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Trying her best to look like a casual shopper, Joan Hollander strolled past the storefront window and glanced in.  A middle aged man sat in the large chrome and leather chair with a white cape covering his upper body; an elderly barber snipped at his sparse gray hair.  The two men were absorbed in conversation and didn’t notice the attractive woman scrutinizing them.  A younger man wearing a white smock lounged in the second chair, apparently waiting for his next customer.  He caught her eye and flashed a welcoming smile.  It was a friendly gesture, but she turned her head and quickly walked away, feeling embarrassed that he had spotted her checking out his shop.

Thankfully, there was a cocktail lounge at the end of the block.  Joan ducked in to regain her composure.  The dimly lit room was nearly empty in the middle of the day, only a bartender and a solitary patron at the bar.  She found a secluded table and, when the proprietor came over, ordered scotch on the rocks.  She didn’t usually imbibe before evening, but today she needed a stiff drink to calm her jittery nerves.  All week she had planned this trip to the barber shop, but now that the moment was at hand and her resolve seemed to be slipping away.

She felt the need for a cigarette, although she didn’t usually smoke, and nervously ran her fingers through her long auburn hair.  Once again she tried to answer the questions she had wrestled with all week.  Was she really prepared to make this move?  Was she ready for such an extreme change?  How would she deal with the sidelong glances and whispered comments that inevitably would accompany her arrival at work Monday morning with her hair cut short? 

Three months earlier Joan had turned forty.  She was an accomplished professional woman, an account executive at the largest ad agency in the city.  Few women had achieved as much in this highly competitive field.  She was dedicated to her job and had sacrificed a great deal to get where she was—no children, no husband, a limited social life.  She told acquaintances she was married to her job and no one disputed the truth of that statement.  A prime prerequisite for success in Joan’s field was maintaining a professional appearance.  She chose her clothes carefully, nothing flamboyant, but with enough flair so her clients could see she was in touch with fashion trends.  Her makeup was restrained, but always impeccable.  Rigorous gym workouts five mornings a week kept unwanted pounds off her trim figure.

During fifteen years with the agency she had kept her hair pretty much the same length—down nearly to the middle of her back.  She liked the versatility of long hair and wore it in a variety of styles—pinned up, braided in sophisticated designs, an occasional pony tail, sometimes pulled back hanging down her back.  Today it was parted down the middle, draped loosely over her shoulders.  She saw no need to pull it back or pin it up if it soon would be chopped off.

Joan had always been proud of her hair and never seriously considered cutting it until, at her most recent birthday party, one of her young co-workers thoughtlessly remarked, “You’re forty?  I thought you were older.”  Perhaps it was those gray strands creeping into in her auburn mane that prompted his insensitive comment.  She could always color her hair to banish the gray, the way many women her age did, but she worried it was its length that added years to her appearance.  That’s when Joan began thinking seriously about a major makeover.

She could have gone to the high-end salon she patronized for years and asked one of the stylists to come up with a new, shorter hairdo, but she felt the need to break cleanly with her past.  Somehow Joan became intrigued with the idea of a barber shop haircut.  Where this notion had come from she couldn’t really say.  A few of her female friends patronized a unisex salon at the mall and were pleased with the cuts they received.  Going to a barber shop was far more perilous, but the novelty appealed to her sense of adventure.  Only one woman she knew had her hair cut in a barber shop, and she was a well-known lesbian.  Joan was hopelessly heterosexual, yet she found the prospect of sitting helpless as a male barber coldly amputated her long locks surprisingly exciting, an unexpected turn on.

Joan had taken a vacation day so she would have time to herself.  She didn’t want any distractions interfering with her mission.  She had selected a nondescript shop located on a quiet side street not far from her downtown office in hopes there wouldn’t be many onlookers.  She chose a late-morning hour because she thought there would be fewer customers.  She didn’t want gawking strangers witnessing her makeover.  Still, the presence of one guy having his hair cut was enough to spook her.  Maybe she wasn’t ready for this, she thought.  Perhaps it would be best to put it off a while longer.

Half an hour later the bartender appeared unasked with a second full glass.  “Thanks,” she told him, “I needed that.”

“You look like you got the weight of the world on your shoulders,” he observed.

“Is it that obvious?” she replied.  “I’m having a hard time making a decision.”

“It’s none of my business, but you should use the method that always works for me,” he offered helpfully.  “When I can’t make up my mind I just flip a coin.  Heads, I do it; tails, I don’t.  It’s quick, simple, and saves a lot of grief.  Works every time.”

“Thanks, that sounds like a good idea,” she said.

He returned to his station behind the bar while she nursed her scotch a few minutes more.  Then she opened her purse, reached down to the bottom, and fished out a handful of change.  She arranged the coins on the table—six pennies, three nickels, a couple of dimes, and a shiny quarter.  She selected the largest piece, held it in her hand for a moment, then flipped it in the air. 

