For Samantha, A Beginning
Previously published on 1hhs.com
I’m afraid, very much afraid.
Standing on the sidewalk in front of a neighborhood barbershop, I’m afraid to enter, yet unable to walk away.
Inside, three barbers stand behind their chairs, trimming their customers’ hair. They don’t notice me, at least not yet. My mind is flooded with doubts. What will happen when I open this door? What will people say if I go through with my plan? Will I regret this impetuous action? Or could it be the best move I’ve ever made?
As these questions swirl in my head, I know these fears are not going to stop me. A mighty force is drawing my body forward. Some strange power has taken control of my brain, overriding my usual good judgment. The overwhelming compulsion that has brought me this far continues to pull me forward.
The rational part of my mind screams, “Turn back before it’s too late.” But that voice is blocked by a more insistent command that says, “March forward. You’ve come too far to turn back now.” My limbs are like iron filings facing a huge magnet that is enticing them toward an inescapable destiny.
Despite my fear, I approach the entrance. My hand trembles as I reach out to grasp the handle. I pull the door open and walk inside.
The husky barber standing behind the first chair glances up from his work. He smiles in my direction. He’s about thirty-five, younger than I expected, with a pleasant, welcoming manner. Already I feel more at ease. He asks politely, “Can I help you, miss?”
I try to act poised and relaxed, as if this were the most normal thing in the world, but the words nearly catch in my throat. “Yes, I’m here for a haircut,” I stammer. It’s a charade, of course, but I can’t let him know how scared I really am.
Do I detect a puzzled look on the barber’s face? Perhaps it’s my imagination, but he seems surprised by my request. That’s understandable; women almost never enter here as patrons. Mothers may occasionally deliver their young sons for a shearing. Dutiful daughters may escort their elderly fathers. But females rarely cross the invisible boundary that separates spectators from paying customers.
Nevertheless, the young barber pretends to take my announcement in stride. “It’ll be ten or fifteen minutes,” he informs me. “You can wait over there,” he says, pointing to a row of plastic chairs lined up against the wall. I do as instructed and take a seat, greatly relieved that he didn’t refuse my request. If he tried to send me to the beauty parlor down the block I don’t know what I would have done.
From this spot I can observe the barbers at work. The one who greeted me has his hair cut in a very short, military-type crew cut and, despite his age, seems to be in charge of the shop. The sign above his station says, “Steve.”
The second barber is older—mid-fifties I’d guess—and more reserved. He chats in a pronounced Italian accent with his elderly client. I see that his name is Dominic.
The third barber, Linda, is well into her forties. Her bleached blonde hair is teased high on her head. Unlike me, she seems completely at ease in this masculine environment, joking and laughing with her teenaged customer.
Which barber will finish first? I’d prefer the lady—she might be more sympathetic to my need. Whoever it is will hold my fate in his or her hands.
The three male customers eye me curiously. They must wonder what I’m doing here. Their scrutiny makes me acutely self-conscious. I pick up an outdated sports magazine and try to avoid their stares by concentrating on its dog-eared pages.
I still can’t believe this is happening to me. In my twenty-six years, this is the first time I’ve set foot in a barbershop. I’ve always had my hair done in a salon. My dad and brothers used to come here, but I never dreamed that one day I would be among the clients waiting for a haircut.
Yet, for the past month I could think of nothing else.
It all began when I spotted that short-haired woman in the mall. She was about my age, slim and quite attractive. Her dark brown hair caught my attention—cut short as a boy’s—far shorter than any other woman in the crowded shopping center. Her haircut obviously was a recent creation. It appeared that she had just emerged from the unisex shop near the main entrance of the mall.
She walked with a carefree spring in her step—so confident, so vibrant, so alive—completely unconcerned about what others might think of her boyish appearance. I couldn’t take my eyes off her.
I followed at a discreet distance to inspect her haircut more closely. It was cropped very short in back and on the sides, so short you could see the pale skin beneath the dark pelt. On top her hair was slightly longer and parted on the side. It wasn’t slicked down, but playfully tousled with an air of carefree abandon. A brief fringe of feathery bangs circled her face, giving her a breezy, pixie look.
Although I’d never worn short hair—never even considered changing my style—I was fascinated by her appearance. As I walked behind her, I was surprised to hear myself thinking, “That’s the way I want my hair to look.” I was tempted to stop her and ask how she mustered the nerve to wear such a daring hairdo; how it felt to defy convention and be freed from the long locks that trapped the rest of us. Then she headed for the exit and I turned in the opposite direction.
On my way home I couldn’t get that haircut out of my mind. I stopped at a discount drug store and purchased a half dozen fashion magazines. That evening I pored over pictures of the latest hot hair styles. There were many short looks to choose from, but none as brief and as daring as the one I saw in the mall.
I continued my quest online. When I googled “short haircuts” I found dozens of websites devoted to trendy hairdos. After hours spent comparing different cuts, I found myself returning to the sites featuring the most extreme styles. There I scrutinized photos of women with their hair buzzed close to the scalp—even shorter than the woman in the mall. Most intriguing were those sites featuring photos of women before and after undergoing a major makeover. Each of the “before” shots showed a long-haired young woman looking rather apprehensive as she contemplated the haircut she was about to receive. The “after” shots, however, revealed a newly shorn woman smiling blissfully, as if she was delighted to be relieved of the burden of her long hair. I was fascinated by their radically altered appearance—rather ordinary looking one minute, daringly distinctive the next. Deciding on a haircut like that must have required enormous courage. Did I possess the nerve to follow their example? Was I brave enough to submit to the same radical transformation?
