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The Auction – Don Wallbaum
The shout echoed throughout the house. In her room, Jennifer was carefully brushing out her hair, admiring the way the sheep placenta conditioning treatment added shine and suppleness to her near-ankle-length hair. The light from the window reflected blue highlights in her heavy black mass. It was, Jennifer thought, a truly magnificent part of her appearance.
Jennifer sighed and put down her brush. The credit card statement must have come in. Well, Dad could be handled, but it was Mom yelling now. Which tactic should she use? Innocence? Contrition? Rebellion? Denial? She thought rapidly. Try innocence first.
Jennifer swept her hair behind her shoulders and walked toward her mother’s thundering bellow.
“Yes, Mom?” she asked innocently.
“WHAT is THIS?” her mother demanded, shaking a credit card statement in front of her.
“Ummmm… a credit card bill?” Jennifer asked innocently again.
“$175 for a HAIRCUT?” her mother demanded. “And it’s no shorter than before you spent, young woman, one hundred and seventy-five dollars! For what?”
“Ummm… well, I did get it cut. Shane took almost a full inch off the ends. I thought it was too much myself, but he insisted that much had to come off. So I closed my eyes and stood there while he snipped….”
“You are telling me you put one-hundred and seventy-five dollars on our charge card to get ONE INCH of your hair cut off?”
“Well, ummm… see, Shane said my hair really needed more than a cut. It was badly out of condition. He has had wonderful results with a new conditioner just made for my problem, and well, it had made a wonderful difference.”
“He put ten cents of conditioner on your hair and cut off one inch and you rang up a one-hundred and seventy-five dollar bill?” her mother asked incredulously.
“You kinda seem fixated on the amount, Mom. If you understood what needed to be done to my hair…”
“Suppose you tell me what had to be done to your hair, and what was done for one hundred and seventy five dollars?” her mother fumed.
“Well, Shane said that long hair requires special treatment. Like Jane Seymour. The reason her hair looks so good is because of the same type of conditioning treatment that Shane offers. See, Shane explained it all. You just can’t wash, condition and cut hair. First he analyzed my hair testing for brittleness, and he said it was pretty brittle. Probably the smog in the air, he said. Anyway, the pH level was off too, and that was contributing to the brittleness. Then the free radicals were causing deterioration of the hair shafts, and some corrective treatment had to begin immediately or I was going to have some problems that were going to be expensive to correct later…”
“EXPENSIVE to correct LATER! What is one-hundred and seventy-five dollars?”
“Well, Mom, the card cleared OK, Shane made sure of that before the treatment began. And anyway, he is just introducing the treatment here in his salon, so he gave thirty percent off. And look at the difference!” Jennifer swung her cape of hair over her shoulder, fondling the silken strands.
“You will give me the credit card. Then you will go back to your room and stay there until your father and I have discussed this. Now go.”
Jennifer fished out the credit card from her jeans pocket and handed it over. She felt naked without that piece of plastic. Maybe she did go a bit overboard at Shane’s. But who could argue with thirty percent off? Jennifer was saving her parents money. Couldn’t her mom see that?
Meekly, Jennifer returned to her room and closed the door. Well, it could have been worse. She will be able to handle Dad OK. That blasted card statement hit sooner than she expected. It was probably a good thing she didn’t tell Mom about the follow-up appointment in four weeks.
Jennifer was summoned before her parents sooner than she expected. This was, she thought, either a good sign or a bad one, she couldn’t decide. Her eyes brightened when she saw her father seated next to her mother. Dad would take care of things. She breathed a small sigh of relief.
“We have decided you have no concept of money, work or sacrifice,” Jennifer’s mother said without preamble. “We have decided it is appropriate for you to pay us back, in cash, the money you ran up on the charge card for your hair. You may not borrow money from any of your friends or relatives. You may not make money illegally. You may sell anything you have, if you wish. But keep in mind if you do sell something we have bought you, we will not replace it. It will be gone until you yourself can buy a replacement. The bills are paid at the first of the month. That gives you one week to pay us $175. Until you pay us what you owe us, your credit card privileges are revoked. Any questions?”
Jennifer looked her best helpless look at her father.
“Daddy?” she asked plaintively.
“Won’t work kitten, not this time. Your mother is right. I’m to blame. I have spoiled you. It was my idea that you could use a credit card without supervision. I was wrong. What you mother said we both agreed to.”
“But Daddy! Where will I get $175 in one week?”
“That is now your problem. I suggest you go back to your room and start thinking.”
