Standing Out

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I’m supposed to be paying attention, but this is incredibly dull. I went down this path because I love the sport, not because I thought it was a way to make a lot of money. Sure the scholarship has helped, but it’s not like I got the kind of deal guys playing football get. Now my dad has convinced me that I need to find sponsors if I want to be able to continue in softball now that I’m out of school and in the professional league. I pointed out that they paid me, he said not enough. So he talked me into meeting an agent.

I’m supposed to be the person talking, since I’m an adult and this is my life. The way it’s worked out though is dad is talking to the agent while I try not to doze off. I feel almost like I’m back in highschool in the guidance counselor’s office.

“What makes her really stand out though?” Mr. Barnes says to dad. “Out on the field, she’s just another ponytail in a ballcap.”

“Well, how can we make her stand out more?” Dad asks. “What would make her different?”

“We could get rid of the ponytail and do something with the hair that sticks out under the cap.” Mr. Barnes suggests.

“What do you mean get rid of the ponytail?” It’s the first time I’ve actually really participated in this conversation.

“Ok, how would we do that?” Dad talks right over me

“You know, my son is constantly doing weird things with his hair. He gets designs carved into it all the time, though he doesn’t have one at the moment. For a while when he was in highschool, he had the school’s mascot on the side of his head. Something like that would be perfect. She could even change the design every couple of months to keep it interesting. That will definitely make her stand out.” Mr. Barnes keeps talking to dad. “He’s living at home to save money while he gets his masters degree. I’ll just go through to the house and see if he can come talk to you about it.”

Mr. Barnes gets up and opens the door that attaches his office to the main part of his house. I can see through into the kitchen where his son is sitting at the breakfast bar typing on his laptop with a bunch of books spread out around him.

I take the opportunity to talk to dad. “I’m not cutting my hair dad. This is stupid, there is no way I’m getting enough sponsors to make it worth it.”

“Of course it will be worth it.” Dad says dismissively. “You heard him say he knows a local bar looking for a spokesperson.”

I am trying to imagine how much a local bar is going to pay someone from a league most people don’t even know exists to appear in a commercial that will only play a few times late at night on basic cable. I can’t believe it will come even vaguely close to being worth it to me. I don’t want to make a fuss about it now though, I’ll just tell him “no” firmly when we get home. Mom will be on my side which will make things easier.

Noise drifts in from the house through the open door. Mr. Barnes and his son sound annoyed with each other. “Oh, just come to my office and show us, it’ll just take a few minutes.”
They come through to the office together, closing the door back to the house behind them.

“This is my son James,” Mr. Barnes introduces the impatient looking young man next to him. “He’s going to tell us about his barber.”

“It’s a barbershop, a couple of towns over, what’s there to say?” James grumbles. “I have a ton of work to get done. Here, I’ll write down the name and address and you guys can go there. Ask for Tony.”

“Can you give us directions, son? I can never figure out how to follow the ones google gives.”

“Oh for christ’s sake, you need to learn how to use the GPS. It’ll just be easier if I show you.” James sigh with exasperation. “I’ve lost my train of thought anyway. Give me your keys dad, and your clients can follow in their car.”

“What? Right now!” So much for my plan to put off the talk till later. “Dad, I really don’t want to do this.”

“It’ll be fine Lynn.” Dad says without even looking at me.

“Well if she doesn’t want to, I guess I can go back to what I was doing.” James starts turning back towards the door to the house.

“No, she wants to.” Dad says quickly.

“Come on, let’s get going James.” Mr. Barnes says.

James turns looking aggravated and heads for the door to the office’s reception room. He swings the door open pushing it so it slams into the wall, then stomps through the reception area and out to the driveway. Mr. Barnes follows more slowly. Dad gets up to leave too, expecting me to also just follow.

I don’t want to, but figure I’ll have better luck asserting myself in the car than I can here with Mr. Barnes influencing dad. Alone in the car he’ll be more reasonable, I’ll just be firm and say “no.” I get up to follow them out, and get in the car.

“Dad we need to talk.”

“Not now Lynn, I need to concentrate on following James or we’ll get lost. Tell me when we get there.”