What was happening to me? Why was I obsessing over being shorn like a spring lamb? I could think of nothing else. It was a weird experience, as if someone had unlocked a previously shuttered gate in my unconscious mind, releasing a flood of pent up desires. To my amazement, I was actually getting turned on by the sight of these short-haired beauties. I was discovering a new and rather disconcerting aspect of my personality, something I had never been aware of before.
Surely this bizarre fascination would pass in a day or two, I told myself. But it only grew stronger. A week later I returned to the mall and perched on a bench outside the unisex salon. I was not yet ready to enter the shop; I only hoped to spy another freshly cropped woman. I sat there for more than an hour and counted six women exiting the shop with short haircuts, but none as brief as I the one desired.
That night I called my best friend, Carolyn. “What would you think if I cut my hair?” I asked.
“You looking for a new style?” she inquired.
“Maybe,” I answered vaguely. “I’m kind of bored with this look. Seems like I’ve worn my hair this way forever.”
“Well, just stay away from that chop shop in the mall,” she counseled. “Remember that haircut I got last summer? The stylist was so scissor-happy; she just kept hacking away until there was almost nothing left. It took me months to recover from that trauma.”
“Yes, I remember,” I told her. Actually, I thought Carolyn’s brief bob had been awfully cute and stylish; I was disappointed when she began growing it out. Obviously, she was going to be no help at all.
Each time I looked in the mirror, I grew more dissatisfied with my own long locks. The glossy, medium brown tresses I once considered attractive, now seemed blasé, almost repulsive. I had spent most of the past decade trying to replicate Jennifer Anniston’s famous hairstyle. Starting in sophomore year of high school, I grew out my bangs, parted my hair diagonally on the side, and had my stylist cut layers to frame my face. When Jennifer added blonde highlights, so did I. When she went a few inches longer, I followed suit. Everyone agreed I was a dead ringer for Rachel on “Friends.” For a time I reveled in their praise. I could think of no greater compliment than to be compared to the popular actress. Now I realized that I was no different than hundreds of women my age—all of us trying to look like the Hollywood star. There was nothing unique or distinctive about my appearance, nothing that was mine alone. Why had I endured this copycat style for so many years? Why had I wasted so much time and energy striving for long-haired perfection? I couldn’t wait to make a change.
That’s when I began planning my haircut.
Once I had resolved to face the future with short hair, I had to decide where my conversion would take place. My usual salon was out of the question. The stylists there would never understand my sudden yearning to be free of long hair. Although they would be delighted to administer a makeover, they would balk upon discovering how short I wanted to go. The unisex shop was a better alternative, but the mall location was awfully public—there would be dozens of people waiting and throngs of strangers passing by. I wanted to get my hair cut in a more intimate setting.
That’s what led me to this barber shop. Friday afternoon, after leaving work, I detoured from my usual route home to visit our old neighborhood. I drove past Tony’s Barber Shop where my brothers got their hair cut when they were younger. I remembered Dad saying that old Tony had passed away ten years ago, but no one ever bothered to change the name on the sign out front. Although I’d never been inside, I had the impression it was a friendly, unpretentious place.
I fondly recalled the well-established ritual in our household. Once a month, around eleven on a Saturday morning Dad would announce, “Boys, it’s time to get our ears lowered.” Jimmy and Billy always protested—they would miss the best cartoon shows—but Dad never took no for an answer. An hour or two later the trio returned with their hair neatly clipped. On their way home they usually stopped to snack on hot dogs and root beer. Sometimes when they came back to the house the boys clutched newly purchased comic books. I was envious. I yearned to join their monthly excursions. “Can I come too, Dad?” I asked one Saturday when I was eight years old. He chuckled and gave me a fatherly pat on the head. “Sorry Sam, this is for guys only,” he informed me. My brothers stood behind his back making faces at me. “We’re going and you can’t come,” they taunted. I ran out of the room so they couldn’t see my tears. I wondered what they would say now if they discovered I was checking out their old barber shop.
Unlike my brothers, my own early experience with haircuts was mostly unpleasant. When I was younger, Mom cut my hair at home. Then, as I reached my preteen years, she let me tag along to Helen’s House of Beauty when it was time to refresh her perm. One of the stylists would trim my split ends while Mom baked under the dryer. Our visits never engendered the same camaraderie that Dad and my brothers shared on their outings. I hated the smell of the chemicals used in the salon. Mom and the other ladies looked so stupid with their hair done up in little rollers. The beauty operators fussed over me and promised, “Some day, Samantha, when you’re older, you can get your hair permed just like your mother.” I smiled sweetly while silently vowing to resist that fate with all my strength.
I steered my Honda down Main Street and pulled up at a calculated distance from the barber shop—close enough so I could observe customers coming and going, but far enough away so my snooping wouldn’t be conspicuous. The one-story brick building with its red, white, and blue striped barber pole out front had changed little. A steady stream of men and boys strolled in and out. I observed one harried mother dragging her young son inside, but, it was clear that she was not the one who would be receiving the haircut.
Tony’s shop definitely offered a more intimate setting than the mall. Plus, the barbers there certainly had plenty of experience with the kind of short haircut I hungered for. Since Dad had retired to Florida and my brothers both moved to the city, there was little chance I would encounter anyone I knew. I resolved that this familiar barbershop was the best location for the makeover I was planning.
