I met Barbara when we were both 24 years old. We had both gotten MS degrees in Computer Science. She had gone to Notre Dame. I went to MIT. We both started working for IBM as software developers in upstate New York after graduation. All the new developers had to take a six week class right away. There were five MIT grads in the class and we hung out together a lot; going for lunch together most days and going hiking or taking excursions back to Boston on the weekends. Besides Barbara, the only other woman in the class was Anne. Anne was an MIT grad and part of our little clique. As the only two women in the class, Anne and Barbara became friends quickly. Soon Barbara was lunching with us and tagging along on our weekend outings. No one minded. Barbara was a smart attractive woman. Very good company.
It didn’t take long for Barbara and I to begin dating. We had both been involved with student theatre in college. As class was winding down I got up the courage to ask her if she’d like to take the two hour train ride into New York City that weekend to see Shakespeare in the Park. She accepted. Soon we were officially a couple in love. Sharing weekends hiking or exploring the City.
Barbara was the most attractive woman I had ever dated. Her most striking feature was her curtain of chestnut hair that, on those few occasions when she let it hang like a cape over her shoulders, flowed several inches past her waist. It fascinated me that she wore it in a little different style almost every day. Parted this way or that, pinned back or hanging loose, braided into a thick rope hanging down her back or tied into a neat bun at her nape.
But from the first time I saw that mane, and every time I saw it, I imagined it getting cut off. A thousand different ways. I imagined her sitting in my bathroom saying “I’m sure… just cut it all off." I pictured her in her own bathroom hacking it off herself. I saw her in a harshly lit barbershop, sitting calmly as the clippers transformed her. A crewcut in a barbershop. All those marvelous locks sliding down the cape onto the shiny tile floor. That was my favorite daydream.
I kept this to myself, of course. I loved Barbara and I would never ask her to do something she didn’t want to do just to indulge my private fantasies. As often as I mused about her begging me or some stone faced barber to relieve her of her mop, I knew that it was unlikely to ever happen. Someone who spends 24 years cultivating an extraordinary mane of long hair isn’t going to part with it lightly.
Not only did I keep my fascination with her hair (or I should say the shearing of her hair) to myself, I avoided any mention of her hair at all. I was worried that if the subject came up I might blurt out “why don’t you chop it off." Even if I could keep the conversation to a polite “your hair looks nice today" I feared that I would blush or pant or something and give myself away. I was very proud of myself that, even after we had been dating for several months, the subject had never come up.
That all changed one evening when we were having dinner at our favorite Chinese restaurant. We had just sat down when something caught my eye. Bringing food to a table off to my left was a waitress I had never seen before. She had her back to me and all I could see was her thin build and her short shinny black hair. When she turned a little I got quite a shock. It was the same mid-thirties Asian woman who had been working there since we started eating there, but the braid that had always bobbed down around the small of her back was gone. When I realized it was the same woman, minus a few feet of hair, I couldn’t control my double take turning into an intense stare. Barbara noticed my reaction and followed my gaze to the newly cropped waitress.
“Oh my, she’s cut her hair short," Barbara commented.
Her eyes turned back to me as I tried to regain my composure. “Yes, I think you’re right," I muttered half heartedly, trying to fake an air of nonchalance.
There was a long pause as Barbara seemed to be concentrating on something. “Ike," Barbara said, “do you like short hair?"
“That haircut looks nice on her." I said.
“No, I mean in general, do you prefer short hair on women?"
Now I’m starting to squirm ,“Well... Uh… on some women they do look pretty cute, I guess."
She sensed my unease. “You’re a very kind man, Ike. You always compliment me on my outfits, my jewelry and my perfume, but you’ve never mentioned my hair. Other men I’ve dated have gone on and on about how much they like it. Do you like short hair better?"
Now I’m feeling very uncomfortable. Not only do I need to mask my obsession, I have to reassure the love of my life that I find her dazzling beautiful. And, in spite of myself, I can’t help thinking that this is the kind of conversation that could lead to something very interesting.
