Saturday Morning

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I woke Saturday morning with an eight-piece, out-of-tune, New Orleans brass band blaring inside my head.  My mouth was lined with foul-tasting flannel.  I refused to look in the mirror, unwilling to view the devastated visage that would testify to Friday night’s excess.

The nearly empty bottle of Cutty Sark flanked by two drained old-fashioned glasses on the living room coffee table stood as mute evidence of hours spent wallowing in alcohol lubricated self-pity.  The crumpled comforter hanging halfway off the couch marked my makeshift resting place.  From the back bedroom an unfamiliar snoring disturbed the usual silence.  With considerable mental effort, I deduced it must be coming from Jean, my partner in yesterday’s drunken dissipation.

I shuffled to the kitchen, added water and coffee to my faithful friend, Mr. Coffee, and waited for the fresh-brewed aroma to give me strength to face the day.

Half an hour later a bedraggled Jean shuffled from the bedroom.  “Do I smell coffee?” she groggily inquired.  “Bless you, Glo.  Pour me a cup, pleeeeze.”

We sat across from each other at the kitchen table, sipping our steaming brew, slowly regaining consciousness.  “We gotta stop meeting like this,” she said, finally disturbing the quiet.

“Yeah, I agree.  Did we really kill that bottle last night?” I groaned.

“We did, and it was all my fault.  Next time I’ll bring cabernet or pinot.  Wine never gives me a hangover like this.”

“Good idea,” I approved.  “But there’s one good thing about whiskey; it always loosens my tongue.”

“That’s for sure.  You talked non-stop.  I could hardly get a word in.”

“Sorry for being such a blabbermouth.  What did I talk about?  I can’t remember.”

“Mostly you talked about how you need to make some changes; how you need to break out of this rut you’re in.”

“Yeah, that sounds like a great idea.  I definitely got to get outta town.  You wanna move to Tahiti with me?”

“Get real, girl.  On our meager incomes?  A travel book from the public library is as close as we’re gonna get to the South Pacific.”

“Maybe we could join the Army.  That would get us out of this shithole town.”

“And then we can travel to Afghanistan, Iraq, or some other godforsaken trouble spot?  Not my cup of tea, thank you very much.”

“Well, we gotta do something, Jeannie.  My job and this nowhere town are driving me crazy.  I’m afraid I’ll end up a slobbering drunk like my old man.”

“Yeah, I can sympathize.  Every visit with my folks leaves me profoundly depressed.  Most nights all they do is watch TV, except for Tuesdays when they go to the parish hall to play bingo.  I don’t want to wind up like them.  But what can we do?”

“First, we gotta move, gotta get someplace where there’s better jobs and more excitement.”

“I’m with you girlfriend, but where to?”

“How about New York City?  I hear there’s lotsa great jobs there.”

“Yeah.  Remember Casey Moran from our high school class?”

“Wasn’t she the redhead who always got good grades and went off to State U.?”

“That’s the one.  Well, I heard she’s making big bucks working for a bank in New York City.  You’re just as smart as she is.  I bet you could do the same.”

“Well, I didn’t go to State, but I do have a finance degree plus four years’ experience as the assistant branch manager here.”

“Now you’re talking, girl.  And hospitals are always looking for more registered nurses, especially if you’re willing to work night shifts like I’m doing now.”

“So what are we waiting for?  Let’s split this dead end town.”

“Not so fast, sister.  There’s the small question of cash.  It’s gonna take mucho bucks to make the move and pay the bills until we get established.  How much you got in the bank?”

“Maybe a thousand bucks,” I answered.

“Not enough.  You’ll go through that in the first couple weeks, easy.”

“I could sell my car.  In the city you take the subway everywhere you need to go.”

“I like the way you’re thinking.  I couldn’t get much for my junker, but I could get us a place to stay for a while.”

“You could?  Where?”

“With my cousin Billy.  He lives in Jersey, not far from the city.  He and his wife just bought a house.  They’re expecting a baby any time and Candy, his wife, will be quitting her job to be a stay-at-home mom.  I’ll bet they’d be willing to rent us a room for a while.”

“How can you be so sure?”

“My mom talked with his mom the other day.  She said their house has three bedrooms and they’re gonna be struggling to make the mortgage payments on Billy’s salary alone.”

“It sounds too perfect to be true,” I said.

“Let me give Billy a call.  We’ve always been close.  I’ll see if he and Candy would be willing to put us up for a couple of months.”

“Damn, Jeannie.  It would be so great if this works out.  Let me know as soon as you talk with Billy.”

 

It didn’t take long.  Jean called me on Sunday to say that her cousin would be happy to have us stay with him as long as we needed.  She agreed we would pay them $800 a month, a lot for one bedroom, but way less than renting an apartment in the big city.  That set the wheels in motion.

