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? 2003 by emmie dee

Phillip, my three-year-old, was so busy squirming that I didn?t notice the sign at first. It wasn?t until Ernie the barber swooped Phillip up and flew him like an airplane to the board across the big barber chair that I saw it. It was an old-fashioned wooden sign, with dark green lettering against a maize background. ?Special?First Lady?s Head Shave Each Day Free.? It jolted me. I touched my own light brown hair nervously. Did he mean it to intimidate, to unsettle? Or was it an insensitive attempt at humor? Surely not Ernie. The old Italian barber was among the gentlest men I?ve ever met. He had a way with children, that?s for sure. I had thought that a haircut for a toddler would rank right up there with a trip to the dentist for screams and tantrums. But Ernie had a way with kids. It had been so for years. Ernie looked about sixty. He had been my husband?s barber since Matt was a kid. Matt had insisted that when Phillip got old enough for haircuts that he go to Ernie, and as a stay-at-home mom I took my son on weekdays to keep our Saturdays free for family fun. It was an old-fashioned shop, very masculine, and I always felt just a little odd in there. A few women did come in from time to time to get their short hair styles trimmed, but I knew that I would stick to Laurie my beautician. So why was the sign there, anyway?

Since there were other customers in the shop, I didn?t ask. But I asked Matt when he came home. ?I haven?t the foggiest,? he said with a chuckle. ?I don?t think that he meant to make you or any other woman in the shop uncomfortable.? Matt is a gifted woodworker and cabinet maker. We met at a club a little over four years ago, when I was a junior in college. We had hit it off immediately, maybe a little too much so, as I became pregnant before the end of my junior year. Matt, four years older than my twenty-four, didn?t cut and run. We didn?t get married because we ?had to,? as they used to say, but we were both sure that we loved each other and wanted to provide a stable home for our child. Even though he never went to college, Matt insisted that as soon as Phillip was old enough to go to school, that I would return and finish my degree. ?So,? he said, with a twinkle in his grey eyes, ?are you thinking of doing it??

?Shaving my head? No! Of course not! That?s why the sign is so weird. What woman in her right mind would want to do such a thing?? I asked.

?Just kidding,? he reassured me. ?I know that you?re too conventional to do anything like that.?

Anger sparked within me. ?Too conventional? Am I too conventional for you? What do you want? For me to look like a tart? A bald tart??

?No, no,? he said, putting his hands in front of his face as if to ward off blows. ?I love the way you look right now, which is the way you?ve always looked since you hit puberty, from the pictures I?ve seen. You look great. If you wanted to take a chance and try a different look someday, though, that?s okay, too.? I paused at his remark. I like looking nice, and I?ve always felt comfortable being one reasonably attractive girl in the crowd. Trying on some bizarre look, being countercultural, had never been an option. If I tried a Goth look, for example, my mom would have killed me, and maybe I have too much of my mom still working inside me.

My face screwed up in puzzlement. ?Don?t you care how I look? You wouldn?t mind if I came home from Ernie?s today with a bald head??

?I probably would have laughed, to tell you the truth. But if you liked it, that would have been okay with me. Then I would have hugged you and loved you and kissed you right here.? His six-four frame leaned down and I felt his lips on my hair?s middle part. A little chill ran up my spine. ?Go ahead and ask Ernie sometime,? he said. ?I?d be interested to know. It?s a college town, so I guess that there?s always kids that want to experiment with their hair. Heavens knows that I did when I was in high school.?

?You did?? I asked. ?Were you a skinhead or something??

?I did get my head shaved once, and it?s quite an intriguing experience?I imagine it would be for a girl, as well. You know that I would never have been a skinhead politically. It was fun to see what I looked like without hair.? He rubbed his hand through his thick, gently waving brown locks.

?So how long were you a bald guy?? I asked.

?Just a few weeks. It was too high maintenance to keep it going.? Funny, I thought. I don?t spend a huge amount of time on my hair, compared to many women, but I hadn?t assumed that it would take much work to keep a bald head bald. I asked him about that. ?To keep it smooth and looking good takes daily shaving,? he explained. ?That takes more time than running a brush through my hair.?

