “classics” and start swiping through anyway.
I’m glancing up every now and then at Sean as I half heartedly look through the pictures. Sept is using a clip to hold the top of Sean’s hair against his crown, and the rest of his hair hangs loose and slightly damp. Sept combs the hair out then combs up just a bit of it and cuts it off against the comb. The sandy blond hair slithers down the back of the cape to the floor. More soon follows it, as the back of Sean’s head is gradually bared.
I look back down at my tablet, and swipe to the next option. It’s me with the same style Sean is currently getting, I swipe quickly to the next one which is just as shocking. I hate them all.
I give up swiping and look up at Lisa who is sealing in the new color. It looks like it’s a metallic rose gold color. It’s a similar but much subtler version of May’s style, there is less contrast between the longer bits and the short part. The rose gold is surprisingly close to the red haired girl’s natural color and none of it is cropped quite as sharply as May’s is. It’s cute, but not anything I would want. From the expression on the girl’s face, I suspect it wasn’t really something she wanted either.
Lisa takes the cape off the red haired girl. A few long locks slide off onto the floor where the sweeper starts pushing them together. The pile the bot is creating is almost bigger than the bot itself. What had been the girls crowning glory this morning, now looked like a drowned orange tabby as the bot gathered up all the stray bits.
“What do you think?” Lisa asks cautiously. She taps her tablet and on the mirror side and back views appear flanking the main reflection.
“I guess it’s good looking. You did exactly what you said you would, a softer version of the flutter cut.” The red haired girl says, but her tone makes it obvious she’s just being polite. I think I see a tear rolling down one cheek as she ruffles what’s left of her hair. “I didn’t tell my spouse I had to do this. It’s going to be a bit of a shock. I’m not sure how much I’m allowed to say to them.”
“You can tell immediate family that it’s a job requirement, if they are over 18 and are willing to sign a non-disclosure contract. Just don’t give details about why it’s a requirement.” Lisa explains while shaking out her cape. “You don’t have to pretend you like it to spare my feelings, I know that your unhappiness isn’t a reflection of my work. I have to do this every time we hire new snoozers.”
“Thanks.” The red haired girl says as she tries to discreetly wipe away the tear before she gets up. “It really is a good cut and the color is amazing, I just really liked the way my hair was before.”
Lisa and the red haired girl keep talking for a bit about styling, how she can come in for trims at anytime, and listening to the technicians. As they do, I look at Sean. All the hair on the back and sides of his head has been reduced to a tapered length that is just enough to hide his scalp. Sept is combing the still long hair from the top of Sean’s head. He combs most of the hair off to the side and just one lock straight up. he traps the single lock between his fingers just a few centimeters from Sean’s scalp, and starts snipping it off. About 20 centimeters of hair falls, and the lock is soon draped over Sean’s broad shoulder. I swallow.
I’m distracted as Lisa comes over and sits next to me.
“You don’t seem to be ready.” She speaks gently.
“I don’t think I’m ever going to be ready.” I say the sad truth.
Lisa nods. “Were there any styles you found more appealing than the others?”
“Not really. I thought maybe I’d find something in ‘classics,’ but nothing is anything I like.”
“Ok, how about you tell me something about yourself. What drew you to classics?”
“I’m a historical reenactor. So classics sounded good, but it’s not really working for me.” I can’t imagine that answer is going to help Lisa find my perfect style since during the period I mostly participate in, women only ever cut their hair out of need or obligation. I suppose I could reenact someone who recently recovered from scarlet fever.
“Oh really, me too, mostly Cold War era. I don’t suppose you do twentieth century?” Lisa asks with just a glimmer of hope. I just shake my head. “Want to try something from that period anyway?”
I shrug it’s not like I have any better options. I have to get a haircut, and there isn’t anything I want. Lisa brushes my hair back from my face and looks at me for a moment. Then types something into my tablet.
“How about one of the music icons from the period, this is the lead singer from The Eurythmics, they were a group. It’s from near the end of the century.” She shows me the tablet. “What do you think?”
I must be making quite a face, because she immediately takes it back saying, “Ok, not that one. How about this? It’s a little earlier.”
“That’s a model named Twiggy. Very iconic twentieth century.” Lisa adds, before taking the tablet back, when I scrunch up my face. “How about the italian cut from the middle of the century. It’s a softer look.”
“I guess it’s Ok.” It’s sweet and cute and I hate it. “Is there anything longer from the 20th century? I’ve seen pictures of people from the 20th century with much longer hair.”
“There are many longer 20th century looks, but this is really pretty much the longest that won’t be a problem.” Lisa explains. I can’t help but notice that Lisa’s own hair is pulled back in a bun that suggested it was probably at least shoulder length, aside from the bangs. “The back is technically a little shorter than it has to be to avoid getting caught up in the works, but if I left the back as long as was technically possible, the cut would have no shape. I can cut everything exactly 9 centimeters if you prefer to just keep as much length as possible, but if you want a decisive style this is pretty much the longest one from the 20th century that is going to work. In fact, this is close enough to the limit, that you’re going to need to come in every other week to get it trimmed to be safe.”