She caught the quarter, laid it on the back of her opposite hand, and looked down.  It came up heads.  “That settles it,” she said to no one in particular as she scooped up the coins and deposited them back in her purse.  She pulled a twenty dollar bill from her wallet and left it on the bar on her way out.  “Lady, you got some change coming,” the bartender called.

“That’s for your advice,” she answered over her shoulder as she walked out the door.  Back in the daylight, she paused for a moment, blinking to get accustomed to the midday sun, then turned to her left and marched resolutely up the block toward the shop.  This time, to her relief, it was free of customers and only one barber remained.  The older one was gone, probably out to lunch, she thought.  The younger man smiled in recognition and got up from his chair.  When she opened the door he was waiting for her.

“I was hoping you’d come back,” he said by way of a greeting.  “Ladies are always welcome here, especially one as pretty as you.”

She blushed at the unexpecte
d complement.  “So you do cut ladies hair?” she asked, though she knew what his answer would be.

“Yeah, we do all kinds of haircuts—men, women, girls, boys.  But I draw the line on pets—no poodle cuts,” he joked.  “Why don’t you have a seat?” he said, inviting her to occupy his vacant chair.  “I’m Andy, by the way,” he said, extending his hand.

For a moment she considered giving him a false name to protect her privacy, then rejected the impulse in favor of honesty.  “I’m Joan,” she replied.  “Pleased to meet you, Andy.”

She slid into the well-padded seat and let him spread a white cape around her shoulders.  The butterflies in her stomach were fluttering as Andy pumped the chair higher in the air. 

“So what brings you to our fine establishment?” the barber inquired.

Summoning all her courage, she said, “I’d like a haircut, please.”

“Well, yes, I kinda figured that,” he continued, “but I need a little more information, Joan.  There’s all kinds of haircuts—short, medium, and long.  I could trim your ends or we could do something more.”

“I guess I’m here for something more,” she told him, not quite believing the words had actually come out of her mouth.

“Something more!  Now we’re talking,” he exclaimed with obvious relish.  “A whole new hairstyle for the lovely lady, perhaps?”

“Yes, I’ve been thinking about something shorter,” she revealed.

“Something shorter, yes, I think we can accommodate you,” he continued in his lighthearted vein.  “That must have been a difficult decision.  You have such lovely hair.  I understand why you hesitated before coming in here.”

“Yes, it has been difficult, very difficult,” she confessed.  “It’s something I’ve been debating for weeks.”

“And what made you finally decide?” he inquired.

“It was the flip of a coin.  It came up heads and that’s why I’m here.”

“Well, that’s enough chit-chat.  Why don’t we get started?” he announced.  Without waiting for a reply he pulled a strip of white tissue from a dispenser on the counter behind the chair.  “Lift your hair up, please,” he told her.  She complied with his command as he wound the tissue around her neck, then snapped the cape tightly shut.

She expected that Andy would discuss the haircut he would administer, but instead the barber picked up his comb and started running it though her well-groomed locks.  “I see you take very good care of your hair,” he observed.  “It’s gonna be a shame to cut it.”

“Don’t give me a hard time, Andy,” she cautioned.  “It was tough enough working up the courage to come here.”

“Sorry, didn’t mean to make this more difficult for you,” he apologized.  “I’ll shut up and get to work.”  He picked up a spray bottle and spritzed a fine mist of water into her abundant mane, combing as he sprayed.  “Long hair is easier to cut wet,” he explained.  When her locks were thoroughly dampened he exchanged his comb for a pair of scissors and stood by her side.  “You tell me where to begin, Joan,” he said, placing the open blades by her arm, about level with her breast.  Cutting here would remove about six inches of hair; it would be a significant trim, but not a major alteration.  “Higher,” she told him firmly.

He moved the silver scissors even with her shoulder.  Now he proposed amputating a foot of her auburn tresses.  “Higher,” she said again, this time with a little less resolve.

Andy raised the gleaming blades to a point just below her jaw.  She hesitated a moment, then said, “Yes, that’s a good place to start.”

“You sure about this, Joan?” the barber asked.  “When I finish your hair is gonna be a whole lot shorter.”

“Yes, I’m sure,” she answered testily.  “If I wanted a minor adjustment I would be sitting in my regular salon.  You don’t have a problem with that, do you?”

“No, not at all,” he told her.  “Just wanted to make sure, that’s all.”

Andy needed no further instruction.  He opened his scissors and inserted the blades into the right edge of Joan’s long dangling hair.  He closed them and the first silken lock slid down the front of the cape, coming to rest in her lap.  Joan glanced down and smiled inwardly.  “There, it’s begun,” she said to herself.  “No turning back now.”

The barber worked slowly and deliberately, measuring each slice, making sure the next one was even with the last.  Joan watched closely in the mirror, studying Andy’s every move.  She had imagined this moment countless times, always wondering how she would react when she saw so much hair being separated from her head.  There was a bit of sadness, but mostly she was excited; eager to see how this much anticipated haircut would turn out.

