Inches Left and Lost at the Cirque de Plaisir

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The Cirque de Plaisir was a strictly adults-only destination. Though at first glance it appeared to be your standard sort of circus—big red-and-white striped tents, brightly costumed entertainers roaming around, games of skill and chance being advertised by loud carnival barkers—it quickly became obvious to all those who entered that there was more than met the eye. Those tents featured all sorts of mature delights, from relatively tame burlesque shows to acrobatic and highly theatrical (but still very much real) orgies. Those roaming entertainers were not actually costumed at all, but covered in body paint that both concealed and displayed their nakedness.

And those games the barkers advertised? Oh, those games.

Here was the opportunity for Cirque de Plaisir’s patrons to truly experience the plaisir part. There was no winning or losing, not really. Every customer who played a game walked away with a prize…it might not have been a prize they were expecting, but nobody ever complained by the time it was all done.

Take the Cirque’s version of the classic carnival ring toss. Instead of rows of bottles on which a player could toss a ring, a dozen nude, fully erect men stood in a row in the booth. If the player managed to toss a ring onto one of their cocks, they would then have the pleasure of feeling said cock inside the orifice of their choosing. If they missed, well, they’d just have to settle for the man’s tongue, and the orifice of his choosing. Not a bad consolation prize.

The Cirque de Plaisir was in the business of wish fulfillment as much as the business of entertainment. Patrons paid handsomely to be allowed on the carnival grounds. There was something inside for everyone, the advertisements promised, as long as patrons agreed to follow the two rules of the Cirque de Plaisir:

  1. No cameras are allowed on the premises.
  2. Consent must be given for any activity, and can be revoked at any time. (This rule applied to both the patrons and the employees.)

It was the Cirque de Plaisir’s one and only objective to make sure that every one of their patrons left satisfied. That did not mean that every patron got exactly what they came for, every time—that would be impossible, and probably very little fun—but no patron left without a smile on their face. That was the point of the consolation prize in the ring toss, and many other conciliatory measures. Not every member of the audience could join in the orgiastic trapeze performance, for obvious reasons, but as they watched it happen, their seats would begin to vibrate strategically so that eventually it felt like they were in on the action. Audience members were not allowed to ink the tattooed lady in the sideshow tent, but they could pick the design and placement and watch as she received their mark. (This was one of the attractions where the circus’s consent policy was especially important; in the early days of the Cirque de Plaisir, a patron suggested tattooing a white supremacist symbol on the tattooed lady’s forehead and was summarily tossed out and banned from ever returning.)

In the dart-throwing game, the “prizes” hanging from the ceiling were circus performers bound in shibari ropes. Enough balloons popped, and a winning player could select a “prize” to be carefully untied from the rafters and spend half an hour learning to retie their ropes in a nearby private tent—or at least private enough that the cameras installed for the performers’ safety were never intrusive or obvious. Not enough balloons popped? Your “prize” would see you bound you in that tent, instead.

Perhaps the most intriguing carnival game at the Cirque de Plaisir was its take on the traditional carnival strength test. In the classic take on the game, a patron would be given a mallet and told to swing at a pressure-sensitive pad at the base of a tall cylinder, which would then fill or empty based on how strong their swing was. Cirque de Plaisir’s version of the game operated much the same way, only the usual cylinder in this instance was a repurposed old-fashioned barber’s pole, with numbers and words printed on two sides. Numbers from 0–24 ran upward along one side of the tube, with three hash marks placed between each number, representing inches and fractions thereof. On the other side of the cylinder, the words “inches lost” and “inches left” alternated from bottom to top, spaced approximately where the numbers were on the other side. Each player would get two turns, and in between, the pole would rotate 180° from the first side to the second. The two results together would determine the player’s fate: the first result was meant to be a measurement in inches; the second would indicate whether the player would be losing, or left with that amount of hair.

This was a game of both skill and chance. A player who had a particularly powerful swing the first time around could lose quite a bit of hair if their second swing landed on “inches lost,” and by the same token a player who had a weaker swing could still end up sacrificing a lot of length if their second swing placed them at “inches left.” Off to the side of the barber’s pole, a male barber and a female hairstylist each stood behind a barber’s chair, ready to deliver the results. Both were very attractive, and dressed in a fetishized version of their profession’s traditional garb—leather aprons, hers covering a leather-and-lace bustier and short skirt, his covering an open-collared shirt and tight-fitting pants that were also made of leather. As one would expect, the pair looked impeccable, her auburn hair piled into a massive bun at the crown of her head, and his light brown hair cut clipper-short at the back and sides and left longer on the top, sometimes combed back and sometimes falling forward over one eye.

The founders of the Cirque de Plaisir had devised this particular game when the market research they were conducting once they began to plan the circus in earnest—yes, even in the business of wish fulfillment, there is research to be done—turned up a larger-than-expected population of hair fetishists, many of whom did not want to be forced to part with their hair per se, but who also fantasized about someone else taking control of it. In every town that the Cirque de Plaisir visited, the barber game was one of the most popular, attracting both a large crowd of onlookers and a long queue of waiting players, most of whom with rather long hair, and all of whom looking both nervous and excited as they progressed ever closer to the stage.

Because of the randomness of the backside of the barber’s pole, one never knew what to expect when a new player would pick up a mallet. But no matter the end result, the players and the audience alike all ultimately enjoyed the experience. Amongst the Cirque de Plaisir staff, though—many of whom would sneak off during their breaks to watch the events here unfolding—there were a few gameplayers whose experiences they suspected were especially enjoyable for all involved parties.

