Going All In

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Part 1

 

“And now folks, make some noise for Jules and the bloodletters!!!”

As the boozed-up crowd howled and her drummer cued her in, Julia leapt onto stage and began to shred her guitar with practiced precision. She snarled lyrics about drowning her enemies in the blood of past deceivers, her bassist accompanying her with his instrument and back-up vocals. Through the haze of red strobe-lights and her performative aggression, she could see that the crowd was getting reasonably rowdy; it wasn’t a good show if people were just planted like posts.

The air was heavy with smoke and the perspiration of hundreds of people cramped into the small venue. Even with the A/C on, it had to be at least 100 degrees. Julia hardly noticed this until her set was over and her adrenaline came down, as when she and her band stepped out of the club to have a smoke, the fresh summer night breeze hit her like a wall. Her lithe but curvy body felt feverish and sticky. Her curly blonde hair, which had been a bouncing mane during the show, was now a damp mass that hung almost to her butt, creating an uncomfortable wet warmth on her back while the rest of her body felt cool and refreshed.

“The energy is good, but there’s not enough people,” sighed Neil the bassist. “In a small club like that, it’s mostly just regulars that come. Like, it’s decent money, don’t get me wrong, but we’ll never get big if we just keep playing gigs like this.”

“Ok,” replied Cass the drummer, “but what club in town that books shows like us isn’t like that? We’re playing what we can with the exposure we’ve got. These gigs are steady now, and we’re at least not losing money anymore. Once our record drops come August, you watch the venues we’ll get offers from, they’ll be all over us.”

Neil took another drag and exhaled “That’s my worry though. Our music is good, no doubt about it. Like, listen…” he paused, chewing his lip. There was a serious look on his face, one of concern but also of earnest nervousness “I’ve played with a bunch of different bands now, and most of their music is shit. We fool around, talking a big talk of making it big and stuff, but talk is all it was. Whenever we sat down to write stuff and play, it was just trite derivative bullshit. I’ve been playing music for over 20 years now, but I’ve honestly only been playing good music for about six months, since we got together.”

Julia was surprised to hear Neil be so direct, but her heart was also warmed. “Aw buddy! You’ve brought the best out of me too, you know. If it wasn’t for your support, I don’t know if I’d still be going up on stage either.”

She was being honest. For just over a year now, she’d been living on the upper east side, a Trenton ditch girl trying to make it big on the other side of the Hudson. In all that time, she’d been living from gig to gig and off of crummy jobs in restaurants and retail stores. It had been a struggle to find the time and energy to even focus on her music, but she had to work her ass off just to make sure she had a roof under which to sleep and practice playing.

After a couple unsuccessful bands and a shitty relationship, she’d been ready to head back to New Jersey, but that’s when she met Cass and Neil at a house party. They’d hit it off instantly, sharing sensibilities for the macabre and the skater punk aesthetic. They conceived of the Bloodletters as a post-punk band with tinges gothic and industrial, and pretty soon they had enough original material to perform an act in the rock clubs around town. All in all, it hadn’t taken them too long to get to a place now where they were booking a steady stream of acts and making a decent amount of money where Julia only needed to work part time to make ends meet.

That said, Julia knew that Neil was right. They were still leagues away from getting to a point where they could live off their music. Although they rarely voiced it, they all knew they wanted to become stars one day: to fill up arenas and have rabid fans follow them wherever they went.

“Right back at you, Jules,” Neil replied. “If I hadn’t met you, I think I’d have called my pops to see if that accounting internship in Des Moines was still on the table! No offense Cass. You remember how it was with The Rioters, getting into arguments about the simplest line and shit. Shit’s way better now. I mean, you saw how hard the crowd was moshing! When people hear our music, shit’s golden. We got them in our palm. But the problem is, how do we get them to listen to us in the first place? Like, our record’s gonna come in a bit, yes, but no one new’s gonna dish out their hard-earned cash to listen to us if they have no reason to give a shit about us. You know what I mean?”