“Can you show me what 9cm looks like?” I ask.
“I’ll show you them side by side.” Lisa taps my screen a couple of times, and up pops two images of me. They look pretty similar in the front, but one is a little more shaggy in the back.
“Then this is how the Italian cut can look if you style it in the middle 20th century manner with curls.” Lisa taps some more and the less shaggy version goes from my natural waves to full round curls that are carefully sculpted and it looks very historically accurate.
“I guess the Italian cut is the best option for me.” I concede with a sigh.
We walk together to the styling chair I reluctantly sit in. I clutch the armrests as Lisa adjusts the height.
Lisa swings the cape over me, and pulls my long hair free of the neck before it fastens itself. It’s been so so many years since I went to a hair salon, it feels weird to be back. Of course, even when I used to go it was only for a very slight trim. I’ve never been about to get a really major haircut.
“Let’s just get you washed to start.” Lisa says as she taps the tablet next to her and a sink starts sliding out from the mirror.
The styling chair slowly spins around and starts leaning back. The warm water is helping me relax ever so slightly. It’s pretty brief though, and soon Lisa is squeezing out the wetness from my hair with a towel, and I am once again sitting upright facing the mirror.
Lisa starts combing out my damp locks. She spreads the hair out over the cape all around me. Suddenly, Lisa is holding what look like metal scissors.
“Are those scissors?” I ask with alarm. Lisa nods. “You don’t cut hair with a laser to seal the ends? What about split ends?”
“The scissors are easier to control. Short styles require more precision.” Lisa says with a shrug. “I only bother with the laser for long hair.”
“But I HAVE long hair!”
“I meant hair that is staying long. Sorry, but you aren’t going to need to worry about the split ends anymore.” Lisa says apologetically. “I could do the cut using Laz’r Styl’r Klip’rz, but I can do it better with scissors. This cut calls for texture, not blunt ends. This is how they would have done it in the 20th century. You’re going to need a trim in a couple of weeks, which will get rid of the ends anyway. Ok?”
“I’m sorry,” I say, realizing I was being irrational. “It’s hard to let go of…”
“It’s fine.” Lisa assures me. “I know it’s going to take a bit to sink in. Ready?”
“Yeah,” I nod. “Just do what you have to, and I will try not to bug you every step of the way.”
“It’s fine.” Lisa says, as she recombs my hair, even though it doesn’t need it.
Lisa combs the hair on my left temple out and clamps it between her fingers. She raises the scissors to it and cuts it above her fingers. Shlllluck. There is now short hair at the side of my head that rests along the side of my face in messy layers that just reach my neck. My long hair hangs from her hand. She casually tosses it aside.
I am trying to come to terms with what just happened, and steady my too fast breathing, as Lisa just starts combing another section to her fingers. She raises her scissors once again and… Shll-schll-shlluck. And another handful of locks is being tossed to the floor where the sweeper will eventually whisk it away.
I want to tell myself it will grow back, but I realize that I won’t be allowed to grow it back, as long as I’m working as a snoozer. I look in the mirror and watch Lisa lift up more hair. Shlll-shlll-clack shll-shlluck. More long strands are tossed aside.
Lisa is chatting about historical reenacting, I’m only just barely managing to pay attention even though it’s my favorite topic. I want to just focus on the conversation and ignore the hair that keeps dropping to the floor, ignore the incessant crunch of the scissors as they bite through the long locks I have tended for years when they were completely out of fashion. All those years of not being stylish, and finally the long natural look comes back, and it’s the very moment this happens. I try to keep up my side of the conversation, but mostly I’m just going “mhmm” occasionally while it goes in one ear and out the other.
Lisa keeps working around my head. I’m pretty sure she’s nowhere near the finished length yet as some of what she has cut still brushes my shoulder. More and more hair just keeps dropping to the floor.
“April?” I look to my side and Sean is standing there. His own shoulder length hair is gone now, cut into something similar to what was in the picture, but maybe just a bit better, a little more tailored to him. It looks darker, with the sun bleached ends gone, pretty much just a light brown. “I have lunch next, how about you? I could wait, we could have lunch together.”
“OK, let me check.” I look at the tablet in my lap through the translucent cape. “Looks like I have lunch next too.”
As I say it, still looking down at my tablet, a long lock falls into my lap. Staring down at it listening to Lisa slice off more and more long hair, a lump forms in my throat. IS this job really worth this? I swallow down the lump.