As Andy moved behind the chair Joan could no longer observe what the barber was doing, but the sensation of cold steel against the bare skin of her neck sent a chill down her spine.  “This is going to be pretty short,” she thought.  “But short is what you came for.” 

 He stepped around to her left side and Joan began envisioning the outline of the finished cut.   Three more snips and the last long strand fell away from her head.  Andy stepped back so she could inspect her new look.  She turned her head and smiled as the newly shortened ends brushed against her cheek.  She reached a hand out from beneath the cape and tentatively fingered the short hair at the back of her head.  “There, you’ve done it,” she silently congratulated herself.  “For better or worse, you’re now a short-haired woman.”

“Well, Joan, what do you think?” her barber inquired.

“I like it,” she told him, trying without much success to conceal her delight.  “You do good work.”

“I can take it shorter if you like,” he volunteered.

“No, I don’t think so,” she replied.  “You’ve done enough damage for one day.”

“I need to check the length to make sure everything is even,” he told her.  Joan sat still as he combed her abbreviated locks and critically examined the cut.  “If it’s okay with you I’d like to use the clippers to even the ends.  I promise I’ll only take another fraction of an inch off, but it&amp
;rsquo;s going to look much better that way.”

Joan agreed, then tensed as she heard the clippers ominously buzzing near her ear.  She knew this instrument was used to crop men’s hair close to the scalp, but she trusted Andy and allowed him to proceed.  The barber held her hair in place with his comb as he carefully guided the pulsating blades through the tips of her red-brown tresses.  This time only a light dusting of fine fuzz dropped onto the white cape.  She marveled at the strange feelings throbbing through her body.  What might have been a terrifying ordeal for most women only heightened her excitement.  Perhaps it was the danger; in unsteady hands she knew the clippers could quickly destroy her captivating new style.  Whatever the reason, she found the novel sensation strangely thrilling.

Joan let out a sigh of relief when Andy shut off his clippers.  She saw that every lock of her hair hung at exactly the same length.  It wasn’t a high fashion look, but the precise blunt cut was neat and symmetrical.  It would fit well in the professional world she inhabited.  “Yes, that will do very nicely,” she said to herself.  “That wasn’t so bad after all.”

The barber released the cape from her neck and Joan started to rise from the chair, but Andy placed a hand on her shoulder.  “One more thing,” he said.  “You’ve got these fine hairs on your neck that didn’t show when your hair was long.  I need to clip them off to make everything neat.”

“I’m sure you know best, Andy.  Go ahead,” she told him.

Once more he switched on the power and ran inverted clipper blades down the sides of her neck, removing the wispy strands that remained.  Joan struggled to repress the intense sensations surging from head to toe as the clippers pressed against her bare skin. 

The barber exchanged his clippers for a blow dryer and a brush and used them to add volume to the limp strands that ended at her chin.  Finally, he held a mirror behind her head so she could view the result.  “Well, what do you think, Joan?” he asked.  “This what you had in mind?”

“It’s very nice,” she said.  “I didn’t really have a clear picture in mind, but this is very nice, much better than I expected.”

Andy removed the cape and shook it; large clumps of Joan’s severed hair landed on the floor.  “That’s quite a pile of hair,” he marveled, “more than I usually cut in a couple of days.”

“I hope I haven’t been too much trouble,” she said.

“On the contrary,” he assured her.  “It’s not every day I get a chance to do a big makeover for a beautiful woman.  It’s been my pleasure.”  Joan wondered if her barber’s flattery was part of his usual patter or was it perhaps an indication of a more personal interest.  It was hard to tell.

“How much do I owe you?” she asked as she reached for her purse.

“A regular haircut is fifteen dollars,” he announced.

“But this has hardly been a regular haircut.  Here,” she said, handing him three twenties.

“Joan, this is way too much,” he said.

“Take it, you earned it,” she assured him.

Andy extended his hand and they concluded their business.  “I hope you’ll be a regular customer, Joan,” he said as she prepared to leave.

“You never can tell,” she flirtatiously replied.  “A woman in my line of work has to look her best.”  She took one last look at her radically altered image in the large mirror on the wall and strode out the door with a satisfied smile on her face.

Andy grabbed a broom and started sweeping the mound of auburn hair.  He wondered if he would see Joan in his shop again.  She seemed pleased with her haircut, but she was not the type of woman who usually patronized barber shops.  She appeared to be a successful business or professional woman who would enjoy the pampering of an expensive salon.  Besides, experience told him that most women preferred longer styles.  Even those who experimented with short haircuts usually reverted to long hair.

Three weeks later, this time on a Saturday afternoon, Joan walked past the shop again.  Today she was dressed more casually in tight fitting jeans and a fitted sleeveless top that revealed the contours of her breasts.  She remembered her barber’s friendly interest and wanted to look her best.

The place was much busier than on her first visit with both of the barber chairs occupied and five men waiting their turns.  Andy was absorbed in his work and didn’t look up as she continued walking rapidly to the end of the block.  Once again she ducked into the lounge to meditate in a quiet corner.  She found the same table and, after a few minutes, the bartender came over to take her order.  “Say, weren’t you in here a couple weeks ago?” he asked.