Cass and Julia voiced their agreement. She got what Neil meant. They had their regular crowd of moshers and rockers from the Upper East side who did the circuit of the rock clubs around town, but aside from that, no one knew the Bloodletters existed. Whenever they’d tried to get an agent to sign them, they been met with closing doors and laughs.

“It is true that we’re not exactly the rocking image of your typical punk band,” Cass acknowledged.

She had a point. Cass was a gangly tomboy with geeky glasses who always wore baggy shirts, cargo pants and a beanie over her short mousy brown hair. Meanwhile, Neil had the broad body, baseball cap and hoodies of a middle-aged dad, rather than the appearance of the bohemian rocker that he actually was.

For her own part, Julia had never grown out of her rebellious goth-meets-lumberjack-butch phase from high school. She was adorned in studs, piercings, and dark jewelry, along with plaid over old rock band t-shirts and leather pants. As soon as she’d turned 18, she’d started collecting tattoos on her arms, legs and chest, and was planning to get her hands and neck done in the future. She was certainly the most “rocker-like” of the three, but at the same time she could’ve easily been mistaken for a New York hipster. She was the mainstream’s idea of an alternative girl; that is, until she got up on stage and started belting some truly un-mainstream tunes.

“That’s the thing!” Neil exclaimed, “we’re trying to make big it a world that’s all about not conforming to big society and its conventions. It’s not enough that our sound is edgy and talks about sick and dark shit and how fucked society is, we gotta look the part too, y’know? All this time, we’ve been too scared of failing in our dreams to be punk rockers, so we’ve kept looking the part of your average young well-upstanding square. Well, if we’re gonna make this our lives, then let’s commit our physical appearance to that shit! Let’s let people on the street know that we-are-for-fucking-real.”

During this speech, Neil got more and more intense, his voice rising almost to a yell by the end. Rather than this scare Julia, it excited her. He was right. All this time, she’d been worrying about failure, and so a part of her had kept trying to make sure that she had an out. Her old Buick always had enough gas to make it to Trenton. She was able to cover up her tattoos with long sleeves and a high collar if a manager complained that it went against “dress code.”

And as off-putting as her appearance could have been with ebony skulls hanging down her neck and stretched out ears, Julia knew from experience that her halo of golden coils had the power to put even the most uptight blue-haired little old lady at ease. The soft curls of her tresses literally smoothed out the edges of her angsty look.

“So what are we supposed to do? Get face tats?” Cass replied, “go out onstage in full-body BDSM gear? Set ourselves on fire at the end of each show?”

“No, no, nothing like that. But think of Slash’s top hat, or Die Antwoord’s whole weird trashy cyberpunk aesthetic, or Daft Punk’s helmets. Or like even think of something as simple as Skunk Anansie’s lead singer Skin rocking a shaved head. These looks don’t just match their music. They are their music.”

“Ok, but you don’t actually think Jules would ever shave her hair?” Cass retorted,” It’s way to majestic!”

“You’d be surprised,” Julia interjected. “When it’s hot like this, I wouldn’t mind being rid of all this hair. As much as it’s great for headbanging, the sweat makes it so hard to focus on stage, not to mention that it gets stuck on my guitar’s strip and shit…”

“There you go!” Neil exclaimed. “Hey, I know it’s a big deal, and like no pressure. It’s your hair, and honestly it’d be dumb as fuck to hinge our whole careers on one gimmicky idea like this, but think about it. Our music goes so hard already, so I’m sure if we keep knocking at this we’ll break through. You’ve just you gotta wonder: if our look matched our sound…”

“Yeah, yeah,” Cass said, extinguishing her stub. “If Julia was a boss bald bitch and we all wore matching leather jackets and shades, we’d already be booking Wembley and getting movies cameos like Skin in that movie you love so much. What is it again, Strange Times?”

“It’s Strange Days,” Neil responded as he tossed his cigarette butt to the curb and walked off to go retrieve his stage equipment.