I sigh, and look out the window. This isn’t working. This is so frustrating. It’s stupid, I’m an adult, but I’m being treated like a child.

When dad parks, I’m determined that I’m going to put my foot down and put a stop to this.

“Dad, I’m not going in there.” I think I’m doing pretty good at sounding firm. “I’m not going along with this scheme.”

“It’s a legitimate business plan, not a scheme.” Dad says with an edge to his voice. “Do you want to spend the rest of your life living with your mom and me? You need to make a living now.  Come on.”

He just gets out of the car without giving me a chance to respond. He stands at the door waiting for me looking impatient. I contemplate just sitting there, but figure at this point maybe I need to say “no” directly to Mr. Barnes. I get out of the car and head over to the shop entrance.

Inside it’s very plain. Simple black and chrome salon chairs, clean vinyl floors, the mirror that goes all the way to the ceiling above the counters.

James is standing impatiently by the door looking annoyed while Mr. Barnes chats animatedly with a middle aged guy off to the side. Dad goes over and is being introduced into the conversation. I figure I’m more likely to find out what’s going on from James. I go over to stand next to where he’s leaning.

“What are they talking about?” I ask.

“You being the spokesperson for the barbershop.” James looks down at me with an ironic grin. “I think I’m going to be stuck here till dad closes the deal.”

“Oh god, really?” I take a deep breath. “How the hell am I going to get out of this?”

“You really don’t want a haircut, huh?” James snorts. “I can imagine how they’re going to take it.”

“So far dad’s been taking it by ignoring me. I told him I wasn’t doing it. I thought I made myself clear, but here we are. You seem to be the only one who’s listened.”

“They seem to have trouble with the concept that we’re adults now.” He smiles at me. “If you tell them now, I won’t be stuck here waiting for dad.”

“Wish me luck.” I say as I head over to the the group of men talking about me.

“Ah Lynn, meet Tony.” My dad says. “We’ve got it all settled, we just need to iron out a few details.”

“I’ve got to make a few phone calls and do a few things on my laptop.” Mr. Barnes says. “Tom, why don’t we go out to the car for some quiet, while Tony prints out those papers and cuts Lynn’s hair. We’ll be about a half an hour Tony.”

And dad and Mr. Barnes walk off before I can actually say anything.

“Lynn, I need just five minutes before we start. How about you and James sit down.”

“Ok.” Is all I say. I feel pretty trapped at this point. I walk over to the line of seats in the waiting area and sit down. James comes and sits next to me.

“That doesn’t seem to have gone the way you planned.” He comments.

“And you seem to be stuck here.” I apologize. “I’m sorry about dragging you away from your studies.”

“You’re not the one who dragged me away. Besides, being stuck here seems pretty minor compared to what’s going on with you.” He’s sounding more serious. “What’s your plan now?”

“I haven’t got one at this point.” I say as I reach up and let down my hair.

Most of the time, my hair’s up in a ponytail for convenience and I don’t think about it much. Every now and then though, I let it down and bask in it. Shiny rich brown, a very dark mahogany color. The slightest wave in it. Right now it’s got that ridge in it from where the elastic held it back. It brushes against my arms just above my elbows.

“I think, I’m getting a haircut.” I say with frustrated resignation.

“Want me to talk to them? Tony won’t do it if I tell him you don’t want to.”

It was a tempting offer, I considered it. I knew that it might save my hair, but would definitely make it that much harder for me to be seen as an adult by dad going forward. Having to get a guy to stand up for me doesn’t scream independent, dad’s going to see it as me letting someone else control me. I need to either stand up for myself, or just pretend I’m ok with the whole thing. I didn’t want a haircut, but I really needed for dad to start treating me like an adult. Considering I might still end up with the haircut in a few days anyway, it didn’t seem worth it.

“Thanks. But this is really between me and dad.” I say glumly. “Saying something to Tony’s just going to cause trouble.”

“I don’t mind getting dad pissed at me.”

“It’s really sweet of you, but I meant it would cause me problems.” I explain then tried to pretend my feelings aren’t actually that strong. “It’s not really that big a deal, I don’t care that much.”

