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I used to think being a drug dealer’s girlfriend was little more that one long party. Free drugs as far as the eye could see, an endless succession of friends in and out the door always with a line on the next great event, expensive dinners, and no price was ever too high for a great pair of shoes or a designer purse. It was stupid of me to think that the other shoe would never drop.

It never occurred to me that Sef would disappear from the lives of his clients the way so many others had disappeared from mine before me. It certainly never occurred to me that I would have a price to pay in all of it. I was truly blind.

It all started one day in the middle of May. Sef had been talking for months about some bullshit science fiction movie that he was dying to see. Being the dedicated girlfriend that I was, I tracked down some free screener passes for him. Ever the big-shot, Sef went and bragged at nauseum to every one of his clients about some high-up industry contact he had cultivated. Like an ass, Sef proceeded to tell every single one of his shady associates when and where he’d be for roughly two hours one fateful evening. He set himself up.

Sure enough, when we returned home that evening, our front door was swaying open, and it quickly became apparent that we had been “juxed” – as Sef and his clientele put it.

Our place had been thoroughly cleansed of any and all valuables – including what Sef assessed to be $400,000.00 worth of cash and product.

All that would have just been devastating, but most of that money and product was actually fronted to Sef by a profoundly wealthy, very powerful, extremely dangerous man. What seemed, on the surface devastating, was in fact the end of our lives as we knew them.

Before I had even fully registered what had happened, Sef began sprinting around the house, stuffing what few personal effects remained into his army duffel bag.

“Baby, move! Get your toothbrush! Get your make-up, underwear, anything you can find! We got to get the fuck out of here! This shit is no joke!”

“What? What do you mean? Where’re we going?”

“I don’t know yet, but we have got to move quick.”

So away we went in Sef’s Escalade. Paranoia had swept over him, and it wasn’t anything like the subtle paranoia he had long suffered from. It wasn’t a fear of phone taps or narcs swinging by to pick up a bag. That, he could always brush aside in favor of turning a profit. This was profound. This was not going to pass.

Just before we crossed the county line, Sef pulled into a strip mall parking lot.

“Baby, we got to disguise ourselves. People all over the place know us, and it won’t be long before Tremont’s boys realize we skipped town.”

“Sef, honey. I hate to tell you this, but it’s eleven o’clock at night. there aren’t too many boutiques open at this hour. Just calm down.”

“This is no time to calm down. I don’t know what you know about selling weed, but there isn’t insurance for this kind of shit. We just cost a very bad man a whole lot of money, and he’s not getting it back. Far as he’s concerned, we aren’t victims here. We’re the thieves, and he makes examples of thieves. What I’m saying here, Jessie, is that we are in some deep, deep shit, and it’s going to take some extreme shit to get out alive.”

It was then, as I looked out across that lonely strip mall parking lot taking in the gravity of our situation, that I saw the one pale, fluorescent storefront still glowing. My heart sank. My eyes drifted into the hypnotic spinning of a candy-striped pole.

I stroked my long, blonde hair. I thought about how my pony tail snapped against my buttocks as I jogged every morning. I remembered how soft and silky it felt between my fingers as I pulled it out from under my shirt every morning. I almost cried as I thought about it pooling up over Sef when we fucked. I longed for all those times I made an entrance and could feel men’s eyes search me up and down. I’m a beautiful girl at my very peak, and my hair is just as key to that as my abs, breasts, ass and legs.

Sef’s choice of the word, “extreme,” echoed over and over in my head, and I snapped.

“No.” I was resolute. “No, Sef, this is you’re fucking mess. You told all those shifty, junky, motherfuckers where we were. You gave them the opportunity to do this shit! Why the fuck should I pay for that? This Tremont guy doesn’t even know who I am! What the fuck do I even have to do with any of this? You’re the fucking loser!”

“You’re right. I fucked up, and I’m sorry for that, but you are part of this. Even if Tremont doesn’t know about you now, he will soon, and you don’t want to be left behind when that happens.” For the first time in our relationship – if you could call it that – I could see sincerity creep into Sef’s eyes.