A few weeks later, we were at the playground, watching Phillip attack the swing set. I asked Matt again about his experimentation with his hair. ?My mom?s a bit more casual than your mom, as, you might have noticed,? he told me. ?A lot more casual, in fact. She felt that it was my hair, and I could do whatever I wanted with it. Mom said that experimenting with hair was a lot better than experimenting with drugs. She?d laugh sometimes when I came home with something strange, like my blue Mohawk, but it wasn?t mean. She just thought it was funny. If I still had photos from those years, you?d laugh, too. Short, ultra-short, long, dyed all sorts of colors, just about anything you could imagine on a boy. I took a lot of kidding at school, too, but I was big enough that nobody wanted to bully me about it.? Matt?s parents? home had burned a few years before he met me, and all his pictures from his childhood were lost. What a shame.

?So are you going to have the same attitude with Phillip?? I asked.

?Sure. Hair?s hair. Hair or no hair is just a harmless form of self-expression.?

?Even if he grows it long, down to his belt, or gets dreadlocks??

?Yep,? he nodded. ?I?d hope that he he?d take care of it and keep it clean, but the style will be up to him.?

?Wow,? I said. ?You and my mom are from different planets. It?s a good thing she lives in Michigan.? After that conversation, I wondered. Maybe I should have tried something a little different about my appearance. I?d never even dyed my hair. An image of a frizzled perm from when I was twelve came up in my memory banks, though. That disaster, as much as my mom?s uptightness, made me a little leery about experimenting. I wanted to turn my thoughts away from that and back to Matt. ?So,? I asked. ?With all your crazy hairstyles, did you ever try a perm? You might look cute with tight little curls.?

?Actually, I never did,? he responded. ?I had thought about it. Once I let my cousin Teddi go after me with hot rollers, but I guess that I always was a little afraid of the beauty shop atmosphere.?

?You? Afraid of a basket of pink hair rollers?? I teased.

?Not really afraid, just uncomfortable.? He explained. ?Like you were at the sign in Ernie?s barber shop. Tell you what, though. If you decide to take Ernie up on his offer, I?ll get a perm, then we can both laugh at each other.? We laughed at the mental image.

The next time I took Phillip to the barbershop, the place was empty except for Ernie and us. I asked him about the sign. He said, ?It?s just a special, like it says. If you?re interested, you?d be the first one of the day,? he winked.

?No!? I almost shouted. ?Sorry,? I smiled. ?Just the thought of it makes me nervous. Do you ever have any customers for your, uh, special?? Phillip was enjoying a toy bin in the corner, and we were both reluctant to take him away from it.

?Actually, yes. Two young ladies. Both college students,? he explained. ?You know how college students are, some of them, anyway, without much money. These two are like that. They have fun with their shaved look, and I enjoy cleaning them up. How do you say, a win-win situation? And I think, who knows, it might become a fad, and I?d have a whole new clientele. My brother Fred is a sign maker, and after I told him about these girls, he came up with the idea of the sign. I told him about the girls, and said that I wouldn?t mind shaving them for free, but didn?t want them to feel bad about it, like they were taking charity or something, you know what I mean?? I nodded and asked him to tell me about them. ?The first one, a pretty little thing like you, but without such pretty hair, came in a few months ago with her boyfriend. She?d been teasing him about his hair and how he always fussed over it, and he hopped up in the chair and asked for a head shave. You can imagine how surprised we both were when after he was done, she hopped up, too, right in that chair, and asked for one, too. I tried to talk her out of it, but that was what she wanted. She enjoyed it, let me tell you. They both kept the look. Then another girl on the campus who had shaved her own head one evening got talking with the first girl. She recommended me. So now I have two customers. They come in once every week or two, and won?t leave until I send them out slick as a whistle.?

?Do they dress strangely, too,? I asked. ?Are they like some of the kids I?ve seen with the black clothes and tattoos and piercings??

?Not really,? he said. ?Just normal college uniform?jeans and tee shirts or sweat shirts. The one girl?the one who had shaved her own head on the spur of the moment and decided that she liked it?has a little nose ring, and the other has maybe three little hoops in each ear, but not crazy, no.?

?Just normal bald girls, huh?? I asked with a quizzical expression.