That night, as I lay in bed trying to fall asleep, I fantasized about my impending excursion to Tony’s Barber Shop. Would the barber be shocked when I told him I had come to get my hair cut? Would he turn down my request? I rehearsed the words I would utter and struggled to describe the kind of haircut I desired. I tried to imagine the feeling of having my hair clipped short as a guy; tried to picture how I would look as a daringly cropped woman; tried to imagine the reaction of my friends the first time I appeared without my protective veil of long hair. It was an intense, spine-tingling sensation, like standing on the edge of a tall oceanside cliff, peering down at the surf crashing on the rocks below. Even though the future was full of peril, I was determined to take the plunge.
Why did I find the prospect of cutting my hair so exciting? Why was I getting so aroused? Was this some kind of perversion? Did wanting a short haircut mean I was a repressed lesbian? I didn’t understand what was happening to me, but the powerful emotions stirring inside me were undeniable.
I circled Wednesday, May 30, on my kitchen calendar. That would be the day I said good-bye to my long hair. I planned my moves for every hour of that date. I knew barber shops did not require appointments—you simply walked in and waited your turn. I chose the middle of the week hoping that the shop would not be too crowded. I wanted to get in and out as quickly as possible.
I decided not to share my plan with my girlfriends, certainly not with Carolyn. Usually, we discussed every detail of our wardrobes and appearance, endlessly analyzing the pros and cons of even a minor alteration. But they are a pretty conventional bunch; they would have tried to talk me out of the radical makeover I craved. Better to surprise them when the deed was done; then it would be too late to object.
The days passed slowly. I began counting down the hours remaining before the big event. On the morning of the 30th I woke early and spent longer than usual washing, conditioning and blow drying my hair. For some reason, I wanted to make sure it looked perfect even though I knew it would be gone by the end of the day. At work, I anxiously watched the clock, calculating the minutes remaining until I would take my place in the barber’s chair. Shortly before quitting time, Judy, one of my co-workers stopped by my desk. “My, don’t you look nice today. Got something special planned after work?” she inquired suggestively. I lied and told her nothing out of the ordinary was up. At four-thirty I grabbed my purse and headed straight for the parking lot. I declined my friends’ invitation to stop for a glass of wine at our favorite pub. Today I would forego the usual happy hour chit chat. I was a woman on a mission.
As I sit waiting my turn, my anxiety is rising. A voice in the back of my head whispers perhaps this isn’t such a good idea. It’s not too late to get up, slip out the door, and pretend this was just a joke or a big mistake. I fidget nervously, but the same magnetic compulsion that drew me in the door keeps me riveted to my seat. I am powerless to escape.
After five minutes of keen anticipation another customer walks in. He’s tall and good-looking, about my age and vaguely familiar. Shaggy dark hair hangs over his ears and collar—he’s badly in need of a haircut. The handsome guy smiles and sits down next to me. After a moment he asks, “You’re Samantha, aren’t you?” How does he know my name? Have I met him before? “You were in the same class with my sister at Middletown High,” he reminds me. “She’s Susan Abernathy. I’m Tom, her big brother.”
Now I remember. Susan was one of the most popular girls in our high school crowd. We often went to parties and football games together. She was blonde and petite, the complete opposite of her sibling. Tom was two years ahead of us, the captain of the basketball team. I’m flattered that he remembers me. I thought he never noticed his little sister’s friends. We swap details of our college years and compare career choices. He tells me that he works for an independent film maker and has just returned from a three month shoot in Kenya. That explains his scruffy appearance.
After catching up on his sister’s romantic entanglements and the fates of mutual friends, he pops the question that must have been on his mind from the time he first spied me. “You waiting for someone?” he inquires, nodding toward the men sitting in the chairs, trying to guess which one might be my companion.
“Nope,” I reply, unwilling to give him any more information.
“So, you here for a haircut?” he asks quizzically, as if that couldn’t possibly account for my presence.
“Yes,” I answer simply, knowing that more questions will follow.
“That’s cool,” he remarks. “You must be feeling pretty brave.”
“What do you mean?” I answer.
“Well, Tony’s shop is known for giving the shortest haircuts in town,” he explains.
I didn’t know that, but desperately want to change the subject. “But your hair isn’t short at all,” I observe.
“It will be when I leave here,” he enlightens me almost gleefully. “Usually my hair is much shorter, but there was no way to get a decent haircut out in the bush. During the last month it really started to bug me; I couldn’t wait to be rid of this mess,” he says, running his fingers through his unkempt mane. “Besides, I come back here for my annual shearing every year when the weather starts heating up. Kinda like a hairy animal shedding his thick winter coat. Been doing it since I was a kid. Now it’s sort of a ritual signaling the start of summer.”
Tom is an attractive guy and, under normal circumstances, I’d love to continue chatting with him. I’d like to ask how it feels to have your hair cut very short; what he thinks of women with short haircuts; whether he’s unattached; and a thousand other things, but I’m afraid my questions may betray my nervousness. Instead, I pretend to read an old issue of Sports Illustrated. Tom takes the hint and sits quietly. The minutes pass slowly. All of the barbers seem to be taking their time, talking about the weather and the fortunes of the local sports teams. They seem to be in no hurry to serve us. We have no alternative but to wait.
This gives me plenty of time to observe the haircuts the barbers are administering. Steve is buzzing the head of the working man in his chair. This cut is nothing complicated; the barber just mows it down to the same brief length all over. They have to talk louder to be heard over the steady drone of his clippers. Dominic gives his gray-haired customer a traditional man’s haircut—parted on the side and combed across the bald spot on top. The young man in Linda’s chair also is receiving a short haircut, but not as brief as the one Steve is giving. She applies a liberal dose of styling gel and brushes his hair straight up to create a disordered array of sharp spikes on the top of his head. I gather this is the latest style among the college crowd.