 

Part 2

 

Later that night, when Julia got back to her apartment, she poured herself a stiff tumbler of jack Daniels. After putting on Pretty Hate Machine on her second-hand turntable, she took her drink outside to her tiny 1×4 porch and thought back to what Neil had said. All her life, she’d cared about what others thought about her appearance, she’d stopped caring what she thought about it. But no, it wasn’t just that: she’d also stopped caring what she felt about it. She was on autopilot, each day putting on the same four or five outfits, with the same jewelry.

And her hair was the most “on autopilot” part of it all. Since she’d left home, she’d let it grow from a shoulder-length ring of curls to the tangle that now tumbled with no rhyme or reason down her back. Even though she’d walked home, her back was still warm and sticky, her shirt clinging to her skin. It wasn’t just her back, though; her head and neck were equally uncomfortably hot, and whenever she turned her head a strand of sweaty hair would stick unpleasantly to her cheek. This was without even considering the weight of it all, the cost of shampoo and conditioner, and how it got stuck to things at the worst possible of times.

The more Julia thought about these things, the more she wanted to get rid of her hair. It was literally and figuratively holding her down, and now she wanted to be free, to be her own person. If she could just take this step, there would be no going back in all her dreams; she would have to commit to her alternative music career with all her heart, and nothing would hold her back in giving it her all.

After her drink, she got settled for bed. All she could think about was getting her hair cut as soon as she could the next day, and as such her hair felt especially warm and sticky that night as she tossed and turned.

The following day was a day off work at a local corner store for Julia, and so she slept in until noon. Her hair still felt impossibly cumbersome, and so she tied it up in a loose bun. This did little to alleviate the heat, and the mass of hair wobbled uncomfortably whenever she moved. After a light breakfast, she put on some torn jean shorts and a band tank top, and left her apartment to run some errands.

It was a sweltering summer day in New York City, with the sun beating hard on the pavement. Moisture ran down people’s skin and building walls, to the point where the air itself felt charged with warm water droplets. Once again, every part of Julia felt uncomfortably warm and sticky, especially the nape of her neck where her bun was beginning to unravel, loose curls sticking to her exposed upper back.

On her way back home, she passed a local barbershop. The front door was open, fresh A/C and old-timey rock seeping out. The barber’s pole spun languidly, alluring like a hypnotist’s pendulum. Julia felt a jitter in her stomach, and her heart started beating fast. The idea of letting her curls fall one last time was irresistible.

She crossed the street and entered the shop. Inside, a large and muscular barber got up from behind the counter. He was in the full old school uniform, with a crisp and spartan-white tunic buttoned up to his collar. He seemed unbothered by the heat, his whole appearance immaculate and professional. Despite his size, he exuded gentleness.

“Good afternoon,” he said, “how can I help you?”

“Hey,” Julia responded, “I’m tired of this heat, and I want something totally different, I wanna shave all my hair off.”

The barber looked at her with amusement.

“What are we talking? Like a pixie cut, or a buzz?” He replied.

“No, I think I want to be bald. All off.” Julia asserted

The barber’s amusement turned to a smile.

“Well, if that’s what you want, I’d be happy to serve. It’s not every day I get to do something so extreme. About time I put my clippers to some real work.”

Julia was relieved that the barber wasn’t trying to talk her out of it. When she made up her mind about something, there was nothing no one but herself could do to change it.

“Come over and take a seat.” The barber continued, gesturing to the shop’s lone barber chair. It was old school, large and made of shiny metal and firm yet comfy red leather.

As Julia sat down, her black doc martins barely skimmed the large footrest. The barber caped her in a shiny black cape, and she lifted up her loose curls for him. He wrapped her neck in wax paper, after which he undid her bun, her golden locks tumbling well past the armrests, dangling limply against the cape.

The barber offered Julia her tie.

“Care to hang on to this?” He asked, “you won’t really need for a good while, but then again you never know when it may come I handy.”

