Sophistication – Ted Morgan

Unexpectedly, you wonder whether she would prevail as herself without her hair. Dappled tawny morning light falls over full cascades of fair hair rolling back over her head and down her arched back. Her hand brushed a strain back. She looks at you with that distant yet intimate gaze that haunts dreams.

Seductive long fair hair inspirits Paulette, you think, with a feeling of well being and self-confidence. She dominates any room she enters with her single presence, just as her command of language rules any conversation she enters.

She moves with immense poise and grace and she speaks with precision and ease. Her face with its ideal symmetry and well-formed features alternates between courtly smiles and decisive mien. Her lips part over snowy teeth and dawn-tinted tissue. She remains a small woman whose smooth and elegant hips flow like a sacred river from her small flat waist below her exquisite breasts and long neck. She always moves with a dancer’s ease and a prophetess’s strengths.

You know that she submits to an austere diet of vegetables and fruit, a retinue of simple exercises, and other small disciplines that include your walks along the river and in the arboretum. You wonder about a life as strictly bound, as her life seems.

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Always she seems captivated by some sort of intellectual exercise. She had once read many years ago Continental philosophy but obviously through the mind of someone who had enjoyed Wittgenstein and John Austin. She looks objectively at her own subjectivity.

Once she had casually translated French poems into German and German philosophy into Spanish. She used to travel out-of-town to see foreign and small films, but now rarely leaves the small neighborhood where she works and lives.

She still espies everything with the fine eye of an anthropologist, which she never has been. Her eyes trace the movements of people, of small animal, and of words and ideas on page after page of cumbrous books.

Her voice has deep tonalities enjoyed by a true alto. Her command of rhetoric gives her a constant edge in all debates. You often share long walks and longer sessions in silent companionship and intense reading at the coffee shop, even though she gave up drinking coffee long ago or, at least says that she has.

Her gray-blue eyes look at you with intensity but never with desire-at least not for you. You feel that she has known lovers; she must have. But she never mentions them. And you would never ask. Men notice her but she never seems engaged with them-at least when she spends time with you.

Her extensive and bright hair seems so much a part of her that you barely notice she has it. She seems too sophisticated to have such hair. You know that she must take time to wash it, to brush it, to do whatever pretty women do to take care of their hair.

Usually, you find her impressive, friendly, but also petty and vain. You wonder why she never seems romantic.

She conveys Paris but was graduated from the University of Georgia. While she attended school, she had lived in Watkinsville in Oconee County near the railroad. She inspires you to want to see Marrakech but she takes delight in the here and now.

But this morning you think only about her hair – close to you, within the touch of your hungry fingers and yet hopelessly far away. Coffee steams in skim milk. Sunlight filters through glass from the prosaic parking lot in front of the coffee shop. Her head turns away from the street and Eastern light highlights with an aura of warmth. The aroma of Costa Rican coffee consorts with the fresh scent of Paulette’s flaxen hair.

Your daydreams take control in the soft lazy morning light of an April morning. Abruptly, you ask her without forethought or hesitation, “What would you do without your hair?”

Without looking up, she replies, “What I did when I let someone clip it all off.” You sit stunned. Her eyes never leave the page she is reading. She reads a new book by Dr. Randy Thornhill and Dr. Craig Palmer on evolutionary biology.

Finally, she senses your interest. “He was an older man, a professor of art, who made experimental films. Later, much later, he contrived the film work for music videos R.E.M. made. At thirty, he already had gray hair but he kept a young face. He wore herringbone tweeds and talked about art with intensity, passion, and intelligence.

“I met him through my Louise Brooks look-alike roommate. During my junior year, I roomed with a beautiful woman named Georgia. She looked very much like Louise Brooks the famous actress. Like Brooks, she had a brimming figure chock-full of erotic presence and an unusually serious mien. She wore almost but not quite the same bob that Louise Brooks made famous. She had a simmering sexual aura, but most people did not notice this when they first encountered her.

“Georgia presented herself as an intensely serious person, and she had an almost charismatic appeal to serious men. She dated men who attended the Naval Academy at Annapolis, worked their way through college as disc jockeys, entered doctoral programs, or majored in philosophy. But she also enjoyed bosom friendships with remarkable women – even women who ostensibly seemed less serious than she was. Her most intimate female friend belonged to Phi Mu sorority. But that gal turned out to be a substantial person.

“One Sunday evening, she told me in a quaint and arcane way that she had ‘given herself to a man’. They had driven to Atlanta for dinner and followed dinner with a visit to a club that featured rock tunes from the fifties – Bill Haley, possibly Louis Jordan. She found herself lost in the moment and desirous of the man, an older man she had not known that well before that evening.”

You direct focus back to the haircut. “What did Georgia have to do with you losing your hair?”

“She cut it.”

“I thought that the professor cut it.”

“She cut my hair for him.”

