The Steel Comb by Charlie Sheers
Millie had just turned sweet sixteen. As her bosom started to grow, so did the number of boys who smiled at her when she walked down Main Street. Aside from her ample bosom, Millie had one other asset, one other charm if you will, that greatly increased her appeal to the opposite sex: namely her head of curly black hair!
Being of mixed Iranian, Greek and Italian heritage, Millie’s hair was black, almost to the point of being blue, and extremely thick. So thick, in fact, that she lost many a plastic comb to it. Cheap plastic combs of the Wal-Mart variety simply couldn’t cope with it. One of her friends advised her to purchase a commercial-grade metal (steel) comb. However, since Millie came from an impoverished family and never carried more than a few dollars on her person, finding such a comb was fraught with difficulty. For weeks, she looked high and low, but never located one that was in her $5 price range. Finally, her persistence paid off. Following a tip from one of her teachers, a former hairdresser, she located the comb of her dreams in a nearby wholesale supply store. Unfortunately, the price was still a bit out of reach: $20.
So Millie did what any 16-year old girl would do: One night, she crept into her mother’s room, rummaged through her handbag, and, hoping it would go unnoticed, ‘borrowed’ a $20 bill.
But like most other 16 year old girls who didn’t have a criminal history, Millie was remiss in her filching. She was so proud of her little ‘misdemeanor’ that she confided her guilt to someone whom she felt was a ‘close friend’, a bosom crony, so to speak.
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Well, this same bosom crony made it a point to relate the incident to everyone in her class, including the notorious school gossip. So by the end of the week, Millie’s mom learned the truth. Ironically, she heard about her daughter’s little escapade at a local hairdresser!
Suffice it to say that poor Millie was sent to her room that evening without dinner, a punishment she acquiesced to without much of a fight. She was, in fact, guilty and believed that the punishment fit the crime.
The next morning, Mom asked her daughter why she simply didn’t ask for the money. Millie replied that she knew they were just too poor ever since Dad passed away a few years ago and that her present weekly $10 allowance was as much as Mom could obviously afford.
“Well, at least let me see the comb,” Mom remarked. Millie reached into her back pocket and quickly handed it over. “Why, it’s very nice,” said Mom, “and obviously designed for a head of hair as thick and curly as yours.” But as Mom ran the comb through her daughter’s curly locks, the hair got all tangled up in the comb. By the time she managed to extricate it from her daughter’s unruly head, the comb had proven to be a cheap imitation. Two of the bristles had completely broken off, and at least five were permanently bent.
“I’m afraid you were cheated,” she said to Millie. “This comb is made of cheap aluminum, It’s definitely not a steel comb.”
“What makes you an expert in comb manufacture?” she asked snidely.
“Millie, believe me. This comb is probably worth no more than $2-$3. Now what do you have to say for yourself?”
Instead of replying, “I’m sorry Mom. I’ll never pilfer your hard-earned money again,” Millie flagrantly replied: “I guess I’ll have to sneak into your room again tonight and, this time around, steal at least $50.” And to add insult to injury, she chuckled out loud.
“This is no laughing matter,” replied Mom. “Now go to your room.”
“I was only joking,” Millie replied. “I wish you had Dad’s sense of humor. Can’t you even take a joke?”
“We’ll see who can take a joke,” replied Mom and slammed the door to the bedroom.
The next morning, Millie assumed the entire matter would have blown over. At 8am, Mom tapped on the door. “Time to rise, Millie. We have some errands to run today. I’ll see you downstairs for breakfast in 30 minutes.”
Millie yawned. “I wonder what’s up?” she thought to herself. “Oh well, at least it’s not a school day and I got to sleep an extra hour. And thank goodness, Mom is no longer angry with me.”
At 9am, Millie found herself a passenger in the Ford Taurus wagon. “Where are we headed at such an early hour?” she asked. Mom just smiled.
Millie peered out the side window and didn’t recognize the neighborhood. Apparently, Mom had driven across town to an area Millie’s friends jokingly referred to as “the wrong side of the tracks”. Millie had never been to this part of town before and now understood why. It was completely dilapidated. There were liquor bottles piled up in the gutter. Most of the retail stores looked like they hadn’t seen a customer in a decade. Mom pulled the car into a small side street.
“Where on earth are we going?” Millie asked.
“Just follow me.”
Millie shadowed her mother up a flight of stairs and into a small shop. A sign above the door read: “Lou’s – Hair Bought and Sold.” Millie stepped hesitantly inside and nervously glanced around. There were no other customers in sight.
“I’m afraid, young lady, that your little escapade has cost me $20. Twenty dollars, mind you, that we can’t really afford. I’ve therefore made arrangements to make sure this incident is one-of-a-kind and never happens again! It’s about time you had a trim.”
