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Short hair has been my obsession for almost as long as I can remember. I admire short haircuts on women?the shorter the better?and some men?s styles too.

Over the years I have cultivated many fantasies involving short hair, but there?s one scenario that plays over and over in my imagination.

I walk into a slightly rundown barbershop in an older section of town. I have selected this particular shop because of its reputation as a no-nonsense old fashioned all-male establishment. No hairdryers, no unisex styles, no female barbers, no distractions. I?ve been planning this haircut for months. I?m not a regular customer. In fact, I?ve never been here before. That?s the way I want it. This will be a completely anonymous transaction.

A bell above the door rings as I enter. It?s a late summer afternoon and the three barbers are busy with customers. Five more sit patiently waiting their turns. The barber standing at the first chair briefly looks up from his work and says, ?You?ll have to wait a while.? Yes, I know how it works. I find an empty seat and calculate it will be at least half an hour till I am called. Actually, I don?t mind waiting. It gives me a chance to check out the haircuts in progress. Most of the cuts are rather boring. Then I see one that captures my interest. The youngest of the three middle-aged barbers has started clipping an athletic looking guy in his twenties. I hear him ask for a flat top. The barber, who also wears his hair in this style, doesn?t seem the least bit surprised. I suspect this guy is a regular patron.

The flat top isn?t nearly as popular as it was in my youth. Not many barbers today are skilled at administering it. I guess that this young guy must come here because he?s going for the retro look. I try not to stare as the barber quickly buzzes his thick dark hair short on the sides and back. Then he begins on the top. After a few deft passes with the clippers remove nearly an inch of hair, he begins the demanding job of carving a perfectly flat plane across his customer?s crown. He wields the clippers with precision, each pass shortening the surface by a fraction of an inch. When he is satisfied with the length, he rubs some wax into the short hairs and brushes vigorously until all his hairs are standing perfectly erect. Then he returns with the clippers, leveling a few rough spots. He hands a round mirror to the guy in the chair so he can inspect the finished product. He turns his head and critically examines his new haircut from every angle. Smiling broadly, he returns the mirror and gives his seal of approval. The barber removes the striped cape from his shoulders and spills the abundant clippings onto a pile on the floor. After paying, the young man strides out of the shop looking pleased and confident. I know I?ve made the right choice.

The crew cut barber holds the chair and nods to me. It?s my turn at last. My heart is pounding loudly as I walk up and slide into the warm leather seat. He stretches a band of tissue around my neck and whips a striped cape over my shoulders. ?What?ll it be today?? he asks automatically as he fastens the cloth behind my neck. He must ask that question dozens of times a day, I think, but for me it holds a promise of great adventure.

I bless my good fortune that his previous customer got the exact same haircut I desired. I won?t have to bother with any detailed explanations. ?Cut my hair just like the last guy,? I tell him. The words spill out of my mouth. I?ve been rehearsing them while I sat studying the previous haircut.

Over the years I?ve had many disappointing haircuts. Usually I have had great difficulty finding the words to describe exactly what I want. Many barbers didn?t fully understand my directions. They were hesitant to cut my hair as short as I wanted and I was too timid to insist they keep cutting. These flat tops wound up being pale imitations of the look I desired. Some barbers cut it short enough but botched the top, giving me a buzz cut instead. Somewhere I knew there was a barber who shared my vision of what a proper flat top looked like. I prayed that this would be the day.

?You want me to give you a flat top?? the barber asks, checking to make sure he heard me correctly. Obviously, he is surprised at my choice. I understand his reaction because this will be quite a departure from the moderately long businessman?s cut I have worn for the past two years.

?Yep. Nice and short,? I insist, ?for the summer.? To hide my nervousness I deliberately keep the conversation to a minimum.

?Okay, mister. One flat top coming up.? From his tone I can tell that he doesn?t fully approve of my selection. I know he has good reasons for his reluctance. My hair isn?t as thick or as straight as the young man who preceded me. My head isn?t the right shape either. I know from past experience that the flat top is not the most flattering style for me. Most men my age favor a more conventional look, but I don?t care. I?m determined to walk out of the shop with the haircut that?s been my obsession for more than thirty years. It?s taken me nearly a year to convince myself that this is the right move. Now there?s no turning back.

The barber turns the chair around, grabs his clippers, snaps a guide over the blades, and switches on the power. The high pitched humming is music to my ears. He begins from the rear, as I knew he would, holding the warm clippers against the bare skin of my neck and raising them into the thick hair on the back of my head. It?s been nearly two months since my last haircut, so there?s plenty to cut. I can?t see what?s happening, but I imagine large clumps of gray hair rolling off the blades and dropping to the floor. I close my eyes and concentrate on the sensation of the clippers pressing against my skull. I know that when he?s done there will be only a quarter inch remaining.

Soon the barber turns his attention to the side of my head. Now I can watch in the large mirror on the wall as he steers the clippers around my ears and mows the sides to match the back. Removing the guide, he uses the exposed blades to square my sideburns and trim the hairline.

Now he switches off the power, rests his clippers, and returns with a scissors and comb. Starting at the back, he takes a section of my long hair and chops off all but an inch. He throws the handful of hair to the floor and continues cutting till he reaches my forehead. He leaves the hair in front slightly longer than the back. The barber then soaks the top of my head with a spray bottle and brushes the damp hair back off my face. My hair has been conditioned to lay flat and requires quite a bit of coaxing till it?s standing upright. I smile as I see the top of my head begin to take the desired shape, but I know it?s still a long way from being done.