Outside of Atlanta, a petite woman with curly red hair that hung thick to her waist surprised everyone when she swung the mallet so hard the first time that the indicator shot almost all the way up, landing on the number 22. On her second swing a gasp arose from the crowd as it was revealed the indicator had stopped at “inches lost.” A tape measure was procured to determine just where the stylist would need to begin her work. If the woman were taller, her waist-length hair would have been longer, and she might have finished the evening with a bob. But instead, given her short stature, the tape measure showed that the 22 inch measurement ended a mere half-inch from her head. The stylist guided the player over to her chair, draped her in a cape, and without a word, flicked on a set of clippers affixed with a number four guard and brought them to the sitting woman’s forehead. The woman closed her eyes for a moment and smiled sanguinely, reopening her eyes just as the barber pulled the clippers backward toward the redhead’s crown, leaving in their wake a shorn path of ginger fuzz. The stylist made another pass, and then another, dropping the severed hair in front of the woman’s face. By the time all the long hair had been stripped from the top of the woman’s head, the tiniest bit of movement visible beneath her cape indicated that she was enjoying this experience. As the stylist continued, taking her clippers up the sides and back of the woman’s head, leaving that velvety red pelt in their wake, the woman was all but writhing in her chair. All patrons of the Cirque de Plaisir had been informed, going in, that self pleasure was not only welcome but often expected in the circus, so the stylist had become accustomed to patrons who could barely sit still and continued her work. As she peeled the last long red curls from the woman’s head and dropped them into her lap, in front of her face, the woman erupted into a loud orgasm. The audience cheered.

In Toronto, a woman with shiny black hair falling bluntly just below her shoulders sneezed as she was taking her first swing, nearly missing the pad. The indicator barely hit the number 1. The woman, clearly hoping for a significant change that evening, looked disappointed for a moment before remembering there was a 50/50 chance she’d still be losing most of her hair…and looked more disappointed still when her second swing hit “inches lost.” She dutifully sat in the barber’s chair for her one-inch trim, then got up and immediately returned to the back of the line, hoping the second time would yield more dramatic results. This time, she swung the mallet as hard as she could for her first swing, landing at the number 18. The second swing, however, landed on “inches left.” Since the woman’s hair by that point was just over 12 inches long from root to end, this meant she would not be receiving a haircut at all. She let out a frustrated shout and again joined the line, which had gotten quite long at that point. By the time the woman returned to the game for the third time, she seemed to have devised a strategy. For her first swing, she landed the mallet slowly and less forcefully than she had on her last turn. It hit the number 6, meaning that whether her second swing landed on inches left or inches lost, she’d wind up with more or less the same haircut. She barely bothered to tap the pad with her mallet on her second swing, then ran to sit in the barber’s chair. The barber’s pole had indicated “inches left,” but it really didn’t matter. He inserted his shears into her hair at about the mid-point of her right ear and began to cut a straight line across the woman’s head, leaving her with a rough bowl cut. To finish the look, he held the remaining hair out of the way while he ran his clippers up the back and sides of the woman’s head, not even bothering to look at what guard he was using when he began. He handled the woman roughly, but not aggressively, as he moved her head from side to side and lowered her chin toward her chest. When he was finished, he removed the woman’s cape, half hoping she would just re-join the line again. Instead, after she stood, she grabbed the barber by his apron and kissed him firmly on the mouth. This might have violated the Cirque de Plaisir’s consent rule, but the barber, clearly intrigued by this woman who was so determined to be shorn that night, buried his hands in what remained of her hair and kissed her back. The woman was seen emerging from the barber’s dressing-tent the next morning, and some of the other Cirque de Plaisir staff thought her hair might have been even shorter than it was when the circus closed the night before.

In Phoenix, where it was so hot that almost nobody even came to the circus, one of the trapeze performers marched up to the barber’s pole and swung the mallet twice, resulting, soon enough, in most of her elbow-length, purple-dyed hair hitting the floor. She left with a lip-length bob, excited to no longer have her hair sticking to her back in the sweltering heat, and her fellow performers excited to have additional access to her neck and back. In Oklahoma City, where the winds didn’t die down for days, a woman with strawberry blonde hair that fell almost to her knees looked grateful to see that the barber poles revealed she would be leaving with one inch of hair on her head, far too short to get tangled as the winds changed directions. In Las Vegas, a performer from another troupe that used “Cirque” in its title lost a foot of their emerald green-dyed hair, winding up with a blunt, earlobe length cut, their nape buzzed to nothing for good measure. Later, their TikTok would be full of short videos of them rubbing their nape, then turning to wink at the camera. In Los Angeles, a performance artist known for her wild red hair decided to visit the Cirque de Plaisir and donned a blindfold before swinging the mallet so she wouldn’t know the results. Once that was completed, she insisted not just on removing her blindfold but on stripping completely nude before sitting down to receive the cut that chance and the barber pole had given her: four inches left on her head, resulting in a frizzy chili bowl haircut that contrasted with tightly clippered sides. The cut, wildly different from the style she bore when she first arrived, managed to suit her perfectly.

In Prairie View, Texas, of all places, a blonde woman with beauty queen good looks and hair that fell to her shoulder blades landed on the number 7 and “inches lost.” She declined the cape the barber began to drape over her and instead sat in his chair with her legs spread just wide enough that the front few rows of the audience could see there was no underwear beneath her short red dress. The barber placed his shears into her blonde locks just above her chin and closed the blades, severing more than half a foot of blonde hair. The woman snatched some of it as it fell and began to run the cut strands up and down her inner thighs, then tickled her clit with the bundle of golden locks. The barber placed, then closed, his shears again and the woman caught more hair as it fell, transferring the original pieces to her other hand so that now she was working her inner thighs with both. Keeping her head and shoulders perfectly still so as not to interrupt the barber’s precise cutting, she began to rock her pelvis back and forth as she stroked herself with her severed hair, her dress riding up even higher as she did so now no one in the audience had any reason to question whether she wore anything underneath. Soon, the blonde woman was moaning theatrically, growing louder with each snip of the barber’s shears. Still, while she may have been exaggerating the noises, the orgasm she had when the last section of long hair fell to the floor was real enough, an arc of fluid emerging from between her legs and landing on the stage just in front of the chair. When she stood to leave the stage, she did not pull her skirt back down but rather exited with her wet, swollen sex revealed to the other patrons. The next day, at a diner near the carnival grounds, a few entertainers from the Cirque de Plaisir glanced up at the Sunday morning church services broadcast from the television over the counter and could have sworn they saw that same woman, her hair in a sharp blonde bob, sitting primly on a stage behind her preacher husband as he sermonized about the dangers of sexual impropriety. But who would believe them if they told the world where the preacher’s wife got her new haircut?

