Kathy’s Barber Shop By Jim B.
I was walking down Main Street. I did this often after returning from work. I made my usual stops at the grocery store, the bakery, then the Post Office.
The sidewalks were unusually empty today. Not a lot of people enjoyed walking during a heat wave, I thought to myself. I was particularly uncomfortable as well.
I had let my brown hair grow out from a pixie, for the last ten years or so. I wasn’t twenty-one, but still young and adventurous, I thought.
As a teenager, I spent five years in military school because I could not get along in public school. I had grown to hate short hair and the clean cut look you had to have there. I couldn’t stand getting ordered around by the older cadets either.
Now, at least I looked my age of thirty. Since then, I have worn my hair in a ponytail to try to look more conservative.
But now I was sweating like crazy. I felt like a bear coming out of a deep sleep just in time for the dog days of August. Beads of salted water poured from my temple.
I was making my way over to my last stop of the afternoon, the Butcher Shop.
I stopped short at an empty store front to undo my ponytail. I placed the bags down and took out my handkerchief to wipe the perspiration off my face.
As I looked up, the store front wasn’t empty at all. There was a young woman, about my age, standing at the door watching me. She was all smiles as she carefully looked at each swipe I made across my face. She almost looked like a cadet I remembered from military school. She had a large smile, big blue eyes, and dark black hair that looked like it had just been sheared into a High and Tight, like that cadet.
I took a moment to push my strands of hair away from my face again, and bind my wild hairs into a long tail. She continued to look at me with a serious smile, almost as if she found something about me amusing.
Several of my friends were now sporting various short haircuts, and I had been toying with the idea of getting a haircut. But, it would be too hip, too unlike me to fit in with everyone at the office. I was still a little rebellious at heart, and I enjoyed being the one of the gals with long hair.
I got my first short haircut at eleven. I wanted to play softball and mom thought my long hair would get in the way. So, off we went to the beauty salon, and an hour later I came out with a chin-length wedge.
But, after those years in the military school all I wanted was long hair.
She was still watching me closely, out of the corner of her eyes. I started to walk away, but tripped over the bags I had laid down on the sidewalk. She raced over to help me as a few vegetables fell and rolled over the cobblestone walkway. I fell flat on the ground as I tried to grab them too quickly.
“Are you alright?” she asked as she walked over and stretched out her hand. I took it, and helped myself up. She helped me gather the stray veggies and started laughing as I blushed.
“I guess your hair got in your way!” she told me as the laughter slowly faded from her breath.
I turned to face her, trying to think of a good comeback. “Na, I’d probably be just as clumsy if I were bald,” I told her.
“Oh really?” she said. “Then you tripped in front of the right place”!
She pointed to the sign hanging above the large window. I read the sign slowly. “Kathy’s Barber Shop”.
“By the way,” she said, “My name is Kathy”.
“My name is Jan,” I answered as I shook her hand.
“How ’bout it?” she asked.
Before I really knew what was happening, there I was sitting in Kathy’s barber chair. She threw the cape around me, fastened it, and grabbed my ponytail. With a click of the buzzer, she started to run the clippers through it. It took several passes before I felt her grasp disappear, and the rest of my hair fell loose around my shoulders. Kathy threw the severed ponytail in my lap.
“Now, doesn’t that feel cooler already?” she asked.
All I could do was nod as I awaited to see what was going to happen next. I was afraid of the feeling I was getting, and I tried my best to fight it. But now I knew the truth, it was a part of me calling the old me always.
I wanted this.
She grabbed a comb and straightened out my hair.
Then, the noise came closer again, this time at the right side of my face. She placed the clippers below my ear, on my cheek, and slowly pushed it up past my ear. But, she didn’t stop there. The vibration rose up the side to the top of my head, as I strained my right eye to catch glimpses of my hair falling to my shoulder, then my lap. I only managed to see a few thin strands.
Kathy held my hair with her hands as she cut, purposely throwing the shocks in my lap. The pile grew to a mountain with just two swipes. And I was starting to sweat. The excitement kept building higher and higher, more thrilling with each second that passed.