“Your hair is very beautiful, but yes, I do find short hair… well… provocative" I said.
She laughed, “what on earth does that mean?" Good naturedly she pressed me “I guess that means you DO like short hair."
I decided to just try some honesty. “Yes I do. I know most men go nuts over long hair, but for some reason I’ve always found very short hair a bit of a turn-on."
“Really" she said. Mildly surprised. “So would you like me to cut my hair short?"
“Yes, I’d like that. But like I’ve said a million times, you are stunningly beautiful. You know you don’t have to do anything that drastic to turn me on."
She thought for a moment. “I’m sure that’s true, but still, it might be interesting to try something different. I’ve never had short hair. When I was in high school my best friend got her hair cut short. I thought it looked great. I said that to the guy I was dating at the time. He nearly got on his knees and begged me to promise I’d never cut my hair. That kind of spooked me. After that I never gave it much thought."
Right about then the waitress with the erstwhile long braid walked by our table. Barbara stopped her.
“Excuse me miss," Barbara said, “your new hairstyle looks very nice."
The waitress broke into a broad smile. “Thank you very much ma’am."
“I’m thinking about cutting my hair. Do you mind if I ask who cut yours?"
“That’s an interesting story ma’am," the waitress replied. “I had taken my son to the barber at Pine and Main for a haircut. While he was getting his hair cut, my 18 year old daughter asked the barber if he ever cut women’s hair. He said yes, as long as they wanted something very short. I wasn’t sure if he was serious but he pointed to some snapshots of women’s haircuts taped on the wall that I had never noticed before. My daughter decided on the spot to get her hair cut. I told her she should give it some thought. Her hair had never been cut and it was much longer than mine. The more I warned her the more she wanted to do it. When my son was done she climbed into the barber’s chair and pointed to one of the pictures. It seemed like it was only a minute before her hair was gone. I had to admit she looked very good. Very good, but very different. When she got out of the chair, she said I should go next. I had never had short hair before and never really considered it. But, seeing how nonchalantly my daughter had given up her long hair I thought that it probably wasn’t all that big a deal. I knew if I thought about it too long I’d chicken out, so I sat myself in the chair and just told the barber too please not make me look too much like a boy. In ten minutes it was done."
Barbara started to say something, but a waiter brought out a tray bound for one of the waitress’s table and she quickly excused herself to serve it.
“How about that," Barbara said half to herself, “a woman can step into the barbershop at Pine and Main and ten minutes later her hair isn’t even two inches long."
I mumbled something and as the meal continued the conversation turned to other matters. The subject of hair didn’t come up again for a few weeks. That year my birthday, which is in late May, fell on a Sunday. Barbara and I decided we would take off the following Monday and spend a long the weekend hiking in the Adirondacks to celebrate. When I asked if we would plan to leave on Friday evening or Saturday morning, she replied nonchalantly “Let’s leave a little later on Saturday morning, I’m going to go to that barbershop on Saturday morning when it opens and get my hair cut. It’ll be a treat for your birthday."
This alarmed me a little. “Barbara," I said, “if you like your hair long, don’t cut it for me. I’d feel terrible."
“I’m not cutting it for you. I’m cutting it because I want to, and I think that’ll be a good day for it. After we talked to that waitress I thought about it a lot. I’ve always had long hair. When I was small I had two older brothers and my long hair made me feel girly, especially in the summer when they had to get buzz cuts. But I’m grown up now and I have a boyfriend who likes short hair, so it’s time to crop the mop" she said laughingly.
“Well," I said, “as long as you promise not to be mad at me, it will be quite a treat."
That was about three weeks before my birthday. I decided not to bring the subject up again so as not to seem over-eager. I also didn’t want to put any pressure on her if her resolve was wavering.
On the Friday before our trip we had lunch in the IBM cafeteria with Anne, who had become Barbara’s closest girlfriend. Barbara was telling her about the hike we had planned. Anne asked why we weren’t leaving until Saturday.