Once again I contemplate the kind of haircut I will request when my turn comes. Strange as it seems, I’ve not yet decided how to have the barber cut my hair. I’ve considered a hundred possibilities. One day I was leaning toward an extreme G.I. Jane scalping, the next I favored a more conventional pixie cut. Either one would be a drastic change, but I’ve been unable to make up my mind. I pray that inspiration will strike by the time I take my place in the barber’s chair. All I can say for sure is that when I walk out of here my hair will be much shorter.
Finally, the young barber, Steve, finishes. He dusts stray hairs from his customer’s neck and turns the chair so he can inspect his buzz cut in the mirror. The workman approvingly rubs his hand across the short brown bristles, and pronounces his satisfaction with the result. Steve removes the white striped cape, unceremoniously dumps a pile of clippings to the floor, and holds the chair so his patron can get up. They stand at the cash register right in front of me while the freshly shorn worker pays and strides out the door. The broad smile on his face indicates another happy customer.
Now the barber looks in my direction. It seems my turn has come at last. My knees are shaking as I start to rise from my seat, but he stops me. “Sorry miss,” he apologizes, “but Tom called ahead and made an appointment. You’ll have to wait a little longer.”
“I didn’t know an appointment was needed,” I stammer.
“They aren’t,” Steve replies. “Most of our trade is walk-ins, but if someone asks for an appointment, well, we try to accommodate them.”
“Sure, that’s okay,” I answer, not knowing whether I should be relieved or disappointed. Tom graciously offers to let me take his place, but I won’t hear of it. Besides, I realize now there’s a better chance that I will get Linda, the female barber. “You go ahead. I’ll sit here and watch your haircut,” I say to Tom. He pats my hand and winks at me as he gets up. He seems to be saying, “Your turn will come soon enough.”
Tom eagerly hops into Steve’s waiting chair. “Ready for your summer shearing?” Steve inquires.
“More than ready,” Tom eagerly confirms. “Can’t wait to get rid of this growth.”
The young barber is happy to oblige. He wraps a tissue around Tom’s neck and flings the cape over his shoulders. Steve revs up his clippers and without further discussion begins mowing Tom’s hair. I watch in fascination as Steve methodically peels away thick locks from the back of Tom’s head, leaving little more than dark stubble close to his scalp. With a flick of his wrist he tosses the clipped hair from the blades and returns the clippers to the base of Tom’s neck for another pass. I try to imagine how it must feel to be clipped so closely. Is this what’s in store for me? I can’t say why, but there’s something terribly arousing about watching Tom being buzzed. With each pass of the clippers my excitement mounts; a tingling sensation spreads from my spine down to my toes; nervous perspiration drips from under my arms; my mouth goes dry. If my turn doesn’t come soon I’ll be a nervous wreck.
It takes the barber only a couple of minutes to completely strip the back and sides of Tom’s head. Now Steve turns his attention to the top. First he sprays a mist of water over his dark hair, thoroughly soaking every strand, and then vigorously brushes the dampened locks straight back off his face. I thought that Tom was going to receive a short buzz cut like the guy before him, but apparently he and Steve have agreed on something different.
I’m so curious to see what’s coming next that I don’t notice Linda standing next to me. She’s finished with her young customer. She clears her throat to get my attention. “Okay honey, you’re next,” she calls from five feet away, “unless you’d like to wait for Steve.”
I’m embarrassed that I did not notice her. My turn has come at last. There can be no turning back, no room to chicken out—it’s time to make good on my plan. “No, that won’t be necessary,” I say as I rise from my seat.
“Hi, my name’s Linda,” the barber says, extending her hand in greeting.
“I’m Samantha,” I reply, “but everyone calls me Sam.”
My legs have turned to jelly as I totter unsteadily toward the big barber’s chair. I step up, grasp the cool metal arms, and slide into the still warm leather seat.
“This your first time here?” Linda asks as turns the chair so I’m facing the mirror.
“Yes, first time,” I acknowledge.
She must sense my nervousness. “Well just relax, honey. Everything’s gonna be fine,” she promises. I wonder how many other female customers like me she’s had; certainly not that many. Yet her manner is calmly reassuring. I’m pleased she’s going to be my barber.
Linda shakes loose hairs from the cape and flips it around my shoulders. The striped cloth covers my clothing just as it had for her previous customer. She pulls a strip of tissue from a dispenser. I lift my hair as she winds the white tissue around my neck and snaps the cape just like Steve did for Tom. It’s a strange feeling with the stiff paper pressing snugly against my throat. I hang onto the chrome arms of the barber chair, swallow hard, and breathe deeply, trying to calm my jitters.
Reflected in the mirror, only my head is visible. Brown hair hangs past my shoulders, parted on the side as usual, with long sections framing my face. This will be the last view of myself as a Jennifer Anniston look alike. This is what I’ve come for, I know, but fear of an unknown future makes me tremble.
A sideways glance reveals Tom sitting in the same position. The only difference between us is that the cape around his shoulders is littered with dark clippings. Steve is using a long-toothed comb to select thick locks of hair from the top of his head. Tom’s barber passes his clippers along the comb, neatly slicing off every hair sticking up between its teeth. Tom catches me looking at him and gives me another big wink and an enthusiastic thumbs up sign. It seems that he senses my discomfort and is telling me to go ahead with the haircut. It’s a little strange—why is this guy whom I barely know so eager to see me get my hair cut? Is he just being supportive or is there something else behind his interest?