In Santa Fe, two long-haired women approached the barber’s pole together, holding hands. When they were reminded that the game was for one player, they said they understood, and they’d both be taking a turn, only they hoped they could get whatever haircuts they’d be receiving together. The first woman, her greying brown hair stopping just above her waist, knew well what she was risking when she gently tapped the mallet down on the contact pad on her first swing, the meter inside rising to the first hash mark between the zero and one: a mere quarter of an inch. She seemed unfazed when her second, much stronger, swing, landed on “inches left.” The second woman, whose hair was fully grey and fell, slightly longer than her companion’s, just below her waist, raised a knowing eyebrow at the first woman, and for her first swing elected not to take a swing at all, instead slowly placing the mallet down on the contact pad and pressing down just enough that the meter returned to the quarter-inch mark. Then, swinging the mallet with all her might, she, too, hit “inches left.” Each of the women took a seat onstage and looked back to the barber and the stylist who would shortly be clippering all the hair off their heads, saying something too quiet for the crowd to hear. The professionals looked at each other, nodded, and spun the two chairs to face inward. The two women smiled broadly at each other as the stylist and the barber raised their clippers and made a pass straight down the center of each woman’s head. They continued to smile at each other, their eyes brighter by the second, as the circus performers continued their work, each pass with their clippers removing feet of hair from the women’s heads. Even as the stylist and the barber tilted the women’s heads from one side to the other, the women continued to look at each other, only breaking eye contact when the haircutters gently pushed their heads down so as to peel what long hair still remained from their napes. When the women looked up again, they looked at each other as if for the first time all over again and smiled even bigger than they’d been smiling moments before. The stylist and the barber removed the women’s capes and kicked the massive piles of grey and brown-grey hair back enough that the women could stand. And no sooner did that happen than both women were standing there, forehead to forehead, their hands wrapped around each others’ nearly-bald heads as they laughed and cried at once. That night, the stylist and the barber would relate to curious Cirque de Plaisir employees who had witnessed this emotional display that when the two women sat, they’d explained they were lifelong friends, both widowed, who had only discovered recently that their love for each other was more than platonic. They saw their time at the Cirque de Plaisir as a ritual of rebirth and a prelude to their first night of true physical intimacy, for which they had been waiting. It was all very Santa Fe, but also very sweet.

In Savannah, a tall, ethereal blonde of indeterminate gender landed their blows on the number five and “inches lost.” It would barely count as a trim: their hair currently fell below their hips, and the cut would take their hair to the small of their back. Still, the audience was captivated as this beautiful, fine-featured, androgynous person stood to receive their haircut, their hair too long for either chair onstage. The stylist got the honors here, and when she finished, the person whose hair she had just cut laid a hand on her shoulder and leaned to whisper something in her ear. The stylist flushed as the patron exited the stage. She never told anyone what was said, not even when she was spotted entering the fairgrounds early the next morning in the clothes she’d been wearing the night before.

In Chicago, a noted improv troupe brought their newest company members to the Cirque de Plaisir as what appeared to be a sort of hazing ritual. Upon being reminded that nothing at the circus could happen without the consent of all participating parties, the senior-most members of the troupe looked chastened and immediately abandoned their plans to drag the new members to what they imagined would be the most uncomfortable attractions for them to witness or participate in, and instead told them to go have fun. Four of the male novices decided to have a go at the barber pole, but all had short enough hair that the haircuts they received were pretty unexciting, disappointing the haircutters and the spectators alike. But then one of their female compatriots, a curvy, olive-skinned woman with a mass of tight curls falling just above her shoulders yelled up to the stage that it seemed as though the people wanted a show. With the permission of the fifteen or so people who had lined up behind her cast mates, the woman marched up to the stage and took up the mallet. Two quick, sharp springs revealed she would be losing eight inches of hair. With a curl stretched out for an accurate measurement, it was decided the woman would be leaving the stage with three inches of hair left on her head, with the understanding that her curl pattern would make it appear much shorter. In what was probably one of he lengthiest haircuts conducted on the Cirque de Plaisir stage, the stylist began to cut the woman’s hair, one curl at a time, until all corkscrew curls were gone and she was sporting a sort of short afro in their place.

In New Orleans, where the Cirque de Plaisir landed—quite deliberately—the week of Mardi Gras, a woman with shoulder-length hair dyed the green, purple, and gold colors associated with the holiday took her turn at the pole. She hit the number three and “inches off” but as the barber began to brush through her hair before making his first cut, a large section simply broke off in his hand, far shorter than the chin-length bob she was meant to receive. He was surprised when the woman shrugged it off, explaining that she had bleached her hair herself before dyeing it and she sort of suspected she’d done a poor job of it. She held a hand to her head, feeling the length of the hair still left after the breakage, and said to the barber to go ahead and take three inches off based on that length, which would have meant using unguarded clippers. The barber clarified, thinking she just meant she wanted a sidecut where her hair had broken off and then the rest of her hair still cut, like planned, into the bob she was supposed to get. No, she told him. All of it. Now it was his turn to shrug, as he began to pull sections of her hair tight and snip them off with his shears as close as he could to the woman’s scalp, worried that running the unguarded clippers through her badly damaged hair would be unpleasant for her. When the woman was left with haphazard tufts of green, purple, and gold hair sticking out all over her head, then the barber took out his clippers, removed the guard that had still been on them from their last use, and ran the unguarded blades up the back of the woman’s head. His clippers were well-oiled and very powerful, so each pass he made took her down to the skin, the hair he now realized was a natural dark brown barely perceptible. He was surprised to see a something emerging on the woman’s scalp as he continued to run his clippers up the back of her head toward her occipital lobe, then began to strip every last hair from the right side of her head. An intricate tattoo of a rope woven from flowers started just above where the woman’s natural hairline would be, snaking its way from the tattoo’s origin point and curling around her ears, stopping just at a point where, if she had long hair and wore it down, no one would know the tattoo was there. On the back of her head was tattooed a large owl, its feet resting on the flower rope in a way that made it look as if his weight—and not the natural curve of the woman’s head and neck—was the reason the rope was so much lower in the middle than on the sides. Soon, only the hair on the top of the woman’s head remained. There were no more surprises to be revealed here, but as the barber ran his clippers all over the woman’s head one last time to make sure she was shorn as tightly as she could be absent of the use of an actual razor, he couldn’t help but admire the artwork, and he told her so. She smiled and thanked him. When the barber removed the woman’s cape, she stood and asked him if he had a pen and a scrap of paper she could borrow. He had a receipt in his pocket, but nothing to write with, so the woman reached into her purse and withdrew an eyeliner pencil. She scribbled a quick note on the receipt and handed it back to him, telling him to look at it when he was finished working for the evening. A few hours later, still thinking of the woman he had shaved and the tattoo that was revealed when he did so, the barber reached into his pocket to see the note she had left him. All that was on it was an address, which he visited after the Cirque de Plaisir closed for the evening. He did not return to the circus grounds until well after noon the following day.