Barbara told her “On Saturday morning I’m going to get a haircut. A short haircut. I want to do it at the beginning of our long weekend so I have a couple days to get used to it before anyone sees it besides Ike."
Anne seemed shocked. “Are you kidding? Why would you cut your hair?"
Barbara hesitated for a moment. “I was eating at China Garden a while back," she said, “and there’s a waitress there whose hair was nearly as long as mine. She got it cut really short. I thought it looked great. It got me thinking that, being that it’s Spring, it might be a good time to finally cut off my hair. So tomorrow morning before we leave I’m going to the barbershop at Pine and Main and get my hair cut"
“A barbershop!" Now Anne was almost raising her voice. “Why would you even think about that?!"
“That waitress I told you about mentioned that she got her hair cut there and the barber doesn’t make a fuss about cutting off a lot of hair. And it makes sense that a barber would be the place to go for a really short haircut."
“What does Ike think about that?" Anne asked.
“Like all men, he loves long hair," she lied, “but I’m sure he’ll get used to it short."
“I couldn’t imagine myself with short hair. I only get mine trimmed when I absolutely have to." Anne confessed. I knew this to be true. When I first met Anne at MIT I was attracted to her long hair. It was red and thick. Unlike Barbara, Anne had never worn her hair any differently in the five years I had known her. She just let it hang to the middle of her back and got an inch or two trimmed off a couple times a year. We dated a couple times in school, but Anne was very religious, which made me uncomfortable.
“By tomorrow he will probably talk you out of it." Anne insisted. “I’m sure you’ll come to your senses and chicken out. Call me tomorrow when you do. It will drive me crazy if I don’t find out until Tuesday."
“If you’re up early," Barbara said, “you can come to the barbershop and see for yourself. I’m going to be there when he opens at 8:00 so we can be on the road by 8:30. If you don’t come I won’t be calling. I’m not going to chicken out. That reminds me Ike, pick me up at 7:45 tomorrow."
Then Barbara excused herself. She said she had a meeting to go to, but Friday afternoon meetings were pretty rare at IBM at that time. I got the impression that Anne’s reaction caught her a little off guard. Maybe she was having second thoughts or flashbacks to her high school boyfriend’s horror at the very thought of her casting off her extraordinary mane. Whatever was going on I decided to keep my distance until the morning. We had been camping many times and I knew her routine was to spend the evening preparing and go to bed early.
Needles to say, I didn’t get much sleep that night. I could have been at Barbara’s at 7:15 but I parked a few blocks away and read the paper for a half hour. I pulled in the driveway of the duplex she was renting at 7:45 on the button. Before I made it to the door to ring the bell she was out of the house. I popped the trunk on my Accord. She walked around behind the car and threw her backpack and sleeping bag in. When her backpack came off I saw an amazing sight. Barbara’s long hair was loose and unadorned. Freshly washed and still slightly damp. As I’ve said, I could think of three or four dozen different ways she had worn her hair in the year or so I had known her, but I had only seen it parted in the middle and hanging loose down her back a hand full of times. I had forgotten how extraordinary it was. I’m an engineer, not a poet. I don’t think I could hope to do justice to what a beautiful sight it was to see Barbara’s hair in all it’s glory glistening in the morning sun. It reminded me of O’Henry’s description of his long haired heroine… “her beautiful hair fell about her rippling and shining like a cascade of brown waters. It made itself almost a garment for her."
If she did want to chicken out I was going to make it as easy as possible. At this point I felt a very odd mix of excitement at the possibility of seeing Barbara’s mane sheared by the local Barber and the fear that, in my excitement, I might lose my composure and embarrass both of us. I was half hoping she would say “Yes" when we settled into the car and I asked “so, will I get right on the Thruway?"
“No," she responded tersely, “you know we’re going to the barbershop first."