I told Mom and Dad about our plan.  They weren’t thrilled, but they understood I wasn’t happy with my job.  They were relieved that we would be living with someone from home.  They knew Billy and Candy were responsible people who would keep an eye on us, sorta like foster parents.

Jean gave her notice at the hospital and sent her name to the New York nursing registry.  They answered back right away and said that as soon as she got a New York nursing license they would post her name.  It would take a couple of months to negotiate the bureaucracy, so we agreed to wait until May 1 before making the move.

I put an ad in the local paper and sold my little Honda for a decent price.  I hated to turn over the keys, but the substantial addition to my nest egg helped me get over the loss.  I told my boss I would be quitting at the end of April.  He begged me to stay, even offered me a raise, but too late.  I was so ready to get outa town.

I gave up the lease on the tiny house I rented, had a yard sale to get rid of my furniture, and moved back with Mom and Dad for the last weeks before I left.  Dad drove Jean and me to Billy’s house in New Jersey.  I could see he was sad to see me leave the nest since I was his youngest child and the last one move away, but he understood my reasons.  “Frankly, I’m surprised you stayed around as long as you did,” he told me as he prepared to return home after helping unload the car.  “Call your mother every week.  After you get settled in your own place, maybe we’ll come for a visit.”

 

Jean didn’t have any trouble finding work.  With her New York nursing license in hand, she found a job right away on the night shift in the intensive care unit at Mount Sinai Hospital.  For me, finding a job was tougher.  My experience as an assistant branch manager was not as helpful as I had hoped.  Several banks at which I applied offered me teller positions, but were unwilling to place me in management.  Unfortunately, a teller’s salary was not going to cover my half of the rent and utilities for a halfway decent apartment with enough left over for food, even in one of the outer boroughs.

After six futile weeks of sending out my resume and going to fruitless job interviews, my savings were nearly depleted.  That’s when Jimmy came to my rescue.  One of his buddies operated a bar in SoHo.  He needed a bartender, no experience required.  I said, “Sure.  What do I have to lose?”

The work was crazy.  Most evenings the bar was jammed, especially on weekends.  At first, I was pulling beers and pouring shots, but soon I learned to mix most of the frequently requested drinks.  The pay wasn’t great, but I made up for that in tips which were easily double my take home pay, sometimes triple.  Drunk single guys were excellent tippers.  During the day I continued pounding the pavement, looking for a white collar job.

Since Jean and I both worked odd hours, we often had late lunches together before we both took off for different destinations in Manhattan.  Two months after arriving in the Big Apple, Jean delivered some good news. “One of the nurses on my floor is getting married and moving to Florida.  She’s giving up a really nice apartment in the Bronx and said I could take over her lease.  I checked it out and it’s big enough for two people.  Are you interested?”

“Sure, I’m interested, but how much is the rent?”

“Only two thousand a month.  We could split it down the middle.”

“A thousand apiece.  I might be able to handle that.  How much for my share of utilities?”

“Another two hundred a month.  Can you swing that?”

“I dunno.  I’m working five, six days a week at the bar right now.  If we get a lot of business, I can make enough in tips.  But Jerry, the manager, has warned me that things slow down during August when everyone goes on vacation.  And I suppose there’s a security deposit.”

“Of course there’s a deposit, silly.  One month in advance.”

“So you need two thousand from me to hold this apartment, right?”

“You got it, sister.”

“And when do you need it?”

“We’ve got until next Friday.  If I don’t act by then, my friend will find someone else.”

“Jeannie, I just don’t know.  I’ve got half that in my checking account, but no more.”

“What about your credit card?  Can’t you get a cash advance?”

“Sorry, Jeannie.  Already maxed out.”

“Look, Glo, this is too good to pass up.  If you can’t get on board, I can find someone else at work who’ll jump on this deal.”

I thought about asking my folks to loan me the money, then decided against that.  I wanted to be independent.  I didn’t feel I could ask them for more support after they had paid a large part of my college costs.  It looked like I was going to miss out on taking the apartment with Jean when Candy came up with a suggestion.

“I know you’re in need of a substantial cash infusion, Gloria.  I may have found something for you.”

I jumped on her offer.  “What’s that Candy?  You know I’m desperate.”

“Well, I’m not sure you’re going to like this, but last year my girlfriend, Rebecca, raised a lot a cash by getting her hair cut.”

“She sold her hair?”

“Not exactly.  A guy she met paid her fifteen hundred dollars for letting him take pictures of her getting her hair cut short.”

“Really?  That seems kinda strange.”

“To me too, but I guess there are guys who get off on seeing women having their hair cut.  Rebecca said the guy was harmless and he paid her in cash as soon as the haircut was done.”