In Mexico City, on the Cirque de Plaisir’s first-ever trip to Mexico, a woman with thick, wavy black hair that hung almost to her hips swung the mallet twice and learned she’d be losing twenty inches of hair, exiting the stage with a triangular-shaped  bob that made her look as if she’d stepped out of a John Hughes movie, and leaving on the stage—well, on the barber’s chair, at least—a wet spot that betrayed her feelings about her shearing. In Buenos Aires, a professional tango dancer lost enough hair that it would be some time before she would once again be able to put it into the bun so many tango dancers wore daily, and she couldn’t have looked more thrilled. In a triumphant return to Paris, the Cirque de Plaisir’s home town, the line for the barber pole game was so long that patrons were still swinging their mallets and getting their haircuts until three in the morning; by the time the sun rose, the stage was so littered with hair that you could barely make out the barbers’ legs. In Belfast, a sea of redheads waited in line for the possibility of being shorn, some of them leaving the stage with hair so short you could no longer even tell they were redheads at all. In Amsterdam, some sex workers decided they deserved a sexy evening in which they weren’t the ones doing all the work and decided to visit the Cirque de Plaisir. Two of them tested their strength and their luck at the barber’s pole; both of them left the stage with buzzcuts, the long ponytails with which they titillated some of their clients held in their hands to be braided and used as whips for any client who wanted it.

In Nashville, the Cirque de Plaisir employees were surprised to see what initially looked like a bachelorette party wandering around the circus, until an employee passed closer to the presumed bride and saw that instead, the pretty, tall woman who wore her dirty blonde hair in a high ponytail was wearing a sash that read not “bride-to-be” but “just divorced.” The divorcee’s friends encouraged her to get in line for the barber’s pole, reminding her that consent could be revoked, of course, so she was under no obligation to get a haircut she didn’t want, but also at the same time how she’d always said it was her now-ex-husband who liked her hair long and wouldn’t it be great to mark getting rid of him by getting rid of some of it? The woman’s friends kept her company in line, continuing to encourage her, until it was her turn to pick up the mallet. After her first swing landed on the number 18 and the second swing landed on “inches lost,” the divorcee looked at first as if she might bolt until a few encouraging cheers from her friends steadied her. She steeled herself, sat in the stylist’s chair, and, once caped, let down her hair. The divorcee’s thick blondish hair spilled down the back of the chair, ending at her hips. The stylist gathered the woman’s hair into a looser, lower ponytail than the one she’d sported when she came onstage, measured 18 inches, and placed an elastic just below her shoulders. Rather than using shears, the stylist picked up her clippers and the woman looked as if she might leave right there, until the stylist placed a gentle hand on her shoulder and explained what she’d be doing. Less fearful, the woman nodded, and the stylist flicked the clippers on and plunged their vibrating blades into the woman’s hair, just above the elastic. Soon, the thick ponytail was severed. The stylist asked the woman if she wanted to keep it, and the woman shook her head no. The stylist let go of the ponytail and it landed with a loud thud while she readied shears and comb to even up the woman’s lob, which was to just barely graze the tops of the woman’s shoulders once it was finished. When the cut was complete, the woman stood, thanked the stylist, and ran off the stage to her friends, grateful for their encouragement.

In Minneapolis, six months later, the same woman appeared again in line for the barber’s pole, just before closing time, now without any friends to cheer her on. Her thick, brown-blonde hair had grown out a bit but it was still significantly shorter than it had been when she first visited the circus in New Orleans, and the stylist remembered her right away. When she reached the front of the line, the woman picked up the mallet without prompting and swung it as hard as she could, landing, as before, on 18. For her second swing, she landed on “inches left” and looked disappointed, knowing she’d barely be getting a haircut, if she even got one at all. She began to lower the mallet and leave the stage when the stylist ran up to her, telling her that if she wanted another go, nobody was in line behind her and the crowd had mostly dissipated, so it was probably okay if they bent the rules a little. The woman looked thrilled as she shouldered the mallet and gave another swing. Eighteen again. She was consistent if nothing else. She took her second swing and landed, this time, on “inches lost,” then dropped the mallet and bounded toward the stylist’s chair like she was worried the professional would tag her out if she didn’t get to the seat first. The stylist measured the woman’s hair and determined that eighteen inches would leave her with two inches left—quite the awkward all-over length, really, and one she’d always hated to let a Cirque de Plaisir patron leave the stage with, but those were the rules of the game and honestly nobody who played seemed to mind if the cut they received was less-than-perfect, at least in the moment. But because the woman was practically the only patron left at at the circus, the stylist could take a little with this cut and asked the woman if she’d be okay if the back and sides were shorter than two inches. A far cry from the nervous divorcee she’d been six months ago in Nashville, the woman nodded enthusiastically, telling the stylist to do whatever she wished. So the stylist created a u-shaped section of hair at the top of the woman’s head and pinned that hair out of the way. Gently, she pushed the woman’s chin toward her chest, then took up her clippers, explaining to the woman she’d be using them in a quite different way this time around. Then, she brought the clippers, capped by a number three guard, to the woman’s hairline and pushed them upward, above her occipital ridge, easily mowing down her hair until a strip of dirty blonde velvet was all that was left. She repeated the process again and again, severing the last of what had been the woman’s just-below-the-shoulder hair and leaving a short, soft pelt. The stylist tipped the woman’s head to one side and continued her work, her clippers moving high up, until they reached the section that had earlier been clipped away. She repeated this process on the other side, and then unclipped the rest of the woman’s hair but held it aloft in a sort of ponytail. Picking up her shears, she cut through the ponytail so the woman’s hair fell haphazardly down to the top of her head and the women let in a sharp inhale, feeling for the first time, as well as for the last time for quite a while, what it felt like when longer hair brushed against her buzzed sides. Then the stylist began to work more deliberately, starting at the back of the woman’s head and making her way forward snipping each lock about two inches above the scalp. When at last she was finished, she brushed all the hair on the top of the woman’s head forward and off to the side, creating a surprisingly feminine take on a classic little boy’s cut. Then the stylist took the guard off her clippers and tidied the woman’s hairline a little, before declaring the cut finished. She removed the cape and discovered that during the haircut, the woman had sneakily unbuttoned her shirt, revealing the black vinyl corset she’d been wearing underneath, her breasts supported but not encased. The woman explained that the first haircut had awakened something in her, and that she’d been dreaming of that night in Nashville, or fantasizing about it. When she found out the circus was coming to her hometown, she was determined to return, on her own, so she could explore these new feelings. She hadn’t even seen her haircut yet—there were no mirrors on the stage, which was part of the fun, really—but she knew she loved it. She was back at the circus the next night, not to try her luck again at the barber pole, but to enjoy the ring toss and either the prize or the consolation prize that came with it.