“Fuck you. How could you do this to me?” I cried.

“Baby, let’s just get safe, and then you can punish me for being such an ass.”

“So what’s your plan?”

“A haircuts, and a shave for me. Then we find a drug store for some hair dye.”

As we made our way across the vacant parking lot, I studied what I could see of the barbershop’s interior. It wasn’t just a barbershop. It was a black barbershop. As I got closer and closer, I started to make out the pictures on the wall. First, I made out Frederick Douglas with his distinctive white hair. Next, was Dr. King, and finally – someone I had never heard of – Toussaint Louverture. Then I started to make out pictures of corn-rows, fades, high tops, and caesars. I started to perk up, as it occurred to me that maybe cornrows would be enough to abate Sef’s fears.

Sef opened the door with a pronounced jingle. To my surprise, the place wasn’t entirely empty. There was an old barber, sitting in the chair and another older man on a bench seat. They roared with laughter as they watched some old sitcom I’d never seen before. Suddenly, silence fell over the place as the two men realized we weren’t part of the regular late night crowd.

“Can I help you with something, kids?” inquired the barber.

“The highway’s three blocks that way, son,” added the other gentleman.

“Actually, we can for some haircuts and a shave.” Sef stepped forward confidently.

The two men peered over their respective spectacles at Sef. Then they took in an eyeful of what I had to offer.

“Her too?” asked the barber.

“Her especially.” My heart jumped up into my throat when Sef said that. I guessed corn-rows were out of the question.

“Hooo-weee! Sure am glad I came out tonight. This should be interesting,” exclaimed the old man on the bench.

“Never done hair on a hippie chick before. Never done hair on a girl before period, come to think of it. You all sure about this?” He looked right at me, and I reluctantly nodded.

“Alright then, who’s first?”

Sef took me by the hand and gently guided me into the seat. Before I knew it, I was lifted a few more feet into the air and caped. The next thing I noticed was that there were no mirrors in front of me. I’d have no idea what I was in for. I quivered wildly under the cape. I was cold. I was in shock.

“So, what do you want, young lady?”

“I, uh. I don’t know.”

Sef spoke up and said, “something her own mother wouldn’t recognize her in. Something dramatic.”

“Dramatic, huh? Let’s see.” The old barber made his way around me, picking up sections of my hair with his comb, inspecting every inch.

“Haw haw! Do her like that Selma Blair girl done herself! That’s dramatic!” My heart jumped right back up. I couldn’t swallow.

“You shut up, now, James. I’m gonna’ make this young lady even prettier than she already is. You don’t listen to anything he says, now, miss.”

Before I could say anything, Sef chimed in with, “Penelope.”

“Penelope, I’m gonna’ treat you right. Don’t you worry.”

With that, the man gathered up all of my hair and drew it back into a ponytail. I took a deep breath and struggled to gulp. CRIIIICH! CRIIICH! CHING! With that, hair all the weight was
gone and what was left cascaded down in front of my face. The ends tickled my lips. I pursed them out to try to feel the sharp tips.

“Hooo-weee, child! You sexy when you scared!”

“James! I told you once. You can go home if you’re gonna’ bother this young thing.”

“It’s okay,” I whispered. “I could use a cheering section right about now.”

“Penny, honey, you look beautiful.”

I dug deep for a fake name to saddle Sef with. “You be quiet, Wendell, or I’ll make my friend with the scissors give you and inverted Mohawk.”

“Hooo! Cat’s got claws! You hang on to this one, Wendell.”

The barber made his way around my head, snipping off a little bit here, and a little bit there. I could feel the hair lift as he lightened the load. It still cascaded over my face, and he parted it, clearing the way for me to see Sef.

The barber stood in front of me and gestured for Sef’s approval. Sef looked long and hard at me, and his eyes traveled all around my head. He cracked a smile.