James looks conflicted. I don’t think he believes that I really don’t care. I can tell he wants to reach out to comfort me, but is nervous to touch me since we only just met each other less than an hour ago. We sit there together in nervous frustration till Tony comes out of his office and cheerfully calls me over, obviously oblivious to the fact that I did not want to do this. There’s no point fussing, it’s just embarrassing at this point to admit that I’m letting myself be controlled to this degree.

I get up and leave James sitting; his elbows on his knees, his hands folded between them, his head hangs down. I can see he wants to be my knight in shining armour, and is frustrated I asked him not to be.

I walk over to the chair Tony is standing next to trying not to look upset about it. I sit down trying to hide my shaking. I’m trying to breathe as normally as possible. I can’t hide how pale I’ve gotten.
I’m so clammy, that when the cape is draped over me at first it feels like a comforting blanket, then I remember the purpose it serves and wish I wasn’t too meek to rip it off, get up, and say something. Instead I just sit there pretending I don’t care.

“You seem a bit anxious.” Tony says, I guess I fail at acting. “Anything I can do?”

It’s my perfect opportunity to tell Tony I don’t really want to do this. That I’m reluctantly going along with a scheme I have little faith in. That the whole situation is out of my control and I was embarrassed to have even walked into Mr. Barnes’ office to begin with. I let the opportunity slip away though, for the same reason I asked James not to say anything.

“Just a little nervous.” I say trying to sound ok. “It’s been awhile since I did anything different with my hair.”

In truth, it hasn’t just been awhile I’ve never done anything different. Not really anyway. Just always gone to the salon with mom to get it trimmed. Added a few long layers as I got older, that’s it.
Tony has started combing through my hair. I guess dad and Mr. Barnes have already decided what they are doing to my hair, because Tony’s not bothering to talk to me about it.

A minute or so into the combing, the cutting begins without warning. I just suddenly hear the scissors biting through the hair. I swallow around a huge lump in my throat.

I feel the hair slide over my arm before it lands on the floor next to me. I turn my head to get a look at it. I get just a glimpse of the dark puddle of hair on the floor. What had looked so shiny and smooth on my head, is a tangled lump on the floor.

Almost immediately Tony’s hands are straightening my head back up. I look in the mirror, there is a gap in my long hair just above my shoulder. The shiny silver scissors open again and engulf more hair between the blades. They close slowly, Schlick. More hair falls down along my arm and to the floor. It must be nearly a foot of hair sliding to the floor.

The scissors open again. The scissors are next to my face now, around the last of the long hair on my left. Schlick, this lock slides over my shoulder, down my chest and settles next to the armrest, not quite in my lap. This one I can see by just looking down. It seems so heavy and lifeless, it had seemed so light and bouncy when it had been on my head.

Tony starts walking around to my right side. I look up to the mirror, the left side has been chopped off into a rough bob. My hair still looks so good on the right side, the long layered hair spilling over my shoulder.

I wish I’d let James say something. I look at his reflection in the mirror, he looks so tense sitting there. I wonder if he wishes he’d said something even though I’d told him not to. Why did I tell him not to, why didn’t I tell Tony I didn’t want to do this when he asked if he could do anything.

Tony’s at my right side and raises the scissors to the hair in front, just above my shoulder. He starts slicing through it towards the back. I listen to the blades crunching through my hair as the long locks are reduced. The hair slides down, just a bit of it to my lap, most of it to the floor.

As Tony works his way around, the blades hit my neck and I have to suppress a shiver at the cold of them.

The length is all cut off roughly into a long bob. I wonder how much of what’s left I’m going to get to keep, as Tony combs it out. He starts combing up the hair on top and carefully separating it from the bottom, making a straight parting around my head about an inch above my ear. Once the sections are perfect, he twist the hair from the top and pins it to my head.

He combs up the loose hair around my ear and slices through it against the comb. The short hairs drift down to my shoulders. The scissors are so close to my ear that the soft sound drowns out everything else.