In Austin, a group of four young women who had all quit their sororities in protest of the campus Panhellenic Association’s refusal to adopt a resolution about date rape visited the Cirque de Plaisir, attracted by its strict consent policies, and eventually got in line to take a swing at the barber pole. All eager to part with the blonde highlights so common amongst sorority girls on campus, they returned again and again to the line until every last trace of blonde was gone. In Miami, a nightclub performer with the night off decided to peruse the Cirque de Plaisir’s offerings and see what they found exciting; they did not get in line at the barber pole but stood and watched the results of each mallet swing for long enough to realize that watching hair cuts was an unexplored fetish they would have to do something about, soon. In Detroit, a woman with hair that was already quite short learned she’d be losing most of what she did sport, pulled a wearable vibrator out of her bag, and tossed the wireless remote control to someone in the crowd. It may have been her partner; it may have been a stranger. Either way, she ceded all control of her body to the two vibrating machines—the barber’s clippers and the wireless apparatus strapped to her pussy—and as three- and four-inch strands were reduced to three-quarter inch stubble, it was clear that both machines would accomplish their tasks simultaneously.

In Portland, which was enduring an unusually hot and dry fall, patrons of all genders lined up to rid themselves of at least some of their hair. One woman, who had shown up at the Cirque de Plaisir’s opening night in Portland with an amethyst-colored shag that hung to her bra band and left that night with her purple hair barely brushing her shoulders, came back the following week and received a short bob, then returned again two nights later and left with a rough pixie, and finally appeared on closing night, gently tapping the sensor on her first swing of the mallet and then swinging it the second time so hard she nearly knocked herself off balance. The outcome of her efforts was that she would be leaving with nothing more than a quarter-inch pelt of hair covering her head. The stylist rid her of everything else quickly enough, the last traces of purple dye hitting the ground and the woman’s natural light brown just barely detectable in what was left. As the clippers were shut off, the woman brought her hands to her head and screamed gleefully. She ran to the edge of the stage, then remembered herself, ran back to the stylist, embraced her in a tight hug, and exited for real.

In Seattle, the next stop, a woman with a tall, lime green mohawk caused a bit of a debate amongst the Cirque de Plaisir staff when the barber pole revealed she was to be losing six inches of hair: if they were measuring from the length of the mohawk, she would be left with a much shorter, but still discernible, style. If they were measuring from the woman’s sides, which were buzzed down to about half an inch, far shorter than the six inches she was to lose, she would be leaving the stage bald. Finally, a compromise: the sides would be clippered without a guard, while the hawk would lose the announced six inches. In Vancouver, a woman with chestnut waves ending just above her waist revealed her high nape undercut as she put her hair in a ponytail before taking her two swings; this might have necessitated a similar debate to the punk in Seattle, except that the woman’s off-balance first swing took her to the half-inch line, and her more assertive second swing hit “inches left,” resulting in all of her long hair being shorn down to the same length as her buzzed nape. Though she had initially hesitated when the barber turned the clippers on, she quickly steeled her nerve and consented to being shorn, and she left the stage with her clippered head held high, looking somehow regal as she moved. In Detroit, a mocha-skinned woman with braids that fell almost to her ankles left them on the floor and emerged with a short, soft crop that framed her head like a halo. Two weeks later, in Ann Arbor, a group of twenty university students affiliated with the campus LGBTQ+ organization all got in line and took their chances with the mallet. Those who did not lose much hair their first time through went back to the end of the line and tried again, so that eventually the longest-haired member of the group sported a severe lip-length bob, with a few bowl cuts, a couple of short pixies, and several buzzed styles rounding out the rest.

In Washington, D.C., while it wasn’t exactly surprising to see how many political aides were surreptitiously spectating at the circus, it was surprising to see a few of them get in line to try their luck with the barber’s pole, knowing they might be leaving with haircuts that weren’t exactly Capitol-appropriate. A young woman with mousy brown hair that fell just below her shoulders wound up landing on the number one and “inches left.” The barber reaffirmed the woman’s consent, reminding her that she’d be leaving with a cut that would stand out quite a bit on the hill, and the woman explained that it was, in fact, her last day in her position at the Capitol and she already had a job lined up in Silicon Valley, so honestly it didn’t matter anymore what her hair looked like. She wanted to take the time she had between jobs to explore what she’d long suspected was a fantasy—having a stranger take control of her hair. She flushed as her boring, conservative hair was cut off, one lock at a time. Even though the final one-inch-all-over haircut could have used some tidying up on the back and sides, it was clear from the look on the young woman’s face that she wouldn’t be able to sit still much longer without blowing off some steam.