Linda approaches with comb in hand. It glides easily through my well-conditioned hair as she carefully arranges every lock. From the tender way she handles my mane, it’s clear that she seldom works with hair as long as mine. After this silent preparation, she pauses. Standing behind the chair and looking at me in the mirror, she asks in a casual, yet professional tone, “So what are we doing today, honey?”
This is the moment I’ve been dreaming about with anticipation and dread. “You want I should even up the ends?” Linda asks, obviously thinking that I want only a minor trim. I doubt that she’s prepared for what I’m going to say next.
I’ve been rehearsing the words for weeks. I want to seem poised and confident. “No. I want a haircut,” I tell her, “a short haircut.”
“Really?” she replies, seemingly surprised by my request. “You mean you want me to cut off all this beautiful hair?”
“Yep, that’s what I want. Time for a change,” I insist, trying to sound unworried and nonchalant. Linda frowns as if she doesn’t approve. Is she going to give me a hard time? Am I going to have to argue with her to get the haircut I want? I thought that going to a barber shop would make things easier. Now I’m not so sure.
My concern disappears when she asks, “So, how short you want to go, honey?”
Now it’s time to explain exactly what I want. This isn’t going to be easy because I’m not sure myself. “What do you think would look good on me?” I ask, praying for inspiration.
“Honey, with your pretty face, almost any haircut would look good,” she replies. “It’s your call.”
She’s not making it easy for me. “So what are my choices?” I ask, hoping that somehow Linda will offer the perfect way out of my quandary.
“Well, if you’re looking for real short, I can give you a buzz cut,” she offers. “That would be the shortest.” From her tone, I don’t think she expects me to seriously consider this option.
“You mean, clipping it the same length all over?” I inquire.
“Yeah, just like Steve did for Ed,” she says, apparently referring to the working man who walked out the door five minutes earlier. “You saw what that looked like, didn’t you?”
“Sure, I saw him,” I answer. But the Sinead O’Connor skinhead look is not what I desire, so I press for another choice. “What other alternatives do I have?”
Linda pauses, contemplating her reply. “Well, I can give you a boy’s haircut—you know, short on the sides and back, parted on the side and longer on top,” Linda suggests. “That would look cute on you.”
I can’t help but agree with her. That’s the cut that was so eye-catching on the woman in the mall—the one that got me started on this path. It’s tempting, but I want to be original; I’m looking for something unique and distinctive. “What else?” I inquire.
Once again she hesitates, critically examining my face and hair. “Well, I could do a pixie cut. A lot of ladies like that,” she volunteers without much enthusiasm.
But that’s not what I want. Not even the briefest pixie is short enough to suit me today. Besides, that’s kind of an older lady’s style. I want something different and more daring. “Nope, I don’t think so,” I reply. I can tell Linda’s getting a little frustrated with my indecision.
She puts her hands on her hips and tells me, “Honey, I’m running out of ideas.”
“Aren’t there any other choices?” I plead with her, realizing that I can’t keep stalling much longer. I’ll have to make up my mind pretty soon.
Finally, she offers one more option. “Well, about the only other short haircut I can do is the flattop,” she says. “But that’s pretty extreme.”
“A flattop?” I ask, not sure what she means.
“You know, cut real short on the sides and back and flat across the top,” she explains. “Like your boyfriend over there,” indicating Tom in the next chair.
I don’t bother to correct her, but turn to inspect Tom’s haircut more closely. It seems that Steve is nearly done with him. The sides of his head are almost bare where his hair has been clipped close to the scalp. On top, most of his hair is nearly gone too, but the remaining patch has been carved into a perfect horizontal plane of upright hair. It’s easy to see why this cut is called a “flattop.”
During my hours of on-line searching I came across this style only once or twice. I remember one striking image from a European website. The model was a redhead; her flaming hair, less than an inch long, stood straight above her pale forehead. The dramatic lines of her bold haircut framed her lovely face and accentuated her piercing green eyes. She looked strong and radiated confidence without a trace of self-consciousness. It was an image that stayed fixed in my mind, but not one I seriously considered for myself—until now.
“If you want a short haircut, Sam, you should get a flattop like mine,” Tom chimes in. Susan’s handsome brother obviously has been eavesdropping on my conversation with Linda. He’s grinning from ear to ear, daring me to follow his example. He rubs his hand across his head to show off his newly cropped top. “Time for a good summer shearing,” he calls. “A flattop is the coolest cut for summer.” Now I remember how he loved to tease his sister and her friends. Does he really expect me to agree to this bizarre proposition? Is he just having fun at my expense or is he serious?
I stare at his freshly cut head. Tom’s flattop is shorter than anything I’ve been contemplating, yet I can’t take my eyes away from its precise geometric lines. I try to picture myself wearing the same short style. It would be a radical departure from my current look—just about the greatest possible departure from my current Jennifer Anniston replica. One thing is certain, if I accept Tom’s challenge I won’t be accused of copying other women. My haircut would be one of a kind. Could this be the haircut I’ve been looking for?
“Honey, we’re running out of time,” Linda says impatiently. I’ve delayed long enough. It’s time to make a decision.
All other conversation has stopped. It seems everyone in the shop is waiting for my response. I can’t say why, but Tom’s challenge has pushed me over the brink. I’m determined to show him that I’m serious about getting a short haircut. Still, I can hardly believe my ears when I ask Linda, “Do you think I’d look good with my hair cut like that?”