Kathy continued creating my new image, my induction into summer like my old induction into military school. Only this time it was not forced. This time it was not unwanted, I wanted it. I really wanted it, and I was enjoying every pass of the clippers, every vibration, every swipe brought more piles of my brown hair to my lap. I took on a child-like enthusiasm as I threw the pile onto the floor, watching the brown threads fall on the white tile like little tiny feathers.
Kathy was now on my left side, again placing the clippers below my ear, on my cheek, shearing away the last pieces of hair on my sides. She sometimes took three or four swipes to satisfy her need for perfection.
I wanted to see what I looked like desperately, still afraid I’d look awkward or strange – even to myself.
But she wouldn’t let me.
She finished up on the side, then moved herself to the front. Every movement she made was one step closer to completing her masterpiece. She brought the clippers to the top of my head. She was using the small silver ones that look like they have no blade at all.
She took a large swipe to the top, almost like a pitcher for the last strike. I felt the metal run on my scalp and felt long tufts fall cleanly to my neck. She ran them over and over and over.
It struck me I was going to be bald. No hair at all! No crewcut, no flattop, no military high ‘n’ tight.
I sat there almost terrified. But, my lust for baldness totally drove me mad.
“I want my head shaved smooth,” I somewhat commanded of her.
“Of course!” Kathy said with a grin. “You don’t think I’d let you walk out half done, did you?”
She finished up by gently moving the clippers over my lower cheeks as she told me, “Just a little fun.”
I heard her turn the clippers off and lay them down somewhere behind me on the counter top. I heard another noise somehow familiar, but unknown. Kathy moved the chair over slightly and lowered it. She spread hot, smooth lather over my face and neck.
I could only wait in anticipation. I was praying she would use a straight razor, but I couldn’t see. As the lather cooled off slightly, I began to relax from the enjoyment. I closed my eyes and drifted somewhat. I remembering each and every feel of the steel blades racing on my skin. I was startled back to reality when she slowly tugged at my face. She was using the straight razor, carefully shaving the light hairs from the sides of my face. She used a white plush towel to wipe the razor on after each swipe.
When it appeared she was done shaving my face, she raised the chair.
“Just like I promised you, the finishing touch,” she said and she placed the hot lather on my head and rubbed it in using both hands. Slowly stroking each inch of skin, so I could almost feel the stubble left after the shears. Then, she started running the metal blade in simple strong strokes along the top of my scalp. Using her fingers as a guide, she stripped the last remaining brown stubble from my head and left them drowning in lather on the towel on the next chair.
She moved my head to the side, and proceeded to carefully shave against the grain around my ear and up to the top. She repeated the same motions on the other side.
I was desperate to see any glimpse of my new image, but I was foiled by her body blocking my view.
She proceeded to lather the back of my scalp, from my lower neck all the way up to the crown. Then, she finished her task by shaving the back slowly.
I heard her place the razor down on the counter behind me once again. The anticipation was about to make me burst. She slowly walked around me as if to inspect her work.
But her smile said it all. She was very pleased with herself. “I think you’re ready for the new you, Jan. Let’s see if you like it,” she softly said to me.
She slowly turned the chair to the right to face the mirror.
I saw a stranger. Her face was younger, but strong. She was bald and shiny. Her eyes were large but not unappealing. She was a stranger who bore a familiar face. No longer covered by a mounds of hair, that now seemed so unnecessary. The woman in the mirror was me, the new me.
I finally took my eyes off the reflection to notice piles of dark brown hair all over the clean white floor. I was happy. An overwhelming feeling of completion surrounded me. I had come full circle. All my life I hated having haircuts, the awkward attention I received after each and every one. But, I kept trying new styles, new ways to rebel against the feelings I had deep down inside.
Over the past two years I fought with rebellion, letting the dead filaments grow and go wild. But, now I was free of them and I didn’t have to fight anything at all.
And, in an exciting way, I was taunting all those that went half way, but never truly went all the way. I was finally me.
I got up and ran my hands over the smooth skin that was my scalp. I definitely liked it.
I loved it!
Kathy and I became good friends.
Once in a while, I would come by and sit in the shop with her. We would wait for an unsuspecting business gentleman, or high school football player, to walk in and convince him into getting Kath’s special treatment. Every so often, a young girl would walk in with long hair, and exit sporting a crewcut, flattop or shaven head. Which sometimes led her friends to make a special visit as well.