SUSAN’S SUMMER JOB
“What have I gotten myself into?” Susan asked herself as she stepped off the bus at the entrance to the barracks that would be her home for the next three months. A first year college student at State University, Susan had joined the Army reserve and was reporting for the first day of her training. As her basic officer training course of 22 other college students stepped off the bus, they were greeted by the bellowing voice of their platoon sergeant.
“All right, fall in over here front of me and answer to your name when called” he said.
Susan hesitatingly fell into the back row and nervously looked at the rest of the group. Most of the other candidates were between 18 and 20 years old and all were college students like herself. Nearly all of the men were dressed in jacket and tie while the seven women of the platoon wore casual skirts with sweaters and blazers. Over half of the men already had regulation military haircuts (Susan assumed these were people with military experience) and the rest sported a variety of lengths and civilian styles. Four of the women (including Susan) had hair past their shoulders with the longest being nearly at one girl’s waist. The remaining three had shorter hair – one chin length bob, another sheared at the earlobes and the third had her dark hair shorn into a crew cut. It was with this girl that Susan sat with on the bus and had learned that her name was Jill and that she had been a Corporal in the reserves and was attempting to become an officer. During the ride, Susan curiously approached the subject of Jill’s severe hairstyle.
“Don’t get me wrong, because I think that cut suits you, but did you have to get your hair cut that short?” Susan asked. Jill was quite petite and the close cropped look did flatter her, but Susan could never think of cutting her beautiful auburn hair that short. All through the bus trip Susan had difficulty keeping her eyes off of the closeness of the cut, particularly at the back of her neck where it had been shaved super short.
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Jill laughed, ” No, I chose this myself. I did get it cut for this course though. I always had it fairly short, sort of like that girl over there” she pointed to a woman with a curly bob to the middle of her ears, ” but when I knew I was going on basic training again, I didn’t want to worry about spending time on it so off it went. I got it done in a barber shop and you should have seen the look on the barber’s face when I told him what I wanted. He didn’t say anything and just picked up the electric clippers and started shearing away. I must admit I was a little shocked when all the curls started falling in my lap and I saw the floor covered in my hair, but I kind of like it now and of course it’s easy to keep.”
“I could never cut my hair like that,” Susan said, “I’ll put up with the trouble braiding it and all the other stuff. Besides, they can’t make us cut our hair short – Can they?” Susan asked pensively.
“Well,” Jill said “theoretically no, because the dress regulations say that as long as the hair is above the collar either in length or pinned up, its OK. I do remember one officer last year who came back from summer training with her long hair all cut off. When I asked her about it, she told me that their female section sergeant had “suggested” that the females get short haircuts and were essentially harassed into it or were sent home for one reason or another. But that had to be an isolated case. Don’t worry Susan, you won’t have to part with your long, luxurious tresses.” Jill joked.
Susan laughed too, but she did not have a comfortable feeling about how things were going to work out in basic training.
“Cavendish!” the Sergeant yelled. Hearing her last name jerked Susan back to reality and she quickly responded with a “Here”.
“All right. You’ve been assigned your rooms in the quarters and the section sergeants will see find them. You’ve got 30 minutes to dump your gear in your rooms and then back out here on the bus for the barber shop. That’s right boys, time to lose all those golden curls! Ladies, that includes you. Sergeant Stebbins will brief you. Now move!”
The course broke up and ran inside towards their rooms. Susan was getting an uneasy feeling about the last statement about the barber shop. As she got into her room, she found that Jill, the girl with the waist length hair whose name was Natalie and Dawn (the chin bob) were her roommates.
“Oh my god, you don’t think that they’ll make us get our hair cut?!” Natalie exclaimed as she dropped her bags on the ground.” They told me that all I had to do was put it up! I can’t cut my hair!” She was almost in tears.
“Don’t worry,” Jill replied, ” We probably just have to go with the guys to keep the platoon together, you know, for solidarity. Besides, didn’t you see that guy with a football jacket with the really long hair – he definitely doesn’t have a choice!” Just as Natalie was about to respond, Sergeant Stebbins entered the room along with the other three women on the course.