My question seems to catch her by surprise, but she recovers her composure quickly. “Sure, honey, you’ve got the thick, straight hair a flattop requires.” She lifts the hair on the side of my head to check my ear. “Your ears are nicely shaped and don’t stick out from your head.” She pushes the hair back off my forehead and reports, “You’ve got a good hairline. If a flattop is what you want, it would look great on you.”
“But won’t it be too masculine?” I continue, still not completely convinced. “I don’t want to be mistaken for a guy.”
“Well, if you’re concerned about that, I can give you a longer version of his flattop,” Linda assures me. “Without the sidewalls and no landing strip on top, it won’t look so much like a G.I. haircut. I’ll leave about half an inch on the sides and an inch and a half or so on top. No one will mistake you for a guy with your hair cut like that.”
Although I have no idea what she means by “sidewalls” or a “landing strip,” I don’t bother to ask. I know Linda’s getting impatient. It seems that everyone wants to know what I will decide. I can’t keep them waiting any longer.
“You should go for it, Samantha,” Tom calls from the next chair. “Let Linda give you the flattop.” He sits next to me, smiling broadly. There’s no mistaking his preference. “It would be totally cool.”
Tom’s encouragement is the final push I need. The words come out with difficulty, but decisively. “Oh, what the hell? Go ahead and give me the flattop,” I tell my barber.
“Are you sure, honey?” she inquires solicitously. “You know that’s gonna be a pretty big change.”
“Yes, that’s what I want. That’s why I came here,” I declare, sounding more confident than I really am.
“My, you really are feeling brave today,” Tom marvels. I can tell he’s awed by my audacity, and that’s exactly the impression I hoped to create.
“Yeah, I hear it’s going to be a hot summer,” I flippantly reply. “A summer shearing sounds like a good idea.”
Tom repeats his support, calling out, “Go for it, Sam.” I’m still not sure why he’s encouraging me to undergo this total transformation, but I‘ve gone too far to turn back now.
“Well then, why don’t we get started,” Linda says. I half expected her to try once more to talk me out of this wild idea, but it seems she’s quite willing to do as I’ve requested. “You know, I almost had my hair cut short like that once,” she tells me.
I find this hard to believe. Her teased and tinted hairdo is a far cry from the super-short cut she’s preparing to give me. “You did?” I exclaim.
“Yeah, about ten years ago, when I first started working here, business was kinda slow,” she explains. “I had just finished doing Steve’s flattop when he offered to do the same for me. It was hot like today and I was tired of dealing with long hair. Steve was joking, of course, but I got the crazy urge to see what I would look like with a really short haircut. I almost asked him to give me a crew cut like his.”
“What stopped you?” I ask.
“My boyfriend,” she tells me. “I decided to take a day to think it over. That night I asked Gary what he thought about me getting a flattop. He nearly had a cow; told me he didn’t want to sleep with a girl who looked like a guy. So I chickened out to keep him happy. Sometimes I wish I hadn’t been such a coward.”
“Well, I don’t have that problem,” I say.
“How’s that?” she wonders aloud.
“No boyfriend,” I inform her.
“Oh, I thought you two were together,” she says pointing to Tom.
“No, he just happened to come in at the same time I did,” I say with a twinge of regret.
“Well, why don’t we get to work?” Linda says firmly. “First, we’re gonna get rid of this bulk,” pointing to the hair hanging down over both sides of my face. “Say bye-bye to your long hair.”
She selects a large electric clipper hanging from a hook on the wall and switches on the power. I feel my pulse quicken as Linda approaches with the ominous tool in her hand.
I take a deep breath as she selects a hank of hair with her comb, holds it out from the side of my head, and slowly guides the clippers along the comb. The buzzing sound in my ear deepens as the blades chew into the dangling lock. The clipper easily slices through my thick hair. I watch with a mixture of sadness and relief as six inches of severed hair slide down my shoulder and fall to the floor. Now there’s a huge gash on the left side of my head where one section of hair is much shorter than the rest. My Jennifer Anniston impersonation is ruined. It will take years to grow back to that length. I pinch myself. Can this really be happening? Did I actually volunteer to be seared like this?
There’s no mistaking my intense reaction. I feel hot all over. Despite the air conditioning, beads of perspiration pop out on my forehead. It’s all I can do to sit still in the chair. I’ve begun a journey with an uncertain destination, still, I can’t wait to see what’s coming next.
I watch intently as Linda selects a second section a bit farther back. Again she strikes with the same result as another bunch of my hair tumbles toward her sneakers. After her third pass a weird portrait appears in the mirror—the hair on the left side of my head is bobbed roughly at jaw level while the right side still hangs past my shoulder. The half-and-half look is bizarre and disturbing, but I know it’s only a temporary condition.
Linda moves behind the chair and uses her comb to lift the hair off my neck. I can’t see what she’s doing, but I hear her clippers chewing into those long locks. Now I feel a blast of cool air blowing on my bare neck. What a strange sensation. The last time my hair was this length I was in third grade.
My barber shifts to the right side of my head. She doesn’t hesitate as she guides her clippers at my remaining long hair. Three more passes and she has reduced both sides to the same brief length. I stare in amazement at my altered image in the mirror. The Jennifer Anniston locks I’ve cultivated for years have vanished in a few decisive minutes. Now I wear a rough bob that barely covers my ears. I turn my head from side to side and reach up to feel my exposed neck. I tentatively finger the ends of my freshly cut hair, checking the unfamiliar length. Linda has chopped off eight inches, but this is only the beginning.