Tony combs up hair from the back now and slices that off in the same way over the comb. It’s being so messily hacked off is making me terribly nervous. I try to reassure myself, that he’s not going to leave it like this, thinking that James’ close cropped black hair looks neat and sharp, but then I think about how closely cropped it is. I’m terrified at how short mine’s going to be by the time it looks like anything other than hacked off.

Tony finishes the cutting against the comb above my other ear, and all the loose hair is very short. No more than a couple of inches, and I know he’s not done.

Tony puts down the scissors on the counter. Under the counter, a few clippers hang from cup hooks. He picks up a large clippers, and fits a small guard onto them.

I breath in sharply as my heart pounds. I startle at how loud the clippers are when they first start. They quiet down just slightly as they run. I’m completely terrified, I’ve never had them used on me before.

Tony tilts my head down and places the clipper on my neck. I feel them moving up under my hair. I feel the hairs raining down on my neck first then some spills over my shoulders and I watch the short clippings drift slowly down around me. The teeth of the guard scraping over my head. The vibration of the clippers reminds me of the feeling of my phone in my pocket when it’s silenced.

Tony makes pass after pass working towards the front. He’s at my ears, and I know he will soon be at the front where I’ll be able to see the length.

I’m torn between really wanting to see and being terrified to look. I swallow hard take a deep breathe with my eyes closed then open them and look hard at my reflection. I watch the clippers move around and over my ear. The hair left behind them is just the barest cover to my scalp. It’s shorter than dad’s. I let the breathe out slowly.

I watch Tony repeating the process around the other ear. The short hair fluttering down as the other side is transformed into the same sleek pelt. When he finally finishes, he hangs the clippers back up.

Tony now picks up a smaller set of clippers. They are quieter as he turns them on. On these he puts no guard. He goes around behind me.

Soon I feel the bare blades of the clippers against my scalp. They move around in arcs and swirls. Sometimes I feel the comb against my scalp then hear the clippers scrape over it. It starts just above my neck, but soon spreads out around my head. The entire back of my head soon feels like it’s been drawn on. Finally he gets to above my ears, and I watch as lines are carved through my hair exposing the light scalp to contrast against the dark hair.

For a bit, Tony strokes the clippers down my neck. Then he shuts them off.

Tony picks up a spray bottle and wets down what little is left of my hair. As he squeezes the trigger, I feel the wetness spread over my head. In so many places the water hits my scalp directly because there’s not enough hair to stop it. I wonder why he’s wetting it at this point that the cutting seems to be done.

The mystery is soon solved as he picks up a straight razor. Now I’m not just scared of the hair getting shorter, I’ve got a whole new set of fears. I hold very very still as he goes back over some of the lines he carved in earlier with the clippers. I guess those will be the bolder lines in the design. At the end, the razor strokes along my neck.

He puts the razor down finally, and I take a deep shaky breath of relief. I close my eyes and hope it’s over, as Tony lets down the top. The bob length top covers the short bottom, and I’m hoping he’s just going to trim the ends a bit. Tony is spraying the top now, getting it good and wet, before he picks up his scissors again. I feel the comb under the longish hair.

Moments later, my hopes that he was just going to trim the longer hair are dashed as I watch in the mirror Tony comb a lock of hair straight up and slice it off just inches from my head. I’m not shocked anymore. I just feel defeated.

I watch as Tony combs up the wet hair over and over snipping it off methodically. The clumps of four or five inch long hair fall heavily to the cape. Resting on my shoulders till the weight gets to be too much and it slides to the floor or into my lap. Nothing is left long enough for me to hide the incredibly short back and side. Though the hair on top is being left slightly longer, it is short enough to leave the design in full display.

Tony is working at the very front, now and I can see how it’s coming together. The front is slightly longer and floppier than the rest of the top. He keeps snipping away, adding texture, softening it and blending it into the sides. I keep praying each snip to be the last, but they keep going for what feels like eons.

I’m relieved when the drier finally starts. It takes just seconds for the short damp hair to be fully dry. As he dries it, Tony combs my short hair into place. I look like a whole new person, I barely recognize myself.

“So James, what’cha think?” Tony asks as he holds up a hand mirror so I can see the back.