?Pretty much,? he shrugged.

?So that sign?s just a way of being nice to them.?

?Partly,? he smiled and shrugged. ?Like I say, it?s win-win. I enjoy doing it, or I wouldn?t offer to do it for free. There are some guys out there who would like to shave a woman to express dominance, or to hurt them or humiliate them. Not me. I?d never do it against somebody?s will. It has to be win-win.? Another customer came in, an elderly man, and Phillip was getting restless, so I thanked Ernie and left.

My curiosity satisfied, I didn?t think too much more about it. Then one day at a discount store I saw a young woman about my age with the sides of her head shaved to stubble, and a short crew cut on top. It was unusual, but it looked good on her. I remembered all those visits to Ernie?s shop, watching the clippers mow through the hair of his various male customers, and wondered how they would feel.

Laurie, my beautician, was trimming my shaggy locks one day, and so I entertained her by telling her about the sign and Ernie?s explanation. ?Hmmpf. Bad for business,? she said. ?Just teasing?there?s plenty of hair to go around. And Ernie would do a very good job on a head shave. Just promise me one thing.?

?What?? I asked.

?If you decide to take him up on his offer, come see me the day you have it done. I?d love to see what you?d look like. It would look good on you, I think,? she said in a matter-of-fact manner.

?You can?t be serious!? I said, my brows furrowed. ?Why would I ever do that? I just thought it was, well?unusual.?

?I am serious, dear,? she said. ?You?ve been thinking about it a lot, or you wouldn?t have told me about it in such detail. And I just wanted to let you know that if you decided to, it was okay with me. Ernie would do a better job with that particular haircut than I could, but if you were more comfortable with me doing it?.? I was getting very nervous that this was the lady snipping away at my split ends.

?No! I just thought it interesting, that?s all!?

?Right,? she said, grinning. ?Really interesting. I heard someone say?maybe she was a feminist or something?that every woman should shave her head once in her life, just to show that she wasn?t a slave to fashion or being quote pretty unquote.? Or being conventional, I thought, like Matt accused me of being.

To my relief, she finished my hair as I had requested it.

One day the next week, after a long day of heavy housework and lugging around poor little Phillip?he had some bug that left him limp and droopy?my neck was stiff and aching. Matt noticed my hunched-up posture and after supper he massaged my shoulder, neck, and scalp. It felt great. That night, I dreamed that the massage was continuing, and that gentle hands were rubbing my scalp, and I was feeling great! Then, still in the dream, the person rubbing my scalp moved into my field of view. It wasn?t Matt, it was Ernie. He had clippers in his hand. He set them down and held up a hand mirror, and I saw my bald head reflected in it. The strange thing was, I was delighted. I woke up smiling. Matt?s words came back to my memory. ?Hair?s hair. Hair or no hair is just a harmless form of self-expression.? But I was a young mother and a wife, not some silly college girl. Still, that morning, when I was brushing my hair, I set my brush down. Looking into the mirror on the medicine cabinet, I pulled my hair back as tightly as I could, squinting my eyes out of focus, wondering what I would look like. Always I had assumed that a woman?s hair was an essential part of her self-image. Without it, could a woman consider herself attractive? Those two college girls did. But would I? After Phillip became old enough to go to school, I would start back into the work force. There wouldn?t be a better time in my life to do it, would there? Would it turn Matt on, or would it turn him off?

The next time Phillip was ready for a haircut, I jokingly asked Matt over his scrambled eggs, ?Should I get my hair cut at Ernie?s too??

He looked confused for a second. ?Why would you want to do that?oh, you mean the free haircut, like on that sign you told me about. Maybe not today?I have too much work to do, and I?d like to watch. Not that I really think you?d do it,? he grinned wickedly.