“Yes, I was,” she replied.  “You helped me make up my mind.”

“Yes, the old coin toss trick,” he said.  “I remember you.  Your hair much longer then.”

“Indeed it was,” she commented.  “That was the decision I was wrestling with.  You helped me decide to get it cut.”

“You went to Andy’s shop down the block?” he inquired.

“Yes, Andy cut my hair.  I didn’t know it was his shop.”

“Yeah, his old man works with him, but Andy’s owned the business for as long as I’ve been here.”

“You wouldn’t know if he’s married, would you?” she asked.

“Andy?  No, he’s a confirmed bachelor.  Lots of girls have tried to get his interest, but he says he’s waiting for someone special.”

“Well, he certainly knows how to cut hair.”

“Yes, your hair looks very nice.  Are you satisfied with it?”

“Yes I am, or rather, I was,” she told him.  “Now I’m trying to make up my mind if I should get it cut shorter.”

“I see, having trouble with another big decision.  You could always flip a coin,” he suggested.

“I could, but I’ve tried that already.  You got any other suggestions?”

“Well, there’s another trick I use.  Ask yourself, ‘Five years from now will I regret not doing this?’  That usually helps me decide.”

“Thanks.  That sounds like good advice.  You can bring me a Chivas on the rocks, by the way.”

He returned with her drink as Joan mulled her options.  To return to the shop for a second shearing or not—that was the choice she struggled with.  Joan felt the shortened hair that now framed her face.  She loved her new look, but almost as soon as she arr
ived home three weeks ago a small voice in the back of her head whispered, “Go shorter, Joan; go shorter.”  She tried to ignore the voice, but it would not let her rest.  Every time she passed a mirror or saw her reflection in a window she imagined how she would look with a really short haircut.  There was something incredibly exciting about the prospect of altering her image even further.  It was like taking on a new persona.  She could become someone totally unlike the old Joan; start over again as a different woman.

Joan nursed the drink for half an hour, deep in contemplation.  It was nearly noon when she got up from her table, deposited a twenty dollar bill on the bar, and told the bartender, “Thanks for helping me decide.”

“You gonna do it?” he called as she headed for the exit.

She ignored his question as she strode out into the sunlight.

All heads turned when Joan walked through the door of the barber shop.  The six male customers eyed her with undisguised curiosity, but she was not fazed.  She had made up her mind and would not be deterred.  She smiled a greeting to her barber who responded with a hearty welcome.  “Hey, Joan.  Good to see you.”  She was pleased he remembered her name.  “Take a seat,” he called.  “It’ll be ‘bout half an hour before I can get to you.”

“That’s okay.  I don’t mind waiting,” she told him as she settled into the last unoccupied chair in the waiting area.  The other patrons returned to their magazines or the ballgame on the television.  Joan did neither, but intently observed her barber at work.  She studied Andy’s technique as if she was a reporter doing research for a newspaper feature.  She knew there were other more up-to-date shops in the city, but she appreciated the old-time atmosphere of his building.  Somehow it seemed more appropriate.  The gleaming modern décor of the upscale establishments did not appeal to her.  If she was going to get a barber shop haircut she wanted to experience the real thing.

After thirty-five minutes Andy rang up another sale on the ancient cash register.  “You’re next,” he cheerfully called in Joan’s direction as his next to last customer headed for the exit.  She rose, walked over to the temporarily vacant chair, and climbed into its red leather embrace.  “How you been?” he inquired.

“Never better,” she assured him.

“Didn’t expect to see you back here so soon,” he remarked. 

“Well I thought I’d drop in and check up on my favorite barber,” she answered breezily.

“What did folks say when they saw your haircut?”

“Most of them were shocked,” she related.  “I’d worn my hair the same way for ages.  They had never seen it a different length.  But once they got over the surprise, most everyone said they liked it.”

“But not everybody?” he probed.

“Nope, it wasn’t unanimous,” she admitted.  “My boyfriend, for one, didn’t much like it.”

“You didn’t warn him?” he asked.

“No, I didn’t tell him.  He’s not a big fan of short hair on women.  The longer, the better as far as he’s concerned.  I knew he was going to be pissed.  I didn’t see any point in starting a big fight before I did the deed.”

“But you went ahead and did it anyway.  Good for you,” he congratulated her.

“Yeah, I suppose so,” she responded.

“You don’t sound so sure about that.”

“Well, I’m glad I did it, but I didn’t really expect that he’d get so bent out of shape about it.”

“He got mad that you cut your hair?  How stupid,” Andy commiserated.

“That’s what I told him, but that didn’t stop him from walking out the door.”

“He left you over a haircut?  That’s what I call a major overreaction.  Did he come back?”

“No, and I don’t expect him to.  That’s why I’m here today.”

“I’m afraid I don’t understand.  You’ll have to enlighten me.”