“Barbara, you know…" I began.
“Philip," she broke in, “I’m getting my hair cut this morning because I want short hair. My brother Kenny called me last night. I mentioned it to him and he went ballistic. You would have thought I was getting my tongue pierced or something. Well, it’s the 21st century and it shouldn’t be such a big deal for a women to change her hairstyle."
I said nothing but silently let my eyes follow the thick stream of shimmering hair down from her face all the way to where the ends curled up in her lap. I slowly brought my eyes back up to meet her gaze.
“Let’s go," she whispered.
“It looks like a gorgeous day. I think we’ll have a great weekend." I said with a broad smile as I put the car in reverse. “I’m sure we will." She agreed, returning my smile.
“By the way," I continued, “I’m very curious, why did you tell Anne I wanted you to keep your long hair."
“I wouldn’t want anyone to get the impression that you pressured me into cutting off my hair," she said, “or that I did it just to please you. That’s such a small part of it."
It only took about five minutes to get through the town’s three traffic lights. When we arrived at the strip mall at Pine and Main we were the only car in the parking lot. The “CLOSED – Please come again" sign still hung in the door of Mr. Lo’s Family Barbershop. I had started to strike up a conversation about the new tent I had bought when another car arrived and parked near the street, far from the store fronts. A short Chinese man walked across the parking lot, unlocked the barbershop, went inside and turned on the lights. Barbara followed him with her eyes intensely. I gave up on my small talk as the barber straightened up the shop and turned the CLOSED sign around to say OPEN. Barbara opened her door and started towards the strip mall.
She hadn’t gotten two steps away from the car when another car parked next to us. Anne got out quickly. “I can’t believe you guys are actually here" she said. Barbara gave her a calm “Good morning" and resumed her confident strides. I could see Anne pause to take in the beauty of Barbara’s unfurled hair.
Anne realized that Barbara was leaving her behind and started off quickly to catch up. I broke into a jog and we all made it to Mr. Lo’s door at the same time. As we stepped through I could see that Mr. Lo was a kindly looking man in his 50s. He was standing behind the barber chair with a cloth cape over his arm. “Good morning Sir," he said to me “may I help you?" Barbara responded instantly, “you can help me, I’d like a haircut."
Mr. Lo seemed rather confused and began a stammering “well… uh." I could see some concern creep across Barbara’s face. “I’d like to get all my hair cut off, very short. I was told you could help me with that." Mr. Lo’s face brightened instantly into a reassuring smile “Oh certainly," he said, “I will cut your hair as short as you like." Then he gave a strange sideways glance in my direction and added softly “maybe even a bit shorter." Does he share my interest in short hair, I wondered.
“You can have a look at these pictures if you want to get some ideas," he said pointing. Six eyes followed his finger to a couple dozen photos of short haired Chinese women cut from magazines and taped to the wall. The three of us crowded around.
Anne quickly focused on the one with the longest hair. A chin length bob. “That looks good," she suggested to Barbara.
“Do you really like that?" Barbara asked.
“Yes. Something simple like that shows off a women’s hair," Anne explained.
“I don’t think so," Barbara responded, “I’m looking for something much shorter." She scanned the photos until she found the shortest hairstyle, a pixie similar to Winona Ryder’s when she was in her short hair phase. “That’s it," she said, poking it with her finger, “what do you think Ike?"
“That’s practically a crew cut. You know how I feel about that," I said, feigning exasperation for Anne's benefit.
Barbara smiled broadly for the first time that morning, appearing energized at having made the choice of what her new look would be. “Could you do that for me?" she asked Mr. Lo.
“Yes ma’am," he said.
“Great," she said confidently, meeting his eyes, “I’d like that haircut… Maybe even a bit shorter," she added.
Anne couldn’t contain herself. “Barbara, that’s so short," she exclaimed.
“That’s the point," Barbara said, as she got comfortable in the old fashioned barber’s chair.