?Who knows?? I shot back. ?Maybe I?ll do it the same day you get that perm.? We both laughed, knowing that they were both unlikely events. They probably would have remained so had I not emailed some digital pictures of Phillip to his grandmothers. My mom sent back an email that said, among other family stuff, Phillip looks very nice in the pictures, dear. He looks very mature in his big-boy haircut. It?s too bad that Matthew doesn?t take much care in his own appearance, and you don?t either. I was afraid that would happen when you left school to marry a tradesman. You will never achieve success in this world without adhering to good grooming standards. No matter how creative Matthew is in his carpentry, his shaggy hair will mark him as someone who is not a person of quality. You should try harder, too, to use a little more makeup and to keep your hair stylish. It always looks a bit disheveled. I?m only saying this because I love you and want you to succeed. Appearances are very important. You are constantly judged by them. I was furious. Matt was going to have his own shop one day, and we were already better off than many of those who finished college. Appearances! That?s all she thought about. And I had accepted her judgments as law through all my growing up years. Sometimes I could take Mom with a grain of salt, since I knew that she grew up poor and had worked very hard to get an education and to raise her status in life. But that was her war, not mine. I deleted the message without showing it to Matt, then I made two phone calls

The next day, Matt had most of the day off work. They were doing major electrical work at the shop, so there wouldn?t be light or power for the work. He needed to fine-tune some cabinetry at a construction site, which would only take a couple of hours. ?Meet me at Ten at the fountain in the boulevard by the shopping area,? I said. ?And bring the video camera. And keep the rest of the day free. You won?t regret it.? He looked at me curiously, but he didn?t ask any questions. I dropped Phillip off with my neighbor Phyllis. ?I?m going to go get my hair cut,? I said. ?Something shorter, I think.?

He pulled up shortly before Ten. ?It?s too chilly for you to dance naked in the fountain,? my husband said as he gave me a quick hug.

?Nope, we?re going over here to Ernie?s,? I said.

?Is my hair getting too shaggy?? he asked as we neared the door.

?No, mine is. And this one will be on the house. Ernie promised me.? I laughed as his jaw dropped. Ernie opens at Ten, and usually worked the slow morning hours without help from the other barber. Only the three of us were there. ?Let?s go for it, Ernie,? I said, ?Once Matt here is ready to tape. Give me that free haircut you advertise.? Ernie obliged by snapping a large plastic gown and pinning it around my neck. Then he stuffed tissue around the edges to keep falling hair from getting in my clothes. And a lot of hair was about to fall.

?One free head shave coming up,? he said with a smile. ?Would you like to donate the hair to charity??

?What good would that do?? I asked.

?It?s over a foot long, for the most part, and so it can be used to make wigs for children who experience hair loss,? Ernie explained.

?Great idea. Yes. I?d love to give my hair away,? I said, trying to sound cheerful and brave. I was scared to death, but didn?t want to show it. Yes, I was trying to rebel against my mother?I guess I?m a late bloomer, becoming a teenage rebel at 24. But that was just the final straw, because Laurie had been right. I had been obsessing about it. The idea had both repelled me and fascinated me from the start.

Ernie?s voice interrupted my thoughts as he was arranging his clippers and combs.
?Tell you what,? he said. ?Since you want to give your hair to charity, I?ll give you a nice pixie cut, maybe two inches long, or even a buzz cut with, say, number six head on the clippers. It would still be free.? It was an out, and I appreciated him for offering it to me.

?Why go that far, and not all the way?? I asked. He smiled and nodded.

I heard the pop of the clippers starting, and saw that they had no plastic guard on them. This was definitely going to be no crew cut. My husband was ready with the video camera, as I faced him and the shop window beyond.

?Wait!? I said. He lowered the clippers. ?Could I watch?? Ernie turned the big soft chair around so I could see myself and my light brown hair. It had been blond as a child, and darkened to its present color by the time I hit double digits. Ernie paused while Matt relocated the camera. What was I doing? I wondered. Why was I doing this? Isn?t it totally out of character for me? But no, not many women had the courage?or was it stupidity??to do this, and I had to do it for my own sake. I felt Ernie gently lower my head, then lift my hair from the nape of my neck, and felt the clippers warm buzz as they made a path up the back of my head. It had started. I quivered a bit, both in fear and excitement. Would he shave the entire back of my head first? I wondered. Yes. Another path, then another. It didn?t feel much different from that scalp massage in my dream. A little more intense, and a little more ticklish, as the separating hairs trickled down the back of my neck. Ernie was catching most of them, though, and laying them aside. He was working slowly and carefully, and now the clippers were moving up behind my ears, again to the crown. I had wanted to watch but still couldn?t see much. Would the crown hair that he had lifted to the top of my head cover the shaved area if I quit now? Why was I even thinking that? ?Okay, let?s give you something to watch now,? Ernie said as he lifted up my bangs and guided the clippers up the middle of my head. He didn?t stop until he reached the shaved area in back. My scalp was pale. I giggled. If I had black hair, I would look like a skunk now. Another pass, then another, and the only hair I had left was from my temple up to my occipital ridge?now I had gone from a skunk to a clown. But the clippers did their work, picking up tiny missed patches here and there, and I could see my head, uncovered for the first time in my life. It was nicely rounded and my ears were well-proportioned. Not bad, I thought. Strange, but not bad. I reached my hand up to feel. I had thought it would feel smooth like a pelt, but it was too short. Not rough, but not smooth.