So that was that. Not grounded, as she had expected. Jennifer could always get out of a grounding. No time out, no involuntary servitude around the house. Cold hard cash was required. No IOUs, no straight As in trigonometry and French. No barter, no exchange. Welcome to the world, Jennifer.
Jennifer stole a glance around her room. She couldn’t sell her clothes, she knew. They were hopelessly out of date, some outfits more than nine months old. No value there. Her TV and stereo would certainly fetch the required money, but even Daddy gasped when she specified the models. Though she didn’t know the cost, she knew quality, and the quality in her electronics would not be cheaply replaced. Scratch the garage sale idea.
That left working. She could babysit, maybe get a part time job flipping burgers. But even if she worked full time, the minimum wage she would be paid wouldn’t cover what she owed her parents.
If she scored and sold a couple of grams of grass… but nope, Jennifer knew her parents would grill her about any source of instant money. While she had no scruples against dealing, setting up a laundry operation for the money would take longer than she had. Plus, once you got started, it was real hard to stop, and she really didn’t see herself as a dope dealer the rest of her life.
AKA, The Fixer.
Every school, every class had one. The person who could acquire, sell, scrounge, create anything if it turned a profit. Dolores the Fixer, the One-Woman Mafia. You owed Dolores, you paid. Big time. But, desperate times called for desperate measures. Maybe Dolores would accept a charge card. Worth a thought. She made the call.
“Dolores,” the phone said on the first ring.
Geesh, she sounds like a bank clerk for the mob, Jennifer thought.
“Dolores, this is Jennifer. I need $175 in one week.”
“Sure, no problem Jennifer. We haven’t dealt with each other before, have we? Well, the usual rates. Fifty percent per week, interest paid one week – exactly – after you pick up the money. No excuses. Pay off any time.”
“Uh, do you take charge cards?”
“Selling? Fifty bucks. Market is real soft now on cards. They get cancelled too quickly.”
“Uh, no, I meant as payment.”
“Payment! You mean traceable? Sweetheart, I’m not planning to give my profits to Uncle Sugar. Cash only dear.”
“I can’t get it,” Jennifer said glumly.
“Well, what do you have to hock?”
“Nothing, nothing at all.”
“Say, if you don’t mind my asking, how did you get yourself in this fix? Your parents are loaded. You don’t need a measly $175. You blow that on lunch.”
“I overspent getting my hair done. My folks want me to repay them. I don’t have a job, nothing I can sell for that amount. I thought maybe you could figure out something….”
“Hmmm… Well, Jennifer, usually I’m a cash-and-carry operation, know what I mean? But your case has some professionally intriguing aspects to it. How to get money to a girl that has everything but nothing? I’ll call you back.”
“OK, my number is…”
“I know your number. I know everyone’s number. Bye.”
The phone went dead.
Jennifer didn’t hear from Dolores for three days. While not panicking yet, Jennifer was getting close. Maybe, she thought, it was all part of Dolores’ gameplan. Well, in the intervening three days, Jennifer had come up with no idea how to raise the money. She had made her pact with the devil. Now to see if the devil could pay off.
Dolores slipped easily beside Jennifer as she was walking home. Jennifer turned with a start.
“God, you scared me. Where have you been? I’ve been waiting to hear from you!”
“Relax, it’s all arranged. We just need to agree on the terms. Now, I get cost plus fifty percent, plus fifty percent of all proceeds. My cut comes before yours. You are guaranteed your $175. Any questions?”
“What do I have to do?” Jennifer asked. “I’m not whoring or pushing.”
“Relax, it’s all perfectly legal. Not even immoral. In fact, you will have fun. Just come to my place 8 PM Friday. On time, don’t be late or you are screwed.”
“I said everything will be fine and legal. Just be at my place on time and everything is cool. You will be able to pay me and your parents off in two hours, and have something left over for yourself.”
“You will find out Friday. Just be there. Oh, and one more thing. Wash your hair Thursday night.”
With that, Dolores blended back into the street.
Jennifer’s parents had said nothing about being grounded. They didn’t say a word Friday when she said she was going out with friends. But the money was due tomorrow. Whatever Dolores’ scheme was, Jennifer knew she was totally committed to it. The six days had flown by. Try as she might, she had not be able to raise the money herself.
Jennifer turned onto Dolores’ street, and cursed. Not a parking spot to be found. She would have to park a couple of blocks over and walk. Suddenly, Dolores appeared next to the car.
“Pull into the garage. We will go in the back door,” Dolores commanded.
Jennifer glanced toward Dolores’ house and saw the garage door already opening. Jennifer pulled in and killed the engine. The door closed behind her.