“The haircut you gave me a few weeks ago was sort of a compromise.  I hoped that Charles, my ex-boyfriend, could live with my hair at that in-between length.  I was wrong.  Now I’m back to have you cut it to the length I really want.”

“So what do you have in mind this time?”

“Here, let me show you,” she said as she reached into her pocket and pulled out a folded page torn from a popular magazine.  It was a photo of Kris Jenner, mother to the celebrity Kardashian daughters, sporting a sophisticated pixie cut.  Her dark hair was side-parted with jagged bangs swept across her forehead.  On the sides her ears were fully exposed and the hair on the back of her head was cut to a moderately short length.

Andy let out a low whistle as he examined the photo.  “Wow, this is gonna be another big change,” he exclaimed.  “Is this exactly how you want it?”

Joan paused for a moment.  “Well, her hair is a bit longer that what I had in mind.  Can you give me this same style, but shorter in the back?” she anxiously inquired.

“Yeah, I can do that.  It’s gonna look really good that way,” he assured her.  “If you’re ready, I’m willing.”

“Well, what are we waiting for?  Let’s get started,” she said impatiently.

Andy didn’t need any more encouragement.  “If it’s okay with you, Joan, I’m gonna use the clippers to get the length right in back.”

Joan had been looking forward to the delicious feel of the clippers for a second time, but didn’t want to appear over eager.  “Do what you gotta do, Andy,” she told him.  “I’m in your capable hands.”

The barber held his clippers in one hand and a comb in the other.  He approached Joan from behind, using the comb to lift a length of hair from the back of her head, running the clippers through the exposed hair, and sending a shower of auburn clippings falling to the floor.  Andy worked methodically, gradually reducing the length in back.  Joan felt the comb lifting the hair away from her head.  She listened to the clippers’ steady drone until her auburn locks were cropped nearly as short as the man who had occupied the seat before her.  Joan’s heart raced as she pictured bits of hair dropping from the clippers’ blades onto the white cape covering her shoulders.  She knew when Andy finished her appearance would be drastically altered for the second time in less than a month.  It was a prospect she found dee
ply arousing.

Andy paused to examine his unfinished masterpiece.  The hair that had hung to Joan’s collar in one even length was now neatly tapered.  It was cut to half an inch at her hairline; a clean line separated her dark red hair from the pale skin of her neck.  Closer to her crown it was about two inches in length.  But both of them knew there was more work to be done.

The barber stepped in front of the chair, blocking Joan’s view in the mirror.  “Now we’ll give you some bangs,” he informed her.  Without waiting for a reply he placed his comb several inches above her forehead and pulled a thick curtain of hair down across her face.  Joan’s vision was obscured by the auburn veil that fell nearly to her chin.  Andy placed his scissors level with her eyebrow and cut straight across, dropping four inch strands into her lap.  Then he stood to one side allowing his client to scrutinize the newest addition to his creation.  “I left them a little long,” he told her.  “If you like I can come back and cut them shorter when the rest is done.”

Joan said nothing, just stared straight ahead into the mirror.  The bangs Andy cut were full and luscious, the kind you might see on a high fashion model.  She marveled at her barber’s talent.  He was as skilled as any of the stylists at her old salon.  She never expected to encounter a hairdresser with such a gift in a barber shop. 

She was still admiring her marvelous new bangs when Andy stepped to the side of the chair.  “In the picture her ears are uncovered.  Is that what you want?” he inquired.

“Yes, do it exactly like the picture,” she instructed him. 

Andy resumed work immediately.  Lifting the hair covering her right ear with his comb, he used the clippers to slice away several long strands until it was no longer hidden.  In another minute her left ear also was visible.

Although the major cutting was now done, Andy busied himself making minor alterations with his scissors, combing and snipping Joan’s shortened hair until he was satisfied.  For a final touch he used small clippers to trim around her ears and down her neck.

For a finishing touch he massaged a handful of gel into her head and brushed Joan’s tresses into a nearly perfect replica of the photo she handed him half an hour earlier.  “There’s two ways you can wear this style,” he informed her after putting his implements down.  “Parted down the middle with the bangs straight down or side-parted with the bangs brushed back like in the picture.”

Joan pondered her unfamiliar reflection in the mirror.  “I like the way you did it,” she told Andy.  “I believe I’ll leave it like this for right now, but it will be nice to have another way to style it for variety.”

“And what about the bangs?” he asked.  “I can cut them shorter if you like.”

“No, this length is good.  The contrast with the short back makes the style more interesting,” she observed.

“I agree.  It’s a very sexy look,” he declared.

Joan smiled inwardly.  She thought she detected more than the standard professional interest in Andy’s attention to her needs.  Now she had confirmation.  He was a tradesman, a far cry from the polished businessmen she usually dated, but she liked his open manner and his supportive response to her wishes.  He was no Robert Redford, but she had discovered good looks weren’t everything.

“Well then, I think we’re done here,” he announced as he removed the cape.  “You look absolutely marvelous.” 