She pauses and asks, “What d’ya think, honey? If we stop here, I can even it up a bit and you’ll leave with a nice short bob. Your hair will look real nice like that.”
Linda is right—the bob would be an eye-catching style and would give me the big change I’ve been looking for. It’s a close cousin to the cut that I admired so much on Carolyn last summer, the one she couldn’t stand. I briefly consider Linda’s proposition. Then I look over at Tom. Steve has finished his haircut, but he still sits in the closest barber chair, an eager spectator at this uncommon event. He interprets my glance as an appeal for his opinion. “Go for it, Sam,” he urges. There’s no mistaking his desire to see Linda continue with my haircut. I don’t know why I’ve surrendered control over my fate, but now he’s calling the shots and I’m willing to comply with whatever he commands.
“The bob is nice, I guess,” I answer. “But let’s keep going.” For better or worse, I’ve given her permission to continue my cropping.
“You got a lot of guts, honey,” Linda declares with undisguised admiration. I watch as she sorts through an assortment of implements arranged on a shelf beneath the large mirror, finally selecting a black plastic comb-like device with long teeth. She snaps the device over the blades of her clippers. “This guard will cut your hair to about half an inch,” she informs me. “I’ll use it on the back and sides.”
“Sounds good. Let’s get started,” I announce, loud enough for everyone in the shop to hear. Tom is positively beaming now. There’s no denying his delight with the spectacle of my haircut. I don’t understand why he’s so excited, but I don’t want to disappoint him. I smile nervously and wait for the next stage of my conversion.
Linda starts the clippers again, taking a position directly behind me. She places her hand on top of my head, pushing my chin down toward my collar bone. I feel the clippers vibrating at the base of my neck and hear them gnawing at the hair on the back of my head. I feel her clippers climbing up my head. She pulls them away before reaching my crown and repositions the clippers on my neck, slightly to the right of her first cut. It’s impossible to see what my barber is doing, but I remember what Tom’s head looked like when Steve first began buzzing him. I imagine mine must look pretty much the same.
Most girls my age would be terror stricken if their hair was being shorn to such a length; they would scream and demand that the barber stop at once. My reaction is the opposite. I’m strangely turned on. As Linda continues buzzing the back of my head, my cheeks grow warmer and I feel dampness spreading between my legs. I never thought a haircut could be an erotic experience. I wonder if Tom felt the same arousal during his haircut. Is this why he encouraged me to get my hair clipped so short? Did he know this would turn me on?
Linda finishes the back and turns her attention to the right side of my head. She lifts my chin and steers her clippers into the hair covering my ear. At first there is no noticeable change as the hair hanging down from the top hides the section being trimmed. But then as the clippers remove the longer layer, I see the shortened pelt that remains. It’s not cut as close as Tom’s, but it’s plenty short—shorter even than the woman in the mall who got me started on this path.
Linda, folds down my ear to trim a few remaining strands, then wastes no time clipping the left side to match. When she’s satisfied with the length, she switches off the power to the clippers, allowing me time to absorb the extent of the damage she has inflicted. The cape is littered with the remnants of my long locks. A pile of brown clippings rests in my lap. I glance down to the floor and see a large mound of hair that a short time ago was attached to my head. The hair on top of my head still remains three to four inches long. The contrast between the short sides and longer top makes for a strange sight.
I slide my hand out from under the cloth, reaching up to stroke the shortened hair on the back of my head. It’s softer than I expected and tickles my fingers. I marvel at the novel sensation. I test the sides with the same result. “Wow,” I exclaim softly. “Wow.” There are no words that adequately express what I’m feeling right now.
I hear Tom’s deep voice from his nearby chair. “Feels good, doesn’t it?” he calls. My grin must confirm his suspicions. He can see I’m enjoying this novel experience.
“So, what d’ya think?” Linda inquires. “We can stop here. I can blend the top with the sides and give you that boy’s haircut we talked about.” She’s offering me another escape route; another chance to chicken out.
This time there’s no hesitation; I can’t wait to see what’s coming next. “I like what you’ve done so far,” I tell her. “I think you should continue.”
“You’re the boss, honey,” she replies. “Let’s get to work on the top.” Linda exchanges her clippers for a pair of scissors. She runs her hand across my crown, capturing a three inch lock between her fingers and slicing off all the hair above her knuckles. The amputated hair tumbles down my face and lands in my lap. Linda selects another strand and cuts again. I watch in amazement as she systematically removes every bit of long hair from my crown. Within minutes my hair has been chopped to a roughly uniform length of about two inches.
After snipping the last piece of hair she playfully rubs the top of my head, coaxing the shortened hair into an upright posture. What little remains of my glossy tresses has been converted to an unruly brown thicket sprouting toward the ceiling.
“Bet that feels a whole lot lighter,” Linda teases. She pauses to let me absorb the magnitude of the changes she has inflicted.
But I’m too choked up to respond. I scarcely recognize the wide-eyed girl sitting perfectly still in the barber’s chair. With shortened hair bristling from my crown, I now resemble a hedgehog instead of a Jennifer Anniston clone. I glance down at the pile of hair that hung from my head only a few minutes ago and feel a surge of regret. Tears are welling in my eyes. This is not at all what I had anticipated. I’m afraid this is turning into a disaster.
Linda must sense my distress. “Don’t you worry, honey,” she assures me. “You won’t look like this for long. We’ll get this mess cleaned up in no time.”
She dips her fingers into a blue jar and begins massaging a sticky gel into my hair. I don’t recall Steve doing this for Tom’s haircut. “Why are you doing this?” I protest.