I look up at the mirror. Sean has gone to sit in one of the waiting chairs, and is watching. I had wanted to have lunch with him, but I really really wish he wasn’t here watching me right now. I look awful with my damp hair half chopped off. Maybe I should have told him to not wait.
Lisa keeps cutting and chatting. She lifts up the final long strands from the side of my head, and slices through them. Schhhhlllllick. I watch in the mirror as the last of my pampered tresses falls in front of me and slides into my lap.
Lisa starts combing up hair from the top of my head, then holds it up. Instead of slicing through it though, she draws the open blades of the scissors along it back and forth, only closing them slightly in a motion that resembles chewing more than anything else. She’s soon holding a fluffed out tuft of my hair, and what is left on my head is very short, but also very soft looking. The scissors must be nearly razor sharp. Lisa tosses the tuft of hair aside, and liftes up another lock with her comb.
Lisa keeps repeating the process of chewing through the locks. I watch as tuft after tuft of hair is simply tossed to the floor. I see in the mirror that my hair is being gradually reduced to a fraction of what it had been.
I think Lisa is inviting me to some event, but I still can’t really pay attention, so I just say “yeah, sure,” while trying to not have a panicked moment where I beg her to please stop cutting, because it just keeps getting shorter and shorter.
Eventually, It’s all about 7 to 9 centimeters long, but Lisa doesn’t seem to be finished. She switches from cutting with the chewing motion to slicing here and there. a little around the ears, but mostly she’s taking more off in the back, just above my hairline.
She’s taking it so short back there, that she seems to be having to really concentrate to get a grip on the short strands back there. She combs them out then struggles to keep the short strands pinched between her fingers as she slices them off. After what feels like forever Lisa steps over to the rolling table.
“There you go,” Lisa finally says, putting down the scissors and comb. “It’ll look better styled, just give me a sec to clean up the neck line then I’ll get you dried and off to lunch.”
I contemplate what I see in the mirror, my damp hair forming a cap around my head, nothing hangs down anymore. It just barely covers the tops of my ears, leaving my earlobes exposed.
She comes back behind me holding a small trimmer. She turns it on, with the pop-goes-the-weasel tone, then she runs the little blue glowing machine up my neck while it hums a familiar tune. She then returns to the table and swaps the trimmer for a hairdryer.
“I’ll just do a quick casual scrunch and dry bringing out you natural waves, since you have someone waiting,” Lisa says as she squeezes my hair up while pointing the stream of dehydrated air at it, “but when you want it too look really retro, I’ll give it more structured curls. Your hair is curly enough that this will look good just natural as an everyday wash and go style.
“Usually we don’t have saturday hours, but I could come in this Saturday morning when you wake up from your shift to curl your hair for the Atomic Age Airstream Rally.” Lisa offers, and I try to remember if that’s the event I agreed to go to.
“That’s really nice of you, but I don’t want you to go out of your way.” I say, trying to think if I really feel like going dressed, or if I’d rather just wear street clothes since it’s not really my period. “I don’t have clothes to go with it anyway.”
“Oh, it’s no trouble.” Lisa says cheerfully. “I have to do my own hair and makeup anyway, so it’ll be really fun to have someone to do it with me. I have a few old outfits I’ve been hanging on to in case I ever drop those extra 5 kilos. I think they’ll fit you nicely.”
My hair is dry, so Lisa starts taking off the cape, carefully dumping the hair that was in it’s folds to the side, then she taps her tablet, and there is an image of the back of my head to the side of my reflection. The hair is so short back there that it barely curls, it’s a lot curlier on top though now that it’s short. I stand up and look at myself. I run my hand through my hair. The shorter hairs in the back prickle against my palm, but the not quite as short hair on top feels soft and springy.
I feel like I should hate it, but I’m kinda liking it. I look down at the strewn about dark hair the sweeper is just beginning to push into a pile, it’s kinda just a tangled mess.
“I would actually enjoy coming in just to curl your hair. Honestly, it’s nice when I actually just get to do something fun with someone’s hair instead of giving them an unwanted haircut,” Lisa confides. “If I had known before I took this job, that it was going to involve so much unhappiness and tears, I would not have cared how good the salary and benefits were. Once you’ve signed the contract though….”
Lisa took a little cleansing breath, “Anyway though, see you Saturday morning?”
“Ok.” I say smiling, still patting my hair in the mirror. “See you Saturday. And by-the-way, I know I didn’t want this, but I really do think I am going to like it, once I get a little more used to it.”
“I’m glad. Oh, and you can bring your boyfriend along to the rally. The more the merrier.”
“I don’t have a boyfriend.”
Lisa looks over at Sean, who is still patiently waiting for me to go to lunch with him. Then she leans over and whispers in my ear. “I’m pretty sure that by Saturday, you will have one.”
Stifling giggles I turn and look at Sean. He stands up, ready to go, and smiles at me. I think she might be right.