“Andy, if you don’t mind, I’m curious.  How did you acquire such skill at cutting women’s hair?” she asked.  “I never expected to get a great cut like this in a barbershop.”

“To be honest, I started out studying cosmetology; my dad was against it.  He said I should stick with barbering.  I was the only guy in the class.  I soon realized that a straight male didn’t have much future cutting ladies’ hair so I went in with my old man.  I still keep up with the latest trends.  Once in a while I get a chance to do a lady’s haircut.”

“Thank you so much, Andy,” she beamed as she stepped down from the chair feeling like a new woman. 

Joan handed her barber three twenties again.  He was about to protest, but she stopped him.  “It was worth every penny,” she told him.  “This is the best haircut I’ve ever had.”  Then she stood on her toes and impulsively kissed him on the cheek.

When Andy recovered from his surprise he reminded her, “You’ll need to come back every five or six weeks for a trim.”

“I’ll look forward to that,” she said as she headed out the door.  Andy followed Joan’s shapely figure until she disappeared from view, already anticipating her next appearance in his shop.

Six days later Joan was back on the street.  This time she went directly to the cocktail lounge.  The place was busier than on her two previous visits, filled with office workers celebrating happy hour and the start of the weekend.  The bartender smiled a greeting as she settled onto a vacant stool at the bar.  “Back again, I see,” he began.  “Got yourself another haircut.  Very attractive,” he observed.

“Thanks.  I’ll have Chivas on the rocks,” she replied.

He lingered after pouring her drink.  “It’s none of my business, I know, but it looks like you’re working on another big decision.  Perhaps I can help,” he offered.

“Yes, perhaps you can,” she answered.  “You see, I’m thinking about getting a different haircut.  I want your honest opinion.”  She extracted a photo from her purse and slid it across the bar.  “Would you date a woman who looked like this?” she asked.

The picture showed a side view of a stunning Asian model.  Her short black hair stood straight up from her head; the top was cut horizontally, forming a perfect level surface.  The sides were clipped extremely close to her scalp, revealing white skin beneath a layer of dark stubble.  Six silver studs decorated the outer edge of her exposed ear.  The defiant expression she wore seemed to proclaim, “Forget your outdated notions of feminine beauty.  I’m a modern woman and proud of it.”

The bartender examined the woman and her haircut for a moment.  “Wow.  This is some hot chick,” he exclaimed.  “I’d date her in a New York minute.”

“Thanks.  That’s what I needed to know,” she told him.

“You planning on getting your hair cut like that?” he inquired.

“Yes, I’m considering it,” she admitt
ed.

“I sure would love to see that.  If you do it, will you come back here to show me?” he asked.

“Sure, I can do that.  You’ve been very helpful.”

Joan quickly finished her drink, paid her tab, and headed for the door.  “Don’t forget what you promised,” the bartender shouted over the happy hour din.

“You’ll be the first to see,” she declared.

It was nearly closing time, when Joan strode through the barber shop door dressed in a neatly tailored suit that was the uniform of successful corporate women.  It looked like she would be Andy’s last customer just as she had planned.

“Back so soon?”  Andy said by way of greeting.  By now they were good friends, having shared the intimacy of two major makeovers.  “Unhappy with your haircut?”

“The haircut is great, but it’s not what I wanted,” she explained as she climbed into the chair.

“I thought you liked the Kardashian look,” he said as he draped the cape around her shoulders.

“I do like the look,” she insisted, “but it’s not original.  The more I thought about it, the more I realized that what I’m seeking is something unique; a look that will set me apart from other women my age.  I never noticed before, but it seems that half of them have a cut like this.”

“So you want to go shorter still?” he guessed.

“That’s right, Andy.  It took a few days to get my courage up.  I like what you did last week, but I want to try something shorter.”

“The customer is always right; that’s what I always say.  What did you have in mind this time?”

“I’ve been doing some research.  Here’s what I found,” she said, withdrawing a picture from her jacket pocket, the same one she showed the bartender.

Andy carefully studied the photo.  “Now that’s what I call an outstanding flat top,” the barber exclaimed.  “Never saw one quite like it.”

“Neither had I until I came across this photo.”

“It’s pretty extreme,” Andy observed.  “You sure you want me to cut it this short?”

“Well, maybe not shaved on the sides, like she is, but I love the top.  Can you do it?”

“Sure, no problem,” Andy assured her.  “I do a cut like this for some of my male customers.  Never tried it on a woman before.”

“Do you think I’m crazy, Andy, for wanting my hair cut like this?” she asked.

“Nope, not at all, Joan.  Just need to be one hundred percent certain this is what you want.  If you don’t like it there aren’t many options except shaving your head or wearing a wig.”

“You think I’ll look good with my hair cut like this?” she asked.

“Why are you asking me?  It sounds like you’ve made up your mind.”

“Well, I have and I haven’t,” she answered. 

The perplexed look on the barber’s face demanded further explanation.  “Yes, I have made my decision, but I value your opinion.  If you tell me not to do it, I will listen.”