“My hair? You’re going to cut my hair?” Millie was terrified. “How much will be cut off?”
Mom laughed. “Oh just a few inches. You won’t even notice it.”
“How did you hear of this place?” Millie asked.
Mom was unusually silent at this point. “Let’s just say that I’m here every now and then.”
At this point, a middle-aged balding man dressed in a white cape entered the room.
“Are you Lou?” Mom asked.
Lou glanced at her and put down his cigar. “You must be Mrs. G, the woman that phoned me last night. You’re both here a few minutes early.”
“We can come back later if you like.”
“No, I’ll be happy to take care of your daughter in 5 minutes. Just make yourself comfortable until I return.”
Millie was not only repulsed by Lou’s rather abrupt demeanor, but also by his appearance. He was fat, balding and had very hairy arms. She had always been afraid of men with hairy arms. Her father’s arms had been smooth from knuckle to shoulder.
When Lou returned a few minutes later, he invited Mom over to his desk. They spoke briefly. Although she was not able to hear what was being said, Millie noticed that Mom seem to get more and more animated as the conversation progressed.
Mom walked back into the waiting room. “Millie, I’ve made arrangements to have Lou remove 6 inches of your hair. In exchange, he will pay me $20. I consider this ‘even Steven’.”
Millie started to cry. “But I haven’t had my hair cut since I was 6 years old, mom. I can’t believe you are going to let this disgusting little man give me a haircut.”
The word ‘disgusting’ was not lost on Lou, who had acute hearing and heard every word as the little brat was mouthing off to her mom. But he remained calm and decided not to create a scene. After all, Millie would be seated in the back room, his back room, very shortly and seated in his chair.
Lou walked over and ushered Millie and her mom into the ante room. “In order not to soil her clothes, I suggest that Millie remove her expensive garments and put on this white floor-length robe.”
While both Mom and Millie found the request a bit unusual, Mom quickly acquiesced. “Do as he says, dear. I’ll be in the waiting room just outside.”
Lou returned a few minutes later carrying a little black bag. He drew the curtain so that Mom’s vision was completely cut off.
“Before we get started,” he lied, “Your Mom asked me to shave your legs.”
“Yes. And your arms. A girl your age should have smooth limbs.”
Millie didn’t know how to respond. “But Mom has hairy arms.”
“Yes she does. And after I finish up your haircut, she’s asked me to shave her arms as well.”
“Will it hurt?” asked Millie.
“Definitely not. I’m going to use these Oster clippers to shear off much of the bulk. You won’t feel a thing. Now please step up onto this platform.”
Millie walked up the 6 steps. Lou’s head was now facing her belly. He drew back the robe and stared at her hairy legs. Without saying a word, he switched on the clippers. A loud buzz filled the room. At this point in time, Lou remembered why he enjoyed his job so much.
Over in the next room, Mom was reading a magazine. She soon heard the buzz of the clippers and assumed that the haircut was in progress. Had anyone looked, they would have noticed a hint of a smile. She continued glancing through the magazine.
About 5 minutes later, she came to realize that the clippers were still humming. Why on earth is it taking so long? she wondered to herself. A few minutes later, the buzzing ended. Lou opened the curtain and told her she could go inside.
Mom noticed a strange look in Lou’s eyes. She also noticed a large bulge in his pants. What on earth…?
As she walked into the room, her daughter was standing completely naked on a small platform. Her face was covered with tears. She was wearing a red turban.
“Mom, he shaved off all my hair.” And she pointed toward her belly. Mom looked down and couldn’t believe her eyes. Millie’s dark triangle was gone. In fact, it was lying on the floor directly below her in a small pile. Then Millie removed the turban. She was completely bald.
“Oh my goodness,” said Mom. “What did he do to you?”
Mom ran into the waiting room and started shouting obscenities at Lou. “Lady,” he said, “Just get the hell out of my shop.”
In a huff, Mom grabbed Millie’s garments, quickly dressed her daughter, and bundled her out of the shop.
Back in the car, Mom seemed really angry. “I’ll sue that bastard for what he did to you,” she yelled. Though Millie was heartbroken over the shearing away of all her locks, she was grateful that Mom had taken her side. “Let’s sue the $??##* out of him,” she countered. As they drove off into the distance, the phone rang.
Back in the barber shop, Lou was talking into the mouthpiece. “It was a great idea, Mrs G. She didn’t have a clue. I guess she’s not so smart after all. What can you expect from a 16 year old? I’ll see you tomorrow morning back at the shop. Maybe one day you’ll have the courage to tell your daughter that you actually own the place!”