The barber deposits his brush and I hear the welcome hum of his clippers starting up again. My excitement rises because I know what?s coming next. The most thrilling part of the haircut is at hand?the part I?ve been fantasizing about for months. He tilts my head to the proper angle. I sit perfectly still, scarcely breathing, waiting for my shearing to continue.

He places his comb across my scalp and guides the clippers into the hair exposed between its teeth. I silently moan as I hear the blades slicing through the upright tufts. He flicks the comb, tossing clumps of short hair onto the cloth covering my lap. I feel bits of damp hair tumble onto my face. They tickle, but I dare not make any motion to dislodge them. I don?t want to interrupt the barber?s concentration. He makes a second pass and a third, cutting his way toward the back of my head. He works slowly and deliberately as he should during such a delicate operation. I?m in no hurry; I?m savoring every moment. I wish it would last forever.

In the mirror I observe my hair being reduced to less than half an inch in length. The level surface that gives this style its name is beginning to emerge. When the barber reaches the back of my head his comb rests directly on my scalp. I feel the vibrations as the clippers pass over again, sending shivers down my spine. This is going to be a seriously short haircut. No half measures this time. I congratulate myself on my choice of a shop and barber for this haircut. This guy knows what he?s doing; he doesn?t mess around.

The barber turns off the power to his clippers and dusts bits of hair from my face and ears with a soft brush. He applies the wax to my head and brushes the top again. He peers at the surface of my head from the front and side. He returns with the clippers for a few final passes, making sure everything is perfectly even.

He hands me the small mirror and I closely examine the sides, back, and top. I barely recognize the man looking back at me. Thirty minutes ago I resembled a middle-aged accountant. Now I look like a senior military officer. The short hairs on top stand at attention. The sides are buzzed close. The back is cut square. This is the haircut I?ve been waiting for.

?Well, what do you think?? the barber demands after I?ve inspected the haircut for a minute.

?It?s fine,? I say noncommittally.

?Is it short enough?? he continues.

Although I know I should tell him to stop, I can?t resist the urge to prolong this haircut. He is giving me an opportunity to extend my excitement and I won?t pass it up. I peer critically into the mirror and say, ?A little shorter on top, please.? I can?t believe the words I hear myself saying. It?s as if the fetish has taken control of my vocal chords.

?Are you sure?? the barber asks incredulously.

?Take it shorter,? I command. My obsession really has gotten the better of me this time. I?ve had flat tops before, but this will be the shortest my hair ever has been by far. There will be hell to pay when I get home, but I don?t care. I am living in the moment. I?m caught up in something powerful; something my rational mind cannot control.

?Okay, mister,? the barber replies. ?If that?s what you want.? He sounds very skeptical. A guy my age shouldn?t be getting such an extreme cut, I?m sure he would tell me. This is for young guys only. But I didn?t ask his advice. He will do as he is told.

?That?s what I want,? I declare firmly. I?ve never been more sure of anything in my life.

The time for conversation has passed. The barber returns with his clippers greedily humming. This time he doesn?t bother with the comb. He drives the clippers into the short hair rising above my forehead and slices away another quarter inch. My excitement rises to an intolerable level. Once again he slowly works his way to the back of my head. The clippers pass very close to my scalp. I can feel that very little hair remains.

He doesn?t stop when he finishes the top, but returns to the back and sides, clipping them still shorter to match the rest. I can hardly believe what I?m seeing in the big mirror on the wall. There?s a short, perfectly flat surface across the top of my head and only a brief stubble remains on the sides. Not a trace left of the respectable haircut I wore entering the shop. I sit there with a radically short crew cut looking like an overage Marine recruit.

The barber switches the clippers off and thrusts the small mirror into my hand for a second look. ?Is that short enough for you?? he asks gruffly.

I gaze into the mirror and tilt my head forward so I can inspect the top. I see a patch of bare scalp extending the length of my crown surrounded by a U of gray hair. It?s the ?landing strip? that distinguishes the super short, military style flat top from its slightly longer civilian cousin. Yes, this is what I wanted; this is what I?ve dreamed about. At last I?ve found the courage to demand the haircut I desired.

?Yes. It?s fine,? I reply breathlessly. Actually, it?s more than fine. It?s perfect; it?s marvelous; it?s fantastic. I don?t dare say any more for fear of betraying my excitement.

The barber brushes small bits of hair from my face and loosens the tissue. Shaving the neck is the final stage. He applies hot lather and with a few skilled strokes of his straight razor cleans away the remaining hair. He wipes the excess lather and splashes on bay rum. I know the haircut is done.

He removes the cape from my shoulders and dumps a pile of gray clippings onto the floor. I step down from the chair and walk to the cash register, trying hard to conceal the bulge in my pants. ?That?ll be $15 for the flat top,? he informs me bruskly.

I hand him a twenty. ?Keep the change,? I say casually. It?s been worth every penny.

?Come back in three weeks for a touch up,? he suggests.

?Sure, I?ll do that,? I lie. I know I?ll never return to this shop, never see him again. In a few months my hair will be back to its old length, but I?ll remember this haircut always.

I drive my car to a nearby parking lot where I can admire this superb haircut in my rearview mirror. Anyone watching probably wonders why I repeatedly pass my hand across the top of my newly shorn head. I?m sure they never could imagine the intense pleasure it gives me. There is immense satisfaction in finally getting the right haircut.

When I get home I know my wife will be pissed at me. She doesn?t understand my fascination with short hair. She says I look much better when I grow my hair long and she?s probably right. Right now, however, I?m going to enjoy my new look.

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