“Hmmm.  I might be interested.  Fifteen hundred dollars is just what I need right now.”

“I’ve got to warn you, Gloria, this guy wants to see your hair cut really short.  You’ve got such beautiful hair.  I know having it all chopped off will be pretty traumatic.

“You’re right about that, Candy, but it’s only hair.  It will always grow back.  Can you get this guy’s number for me?”

“Sure, I’ll call Rebecca when she gets home from work.  I’ll have her call you.”

I didn’t have to wait too long.  Rebecca called while I was at work and I took a break to speak with her from the women’s rest room.  “You say this guy’s legit?” I asked.

“I suppose you could say that.  He paid me the money, just like he said.”

“And no funny stuff?”

“No, nothing like that.”

“And how did you get your hair cut?”

“Pretty short.  I’ll send you a photo.”

Ten minutes later I got two photos on my phone.  One showed Rebecca with lovely dark hair hanging half way down her back.  The second showed her sporting a modified buzz cut.  It was a pretty radical change—from a traditional feminine look to a decidedly masculine style.  But you could still tell she was a woman.  I thought she looked kinda cute, in a fresh, innocent way.

I called Rebecca back.  “Send me his phone number,” I said.

“You gonna do it, then?”

“I’m seriously thinking about it,” I told her.

Right away I went into the bathroom and brushed my hair back off my face and pulled it behind my head in a tight pony tail.  I tried to imagine how I would look with my hair cut as short as Rebecca’s in the second photo.  Then I called Max, the haircut guy.  He didn’t answer, but I left my number on his machine and asked him to call me.

It was around midnight and business was slowing down when my cell beeped.  It was Max. “You Rebecca’s friend?  You wanna get your hair cut?” he asked.

“I’m thinking about it,” I answered.

“Send me a picture showing your hair.  I’ll get back to ya,” he said and abruptly hung up.

I did as he asked and just before closing time he rang back.  “You got nice hair.  I can offer you a thousand.”

“You paid Rebecca fifteen hundred,” I countered.

“Yeah, but she got her hair cut pretty short.”

“I could go as short as that.”

“You could?  Then I might be willing to go to fifteen hundred, but there’d be one difference.”

“What’s that?”

“I’d want you to get a different haircut.  I’ll send you a picture.”

It wasn’t long before I was staring at a photo of young brunette with her hair cut very short on the sides, shorter than Rebecca’s.  But what was really amazing was how the hair on top of her head was cut—perfectly flat, as level as a table top.  It was an extreme look, one I had never seen on a woman.  It momentarily took my breath away.  I couldn’t believe he was asking me to get my hair cut like that.

I went back to my station behind the bar.  Jerry, my manager, was standing at the cash register.  I showed him the photo.  “What would you say if I showed up for work with my hair cut like this?” I asked, thinking he’d certainly veto this idea.

“I dunno.  Might be good for business.  Bring in the lesbian trade.”

“You think this is a dyke haircut?”

“Sure is.  But I got no problem with it.  You can wear your hair any way you like.  Shave your head bald if you feel like it.  As long as it don’t scare customers away you can do any damn thing you like.”

I wasn’t expecting such an open-minded response.  Now the ball was back in my court.

I rang Max back.  “I’ll do it,” I told him, “but I’m gonna need two thousand to get a flat top.”

“Seventeen-fifty.  That’s as high as I’ll go.”

“Okay. You got a deal,” I agreed.

Max told me to meet him the next day at 9 PM outside of “Crops for Girls,” a salon in the East Village specializing in short haircuts.  He said he would be out front on the sidewalk, give me the cash, then go inside to shoot my haircut.

I told Jerry I needed to take the next night off.  “So, you gonna get your hair cut like that?”

“If I don’t chicken out, I will.”

“Cool.  You should do it.  Be good for business.”

Although Jerry’s endorsement wasn’t exactly the kind of support I needed, it didn’t hurt to know the boss was on my side.

Candy was asleep when I got home, but the next morning we chatted over breakfast.  “I talked with your friend, Rebecca, last night,” I told her.

“And what happened?”

“She gave me the number of the guy who paid for her haircut and I called him.”

“So, are you gonna do it?”

“Yeah, I think I am.  The money’s too good to pass up.”

“How much is he gonna pay you?”

“Seventeen hundred and fifty dollars.”

“Wow!  That’s a lot of cash.  Jimmy probably would walk out the door if I came home with my hair cut like Rebecca’s, but a single girl like you, you’ve got nothing to lose.”

“Nothing to lose by my hair,” I corrected her.