“Joan, you’re putting me in a difficult position.  Speaking as your barber I must warn you if you walk out of here with your hair cut in a flat top a lot of people are going to think you’re a lesbian.”

“That doesn’t bother me.  I’m asking you because I’d like to hear a man’s opinion.”

“Well, to be honest, a lot of guys are turned off by a lady with her hair cut like this.  These are guys like your former boyfriend who believe all women should wear their hair as long as Lady Godiva.  But there also are plenty of men who get turned on by the sight of a babe with a terrific hairstyle.”

“And which one are you, Andy?” she asked provocatively.

Her barber blushed but said nothing.  She knew where he stood.  “Okay.  That settles it.  Let’s get started,” she declared.

Andy sorted through the attachments scattered on the shelf behind the mirror until he found the one he was looking for.  “I’m going to start with a number two guide on the clippers.  If you want to go shorter we can always try another one.”

“What’s a number two?” she inquired.

“It’s a guide that fits over the clipper blades.  It will leave only about a quarter inch of hair when I’m done.”

“You’re not going to use that on the top?  The top should be longer than that,” Joan said with alarm.

“No, certainly not.  I’ll only use number two on the back and sides.”

“Okay.  Go ahead.  I’m sure you know what you’re doing.”

“Thanks for that vote of confidence.  Now I want you to bend you head down so you’re looking at your belly button.”

Joan did as she was ordered.  Andy placed the clippers on her neck below the hairline and drove them up into the dark red hair he had styled only a week before.  She sat motionless as he plowed a deep furrow more than half way toward her crown.  Joan felt an electric jolt course through her body more powerful than in either of her previous haircuts.  She closed her eyes and tried to visualize what her head would look like shorn so close.  Andy worked slowly; somehow he sensed that his daring customer wanted to savor every moment.  After six or seven passes he had reduced the hair on the back of her head to an auburn pelt, but he went over the shortened sections again to prolong her pleasure.

“Now to trim the sides,” he said as he gently lifted her head with a finger under her chin.

Joan opened her eyes and smiled at her barber.  She didn’t need to thank him with words.  Her blissful face radiated both enjoyment and gratitude.  Andy placed his instrument in front of her left ear and guided it into her sideburn and up to her temple.  When he began a second cut around her ear she saw for the first time how severely short he was mowing the flawless locks she had lavished so much care on over the years.  “This is what you wanted,” she told herself.  “Hang on and enjoy the ride.”

Andy removed the hair around her left ear and shifted his attention to the right side where he repeated the procedure with practiced, deliberate moves.  Joan continued gazing straight ahead, mesmerized by the spectacle unfolding in front of her.  She watched as her barber sheared away the dark covering that encircled her other ear.  Both ears were small and nicely shaped; she was thankful for that.  She made a mental note to purchase new earrings to signal her femininity now that her hair was cut as short as a man’s.  Perhaps she would acquire some addi
tional piercings like the fearless model in the photo.

At last the barber rested his clippers.  “Time to do the top.  First I’m going to soak it and brush your hair back off your face, then I’ll cut it.”  Joan felt no need to respond to his comments.  Being a passive hostage in this drama suited her state of mind.  She had initiated this voyage, but now she was perfectly content to let Andy carry her to the other shore. 

Andy circled his white-caped victim directing a mist of water into the remaining long hair on top of her head.  Joan couldn’t help chuckling at the ludicrous image she beheld in the mirror.  With a mop of drenched longer hair above and hardly any below, her head now resembled a shaggy mushroom.  She knew she must endure this humiliation to attain the look she desired.  Still, she prayed that Andy would move a little faster on the next and most critical stage of her conversion.

While she contemplated her current comical condition Andy approached with his scissors in hand.  It seemed as though he heard her silent plea.  “Time to get rid of some of this length,” he said as he ran his fingers through her hair to capture a long lock which he sliced off two inches above her scalp.  Andy casually tossed the severed hank of hair to the floor and reached for a second helping.  The flurry of cutting continued for a few minutes.  When he stopped the top of Joan’s head was a ragged thicket of damp tufts.  The severed remnants of her stylish Kardashian cut lay scattered across the floor, trampled beneath Andy’s sturdy shoes.  Most women would have shed copious tears at the sight of this disaster, but Joan continued smiling in anticipation of what was coming next.

Andy exchanged his scissors for a stiff brush and began vigorously stroking the remaining longer hair atop Joan’s head.  He brushed the bangs straight back off her forehead revealing a well-defined widow’s peak.  Joan understood that it would be uncovered in her chosen hairstyle.  “Better get used to it,” she told herself.  Andy continued brushing until her shortened hair was slicked back close to her skull, resembling the haircut favored by mobsters in the Roaring Twenties. 