“Okay. Why?”

“Well, this is what happened. Because I counted on the course being both effortless and frolic, I enrolled in a course in photography during the last quarter of my junior year.

“But I was preoccupied with writing an honors paper on George C. Williams, the famous biologist, and with the weekly grind of writing a short paper every week of a boring course on ethics. That professor wanted us to distinguish between morality and law. Every essay repeated the same theme. Georgia helped me get it right. With her guidance, I got an “A” on every paper, but the drudgery of producing that page and a half every Thursday evening sapped my interest in philosophy forever.

“But my main focus that term was on how successful genetic adaptations spread through populations. It’s what got me focused on the social aspects of biology.

“The topic intrigued me but it took a lot of my time. Williams had just published his thesis and his backup work. His view would change biology. But I had a lot of difficulty understanding what he was doing. I had to frame a context for it.

“Soon I almost forgot about doing projects for my photography class – we did wonderful things with pinhole cameras, but I was prepossessed.”

“Okay,” you yawn.

“Anyway, I needed to make up work for the photography class and the professor, the one I’ve told you about, suggested I model for some graduate students in art who were shooting with black and white infrared film. In a lot of courses, you could take part in some activity – such as being a subject in a psychology lab – and earn grade points. That’s how I got an A+ in psychology!

“After doing some test shots with the professor and seeing the proof sheets, I got intrigued. He encouraged me to shoot with infrared film. He suggested I do something personal – shoot my roommate, take a trip to a park or to the mountains, photograph old houses in Athens

“Georgia liked the results as I experimented. She volunteered to be my model on a day trip to the farmlands and defiant wilderness of the North Georgia Mountains. We drove into what eventually became the Richard Russell Scenic Parkway with its lazy S’s coursing through impressive terrain. At Hog Pen Gap, we stopped and followed the Appalachian trial about a mile into demanding wilderness before deciding to leave hiking the other 2143 miles for another day.

“The air was pleasant, cool but not cold. Foliage was still light. Sunlight that day had – I don’t know – a frangible quality, which seemed perfect for infrared images.

“I don’t know, for some reason, or on some whim, Georgia and I began to play at seducing each other – I pointed the camera; she struck poses. We were silly schoolgirls again – on holiday. We laughed and danced. She seemed incredibly beautiful to me that afternoon.

“We embraced each other and Georgia stroked my hair. I don’t know why. She wanted to shoot me. She said that the highlights of my hair enhanced the light that day.

“I said that I dreamed of having her sophisticated Louise Brooks look. She said that she liked the way I looked and envied me.

“Soon I tossed my head about and posed with an emphasis on my hair. Back lighted, my hair assumed an aura that Georgia said she found entrancing. But I was the one taking the course – I had to shoot the photographs. Georgia said that I should shoot her with her hair buzzed off – the starkness of such an imaged suited the infrared medium. She smiled a silly smile that seemed the antipode to every image I had ever held of her.

“I asked what would she do without hair. I asked how she presumed to navigate our university without hair. She told me that she would wear a blond wig, blond wig made from my hair.”

“My hair?”

“‘Yes, my dear, your hair.”

“David wants to shoot a short film with infrared film. He wants to shoot a film of one woman shearing the hair of another and he wants you to be the one sheared.”

“David? Who is David?”

“You know that I told you that I gave myself to a man. I gave myself to David. We had to be discreet; he doesn’t have tenure and the Art Department is a notoriously conservative place.”

“I thought, of course, Professor David Shreiter, my teacher! So Georgia had taken a lover from faculty and he gets turned on thinking about humiliating me!

“Already aroused by my play with Georgia, I got even more aroused by thinking about acting out ‘David’s sick fantasy.

“Okay, but he can’t play or shoot you cutting off my hair. I’ll shoot you cutting off your hair but you will cut off mine without benefit of the camera. Then David can do what he like with shooting the two of us already bald.”

“Georgia almost giggled but agreed. ‘Serves him right, that naughty old man!’

“Back in Athens, we borrowed a sunny room with white walls and a vast western exposure. We stripped the room, which remained quite bare, except for a golden hardwood floor, a white rug, and a straight back chair.

“I set up the straight back chair at a forty-five degree angle to the western exposure of windows. I set up my tripod about seven feet in front of the chair, placed the 35mm Nikon facing it, added a motor mechanism to advance film, and attached a trip cord. I adjusted the focus to compensate for the oddities of the film.

“Georgia and I drank cheap wine and danced about in preparation. We made images of ourselves naked with hair tossing about in the sunlight. We used a 135mm lens to take close-up of ourselves as normal, sexy young women.

“Then with a 35mm wide lens, set and focused, I placed Georgia on the chair and stood behind her – both of us completely stark naked – and began to cut her hair as she tripped the camera from time to time, almost at random.