All day long I fretted.  I surfed the internet looking for pictures of women with flat top haircuts and found more than I expected.  I discovered there were several variations on the basic cut.  Some were extremely short, with the sides shaved down to bare skin, and not much longer on top.  That was just too radical for me.  If that’s what Max wanted, I’d refuse his cash and leave with my hair uncut.  But there was another, somewhat longer version that I liked much better.  The women sporting this cut looked quite attractive, sexy even.  One I especially liked.  She was a tall, slender Asian woman wearing a black leather jacket with matching pants and three-inch stiletto heels.  Her hair was clipped extremely short on the sides.  On top her jet black hair was maybe two inches long and cut straight across.  You could balance a glass of water on her head without spilling a drop.  But it was the expression on her face that sold the haircut.  She stared defiantly at the camera, her piercing eyes glaring straight ahead.  You could almost hear her saying, “What are you gawking at, asshole?  Have you never seen a woman with a short haircut?”  Like she was daring any unlucky male in her path to open his mouth with a critical comment about her look.

Of course, this fearless woman was a professional model, but I decided I could survive with my hair cut like that.  I printed out a copy to take with me, just to make sure there would be no confusion.

I tried not to think too much about my impending makeover and, for the most part, I succeeded.  Although I had tried a number of hairstyles over the years, none was especially short, usually shoulder length or longer.  I wasn’t overly fond of long hair, but most women my age wore their hair long, and so did I.  Call me a conformist if you like.  Nevertheless, the prospect of a short haircut did not fill me with dread.  It might be kinda fun to try something different, I thought. Unlike some of my girlfriends, I had never been in love with my hair.  Over the years I tried different styles, but never found a look that really worked for me.  During college I grew my hair long, like everyone else in my dorm.  By the time I graduated it reached halfway down my back.  But long hair was such a chore.  My locks were so thick and heavy they took forever to dry after a shower.  Then I started working for the bank where most of the other tellers had short hair. I decided a pixie cut would be the answer to my problems.  One Saturday I marched into a salon and told the startled stylist, “chop it all off.”  She tried to talk me out of it, but I insisted.  My circle of female friends universally praised the resulting pixie style as “cute,” but cute was not the look I was going for.

I wanted to be interesting, dramatic, daring, original, unique, but settled for average looking.

Almost immediately, I decided to abandon the pixie cut.  It took nearly two years before my hair reached shoulder length again. Now it was nearly down to my bra strap.  Most of the time I wore it pulled back into a convenient pony tail to keep it from flopping in my face.

I guess that made it easier for me to accept Max’s offer.  I had pretty much given up on the idea that I was going to attract the man of my dreams with my gorgeous hair.

 

Max was a short, rather homely guy of forty-five or so lugging a large black case containing his camera equipment.  I showed him the picture of the Asian woman.  “I’d like to look like this when it’s done,” I told him.

I could see that he really dug the haircut in the photo.  “Yeah, that’ll be real good,” he instantly agreed.  He took a fat envelope from his jacket and gave it to me.  I checked to make sure.  “It’s all there,” he assured me.

I deposited the envelope in my bag and entered the salon with Max tagging along behind.  The receptionist greeted him like an old friend.  “Hi Max.  I see you brought us another customer,” she chirped.  “Michael is waiting for you.”

Michael, the stylist, greeted me warmly.  “Max said you wanted a flat top,” he said.

“Here, I brought a picture,” I said as I thrust the photo at him.  He examined it carefully.

“Yes, that’s a very striking look.  You’ve made a good choice.  I’ll be happy to do this haircut.  Of course, it won’t look exactly the same on you.  Your coloring and facial structure are much different than hers, but I can give you a close approximation.”

“Yeah, that’s what I want.”

“Why don’t we get started?”

Max fiddled with his camera while Michael directed me to one of the styling chairs facing the brick wall.  I waited nervously watching as Max set up his equipment.  “Wait just a minute,” I called out.  “Is that a video camera?”

“You bet,” Max answered matter-of-factly.

“But you said nothing about making a video.  I thought you were going to shoot still pictures.”

“Video is what I do.  Didn’t Rebecca tell you that?”

“No.  She said nothing about shooting a video.  That was never mentioned.”

“You got a problem with that?” he demanded.  “If you do, then give me the money back and you can go home.”

Max had me trapped.  I didn’t want to pose for one of his videos, but I couldn’t afford to give back his money either.  I didn’t know what to do.

“Will you use my name?” I asked.

“Not if you don’t want me to.  You can use an alias.”

He made it sound like he was shooting a porno flick and, in a way, I suppose he was.  I saw that I had no choice.  “Okay then,” I agreed.  “Call me Alexandra.”

“Alexandra it is,” Michael interjected.  “When Max starts filming I’m going to ask how you want your hair cut.  Just say, “Give me a flat top.’” he instructed.  “After that, you just act natural.  I’ll do the rest.”

Then Max piped up.  “Not too much conversation, honey; no one likes a chatty Kathy.”