Sergeant Stebbins was a solid 5 foot six and though not ugly was not extremely feminine in appearance. Her hair was cut short over her ears in a boyish style with a squared off back. The women listened intently as she described the administrative arrangements for the accommodation.
“One more thing,” she said slyly, “hair.” Susan, Natalie and the third long haired girl’s ears perked up when she said this. “You have a choice. I am responsible for your appearance during this course and I have yet to see anyone put up long hair in such a fashion that it doesn’t affect the appearance of the head-dress and the military look. Short hair is it. If you refuse to cut your hair, you are on your way home. Now I’ll admit that Miss Parker’s hair is a little extreme, but the rest of you are off to the barber shop or on your way. I don’t care if it’s a square back or tapered, but it’s above the collar, not off but above, and at least mid way up your ear. You can keep it as long as you want on top, within reason. The beauty shop will be ready for you when the bus arrives and the hairdressers know what I will and will not accept. You have ten minutes to cry about it and those who want out can let me know then. The rest of you will board the bus with the men and go get your hair cut.”
Silence filled the room and tears began to well up in Natalie and Cathy (the third long hair) eyes. “Well,” Jill said to Susan, “I guess that’s the isolated case I told you about. Sorry to hear that girls, but trust me, you’ll find it a lot easier to deal with as the course goes on.” Jill continued about her unpacking.
“I haven’t cut my hair for 11 years. I don’t know if I can do it.” Natalie said aloud, “I need this job and I really want to do it. I guess there’s no option. Any one got any scissors?” she asked.
“What are you doing?” Susan asked incredibly.
“I am not going to give some cheap hairdresser the satisfaction of cutting off this hair. I’ll let one of you guys do most of it and let the hairdresser finish it up.” Having gained new courage, Natalie began to brush out her magnificent mane one last time.” All right, who wants to do it?”
Jill popped up with a pair of scissors and said “If you’re really sure, I’ll do it.”
“Fine” Natalie replied, stood up and walked to the centre of the room. The rest of the girls watched intently.
Beginning to lose her confidence, she said “Right, just cut it straight across about… here.” She indicated to her chin.
“OK, here we go,” Jill said and slipped the scissors into the thick mass of hair and started hacking away. The scissors were dull and required much snipping to get through the dark tresses and as yards of hair began piling up on the floor around Natalie’s feet, she began to sob silently. Jill continued to work her way around Natalie’s head, hacking away until she stepped back and announced she was done. Natalie’s hands flew to her eyes to wipe away her tears as she saw her mirror image in a locker mirror. Her once glorious mane was now a simple, mid length, uneven bob; the thick lengths of shorn hair lying in a pile on the floor.
“Oh my god,” she whispered, “I can’t believe I did that.” She continued to stare into the mirror as the rest of the girls stared apprehensively, nervously thinking about how it would be for them. Susan was just about ready to back out when the order came from down the hall to board the bus. Everyone scurried out of the room towards the bus as the sergeants yelled impatiently.
As the bus pulled up to the PX mall, the course was ordered to dismount and line up in single file, one line of men, one of women.
“All right gentlemen, the barbers are well aware of their tasks , so just sit back and enjoy it. Ladies, I understand you have been briefed by Sergeant Stebbins. Miss Cavendish, you are to control the ladies and report to me when you are ready to leave. The bus will be here outside. Right, in a single file MOVE!”
In an orderly fashion the course moved into the building and the men formed a line into the barber shop. The beauty salon was just a few yards away, and the hairdresser stood waiting outside.
“Over here ladies,” she called. She appeared to be about thirty, thin with longish permed brown hair.
As the girls entered the salon, there were enough seats in the waiting area so they all sat down. The salon was otherwise deserted, but all of the girls eyed the chairs, anxiously awaiting their turns under the scissors.
“I guess you have been told about what your hair has to look like,” the hairdresser said, ” I know that it will be pretty scary for you girls with long hair, but I’ll do my best. In this binder are all the styles that have been approved for you. Sorry that there is nothing longer.” She said, passing the binder to Susan, “So, who’s first?”