?What do you think?? Ernie asked.

?Interesting,? I said. ?It?ll take some living into, but I enjoyed it and I like it now.?

?We?re not nearly done yet,? he said. ?Ernie will make it smooth as a baby?s behind.? He pulled a hot towel out of a drawer and wrapped it around my scalp. ?This will make the hairs stand on end, so I can shave them off even shorter. It will feel good. Very relaxing, my customers tell me.?

?You?re not laughing,? I said to my husband. ?You said that you might laugh if it looked funny, but that you would still love me.?

?You look way different, but way sexy.? He smiled broadly. ?I heard that some men get turned on by female baldness, and I think that I?ve entered that group. You?re beautiful.? I blushed and looked down. Ernie took the towel off my head, I heard a wooshing noise, then he came to me with a hand full of shaving cream. Matt went back to the camera as the barber covered my scalp with warm, bubbly lather.

?Now this part only Ernie can do,? he said, opening a small old display case on a shelf. ?This was handed down to me through my family.? It looked like a prop from a western movie, his hand around a handle with a long sharp unguarded blade emerging from the side. ?Don?t worry. I only use this on special occasions, and I never nick.? He made a show of stropping it on a leather strap. ?Most men I shave, either beards or head, I just use a safety razor. If your husband wants to keep you shaved, he should only use a safety razor. But I?I am a barber of the old school.? The blade moved into the foam above my eyes. I could feel its resistance as it sliced the tiny hairs that had remained from the clippers, but it didn?t hurt. It was sensual as the clippers had been, but in a different way. With each pass, he would flick the foam?and my hair stubble?into the sink and wipe the blade. This was a man who knew what he was doing. After a few moments of watching, I just sighed, closed my eyes and relaxed until he put the razor down and wiped my bare head with a small towel. My hair had been near enough the color of my skin that I couldn?t see any shadow?just a smooth, slick scalp. I was surprised when he lathered me again and moved the razor in different paths to get me even cleaner.

?Wow! That was quite an experience!? I said as he unpinned the cloak.

?At your service,? Ernie smiled. Come back each week and I will keep it trimmed nice and smooth like this.?

That surprised me, as I had assumed that when the little hairs came up from their follicles again, I would let them keep on growing. It surprised me more to hear my own voice saying, ?Maybe I will, Ernie, maybe I will.?

As we stood up to leave, my husband ran his hands gently over my head and said, ?So, what?s next on the agenda??

?Remember what you said about you being turned on?? I asked. ?Let?s go home and do something about it. But after lunch I intend to buy a wig, because when I?m out in the crowds I might like to look ordinary again. Since I like this look more than I thought I might, I may want to keep it for awhile. And at two, you?re coming with me to Laurie?s.?

?Laurie?s? Your beautician? Why?? he asked, a puzzled look on his face.

?Remember you said that you would get a perm if I shaved my head? She?s going to fill your hair with little pink rollers, add goop, and cook it until you?re cute and curly. You told me about your spirit of adventure with your hair, now you get to prove it.? He looked a bit nervous, but just nodded and said okay. ?I?m going to tape it. And we?ll take some digital frames and email them to my mom. She had emailed me and told me that our hair was too unkempt. And she certainly can?t say that now, can she??

Then I looked back and grinned at the sign. ?Special?First Lady?s Head Shave Each Day Free.?

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