“Yeah, I can do that,” I allowed.

Max signaled his camera was rolling and Michael began.  “Good evening, Alexandra.  Welcome to Crops for Girls.  Tell me how you’d like me to cut your hair.”

I smiled for the camera.  “I’d like a flat top, Michael.”

“Short on the back and sides, and flat on top?”

“That’s right.”

“Wow.  That’s going to be a big change for you.”

“Yes, I know and I’m looking forward to it.”  From Max’s beaming smile I could tell he was pleased.  I swallowed hard and tried to maintain my composure.  This was going to be an experience unlike anything I’d ever undergone.  I hoped I was making a smart move, but, for better or worse, there was no turning back now.

Michael secured a strip of white tissue around my neck and arranged a maroon nylon cape over my shoulders.  He spent a couple minutes arranging my hair, a step I didn’t think was necessary since it all would be gone in a few minutes.  But when I saw Max circling the chair with his camera, I realized this was for his benefit, not for mine.

Max hovered a few feet away, sometimes closing in to focus on my face, then pulling back to get all of me in the picture.  I noticed how Michael positioned himself so he never blocked the camera’s view.  The two of them obviously had worked together before.

Sitting there in the chair, peering at my image in the mirror, waiting for my shearing to begin, my nerves started acting up.  What if this haircut was a disaster?  What if I hated how I looked?  What if I needed to wear a scarf or turban for the next six months to hide the damage?  My hands began to tremble; my pulse began to quicken; I felt nervous perspiration dripping from my armpits, but I tried to keep a blissful smile on my face.

It was too late to back.  I had the envelope with Max’s cash stashed in my purse.  Tomorrow I would put down the deposit for the apartment Jeannie and I would share.  I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and resigned myself to face the future with a man’s haircut.

Michael was ready.  He rested his brush and stood poised at the left side of the chair, scissors in hand.  My hair looked lovely, neatly arranged and hanging down over my shoulders.  This would be the last time in a long while that I would view myself with long hair.

“We’ll begin by cutting the bulk,” he announced.  “I’ll be working quickly since this is just a preliminary stage.”

“Fine,” I replied.  Enough of this chitchat.  I was ready to begin.

He inserted the scissors at my jaw and slowly closed the blades.  I watched as a ten-inch lock of chestnut brown hair separated from my head and slid down the cape, coming to rest in a pile on the floor.  “There, it’s begun,” I thought.  “Let’s get this done.”

Michael seemed happy to oblige my unspoken command.  He worked quickly, not exactly hacking off my hair, but not being overly fussy either.  He continued making substantial cuts as he circled behind me.  Although I couldn’t see how much hair he was removing, the cold steel of the scissors gliding across the bare skin of my neck, sent an unmistakable message.  It was too late to change my mind—for better or worse, I soon would belong to the tribe of short-haired women.

My stylist pressed on, coming around to my right side, all the time concentrating on inserting the scissors on a straight line with the previous cut.  One final slice and my long hair was totally gone.  I now sported a blunt-cut bob, shorter than any style I had worn since the disappointing pixie cut.  Surprisingly, I rather liked the way it looked.

I tossed my head from side to side and watched my shortened locks whip across my face. “I like the way it feels,” I spontaneously exclaimed.  I saw Max’s approving smile.  He was loving this. I would have been content to stop at this stage, but I knew he would never approve.  Max would have insisted on getting his money back and I would have been left with the tab for an expensive haircut.  “File this style away for future reference,” I told myself.

Michael put down his scissors and picked up a spray bottle.  He aimed a fine mist of water over my head and continued spraying until my hair was thoroughly moistened.  Then I heard the ominous drone of electric clippers.  I knew this step was coming, but I hadn’t expected it to come so soon.  My neck and shoulder muscles tensed involuntarily.  I clenched my teeth in anticipation of being shorn.  The image of a sheep newly separated from its wool fleece flashed across my brain.  It was not a comforting picture.

Michael placed the clippers’ cold steel blades on my neck and drove them up into the thick hair on the back of my head.  He pressed them half way up toward my crown and then returned for another helping.  I couldn’t see how much hair remained, but I was certain it was brutally short.

My stylist—I guess I should call him my barber—was working much more deliberately now.  Slowly, he continued removing the longer hair, gradually moving to the right side of my head.  Using his comb to hold my hair in place, I watched as he methodically removed large chunks and, with a casual flick of his wrist, sent them tumbling to the floor.  It didn’t take long before my right ear emerged from beneath its protective covering.

I was clippered on one side with the other still semi-long.  I knew this half-done, half-undone look was never going to work.  I was more than ready for Michael to even up the other side.  Thankfully, he felt the same way.  He attacked the left side of my head with the same gusto he used on the right.  As he uncovered my left ear I got a much better idea of how I would look as a short-haired woman.