Over the next 10 minutes Mr. Lo proved that he was a master at chopping off hair. The second Barbara was in the chair he went to work.
“I can’t believe she’s going to cut all that hair off," Anne muttered to me as we watched Mr. Lo set about his task.
“Neither can I," I agreed.
In a single motion Mr. Lo gathered up Barbara’s tresses and pulled them from between her back and the back of the chair. He let them go so they flowed behind the chair, hanging more than half way to the floor. He grasped the cape from over his arm and opened it up with a sharp snap. He placed it over her shoulders and chest so she was covered all the way to her shins. He stepped behind her and effortlessly moved the mass of hair around in front of Barbara so it fell into her lap. This allowed him to fasten the cape and smooth it over the back of the chair without interference. Then he grabbed a large brush and with a few strokes splayed the hair out so it covered both of Barbara’s shoulders and hung like a curtain down her back.
Mr. Lo stepped back and paused for a second as if making sure that he had not overlooked any requisite preparation before moving on to the next phase of his task. Once satisfied that all was in order, he fetched his scissors.
Anne couldn’t help herself. “Please don’t," she mumbled softly, half to herself.
Mr. Lo shot her a confused glance. “Maybe you should wait outside," Barbara said in annoyance. “I’m sorry," Anne apologized, “I really hope it turns out great," she concluded, obviously making a concerted effort to sound sincere.
Barbara’s gaze went back to the mirror. As Mr. Lo turned his attention back to the task at hand, Barbara had a last few moments to take in the beauty of her long silken hair, knowing that this might well be the last time she would ever see herself with the long hair that had set her apart for her entire life. Mr. Lo seemed to sense a trace of apprehension in her intense stare. “Miss, are you ready?" he asked softly. “Yes," she replied confidently, “please cut it off."
As the saying goes, she didn’t have to tell him twice. He opened the scissors wide and brought them even with her right ear lobe. She would tell me later that the loud crunching took her by surprise as the shimmering mass began to slide to the floor. In a matter of seconds Mr. Lo was behind her and the curtain of hair that covered the back of the chair dropped gracefully away as his shears traversed behind her nape. Soon he was attacking the hair that covered her left shoulder before moving on to amputate the last long locks at her left ear lobe.
The whole process couldn’t have taken half a minute. I savored every second.
Barbara gazed steadily at the short mop of hair that now barely covered her ears. Mr. Lo snatched up a spray bottle of water and doused Barbara’s new crop with its mist. Then he set to work with scissors and comb. I wasn’t aware of how much hair Barbara still had until Mr. Lo began snipping off chunks of it. In just a few more minutes Barbara’s transformation was complete and her new pixie emerged.
When Mr. Lo removed the cape, Barbara couldn’t resist running her fingers through her new do and smiled in approval. “Now that’s a haircut," she said.
“What do you think?" Barbara asked me.
“It’s a lot shorter than I expected," I replied with a wry smile.
“It looks great," said Anne, not very convincingly,
“Really," said Barbara, “you like it after all?"
“Absolutely," said Anne seeming eager to reassure a friend who she imagined to be traumatized.
“I’m very glad Anne, because you’re next," Barbara said forcefully.
Both Anne and I gasped. Nobody saw this coming.
“What?" Anne stammered.
“It’s Spring Anne, time for a change," Barbara explained. “Take it from me, a real haircut is very refreshing. You said you liked the bob in the photo on the wall. Have a seat and let Mr. Lo do his thing. It’s on me. Today’s the day."
“I don’t think so," said Anne.
“So all that about the bob being ‘something simple that shows off a woman’s hair,’ was just to talk me into a haircut you wouldn’t ware yourself?" asked Barbara peevishly.
“Of course not," said Anne, “if I were going to cut my hair I’d probably go with something like that, but I like my hair long." Then, seeing a way to diffuse Barbara’s arguments, she tried a new approach, “I think we need a neutral opinion. If Ike thinks I should cut my hair, I’ll let Mr. Lo have at it."