“Everything is ready. Now, three words. Don’t screw around. Do as you are told, and you will get your money. Get cute, screw around on me, and you are toast, understand?”
Jennifer could only nod, as she fought down panic.
“Your hair is gorgeous. They will love it,” Dolores said smiling.
A smiling Dolores. Now Jennifer was scared.
Jennifer, her arm firmly clamped by Dolores, walked in the back door, through the kitchen and downstairs to the family room – which was filled to bursting with people. Some she knew from school. Some she knew from around town, many she didn’t know at all. The babbling talk slowed to a halt as all eyes turned to watch Jennifer and Dolores walk down the stairs.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to tonight’s auction,” Dolores said to the crowd. “Many of you know Jennifer, some don’t but it doesn’t matter. All you need to do is take one look at this magnificent mass of hair falling down past her knees. Never been permed, never been colored, never significantly cut. If you are lucky, ladies and gentlemen, you will see hair like this maybe one other time in your life. But when you do, remember, you won’t be able to cut it. You will be looking at it. Only here, ladies and gentlemen, can you bid on the right to cut this incredible, lustrous black hair.”
Shock ran though Jennifer as the realization hit. She tried to turn and run, but Dolores had anticipated that reaction, and clamped firmly on her arm, pressing a nerve on the inside of her elbow, causing Jennifer to gasp with sudden pain.
“Don’t screw around,” Dolores hissed in Jennifer’s ear. Keeping her hand firmly clamped on Jennifer’s arm, Dolores steered Jennifer through the crowd toward the center of the room. There, Jennifer saw an old-fashioned barber’s chair, barber’s cape and a variety of haircutting supplies – combs, scissors, electric clippers…. a straight razor.
“The bidding will now start. We are offering two feet, twenty-four inches of this incredible mane. Who will be the first to sink scissors into this head of hair. Your hand can chop off two feet – TWO FEET of hair! The bidding will start at $50.”
Jennifer stole a quick glance at Dolores and saw she was falling easily into auctioneering.
“Fifty, fifty, fifty Ihavefifty doI havefiftyfivefiftfive, thereisfiftyfive, doIhavesixty….” Dolores intoned.
Seventy-five dollars. Two feet of Jennifer’s magnificent mane went for seventy five dollars. Jennifer watched a boy she knew in chemistry grinning as he placed the money on the table beside Dolores.
“Two feet, not an inch more,” Dolores warned, handing him the scissors.
Dolores indicated a place below Jennifer’s hips where the cut was to be made. The boy grabbed her hair, bent down and hesitated. Then Jennifer heard the sound of shears sawing hair. Shhhi-shhhi-shhi…., finally, shhiK as the blades bit through. Triumphantly, the boy held the two feet of sheared hair aloft for the crowd to see.
The room rocked with cheers, yells and applause.
“More, more!” someone yelled.
“Alright. Now, two MORE feet! Starting at $100, do I have one hundred, one hundred and Ihaveonehundredhere, nowten,one-ten,one-ten,one-tenhere,one-twenty…”
One hundred seventy-five dollars her hair went for. A man in his mid-thirties, with an enormous bulge in his pants walked awkwardly forward to place his cash on the table.
“At the waist, not an inch shorter,” Dolores ordered sternly.
The man took the offered scissors, then picked up a comb and started combing the thick mane, gently working toward the bottom, then going to the top of Jennifer’s head, watching the hairs flow through the teeth.
“We don’t have all night,” Dolores prompted.
“I’m paying, I cut when ready,” the man replied sternly.
He put back the comb and picked up the brush and started stroking Jennifer’s hair. If Jennifer weren’t terrified into paralysis, she could have enjoyed it.
“Cut, cut, cut!” the crowd yelled, stamping their feet.
“Cut, cut, cut,” the crowd yelled, clapping their hands.
“Cut, cut, cut,” the crowd yelled, stamping feet and clapping hands.
Then, Jennifer felt her hair pulled taut again, and heard the shhi, shhi, shhi, shhi, shhiiiiK.
The man too held his trophy aloft, then dashed back through the crowd, slamming the door to the downstairs bathroom. The crowd roared.
Dolores steered Jennifer toward the barber’s chair and sat her down.
“Don’t think of moving,” Dolores hissed. “This crowd won’t let you leave until it is over, understand? You want to leave unhurt – intact – you sit nice and quiet, understand?”
“But I have my money! Stop!” Jennifer pleaded.
“Couldn’t stop this crowd now if I wanted to. Anyway, we haven’t even covered my expenses yet, not to mention my cut. Sorry, dear, you are in it all the way.