“Not half bad,” I thought.  My ears were nicely formed and not too large; my neck, now fully exposed, was longer than average.  I flattered myself thinking it was elegant looking.

Watching Michael at work fascinated me.  He obviously knew what he was doing.  Photos on the walls of this salon, all displaying attractive women with radically short haircuts, attested to his skill with scissors and clippers.  I imagined my portrait soon would be hanging in his hall of fame.

 

He approached with a spray bottle a second time, and sent a fine mist of water into the still long hair on the top of my head.  When it was thoroughly soaked, he attacked with a stiff bristle brush, pulling my locks straight back off my forehead.  With the sides clipped short and the top slicked back, it was a modified version of an early Miley Cyrus look.  “Kinda interesting,” I thought.  Although I was never a big fan of her raunchy dance moves, I did admire her fashion sense.  The thought that I might join Miley in the ranks of female trend setters had never occurred to me until this moment.  I must admit, it was an exciting prospect.

My time as a Miley lookalike was short-lived, however.  Michael ran his hand across the top of my head, grasped a row of hair between his fingers, and snipped off all the hair sticking above the digits.  This left a patch of shortened hair about two inches in length.  My barber worked quickly, selecting another bunch slightly ahead the first and cutting again.  In rapid fashion he reduced all the hair on top to the same uniform length.  I stared at the mirror and viewed my image as a woman with seriously short hair for the first time.  A thicket of brief brown tufts now sprouted from my scalp, pointing toward the ceiling.  It wasn’t a bad look, just very different and kinda startling.  I barely recognized the new me, yet I knew my hair would be shorter still before Michael was done.

He picked up a blow dryer, aimed it at the top of my head, and began brushing my hair again, more vigorously this time.  “Gotta make you hair stand straight up,” he explained.  By the time he stopped my hair was much more orderly, standing straight up, but not yet displaying the uniform height of a regulation flat top.

“We’re getting to the most critical stage of this cut,” Michael warned.  “You’ll need to sit very still when I start clipping the top.”  I understood that the top had to be perfectly flat for this style to work.  I had no intention of shifting position once he began.

I heard the pop of the clippers springing back to life.  Michael stood at my side, long-tooth comb in hand.  I held my breath knowing that the final stage of my shearing was about to commence.  My barber inserted his comb into the hair above my brow, held it horizontally, and passed the clippers across the teeth of the comb.  Tiny clippings rained down onto my nose and forehead, but I dared not make any move to brush them away.  Michael moved the comb back into the longer unclipped hair, held it steady, and mowed a second time.  After his third pass I began to see the distinctive level surface of the flat top emerging.  The clipped hair was no more than an inch long, standing up perfectly straight.  It was an amazing sight.

Michael continued methodically mowing the top of my head.  He concentrated on the task with unwavering dedication.  I sensed Max hovering for a close-up with his camera over my barber’s shoulder, but didn’t want to acknowledge his presence.  I wanted no distractions, nothing to divert my attention from my remarkable transformation.

When the roar of the clippers ceased I realized that Michael had finished trimming the top of my head.  I exhaled, releasing my pent up nervousness, but my barber was not yet done.  He grabbed his brush and once again attacked my newly shorn crown.  He beat it back and then closely examined his handiwork, searching for any imperfections.  Apparently, he wasn’t satisfied because I soon heard the clippers buzzing in my ear again.  This time he didn’t use his comb, but worked freehand, removing a mere fraction of an inch from his previous cut.  He aimed the clippers across my head with the precision of a diamond cutter.  I was growing more and more excited in spite of myself.

“That’s looking good,” he said with evident satisfaction.  “You’ve got great hair for this style, Alexandra.  See how well it’s standing up.”  I could see that the short haircut drew attention to my eyes and accentuated my cheekbones.  He held a small mirror behind my head so I could admire the sides and back.  “Yes, that looks good,” I agreed.  “Much better than I expected.”

Then Michael turned to Max who turned off his camera.  “What do you think, Max?  Good enough for you?”

“The top looks great, but you could go shorter on the sides.  How about going over it again with the zero guide?  Take it down to the skin.” he asked.

“I’d say that’s up to the lady,” Michael replied.

“Well, how about it, babe?  You gonna let Michael go closer on the sides?”

I didn’t know what to say.  This wasn’t part of our bargain.  Still, I was caught up in the excitement of the moment.  “It’s gonna cost you, Max.”

“How much?” he answered almost instantly.

“Five hundred,” I demanded.

“For five hundred you’ll have to get a high and tight,” he countered.

I didn’t have a clue as to what he meant by “high and tight,” only that it had to be shorter than what he already had done.  But I had lost so much hair already, how much difference would another fraction of an inch make?  I decided to go for it.  What the hell.