“I’ll keep it,” Julia answered as she reached out for it with a heavily bangled arm, “I like having accessories, as you can see.”

“No kidding,” He answered.

He pumped up the chair a good couple feet, and with that he turned around, picked up cordless black clippers, and removed their guard.

“So we’re doing this?” He asked, offering her once last chance to back out if she wanted.

“Do it,” Julia responded firmly.

The barber clicked the clippers on, and they began whirring ferociously. He took hold of the locks at her right temple and placed the clippers at her scalp there. As he pushed them through, the whirring sound grew louder and more aggressive, the sharp blades coming in contact with thick, dense and damp hair. The metal felt cool on her scalp, and a shock went through Julia’s whole body at this sense of fresh relief.

The clippers made another pass, and then another. Through the mirror, Julia could see her pierced ear being exposed as cut locks rained down all around it. Her head looked strangely small, but not in an unattractive way. If anything, she thought the pale stubble around her ear looked simultaneously delicate and fierce, especially in contrast to the wild tangles on the rest of her head.

However, as the barber started on the top of her head, the clippers’ whirring turned to an unpleasant screech, and Julia felt a slight pulling sensation where they were passing on her scalp.

“Damn things are getting stuck. That’s some thick hair you have there,” whistled the barber. “I’m gonna have to switch to my other clippers.”

He set down his wireless clippers, which were now choked up in a tangle of golden curls, and picked up another, larger pair of clippers. These ones were visibly older, as he had to plug them in the wall. Julia also noticed that he applied some oil to the blades.

As the barber turned them on, the whole shop became drowned in a strong and low whirring sound, one which sounded far more mechanical and menacing than the last pair. At the same time, Julia found this new sound oddly exciting.

The barber resumed the shearing at the top of Julia’s scalp, peeling dense curls that came tumbling down on her lap. Her head felt instantly lighter. She had a hard time seeing the mirror now through the mass of falling hair, but she could make out that these clippers were far more efficient. Her curls were now coming off in large, thick clumps, not unlike a sheep being sheared. As the shaving progressed, Julia felt her anxiety and fear shift into a sort of ecstasy. The sensation of the clippers running over her head felt sensational.

Finishing the top, the barber then quickly peeled the left side of her head, and then he finished up by shaving Julia’s nape. As he passed the clippers on her neck, Julia felt shivers of pleasure run through her whole body. She couldn’t remember the last time she had felt something this physically pleasurable. Certainly not since long before her ex…

She could now feel the barber’s breath on her naked neck, as well as the shifting breeze of the A/C in the shop all around her head. Before she could get a proper glance of herself in the mirror, the barber turned her chair around, and firmly but gently eased her chair downward so that Julia’s head was above a sink that she had not realized was there under the mirror before.

“Not quite done yet,” The barber said.

He turned the sink on, and cold water began trickling down Julia’s denuded scalp. She gasped a little bit at the refreshing sensation, but then quickly eased into it. After the warm heat of the past couple days, it was an immense relief.

And then the scalp massage began, and it was as if Julia had left her body. She could smell the musky shampoo and feel the strong hands massaging her now stubbly scalp, but it felt like it was happening to someone else. All she could focus on was the feeling of ecstasy. She knew that her head wasn’t the only wet part of her anymore.

After rinsing and toweling Julia off, the barber pulled the chair back up. He then reached behind her, and she heard another whirring sound, and then she felt something cool brush against her head; the barber was applying shaving cream with a brush. As he covered her head in the soft white foam, Julia felt her scalp tingle a little. She then felt a cold and metallic sensation on her nape, followed by a scraping and pulling, as the barber began shaving her with a straight razor.

It took another thirty minutes of meticulous passing and scraping for the barber to finish. All the while, Julia was still completely entranced by the experience. Once it was done, he wiped off the remaining shaving cream from her head with a warm towel. Then, he reached back to his counter once more, and when his hands touched Julia’s scalp again, she felt an unpleasant burning sensation, joined by a strong alcoholic smell; he was applying aftershave to her head. The barber’s hands felt sticky as they rubbed small circles onto her now completely smooth head. The sensation of his skin touching Julia’s scalp felt completely alien but also immensely pleasant.