“I cut her hair with a pair of thinning shears – slowly. Her hair fell slowly first from her crown, then the sides, then slowly – creeping slowly toward the front. Then I took a regular shears and cut as close as possible to the skin. Her white skin seemed incredibly ghostly under the usual dark black contrast. My naked body hovered above and beside her gentle Patrician features. I felt the heat of her body on my breasts.

“When I had reduced her hair to stubble, she smiled and motioned me to the chair. I hesitated. I had taken for granted until now the way I looked. If you look a certain classic way people assume your goodness, your integrity – your right to their esteem. I was about to toss all that away.

“The young woman who had agreed to make a wig for Georgia of my hair had arrived while Georgia and I played at shearing the Louise Brooks bob. This lovely young woman stood off to the side, dreamy-eyed, detached in her own fantasy. She asked if she could take off her blouse – if she could stand with us.

“That young woman possessed a conformist beauty with short auburn hair styled in a classic mid-sixties bob. She had soft cerulean eyes, a trim young body, though she must have been ten years our senior, and a warm, rather amused smile.

“Georgia seemed overtaken by a kind of amative seizure, not an orgasm, mind you, but an amorous presence. Her body shined under the dark residue of her hair, hair that still clung in places where it had fallen while I cut.”

“You won’t have hair, Paulette, I will. I will have your hair. Is that satisfactory for a while?”

“I nodded yes.

“The wig-maker had suggested that Georgia simply shear off my hair with clippers in bold strokes. She had brought each of us temporary wigs to wear if we decided to keep our high-spirited play hidden. I sat down, by this time completely aroused in a self-centered way.

“Georgia’s eyes clouded in a fog; how could she see me?

“Changing my mind, I had reloaded the camera in the dark closest behind the room and placed a standby camera at hand. I took a deep breath – was this a silly thing to do or not? I sat on a leg crossed under me. I am shorter than Georgia is. I waited for the murmur, whir, buzz, and drone of clippers with the smallest gauge to shear me bald. Georgia placed the clipper to my forehead, the classic swath down the center – waiting for me.

“Hair fell down over my eyes, then my back. Soon I felt myself sitting on the soft loveliness that a moment earlier graced my head. Tufts caught for moments on my breasts. Hair fell into my eyes and I even tasted hair.

“Georgia and I smiled at each other, then slowly we orchestrated each pass of the clippers from forehead to crown to back as if we were shooting a movie in careful sequences. We took a long time cutting and shooting. We savored the experience of feeling each other close at hand, with inhalation and exhalation punctuated by deep but narcissistic sighs.

“One roll of film (infrared film is expensive) took care of the Benjamin Franklin phase of the cutting. You really do look like an old man, baldheaded a full fringe! The feel of Georgia’s warm body close to my bare scalp seemed incompatible with the image I imaged and later confirmed in the making of prints.

“Another roll took care of the sides. Another took care of Georgia’s bare breasts caressing my balding head. Her gleeful smile erased any sense of sophistication, but David’s later shots would take care of that pleasure.

“We shot until the sun left us and we still had hair left to cut. We rolled on the floor and in the arms of the young wig maker well into night and then again into early morning. Of course, I lost the images long ago.

“Then I made the Dean’s List again that quarter. David made a striking series of images featuring, along with bald Georgia and bald me, an old house in Athens. He got a lot of attention and won some sort of minor prize. I never had any personal feeling about modeling for him – he was rather professional – perhaps because we were students. Conceivably, he just didn’t have amatory dreams about balding pretty women. I don’t know. Georgia had the crush on him – I didn’t.

“Georgia wore the wig a few times. Then she gave it to me with the comment, ‘I think this belongs to you. Thanks for letting me enjoy your world.’ And I wore it until well after my hair corresponded to the style of the time. Then I donated it to a school fair!

“I think that I enjoyed being bald, even in public. The shock in seeing others gaze at me and even desire me amused me. But I rarely shared my baldness with anyone else. Being bald felt too private, sensuous, and even too naughty to share too openly. Back then I didn’t have a lover – had never had one? In a sense being bald helped me enjoy being celibate until a time closer to graduation.

“Georgia and I never acted amorous when David shot his images. He did act as if he saw baldness as the antithesis of sensuousness. He never slept with Georgia after I cut off her hair.

“In exhibition, he contrasted the bald images with the “test” images he had made of me and the sensuous images he had made of Georgia. At the time, they seemed augural.

“After graduation, I moved to New York. Georgia went to California, even before she was graduated, I think. She took her last course by correspondence! You would have loved her. She really did look like Louise Brooks.

“You know cutting off all my hair seemed sophisticated. I suppose it was. But it felt like artfulness in the form of fictitiousness.”

Her hand brushes her august hair away from her face. She watches for a moment you with that familiar but diffuse gaze that tells you she will never be your lover. Yet the gaze intimates haunting dreams. After all, it’s your birthday and she never remembers.


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