“Honey, your hair has been lying down for years. If you want the longer flattop, you’re gonna need some help to keep it standing up,” she informs me.
I’ve always avoided using hair spray or gel on my hair, but now I have no choice. “Okay, you know best,” I agree.
After applying the goo, Linda grabs a blow dryer and aims it at the top of my head. Using a stiff brush, my barber patiently forces my hair into a vertical position, erasing all evidence of the part that used to divide my locks. She was right; my hair does seem reluctant to stand straight up. She spends several minutes arranging my hair. Finally, she takes out a can of hair spray and aims it at the top of my head. Then she resumes carefully brushing the sides and front upwards.
If my head was a strange looking sight before, it’s even more bizarre now. The sides are clipped short, but the top is full and bushy. All the stiff hair is about two inches long, but it’s ragged and uneven, nothing like Tom’s precise cut. This is not the way I want to look. This can’t be my finished image.
Linda sees the concerned expression on my face and tries to reassure me. “Just you just wait, honey. It’s gonna look much better real soon.”
I’m relieved that she doesn’t plan on leaving me looking like this. Linda switches the attachments on her clippers and returns to my side. “First I’m gonna neaten up the sides and back a bit to get rid of that fuzzy look.”
I sit rigidly as my barber goes over the areas she buzzed just a few minutes before. This time she removes another fraction of an inch, clipping my hair closer to the scalp. Now the contrast between the shortened sides and the length on top is even more exaggerated. It’s an extreme fashion statement, but not the one I envisioned when I walked into this shop forty-five minutes ago.
Now Linda exchanges her large clippers for a smaller, battery powered model. I sit perfectly still as she trims my sideburns and around my ears. I feel her tracing a diagonal line down my bare neck as she removes the fine hairs missed by the larger clippers. When she reaches the back of my head Linda clips a straight line across my neck. After a second or two I realize that she’s giving me the same squared off look that Tom received.
Linda pauses to retrieve her large clippers. She removes the attachment that shielded the blades. She selects a black comb with unusually long teeth. “Now I’m gonna work on the top,” she announces. “You gotta sit real still so it turns out right.”
I take a deep breath and glance over at Tom. He’s still grinning broadly. I try to smile back at him, but I’m scared and it must show. Linda approaches and inserts her comb into the hair on the right side of my head, holding the comb vertically. She uses the clippers to shave off all the hairs protruding through the teeth, working slowly from the front to the back. When she finishes I see she has carved a perfectly vertical side wall. She circles behind the chair and repeats the process on the left side of my head.
It’s clear that Linda is saving the top for last. She takes a stance in front of me, blocking my view of the mirror. She places the comb into the front row of my upright hair. At last she’s going to carve the flat surface across the top of my head. This is the moment I’ve been waiting for; the climax of my transformation. I close my eyes as she guides her clippers into the hair sticking above the teeth of the comb. I hear the buzzing sound as the blades chew into my hair. I feel clumps of severed hair brush against my cheek as they fall from my head. I’m aware of the damp warmth spreading between my legs.
Linda moves the comb further back on my head and repeats the surgery. I try to imagine how I look, but keep my eyes shut tight. I don’t want to peek until she’s finished. Linda moves slowly and deliberately as if one false move will spell disaster. Gradually, she works her way toward the back of my head. When she stops I open my eyes. I see that she has removed about half an inch from the top. It now stands as flat as the top of a table, but Linda is not satisfied. She brushes my hair again, stroking firmly upward. Then she takes her clippers again, this time without the comb.
Now she’s positioned at my side. I watch as she lightly guides the clippers across the top of my head with a look of total concentration on her face. Each pass removes another small fraction of hair. Linda does not rest until every imperfection is gone and the hair on top of my head is perfectly level.
Linda switches off the power and announces “There, I think that does it. What d’ya think?”
I look into the large mirror and scarcely recognize the striking woman in front of me. Her dark brown eyes are large and luminous, her brow and ears are uncovered, her hair is defiantly short, her gaze is triumphant like she has just won an important battle. Can this be the same timid girl who stood at the barber shop door fifty minutes ago?
Linda holds a small mirror so I can inspect the sides and back. I slide my hand out from beneath the cape and tentatively feel the top. The stiff hairs tickle my palm. I’d like to continue getting acquainted with my new look, but sense that everyone is waiting for my verdict.
I stare at my new image for another long moment, then exclaim, “Linda, you’ve done a marvelous job. This is better than I ever imagined.”
I see Linda proudly beaming. “I can take it shorter if you like,” she offers.
“No, it’s perfect just the way it is,” I declare.
“Well, honey, I was scared you weren’t gonna like it,” she confides.
“Not nearly as scared as I was,” I confess.
“I guess that’s it,” she announces as she unfastens the cape from my neck and removes the strip of tissue. “You should come back in three or four weeks to keep it looking sharp.”
“I’ll be back,” I assure her. I step down from the chair and walk toward the cash register where Tom is waiting for me.
“You don’t need to pay. I took care of it,” he says. He walks beside me as we leave the shop together. “I can’t believe how brave you were in there,” he says. “Not many women have the guts to get their hair cut like that.”
“I guess you like my new haircut then?” I check.
“I think you look incredibly sexy,” he gushes.
“You look kinda cute yourself,” I flirt back at him.
“Maybe we can go somewhere to celebrate,” he suggests.
“Sure, I know a place,” I reply, taking his hand in mine.
“I think this is could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship,” he says in his best Humphrey Bogart imitation.