“Not enough. I’d recognize her in an instant. We need something much more drastic. Something that turns her into a totally different person.”

“Miss?” The barber looked at me as if to give me a way out. I was afraid. I had to rely on Sef’s judgment.

“Keep going.” My voice wavered. My eyes grew moist.

The gentleman, continued to lift sections of my hair, snipping off now longer portions that slid over my shoulders into my lap. He made his way around to the front and with a few deft gestures, my hair no longer eclipsed my face. He went back around and I began to feel a chill from the fan in the corner of the room as I assume my hair began to stand up on its own.

There seemed to be nothing left on my collar. I could still feel hair over my ears and kissing tickling my eyelashes.

The Barber gestured again to Sef and his Cheshire Cat grin. He nodded in the negative, but this time he pointed above my head to one of the pictures over the mirror.

“Haw haw! I never seen a white girl go that short before, but, honey, face like yours, you’ll pull that shit off.” My cheering section wasn’t exactly helping.

“Wait one minute!” I jumped up to turn around.

“Penny! Relax. Sit back down. I told you this was going to be extreme, but it’s only hair. It’ll grow back. And you’re so beautiful, you can do no wrong. Just trust me, you’ll probably like it. I’ll probably like it. Just give it a shot just once.” Sef pleaded.

It was almost as though the haircut was more important than our circumstances. It was as though Sef had forgotten all about Tremont, and just desperately wanted me to get rid of all my hair, and I just didn’t care any more. I ran my hand up from the back of my neck to my crown. There was about a half an inch left back there, and about three on top. I have to admit, it was an exciting sensation. Butterflies fluttered around in my chest. I sat back down. And folded my hands in my crotch. I felt warm all over and it didn’t even occur to me to look back at my current appearance. It didn’t matter. It wouldn’t last long.

The barber returned to picking up sections of my hair in back. This time, I could feel how close the blades were to my scalp. The light tugging was more pronounced. So was the slight vibration as the scissors severed each individual hair. I closed my eyes, and the sensation became intoxicating.

It was like when I first started smoking weed. Sitting out on my boyfriend’s porch on a cool summer night feeling breezes roll over me like waves at the beach. As the fan oscillated, I was drawn back to those days. It occurred to me that I had been chasing that very high all these years, and here I was in a barber shop – of all places – finally recapturing those wonderful sensations.

CRRRRCH! CRRRCH! I marveled as the comb exfoliated my scalp. I lost all control as the scissors tugged at and released my hair only to leave me open to the cool night air.

Gradually, the barber made his way around my head, and up to the top, where his hand took over. His flat palm followed the comb up my forehead and his fingers closed on a plume of my hair. SCRRIIICH! About two inches of hair fell to my lap, and he repeated this action over and over until he made his way back to my crown. I thought it was all over, but I wanted more.

Suddenly, I hear a heavy click, followed by a steady whir. Those butterflies took a bump or two of some kind of wild amphetamine, and my heart jumped right back up, obstructing my swallowing.

The barber’s firm hand pressed against my head until my chin touched my chest. It was deliberate – violent – in the same way Sef used to grab my ponytail. It made me squeeze my hands a little bit harder between my legs.

Then the clippers touched down. It took everything I had not to jerk my head back, enraptured. I had no idea how much hair was being left in its wake. Once again, I didn’t care. He drew it all the way up to that crown of mine. He turned my head and repeated. Chills crawled up my spine as he made his way around one side, and then the other. Eventually, he made his way around front, and we shared a smile. His awkward. Mine was one of sheer, overwhelming joy. I was peaking and I hadn’t dropped a single tab of anything. I could barely contain myself as he made a series if short strokes at my hairline in front. He could have been shaving me bald, and I’d have thanked him for it.

Then, the man clipped a piece of plastic with the number “4” printed on it. With great care, he ran it over the top of my head. Starting at my forehead, and making his way to the back, and repeating as he made his way from left to right. Once he had covered every inch, it was silent again. I opened my eyes back up to see Sef looking on with an intensity I had scarcely ever seen in him.