“Show me the money,” I boldly replied, quoting the famous line from “Jerry Maguire.”

Max paused for only a moment, then he reached for his wallet.  To my surprise, he pulled our five crisp hundred dollar bills.  “Here you are, babe.  Can’t wait to see you wearing a high and tight.”

I stuck my hand out from under the cape and took the bills from his hand.  I couldn’t believe I’d actually agreed to have my hair cut even shorter.

“You really want to do this?” Michael interjected.  “It’s gonna be really short, down to your skin.”

“Yeah, what the hell, let’s go for it,” I said.  I hoped I sounded carefree and composed, but my heart was beating a mile a minute.  I’d never done anything so wild and reckless, yet I wasn’t about to back down.  Tomorrow I might regret my impulsiveness, but right now I was excited to be living on the edge.

Michael fired up his clippers again.  “This time I’m using a triple zero attachment,” he said.  “That’s as close as I can go.”

If he thought this would dissuade me, he was dead wrong.  I gripped the arms of the barber chair and held on for dear life.  He placed the clippers in front of my ear and pushed them straight up.  I felt the cold steel pressing hard against my skin.  The clippers’ harsh drone was ringing in my ear.  I was overwhelmed by multiple sensations pulsing through my body.

I closed my eyes as Michael continued passing the clippers over areas of my scalp that were already clipped ultra-short.  It’s not that I wasn’t curious to view my head being sheared.  Rather, I wanted to savor these exquisite feelings without distraction.  I needed to close out the image of lecherous Max drooling as I was being shaved.  I wasn’t doing this for his enjoyment, although I’m sure he was getting his more than his usual share of thrills from my haircut.

My barber continued clipping my head as he slowly moved around the chair.

Finally, I heard him switch off the power to the clippers and I opened my eyes to inspect the damage he had inflicted.  It was a remarkable sight—extreme and alarming.  The sides of my head that formerly had been covered by a thin layer of dark hair were now completely bare; only white skin remained.  I reached up to feel the area where Michael had clipped me.  It felt kinda like very fine sandpaper.  A barely discernible stubble remained.

“Don’t stop now, Michael,” Max piped.  “I paid for the whole nine yards.”

I was puzzled.  “What does he mean?” I asked.

“He wants me to shave you.”

“But you just did,” I protested.

“No.  He wants me to shave you with lather and a straight razor.”

“You gotta be kidding.”

“No kidding, sister.  That’s what I paid for.”  Max chimed in.  “Wanna give the dough back to me?”

“Nah, I’ll keep the dough, thank you very much,” I told the little jerk.  “Go ahead, Michael.  Let’s make Max a happy man.”

Michael placed his hands beneath a shiny metal dispenser and approached with two handfuls of white foam.  I recognized the stuff as the shaving cream I saw my father using every morning before he headed off for work.  I wondered what Dad would think if he could see his darling daughter being shaved in a barbershop.  I’m sure he would have been appalled.

My barber massaged the foam into the stubble on both sides and back of my head, wiped his hands, and approached with a lethal-looking straight razor.  He positioned himself at the side of the chair, selected a spot more than half way up my head and pulled the razor down toward my ear.  I held my breath, not wanting to make the slightest move lest he slice me with his sharp blade.

Michael worked deliberately, slowly circling the chair until he reached the opposite side of my head.  It was a strange sensation knowing the lower half of my head was being shaved bald.  Part of my brain couldn’t wait until I viewed this radically revised image, but the other part of my brain feared I would look like a circus freak.  My father always said, “Money is the root of all evil,” and here I was, submitting to a partial head shave for a pile of cash.  I prayed Dad would never see me like this.

After what seemed like an eternity, Michael put down his razor, wiped the remains of shaving cream from around my ears and neck, and announced he was nearly done.  “Now just some wax and another brushing and you’ll be finished,” he said to my great relief.

My barber reached for a blue jar on the shelf behind him, removed the top and scooped out two fingers covered with goo, which he then massaged into my shortened hair.

One final time he brushed the top of my head, squinting to make sure it was perfectly level.  “I do believe we’re done,” he said as he unfastened the cape and dumped bunches of my severed hair onto the pile on the floor.

I stood and walked up to the mirror so I could inspect my new haircut up close.  On the sides where Michael shaved me no trace of hair was visible.  The bare strip above my ear was smooth as a baby’s butt.  I ran the palm of my hand across the flattened top and felt a tickling sensation I had never before experienced.

The woman in the mirror, the one with the masculine haircut, looked vaguely familiar.  The eyes, nose and mouth were that same ones I’d come in with, but the rest of my head was strangely new.  It wasn’t a bad look, but it was very, very different.

Max, the little gnome, was delighted.  He couldn’t stop grinning as he repeated several times to himself, “This is so cool.”