“Ladies and Gentlemen,” Dolores shouted, quieting the crowd. “Our last customer put us a bit behind schedule.”
Laughter burst from the crowd.
“So let’s get to the main attraction. What should we do next!”
“Shave, shave, shave, shave!” the crowded chanted in unison.
“Bidding will start at one thousand dollars.”
The crowd gasped.
“If you don’t have that cash yourself, team up. There is fun for all here. One thousand is the minimum bid to clipper and shave this beautiful woman. Do I have onethousandonethousandonethous – and,yes,onethousand, do I haveelevenhundred…”
One thousand, eight hundred dollars.
Three women came forth and placed the cash on the table.
“You will love it when we are finished with you, dear,” one woman said caressing Jennifer’s hand, lingering longer than necessary.
Another woman draped the barber’s cape around Jennifer’s neck, pulling it professionally snug. A third reached for the clippers.
“Sylvia, you get half, Angela, you get half, I get the blade,” the woman lingering on Jennifer’s hand ordered.
“You always get the blade,” Angela with the clippers complained.
“And I get the blade again now, or no fun for you tonight, right Sylvia?” the woman on Jennifer’s hand said.
“That’s right, Angela. Next time you get the blade, I promise.”
“Promise?” Angela pouted.
“We both promise. But you are the newest member of our family, dear. And you do get to clipper first,” the woman on Jennifer’s hand said placatingly.
“All off at once? We don’t have to scissor first?” Angela asked.
“All off,” the woman on Jennifer’s hand said.
Jennifer felt her hair being parted and combed. Suddenly, the room stilled. The only sound was the soft sighing of the air conditioner trying to battle the heat of too many bodies, and then, the hum of the clippers.
Jennifer had never felt cold steel bite her scalp. She cried out.
“Easy, easy Angela. You are hurting the dear. Gently, gently, caress her head, don’t dig. Let the clippers do the work. This is why you don’t get the blade yet. You are too eager,” the woman on Jennifer’s hand said.
The pressure on Jennifer’s scalp eased and she felt the clippers move up her head. Through her tears she saw thick black locks tumble to her lap. The cool breeze of the air conditioner blew against her bared scalp, her skin becoming alive to every touch, every sensation.
The chill of the steel blades vanished as they warmed. A faint smell of warm oil hit Jennifer’s nostrils as she felt the clippers move toward the top of her head. Masses of heavy black hair tumbled in front of her face. She grasped the locks before they hit the floor.
Dolores pulled her hand away from her lap.
“They have paid for your hair, let them have it. They want it on the floor. Let it go,” Dolores said gently – at least as gently as Dolores said anything.
Jennifer’s entire world became the sound of the clippers buzzing around the left side of her head, watching the rain of her luxurious blue-black tresses tumble around her to the floor. She was beyond shock, beyond tears, beyond sorrow. She simply sat and listened and felt and watched.
“You are getting greedy! This is MY side!” Sylvia spoke up.
Jennifer felt different hands caress the remaining hair on her right side. How odd to feel the breezes circulating around the room on one side of her head, but feel nothing on the other side. How odd to have one side of her head so light, and the other side so weighted down with her remaining waist-length hair.
Jennifer felt the now familiar bite of the clipper blades at the back of her head. Having learned it was better to accept the blades than fight them, she bent her head to her chest.
Sylvia’s approach was different than Angela’s, Jennifer noted. Angela started from the side of her head and worked the clippers up and back. Sylvia started at the back of her head, taking the clippers to her crown in slow, long, smooth motions.
Jennifer had only seen parts of her scalp when she parted her hair. But her hair was so thick and heavy that only a glimmer of whiteness ever showed itself to her eyes. Now she imagined what her head must look like – the curtain of raven blackness giving way, tumbling to the floor, leaving behind the pale whiteness of her scalp.
Jennifer’s head became lighter and lighter as Sylvia took the clippers around the side of her head. Then, the last of the lush locks were clipped free. The crowd around her burst into shouts, screams and applause as the last hairs tumbled free, completing the carpet of hair on the floor around her.
The woman at Jennifer’s hand moved, gathering the straight razor and shaving cream.
“Blade, blade, blade,” the room started intoning, a low hypnotic chant.
The woman who was at Sylvia’s hand gently caressed her closely-clipped head.
“Nice job, girls, very nice. But we need to finish the job. What should we use to make this woman STUNNING?”
“Blade, blade, blade,” the room intoned in response.
“What was that girls? Did you say something?”
“Blade, Blade, Blade,” the room intoned more loudly.