Suddenly, the barber returned to my line of sight with a brush saturated with shaving cream. The scent was unmistakable. He applied it all around my hairline from one temple around the back to the other. I relished in the crisp sting from where the guardless clippers had raked my scalp.

Then I got nervous. I was looking forward to the velvety, soft bristles left in the wake of the clippers. He wasn’t going to take all that away, was he. I quickly had more pressing concerns, though. The barber drew out a long, sharp blade. Something almost medieval in origin.

“What the fuck is that?” I inquired.

“This, my dear, is what we in the barber profession call a ‘straight razor.'”

“What are you going to do with it?”

“I’m just going to clean up your hair line. get rid of all those little whipy hairs my clippers couldn’t get. Is that alright?”

“Can’t you just use a regular razor for that?”

“In 42 years, I have yet to see any safety razor that can come close to doing as good a job as this bad boy here. Trust me, I haven’t cut a customer yet.”

“You’re the pro.”

And he began. With short, deliberate strokes, he made his way down from my temple to what I once would have called, “my sideburn.” Then, with even greater precision, he rounded my ear. I could only have imagined how high he was going. I had no frame of reference to anticipate how this would look when it was all said and done. Gradually, he made his way to the back of my head where he was working much higher up than I thought he would. He was right up where my spine met my skull. at the top of my nape. Chills ran up my spine as he made much longer, graceful strokes down my neck.

Eventually, he made it back to the front, and with a smile, he brushed some more shaving cream across my jaw line, and my upper lip.

“Shave is on the house.”

In a flash, he whisked all the shaving cream off of my face. He brushed around my face and neck, and then he whirled me around to have a look at the new me in the mirror. Sef rushed to my side, and the old barber asked, “Well, my dear, what do you think?”

I drew my hand up, out from under the cape. I ran it up the back of my neck, and round my ear, exploring the smooth, bare flesh and the sharp bristles just to the no
rth. I brushed my palm over the crushed velvet on the top of my head. I roamed the gradual taper from nothing to under about a quarter inch at the very top in front. My thighs tightened around my other hand as I got uncontrollably aroused.

I marveled at how big and green my eyes seemed. Pride welled up in me over my graceful neck and jaw-line. My long earrings sparkled and chimed playfully as I turned my head to see the full picture. At that moment, I thought I’d never want another hairstyle so long as I lived. I’ve had a few others since then, but one thing that has not been matched is the high I felt as I got that first high and tight – a high that was quickly stripped away.

“So, what do you think, baby?”

“I like it. I love it. What do you think?

“Well, baby, that’s what I got to tell you.”

“What?” My mood evaporated. I saw that look in his face. That look he got when he’d just burned somebody.

“Baby, I have to tell you, I’ve wanted you to get your hair cut like this for a long time. I just didn’t know how to ask.”

“No, Sef. Don’t you say what I think you’re gonna’ say.”

“Baby, there was no break in. I set all this up. I knew you’d like it, but I knew you’d say, ‘No.'”

“Sef, you motherfucker. You didn’t know that cause you didn’t ask! You never mentioned short hair! You never even hinted at this shit! What the fuck were you fucking thinking! Sef! You better take a long, hard look at this haircut now, because you aren’t touching my hair or my ass until it grows out! That is, assuming we last that long, because I’m gonna’ need some loving soon, and I don’t think I’ll be getting over this bullshit any time soon enough!”

But I did. Not because I forgave him, but because guys who like a girl with a tight fade are almost as few and far between as the girls who wear them. ALMOST. And to those of you girls who haven’t ever gone out and had all their hair ritualistically removed by a trained professional. I highly recommend it. For my money, it’s the sweetest drug out there. It’s certainly a great bang for your buck.

Oh yeah, and guys. Talk to your damn girlfriends! If they don’t go for it, you can always pester them til they dump you. The silver lining there is: that just opens you up to meet the next girl who might just say, “yes.”

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