 

I knew I had to be prepared for strong reactions from the bar customers when I returned to work the next day, but their responses to my haircut were far more extreme than I ever could have imagined.

It was Friday night and the place was packed with the usual happy hour crew.  Charlie was a regular and the first one to recognize me with my new look.  “Holy shit, babe!  What the fuck happened to you?” he exclaimed.

“Got my hair cut,” I answered matter-of-factly. “You like it?”  I thought I might defuse his extreme reaction without making a big deal of it, but I was wrong.

“You look like I did when I got back from boot camp,” he continued.  “Why the hell do you want to look like GI?  The world’s got enough ugly people already.”

I wanted to douse him with the pitcher of beer I was carrying.  Then Arnold, a 250 pound body builder, came to my defense.  “I think she looks pretty damn hot,” he yelled over the noise.  “She really stands out from the crowd.  Not many women got the guts to wear a haircut like that.”

The debate continued throughout my shift.  Nearly every male customer had an opinion he wanted to share.  It seemed the house was pretty much split down the middle—half in favor, half opposed.  Most of the women said they’d never be bold enough to go as short as I did, even if they admitted they liked the result.  The guys were typically more outspoken.

At the end of the night, as were getting ready to close, Mike, the boss, came up and said in a brotherly way, “Gloria, I gotta hand it to you.  You definitely were the star of the show tonight.”

“Is that a good thing or a bad thing?” I asked, fearing his response.

“A good thing, definitely,” he assured me.  “Fridays are always good for business, but we may have set a new record tonight.”

A quick tally of my tip income confirmed Mike’s observation.  I pocketed nearly $200 above my previous best.

When I returned for my usual Saturday shift I was better prepared for my customers’ occasional verbal abuse.  I decided to respond in kind—dishing out barbs and jabs in the same caustic style they were launched.

“What gives you the right to criticize my haircut?” I challenged George, a middle-aged regular.  “I never said a bad word about your awful comb-over.”

The guys at the bar roared their approval, poking George in the ribs.  “Guess she told you, buddy,” the guy sitting next to him shouted.

My next victim was Oscar, always a loud mouth.  “I would murder my wife if she came home with her hair cut like that,” he said.

“If I was married to you, I would have killed myself a long time ago,” I shot back.  Again the barflies joined in hearty laughter.

“Your barber should have his license revoked for giving you that haircut,” said Roger, a newcomer to the bar. “You’re wrong.  He deserves a medal,” I replied.

 

For as long as I can remember I had accepted the conventional wisdom that all men desire women with long, luxurious locks.  With a few notable exceptions—Audrey Hepburn comes to mind—most of the women acclaimed as great beauties wore their hair long.  Regrettably, I thought men would never desire me because of my beautiful hair.  That turned out to be my biggest misconception.

What I did not understand until after I got my hair cut radically short—what was submerged beneath the popular fascination with longhaired beauties—was the existence of a subset of men who are fascinated by women sporting very short hairstyles.  I started encountering them the first evening I reported for work with my radical new haircut.

Roger was the first guy who asked me out after complimenting me on my new haircut.  I knew he worked for a stock brokerage firm in the city, but didn’t know exactly what he did there. Turns out, he worked in arbitrage, which involves trading in stocks and bonds.  I was staggered when he told me the amount of money that was involved in his trades.  He was fascinated by my haircut and I was impressed by his luxurious lifestyle.  He took me to some of the best restaurants in the city and popular Broadway plays, but it turned out we had little in common.  We parted amicably after a couple of months.

Barry was an Irishman who worked for a construction company, the complete opposite of Roger.  He too loved my haircut.  We had some good times together, going to Mets’ games in the summer and watching the Knicks play in the winter.  The big problem with Barry was his insistence that he didn’t want children.  After two years, we decided there was no future in our relationship.

I was beginning to think I was doomed to remain single until a girlfriend arranged a blind date with Harvey, a lawyer for a big Manhattan firm.  We hit it off immediately.  What I liked best about him was that he didn’t make a big deal about my hairstyle.  When I told him I was tired of the flat top and wanted to grow my hair longer, he said, “Sure, whatever you want.”  That was five years ago.  Now we are married with a four-year-old daughter, Eve.  I wear my hair in a chin-length bob, which my husband loves.  Harvey keeps of picture of me with my flat top on the desk in his home office and looks at it every once in a while.  If I do say so myself, I looked pretty hot with that radical style.  Getting my hair cut short opened up a new side of my personality.  I became more outgoing, more opinionated, more spontaneous.  I’m glad I did it.  Until Eve is grown and off to college, I’ll probably keep my hair in a more conservative, moderately short style.  But someday, after my daughter is out of the house and on her own, I just may go back to that radical look of my younger years.

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