“You said what, girls?”
“BLADE, BLADE, BLADE!” room screamed.
“Yes, girls, yes. The Blade!”
Jennifer heard a shoosh as foam was sprayed from the can of shaving cream. Her father used a self-heating foam, and she would steal it to use on her legs – it was warm and relaxing. But she never felt any surge of sensation as she felt when the warm foam was slowly spread around her barren, oh-so-sensitive scalp.
Slowly the lather was worked around Jennifer’s head, until she felt she was wearing a hat of shaving foam.
“Hold very, very still,” Dolores cautioned slowly.
An unnecessary warning, in Jennifer’s opinion.
Locking her head in place with her neck muscles, scarcely daring to breathe, Jennifer waited for the blade to meet her scalp. The touch was surprisingly gentle. The woman who was at Jennifer’s wrist gently caressed her scalp with the blade, pausing to wipe off the foam and dipping the blade in warm water.
In a slow, hypnotic rhythm, Jennifer felt the blade of the razor move across her head. It was almost relaxing. And at that point, Jennifer knew that along with baring her scalp, a new part of herself was being bared.
Then, it was over.
Anticlimactically, the woman who was at Jennifer’s hand simply stopped shaving. A warm, moist towel was wiped gently over her head. The room erupted in applause.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, that concludes the auction. Videos of the auction are available for $50. Please leave the cash and an address on the table. The video will be mailed in three days. Satisfaction guaranteed. Thank you for coming. Good night.”
Finishing her speech, Dolores clapped Jennifer on a still hair-covered shoulder. “Great job, hon. You wowed them! Get out of that chair, and we will attend to business. By the way, the new look is YOU!”
Dolores’ accounting was immaculate. Equipment rental and purchase, video production equipment, getting her parents out of town for the weekend, long-distant phone calls and faxes, expenses, expenses, expenses. “This is a hard way to make a buck, hon.,” Dolores said, peering over her accounting. “Anyway, here is your take. Not bad. $475. You clear your debt to your parents and get 3C clear. Not too shabby for two hours work, huh?”
“But my hair alone took in more than two thousand dollars! And the videos – everyone bought one of those!” Jennifer protested.
“What can I say? You know the deal. Cost plus 50 percent, and 50 percent of the take. I got a little more than you, sure, but I had to set the whole thing up. Next time, produce it yourself.”
So that was what Jennifer’s life to date was worth – $475.
She drove for hours, waiting for her parents to go to bed. As she drove, she kept feeling her head, expecting somehow the hair to still be there.
She finally drove home and went to her room, looking at herself in the mirror for the first time. Large eyes, delicate ears set close to her head, she never noticed before. All she ever saw in the mirror before was her hair.
She lay on her bed, but didn’t sleep.
Morning came. Saturday morning was the traditional time for a family breakfast. Jennifer got out of bed and went into the bathroom, splashing water on her face, then impulsively, all over her head. She didn’t know why, but she saw Marlon Brando do it in a scene from “Apocalypse Now”. Somehow, it seemed the thing to do.
She gathered the money and went downstairs to the breakfast table. The usual passing family greetings were cut short as mouths slammed tight, eyes riveted to her bald head.
Jennifer had a speech prepared, but threw it out the window.
“Mother, Father,” she said formally. “I owe you $175 for charges on a credit card. This is the money.” She laid the bills on the table.
“Jennifer, what happened?” her mother gasped.
“You said I could raise the money any way I wanted to, as long as I didn’t borrow or do anything illegally. I…” she stammered, then continued, “I decided to sell my hair.”
Jennifer’s mother collected the money. “Gift of the Magi,” she said softly. “Wait here, dear, I will be right back.”
Jennifer’s mother returned and laid the credit card where the money had been. “I think you may have this back now,” she said.
Jennifer picked up the card and stared at it. This is what it was all about. The card. Her freedom. Her life. But, her old life was gone.
“Thank you mother, but no, please take this card back. I don’t want it anymore.”
“Jennifer, I don’t understand. That was the agreement. You pay us back, your card privileges are returned.”
“Mother, I asked someone to help me, thinking I could somehow get something for nothing. Well, I found out that the price of asking for help can be very, very high. I don’t want to ask for anything else again. No Mother, please, take the card. I don’t want it. The price is too high.”
Jennifer’s parents exchanged looks. Finally, her mother broke the silence.
“I don’t know what happened last night to you. Maybe you will tell me sometime, perhaps you won’t. But I think I had a daughter leave last night, and now a woman is having breakfast with us. Welcome.”