In Brooklyn, the lead singer of an up-and-coming band, known for as long as she’d been on the scene for her very long, frequently color-changing hair, showed up to the Cirque de Plaisir with streaks of pink, teal, and aubergine in her bleached hip-length hair and was positively giddy to learn that her two mallet swings guaranteed she’d leave with almost none of that hair still attached to her head. She had, she told the barber, worn her hair very short for several years after the first person she ever truly loved asked her one night, just before her sixteenth birthday, if he could cut it. The intimacy that swelled between them as he carefully sliced her waist-length, chocolate-colored hair to within an inch of her scalp and laid each strand across a table in case she’d want to donate it later. The feeling of warmth and the swelling of anticipation as he then grabbed the pair of clippers he used on his own head in the summer months and ran them all over her head until only the shortest, softest hairs remained. The eagerness as  Sunday night approached each week and he’d once again run his clippers over her head. She told the barber, as he began slicing her brightly colored hair off just above her scalp, that eventually they went to different colleges and grew apart, and then she began growing her hair out for another man, a man with whom she was no longer in love, a man with whom she stayed far too long. She shuddered as she felt the barber’s blades so close to her scalp and told him how eager she was to have that experience again of having super, super short hair and how much she welcomed the opportunity to discover how much of her enjoyment of it had been because she was fulfilling her boyfriend’s fetish and how much of it was a fetish of her own. As the barber snipped the last colorful length of hair from her head and flipped his clippers on, she stopped talking and relaxed back into the barber’s chair, closing her eyes and biting her lower lip as the guarded clippers were moved back and forth all over her head. When it was all over and only the a shadow of her natural brown strands covered her head, she made a move to stand and her knees buckled. The barber put an arm around her for support, whispering into her ear that perhaps it wasn’t just her high school boyfriend who enjoyed her short hair. A few months later, the woman and her band released a single that went viral, and soon the song was included every night in the Cirque de Plaisir’s trapeze act.

In Colorado Springs, a broad-shouldered woman with wavy, sun-streaked hair falling past her shoulder blades took two powerful swings with the mallet, landing on 20 and “inches lost.” She seemed unbothered at the barber’s revelation that she would be left with no more than an eighth of an inch of hair on her scalp. It turned out she had just moved to Colorado Springs to train with the US Olympic Swimming Team in the hopes of landing a spot at the games the following year, and she had already been considering shaving her head to help her speed. But, she explained as the barber fitted his clippers with a number one guard and placed them at her forehead, she might as well enjoy the experience. He pulled the clippers back, sending the swimmer’s waves tumbling to the ground and leaving a path of short stubble in their wake, and the woman let out a soft, guttural moan, too quiet for the audience to hear but not too quiet for the barber. With each pass, the swimmer’s breath quickened, so that as she became balder, she was practically panting. Enjoy it indeed, the barber thought bemusedly as he slowed his pace to extend the experience for his patron. He took a moment to run his fingers along the top of the woman’s head before moving on to her sides, ostensibly to make sure he hadn’t missed anything but also because he had a hunch she’d enjoy it—a hunch that turned out to be correct, based on the way the woman’s hands, heretofore holding onto the armrests, flew under the cape and did not appear again until the cut was finished, and so was she. As he escorted the swimmer off the stage, the barber said to her that he could tell that wasn’t her first time. She blushed, the pink traveling all the way to her newly revealed scalp, and told him she had shaved her head before the state championships her freshman year of high school, and had been surprised to experience her very first orgasm as her blonde hair piled up in her bathroom sink. She been dying to replicate the experience ever since. He asked what was stopping her, and she explained that she’d wanted to let her hair grow as long as it had been the first time, and when she moved to Colorado she realized it was finally there, and she had already bought a pair of clippers when a teammate told her about the Cirque de Plaisir and she decided to leave the clippers be for the evening and see what would happen if she tried her luck instead. They were at the edge of the stage now, and the barber reached a hand up and stroked the swimmer’s nearly bald head, telling her it was for luck, and she practically melted. A few months later, in another town, the barber and several other Cirque de Plaisir staff watched the swimmer set a personal record and qualify for the US Olympic team. As the results were announced, she proudly removed her swim cap, revealing that she’d been keeping her hair at the same barely-there length it had been when she left the circus.

But none of that compared to the Cirque de Plaisir’s final night of touring before an extended break. The company had been on the road for a solid eighteen months. The performers needed time to relax. The management and creative team needed time to freshen up the acts and redesign sets and costumes and props and book a new tour. The last stop was in London—only a short trip back to Paris, home to many of the Cirque de Plaisir team—and the fairgrounds had been crowded all night. There hadn’t been any particularly memorable patrons that night, but as a whole the audience had been boisterous and loud, clearly enjoying themselves immensely. When the last customers were ushered out of the circus and the gates locked behind them, the Cirque de Plaisir cast and crew were in high spirits, excited for their coming break. The group gathered, as they often did at the end of the night when the weather was good, near the barber poles, and began to share their favorite memories of the last year and a half and talk about how they planned to spend their vacation time. The barber asked, half joking, if any of the cast wanted a haircut before they headed home, and to his surprise, the stylist stood, picked up the mallet in one hand, and in the other released the clip that held her hair in place.

For the last year and a half, the stylist had worn her auburn hair in the same way every day: a tight, thick bun near the crown of her head. She never, ever wore it down while she was working, saying it didn’t feel right to display her hair while ridding other people of theirs. Every once in a while, the barber would joke with her that the easiest way to avoid any awkwardness would be if she picked up the mallet herself and let him sort out its results, but neither he nor anyone else actually expected her to part with her expertly tended-to hair. So as her hair fell down, down, past her shoulders, her waist, her hips, stopping finally below her buttocks, a few stunned gasps were heard from amongst her colleagues.