The carved design is something I was barely prepared for. Floating just above my spine is a softball with wings. The wings are pretty amazing. I expect though, that when I’m not playing softball at least half the people who see it will think I’m a Harry Potter fan and it’s a quidditch reference. Beyond the central motif, lines surround and swirl out suggesting speed and movement.

It’s truly spectacular. The thing is, that having spectacular art on the back of one’s head day and night means that I have become a spectacle. I don’t really want to be this on display constantly.

“You’ve out done Van Gogh, Tony.” James says.

Tony is taking the cape off as dad and Mr. Barnes walk in.

“See, now that stands out!” Mr. Barnes sound impressed. “They’ll be able to tell her apart from other players all the way from the concession stand. That’s what we needed. Absolutely perfect.”

“Looks great kiddo.” Dad puts in his two cents.

“Thanks dad.” I mumble.

I raise my hand up to feel it, it’s so strange. Soft and scratchy all at the same time. The texture changes constantly as the design is made up of hair of so many different lengths. Even the top changes from very short fuzzy pelt towards the back to the just long enough to flop around a bit in the front.

I get out of the chair. I almost trip over the pile of my own hair. It surrounds the chair in a tight circle. I’ve never seen so much of it on the floor before. When I go to the salon, all there is is a slight scattering of short bits. This is practically all of my hair. There is so much more on the floor now than my head.

They’ve gone back to ignoring me, and are spreading out paper work on a desk. James is off by himself just waiting.

It’s over and I just want to leave.

“James, I’m going to take the car, and let dad beg a ride off your father. Want me to take you home?” I say quietly as I walk up to him.

“Yeah, thanks.”

“Dad, I’m taking the car and going.”

“Lynn, you have to stay. We’re going to need you to sign things as we go.” Dad says over his shoulder.

“Where do I sign?” I walk over and pick up a pen.

“Honey, you should look things over before you sign them, we haven’t even filled in all the details.” Dad lectures at me. “It’s going to take a bit and you need to be here if you want input in the details.”

“You’ll understand it better than me anyway.” I say as I start just signing page after page as Mr. Barnes flips through them. I know I’m being stupid and Dad’s right. I just really need to get out of this place right now though. After all, I’d already failed to get my input on the one detail I actually cared about taken seriously.

I put down the pen and head for the door without looking back. James is right behind me. We head over to the car and get in. I start the car and pull out of the parking lot without really thinking about where we’re going.

My eyes are wet and I’m having a hard time seeing. Three blocks from the shop I see a park and turn onto the side street next it and pull over. I shut off the engine and get out. Suddenly I’m really crying.
It’s not just the haircut, I’m also just really angry at myself for not standing up for myself. I’m leaning against the nearest tree sobbing into my hands.

“Are you ok?” James asks as he tentatively puts his hands on my arms. “God, you’re not. I can see you’re not.”

His hands are firmer now and he starts guiding me away from the tree. After a moment I feel the cold metal of the bleachers’ bench behind my legs and I sit. James sits next to me and puts his arm around me. I just cry into his shoulder for several minutes.

“Want to talk about it?” James asks when I have mostly cried myself out.

I look out onto a ballfield that reminds me of the one’s I played on when I was little. I blink off the last few tears, feeling sort of at home.

“I’m just really angry at myself for going along with this.” I wipe my face on my sleeve. “I stick out like a sore thumb now.”

“Nah, you stick out like a thumb with a really fancy manicure.” James says giving my shoulders an extra squeeze. I laugh and smile as I wipe away more tears.

“Sorry, I was taking you home.” My voice is only a wee bit shaky. “You’d have probably gotten back faster if I’d just left you to wait for your father.”

“Don’t worry, I wasn’t really in a rush, I just wanted out of the situation.” He looks over at me. “I guess same as you.”

“Yeah, I just needed to escape them.”

“How about we stay out for a little while? We can have some fun get to know each other.” James smiles. “There’s a sushi place about a mile from here.”

“Sounds perfect.” I smile. “Good end to a lousy day.”

We don’t get up right away though, first I put my hand against James’ smooth cheek and look into his dark eyes till he kisses me.

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