Another reach behind to his counter, and the barber’s hands returned once again to massage Julia’s scalp, but this time the sensation was incredibly soft and soothing. The burning sensation faded away, and Julia realized that this must be some sort of moisturizer.

Lastly, the barber passed a dry cloth over Julia’s entire scalp, wiping off any excess cream, oil or runaway hairs. As he uncapped her, Julia could feel the barber’s knuckles brush against the small of her neck, and another pleasant shiver went down her whole body. When the barber lifted up the cape, she saw all her long locks fall down on the floor with a dull flop. The barber then turned the chair and Julia was finally able to see her new look for the first time.

“Holy fuck!” Julia couldn’t help but exclaim. It was like a completely different person in the mirror. It looked as if she had never had a hair on her head, so smooth and shiny her skin looked. The reflection of the shop’s lights distorted off her polished scalp, which weirdly aroused Julia. Her whole face looked smaller, her cheekbones and chin sharper, and her eyes bigger without masses of curls to get in their way. Her head was almost perfectly round, without any strange bumps throwing it off. Julia felt incredibly exposed but also incredibly powerful with her features so exposed. It also showed off her tattoos, piercings and jewelry more, making her look all the more fierce.

“What do you think?” The barber asked.

“I love it!” Julia answered, reaching her hands to her shaved head as she got up. She couldn’t believe how smooth it felt, and how arousing it was to run her fingers along her scalp. “how much do I owe you?”

“This one’s on me,” the barber responded, an amused grin on his face, “it’s not every day a barber like me gets the treat of a customer like you, so thank you for making my day.”

And with that, Julia walked out of the shop and back into the summer heat, although now she hardly felt the heat at all. The whole way back to her apartment, she couldn’t stop touching her head. Although it was not a windy day, Julia felt as if a cool breeze was blowing all around her head, and in the reflection of each window she passed, it seemed as if her head was surrounded by a halo created by the light bouncing off her scalp.

 

Part Three

 

“And now folks, the one… the only… Jules and the bloodletters!!!”

The announcer’s voice boomed across a packed stadium. Almost a year had passed since that faithful day in the barbershop. Many things had changed in the lives of Jules and the Bloodletters. Their first record had been a smash hit, topping the charts in alternative radio stations across the country. They had been invited on radio and TV shows to promote the album and their band, their mailboxes full of requests for more.

This had quickly been followed by a national tour that was now in full swing. Gone were the days of the crummy bars; now, it was stadiums, concert halls and parks with people as far as the eye could see. Julia, Cass and Neil were still getting along for the most part, although the rapid rise to popularity had brought on stress and strain. In the end, they still greatly appreciated each other as musicians and humans, and knew that they made better work together than alone. A second album was already in the works, with a new big-wig agent who was going to handle them as their primary client. She had finally been able to purchase a home, and still she had more money than she knew what to do with.

Julia had kept her head shaved the whole while. Not only that, but she had also got her head tattooed and shaved her eyebrows, and was now painting her eyebrows on every day in a new style. She had never felt so comfortable in her skin. This was who she was, and she wasn’t going to hide that from anyone. She felt confident, bold and strong.

Her bandmates were happy with her taking the spotlight, and Julia realized just how much she enjoyed being the center of attention. As much as people loved Julia’s music, they just couldn’t get enough of her look. Over the last couple of months, she had received a slew of compliments, love letters and encounters with star-struck fans. While tabloids speculated about her romantic life, she had secretly begun to date someone who really seemed to love her for all that she was, bald head included.

Things finally seemed to be turning around for Julia. She was doing a job she loved, finding people with whom she felt loved, and she was most of all loving herself. There was a good chance that maybe she would never grow her hair out again…

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