The barber looked at her quizzically; the stylist cocked an eyebrow at him, shifted the mallet into her other hand, and then took a swing. The sensor shot to the very top of the barber pole, hitting the 24-inch line. Then she moved to the other side of the pole and swung again. She knew as well as anyone else there—better than most, even—that the very top line on this side read “inches lost,” so as she brought the mallet down as hard as she could, it was with the intention of hitting that mark. She crossed the stage to her fellow barber’s chair and sat, fluffing her hair over her shoulders and waiting for him to process what was happening and join her. As their colleagues cheered, he jogged up to the stage, took up his shears, and placed them level with her collarbones. Her hair was so long that even with the loss of two feet of it, there would still be plenty there for her to put into a ponytail or style back into what had become her signature bun. As he closed the blades and a two-foot-long section of hair slid down the stylist’s chest—she hadn’t bothered to don a cape—the barber realized how much time he’d actually spent thinking about her hair. As the only other hair professional in the troupe, he had helped her tend to it every now and then over the last eighteen months, and, now that he was thinking about it, he knew that those jokes he’d made about cutting her hair were not so much jokes as desire, expressed. Sure, he’d had plenty of fun with the circus patrons who invited him back to their homes or stayed the night in his hotel room or dressing-tent, but this was someone he saw every day, someone whose hair he tended to at least a dozen times since hey met. The barber grabbed a comb to make sure he’d be cutting the rest of the stylist’s hair along the line he’d began with the first slice and drew it through her hair, stopping level with his weight line and taking another slice.

For her part , the stylist had begun to think about this night a few weeks before. They were in Prague and the after the final patrons had left the Cirque de Plaisir, the barber and the stylist had gone to an after-hours club, where they sat near a man smoking very expensive cigars. As they left, she’d released her hair from its bun and made a face when she realized it had picked up the stench of the man’s cigars. She was too tired to wash and dry her hair now, she explained, but she didn’t think she’d have time to do it in the morning before she had to be back on the circus grounds. And he offered to wash it for her, in her hotel sink. At the time they had both believed it to be a platonic offer but as she felt his hands massaging her scalp, she’d felt a warm flutter in the pit of her stomach. While washing her hair, he had teased again that her hair would probably be much easier to wash and dry if she’d just have a go at the game and let him do whatever the barber pole dictated. While she demurred at that moment, she found herself unable to put the thought out of her mind, and resolved to go through with his proposal the next time it came up. So, now here she was sitting while the barber cut two feet of length from her hair and her colleagues cheered. As she watched two years’ worth of growth slide down her chest and into her lap and on the floor she thought of all the circus patrons she’d served over the last year and a half and how much some of them had enjoyed themselves and she realized how much she wanted to be on the receiving end of that experience, no matter the result.

The barber had been giving haircuts in front of a cheering crowd for more than a year and a half now, and he’d come to really enjoy the showmanship his role entailed, but right now he was tuning his colleagues out and lending his full attention to the task at hand. The haircut was nearly finished, and he noticed the familiar scent of his colleague’s shampoo with each snip, as if it were bottled up in the strands and only freed by the act of cutting. The haircut he was giving her wasn’t particularly exciting, but the cutting itself was proving to be almost too much, and a few times he had to adjust his stance to avoid betraying his excitement to the rest of the staff that was watching him. Finally, reluctantly, he made the last cut and gave her shoulders a little squeeze to let her know he was finished.

The stylist stood, long locks of hair clinging to her body, and halfheartedly brushed some of them away while her coworkers cheered and clapped from below. Then she turned to her colleague, gave him a little kiss on the cheek, and made as if to return to the audience area, as he began to sweep up all the hair that had lately been attached to her head…only instead of leaving the stage, she returned to the barber pole and the mallet and picked the latter up in her right hand. Her friends in the audience quieted suddenly, trying to decide whether this was a tease or the real thing, and she waited for the barber to look up from his broom and notice her. He looked up, startled by the silence, and locked eyes with her. She did not break eye contact as she extended the mallet out to her side and gently tapped the sensor with it, barely sending the indicator to the quarter-inch line. Then the stylist smiled, turned fully to face the other side of the barber pole, and swung hard—only clearly not as hard as she had on her first trip to the pole, because the indicator did not shoot all the way up to “inches lost” at the top of the pole, but rather stopped just below it, at one of the “inches left” indicators.

More gasps erupted from the audience of her coworkers, and then a slow clap began in the crowd, encouraging her to walk back to the barber’s chair…only she didn’t need the encouragement. Her feet carried her there on their own, and she was greeted by her colleague, his mouth agape. This time she did not sit fully clothed and undraped, but rather began to undress, removing her barber’s apron and the black bustier and black skirt she wore beneath it. She had not been wearing a bra under her bustier, and with her hair now cut to her collarbones, her breasts were revealed not just to her colleague on stage, but the rest of her coworkers. Ah well, she thought. It was the nature of the Cirque de Plaisir that most of the talent would see each other naked at some point anyway. Wearing nothing but black lace panties, thigh-high stockings connected to a garter belt, and the stiletto heels she somehow managed to wear every single night for hours on end, she resumed her seat.

The barber circled around in front of her, his back to the audience, asking her if she was sure she wanted what was about to happen. She looked down, at the spot where his apron was not quite hiding the erection a few layers beneath it, then looked up at him and smiled, grabbed him by the front of his apron, and kissed him deeply. Their coworkers whooped like a 90s sitcom audience as he staggered back from the kiss, smiled, and stripped off his apron and the shirt he sported underneath.

Now shirtless, the barber positioned himself behind the topless stylist and took up his clippers, fitting them with a number two guard and flipping the machine on, checking to make sure they didn’t need oiling. Once satisfied the clippers were up for the challenge, he wove his fingers into his colleague’s hair and pulled it taut, tugging her head back so she looked at up at him as he leaned over her. From there, certain the stylist could see him, the barber brought the clippers to her hairline and pulled them back assertively, the tension he’d created as he pulled on her hair easing as the hair was severed from the stylist’s scalp, her head returning to a neutral position. Still holding the detached hair in his hand, he slowly dropped it in front of the stylist’s face so she could appreciate the foot-and-a-half-long section of severed auburn hair as it slipped down her bare chest and fell to her lap. Before making his next pass, the barber ran his fingers along the quarter-inch landing strip that now lay where the stylist’s center part had been, appreciating the velvety feel of what little hair remained on the stylist’s head…but not as much as the stylist herself was clearly enjoying it.

The barber again wove his fingers into his colleague’s hair and pulled tightly, then brought his clippers back to her forehead and pulled the backward. This time, he did not let go after completing his pass, but immediately picked up the clippers and placed them again, using the dwindling hair he was holding as a handle to guide the stylist’s head this way and that.