Next Andy aimed a blast of hot air from his blow dryer at the top of her head.  As he brushed, her hair acquired more height and volume.  Joan realized he was preparing for the climax of her haircut—the flattened top as she had requested.  Her barber took his time, trying without much success to maneuver Joan’s auburn locks into an erect posture.  Finally he shut off the power and announced, “I think we’ll need some spray to keep your hair going in the right direction.”  Joan had always avoided hairspray, hating how it stiffened her hair, but today she accepted his decision without complaint.  For better or worse, Andy was calling the shots.

He sent the spray into her hair while coaxing it upright with the brush.  He circled the chair slowly as Joan endured his efforts, never taking her eyes from the drama unfolding in front of her.  She watched in amazement as her hair took on a shape she had only imagined.  The top of her head now resembled a thick shag carpet.  All of her hair was pointed toward the ceiling, but its surface was a far cry from the precise level plane worn by the woman in the photo.  She knew there was more work ahead.  Joan fervently hoped that she would look half as sexy as the bold Asian model when Andy finished.

“Now comes the part you’ve been waiting for,” Andy announced like he was the emcee at a beauty pageant.  “Joan, honey, you’ve got to sit real still while I the top.  One false move and your haircut is ruined.” 

She wondered why he told her this since she had barely budged for the past half hour. Still, she felt the need to answer.  “Aye, aye, sir,” she responded in a mock military salute.  “I won’t move an inch.”  

Her barber approached with his clippers buzzing.  Joan saw he had removed the plastic guard.  The gleaming blades were aimed at the top of her head.  Tingling energy streamed through her limbs as Andy directed the polished steel at the rigid surface of her vertical hair.  She swallowed hard and gripped the arms of the chair. 

Andy concentrated on the challenging task of creating the dramatic flat top Joan had requested.  The casual attitude he displayed a moment before disappeared, replaced by a stern, serious countenance.  Joan’s smile also vanished.  She concentrated on the image in the mirror, afraid to miss a single moment of her transformation. 

Andy held the clippers in his right hand and steadied them with his left, expertly guiding them across the top of her head.  His first pass subtracted a barely noticeable trace of Joan’s auburn locks.  As he continued gently carving the top he seemed to gain confidence.  Gradually he lowered his clippers deeper into Joan’s upright hair, removing larger amounts with each stroke.  Joan sat spellbound as he leveled the surface of her upright hair.  Fine auburn clippings now littered the cape shielding her shoulders, but she paid no attention to them.  Her eyes were fixed on the remarkable flat top emerging on her head.  When Andy stopped no more than an inch of hair remained.

“There, that’s about the same length as in the photo,” he told her.  “Now to work on the sides.”

Next Andy used his clippers and comb to carve two vertical walls on the sides of Joan’s head.  He held the comb at a 90 degree angle from the top and buzzed off any hair that protruded between its teeth.  Before long the two sides intersected with the horizontal top to create a sharp squared silhouette.  The effect was stunning.  There was nothing soft or feminine about the look, but he could see that Joan was delighted. 

The barber stepped back to let his customer study his finished work.  As she viewed her radically altered appearance a look of amazement crossed her face.  She reached her hand out from beneath the cape and tentatively touched the sort hairs on the back of her head.  Then she reached for the top, running her palm across its level surface.  It was a marvelous feeling.  “Why did I endure long hair for so many years?” she thought.  “I’m never going back.”

The silence continued for a minute more.  Finally Andy spoke up.  “Well darlin’, what do you think?  Did it turn out the way you wanted?”

“Andy, I don’t know what to say.” 

The barber began to apologize.  “I’m afraid it doesn’t look quite the same as in the picture.  Your head has a different shape and your facial structure is different too.”

“No Andy, you don’t understand.  This is the most remarkable haircut I’ve ever seen.”

“That’s a relief.  For a moment I was afraid you were upset with me.”

“On the contrary, I think you’re a magician with those
clippers.  I came in here looking like thousands of middle-aged women.  Now you’ve given me a cut that can’t be matched.”

Andy removed the tissue from around her neck and shook out the cape.  Joan reached for her purse.  “This one is on the house, Joan.  It’s been my pleasure.”

“Nonsense mister,” she rebuked him.  “You are a skilled professional and deserve to be compensated for your work.” 

She thrust a hundred dollars into his fist.  “This is much too much,” he protested. 

“It’s as much as I would have paid in my old salon for a much less satisfactory haircut,” she told him.  Joan stepped closer and wrapped her arms around his neck.  “I love my haircut and I love my barber too.  This is a very special day for me.  We need to celebrate.”

“I really should clean up in here,” he objected.

“That can wait.  I know a place just around the corner where the booze is strong and the lights are low.  And you’re coming with me.”  She grabbed his hand and pulled him toward the door.  Andy shed his smock, locked the door, and joined her marching down the street.

As they walked an unmistakable smirk spread across Andy’s face.  “What are you grinning about, mister?” Joan demanded.

“I’m thinking of a line from my favorite movie.”

“What’s that?” she replied.

“Remember at the end of ‘Casablanca’ when Bogart says, ‘I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship?’”

“Funny, I feel the same way,” she said squeezing his hand more firmly.

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