Clearly, she was expecting me to come to her aid and tell her she should never think about parting with all that long red hair.
Barbara seized the moment. “That’s a very good idea," she agreed. “Ike, do you think Anne should keep her long hair or get it cut?"
I hesitated for a moment. I knew Anne did not want to cut her hair. But why is she fussing around and quibbling with Barbara? Then I thought, she’s an adult, she’s not going to do anything she doesn’t want to do, so why not play along with Barbara and see where it goes. It sure would be great to see Mr. Lo let loose on Anne’s gorgeous red hair.
“I think you should cut your hair Anne." I said. “Barbara looks great, what have you got to lose?"
Anne was stunned. “You think I should... cut... my... hair," she stammered. “You liked Barbara's long hair but you think mine should get cut?" She asked, with more than a hint of betrayal.
“I just think it would be nice to see you with a different hairstyle after all these years," I explained. “I'm sure it will look nice no matter how you wear it."
The best way to describe Anne’s reaction was dazed and confused. I’m sure she was certain I’d be horrified at the thought of Mr. Lo snipping away all that hair. She stood blankly trying to figure out some appropriate retort to my unexpected declaration.
Barbara had seen it coming though and immediately put her hands on Anne’s shoulders and began nudging her towards the chair. Before Anne quite got a grasp of the situation she was standing besides the chair. Barbara turned to Mr. Lo and said “My friend would also like her hair cut off. Please give her a bob like that" as she pointed to the picture on the wall.
“Yes Ma’am," he replied, snapping the cape.
Now was the moment of truth for Anne. Of course, I’m not sure exactly what was going through her mind, but she silently took the last step and sat in Mr. Lo’s chair. He never spoke a word to Anne as he simply set about the task of shearing her long hair as methodically and efficiently as he had relieved Barbara of her mane. In a moment the cape was on and Anne’s hair was draped over her shoulders and behind the barber's chair. When Mr. Lo Picked up his scissors I saw Anne’s eyes move from her own image in the mirror to meet Barbara’s gaze. Barbara gave a reassuring smile and nod as the long red locks began sliding away from the snipping scissors into Anne’s lap. By the time Anne thought to look back at Mr. Lo’s progress, the hair covering her left shoulder was being sheared away, leaving it uncovered like her right shoulder. She looked intently at Mr. Lo’s scissors as they cut through the last long locks that hung eight inches below the chin level on her left side.
Once Anne's long locks were dispatched it was only a matter of seconds before Mr. Lo had the style cleaned up into a perfect bob (it made me wonder how fancy salons could charge hundreds of dollars for the same style). Now, I may be prejudiced, but it looked like a great haircut to me. Anne had the oddest expression on her face. It was as if she couldn't decide if she should be mad about being talked into cutting off her long hair or thankful for being encouraged to get an attractive new hairstyle.
“That looks great," Barbara chimed in.
“It is nice," Anne agreed half heartedly, “but it's so short."
“Once you get used to it you're going to love it," Barbara opined.
Anne noticed the copious mounds of hair littering the floor. Barbara's yard of chestnut tresses now covered by her own treasured russet locks. She poked at it with the toe of her sneaker. “That was a lot of really nice hair," she observed. “It seems like a loss."
“Nonsense!" said Barbara, having none of it. “We were both in a rut. We should have done this years ago."
“I don't know," said Anne, unconvinced.
“Well I do," said Barbara, turning her attention to Mr. Lo, who had just rung up the cash register. Barbara paid him and added a generous tip before we all found our way out to the parking lot and the cool morning.
In spite of taking time to instigate Anne's unexpected shearing, Barbara and I were still on the road by 8:30. We had a great weekend and have had many more since then. It was also not the last time Barbara put herself in Mr. Lo's hands, or the last time we introduced a reluctant young woman to the joys of a Mr. Lo makeover. We have had many more hair adventures which I expect I will enjoy sharing in the years to come.
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