The stylist had seen the barber employ this technique a few times, with patrons he suspected wished to be treated more roughly (or who told him so outright). He must have noticed her paying particular attention to these shearings, because she certainly hadn’t said a thing about wanting the same thing to happen to her. But when she had resolved herself, that night in Prague—while the barber massaged her scalp and shampooed the cigar smell out of her hair—to say yes the next time the barber invited her to play the game, she had also hoped that if she wound up drawing a short haircut, the barber would treat her a little roughly. She felt a sharp yank, pulling her right ear toward her shoulder, and was satisfied she was getting what she had only recently discovered she wanted as the tension slowly eased and the hair on the left side of her head came loose.

Both the barber and the stylist had fully tuned out their friends in the audience, who were by that point cheering each pass of the clippers, each newly denuded strip of scalp. The stylist, suddenly aware that she was very near climax, took control of her breath, taking slow, steady inhales and exhales even as a wet spot expanded in her panties while the barber manhandled her and robbed her of her hair. The barber, knowing that without his apron there was no hiding his throbbing erection, trying to both rush his work and savor the experience, hoping he’d soon be running both hands over the stylist’s nearly-bare scalp back on the sofa in his tent or in hers. He pulled her hair—what remained of it—toward her left, forcing her left ear to her shoulder, and began to work his clippers along the right side of her skull. He was thorough as he worked, moving from the stylist’s hairline toward the hand that still held the bulk of her hair, both severed and still attached, slightly overlapping on each pass so there would be less need for clean-up later.

Soon, only the hair on the back of the stylist’s head remained. The barber directed her to drop her chin toward her chest and placed his clippers right at her nape, allowing them to linger there for a moment. He knew these vibrations on his clients’ necks often drove them wild and the stylist was no exception. She let out a low moan as goosebumps rose on the back of her neck and along her bare shoulders and arms, her nipples becoming more erect. Then, without warning, he plunged the clippers upward into her hair, until they reemerged at her already-buzzed crown. Barely any hair was connected to her head at this point, but the barber kept a firm hold on the mass of hair in his hand as he took his next pass up the stylist’s nape, then another, and another, and another. Finally, the last strands came free, and the barber held a massive handful of thick auburn hair, fully severed from its host. He thrust it aloft, over the stylist’s head, and let it go all at once so that it tumbled down her shoulders, back, and chest. He wanted her to see and feel just how much hair he had stripped her of. She mostly wanted to feel her friend and colleague—and, she assumed, looming lover—run his hands and his tongue over what remained.

The barber took a step back to inspect his work and became aware again of the audience of their Cirque de Plaisir peers cheering. He could see a few places on the stylist’s head that could use a touch up, and he wanted to clean up and shape her hairline, but those things could wait until they had some privacy. For now, though, he brought both hands to the sides of the stylist’s head and planted a kiss firmly on her crown. Then he spun his barber’s chair to face him, rather than the audience, and helped the stylist up, mountains of auburn hair tumbling off her body as she stood. She was barely to her feet when she snaked her arms around the barber’s neck, pulling him in for another kiss. She could feel his erection through her pants and knew she’d be able to do more than feel it in a few moments The barber reciprocated her kiss, running his hands up her bare back, to her neck, and then her head.

After a few more moments, the two broke off the kiss and turned to face their audience of coworkers, fully unashamed at their display. The crowd erupted again into cheers and applause as the topless, closely cropped stylist pulled the shirtless barber, his hair suddenly so much longer than his colleague’s, off the stage and toward her dressing tent.

Seven months later, the Cirque de Plaisir embarked on another world tour. The stylist and the barber, now solidly a couple, had suggested a change in their game to keep audiences interested. Instead of the barber’s pole, a large roulette-style wheel with an inner and an outer ring—one spinning clockwise, the other spinning counterclockwise—would determine the fate of the circus guest’s hair. This would eliminate guests’ ability to manipulate the outcome of the game by only gently tapping the mallet to the pressure sensor, leaving the experience fully to chance.

Every element of the Cirque de Plaisir’s second tour was rehearsed and tested meticulously, and this was no exception. The wheel had to be sturdy enough to spin with enthusiasm, but not so heavy that the spinning created an issue for circus guests. The inner and outer rings had to spin at a different speed from each other so that the results of one didn’t always directly coordinate to the results of the other. It took a lot of fine tuning, but finally, a few days before the troupe was set to travel to its first stop, the wheel seemed to be working perfectly. The night before all the equipment was to be packed up and shipped to its first destination, the stylist and the barber, ostensibly practicing their circus act, stayed in the Cirque de Plaisir rehearsal space well into the night.

The stylist now wore her hair in a shaggy pixie, which she’d been mostly maintaining herself, with her lover helping her around the back of her head. And while her hair had grown longer since that last night at the circus, the barber’s hair had gotten shorter—still clippered at the back and sides, but now rather than being long enough to sweep back or let fall forward, it was expertly cut closer to his head, combed forward and tousled in a way that made him look perpetually mischievous.

The two busied themselves with their set at first, making sure they liked the position and angle of their chairs, that the height of their instrument stations would be functional for them as they worked. Then, checking to make sure the last of their colleagues had gone home, the two stripped all of their clothes off, the stylist keeping only her stockings and stiletto heels in place. The two had decided to wear less clothing on this tour than on the last, but still, this degree of nudity was reserved for their private life together. The barber took his spot behind his chair and the stylist eagerly approached the wheel. The two locked eyes, and the stylist gave it a spin.

9 responses to “Inches Left and Lost at the Cirque de Plaisir

  1. I loved this — So much material to think back on; like, two dozen stories’ worth. How did you come up with some many variations of people going for it?

    Also, I’ll be honest — my favorite bit was seeing that the stylist had grown her hair out to a pixie after the initial shearing. Changes over time are my favorite thing ever, and that really played into it.

    Thank you for writing and sharing this!

  2. Thanks! I had the idea for the game first and then decided the concept was too fun to just limit to one or two haircuts. And the different variations were pretty easy—a lot of the cuts are similar enough, but I didn’t put the similar ones back to back.

    I also really enjoy changes over time, and I like the idea of letting your hair grow explicitly in order to be able to cut it off again. I think that like the swimmer in the story, once the stylist receives her first shearing, she likes her short hair but more than that she likes the experience of being shorn, so she can wait a few months and let the anticipation build.

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