All the girls looked at each other silently and Dawn finally broke the silence and stood up.
“I guess I’ll take the plunge” she announced and walked to the chair with the hairdresser. As she sat down, Susan gave her the book with the style photos. Dawn flipped through them as the hairdresser brushed out her hair which fell to an even line all around her head at chin level. Virtually all the styles in the book were short, layered looks with a few little bobs thrown in. Dawn’s eyes stopped a photo of Josie Bisset and her super short crop. Nervously she asked the hair dresser:
“What do you think about this?”
“Oh that’s really cute. I could do that for you, but if you didn’t want to go that short, you can keep it in a bob but I’ll just take it up to here” she indicated the middle of her ear, which would still require about three inches cut off all around.
Dawn turned her head to the side and looked at her reflection in the mirror and back to the photo of the short, layered hairstyle in the book.
“Well, maybe you’re right. I have been trying to grow it out, so if I kept it all one length, at the end of the course I can start growing it out again. OK, keep it in a bob. How short does it have to be again?” Dawn asked.
The hairdresser continued combing her hair and walking around Dawn in the chair.” I have quite explicit instructions and about the longest I can leave it is mid way up your ear.” She indicated the length by holding the comb horizontally at the middle of her ear. Grasping the length of hair under the comb she continued, “All this would have to go. It would be the same all the way around and judging by your fairly thick hairline in back” She pushed Dawn’s head forward and lifted up the hair at the nape of her neck, “I’d have to clip it short- short to keep it neat”
As Dawn looked up towards the other girls, she saw four sets of huge eyes glued on her and the hairdresser. Throwing caution to the wind, Dawn got up and walked to the wash station. “Let’s get it over with,” she said under her breath.
After washing and rinsing her hair, Dawn was led back to the chair by the hair dresser and she sat down. The stylist draped her with the cape and began combing out her chin length hair and sectioning it off and pinning it up. Starting at the back, she made a horizontal parting all round at a level even with the middle of Dawn’s ears. Taking the hair above the parting and pinning it up at the back, the hairdresser left the sides hang free, leaving about four inches of hair hanging down at the back of her head. Dawn was surprised to see the hair dresser pick up the blow dryer and dry the freshly washed hair at the back of her head.
“Don’t you cut it wet?,” she asked.
Putting the dryer down and reaching for a drawer, the hair dresser replied, “With the scissors, yes, but when using the clippers, it’s better to cut it dry:” As if on cue, she pulled out a set of electric clippers from the drawer and plugged them in. Dawn’s eyes went wide as she looked at them and over to the collection of nervous girls in the waiting area. Susan’s hand flew instinctively to her hair as she watched the hair dresser attach a guard to the clippers and walk around behind Dawn.
Silently, she pushed Dawn’s head forward to allow access to the loose hair at the back of her neck and holding the buzzing clippers in one hand, she combed the hair straight down one last time. Dawn winced as she felt the clippers slide up and under the hair at the nape of her neck and heard the tone of the buzzing increase as the blades met hair and began shearing away. Dispassionately, the hairdresser continued around the back of Dawn’s head, methodically placing the clippers at the base of her neck and then running them vertically up the back of her head until the section of hair that had not been pinned up was reduced to quarter inch stubble. Though it may only have taken a few seconds, Dawn could only hear the incessant buzzing of the clippers and feel them running up the back of her head. All the while, the other girls watched wide eyed as each pass with the clippers, four inch sections of thick, dark hair fell to the floor and collected in a pile at the base of the chair.
The hair dresser switched the clippers off and walked around Dawn, placing them on the counter and picking up the scissors and comb. Dawn felt her unpin the sections of hair at the back of her head and start combing them down over the freshly clipped nape. The girls in the waiting area watched the hairdresser as she cut off the four inches of hair so that the loose top hair stopped short of the buzzed area. She moved her way to the sides where Dawn watched as her chin length bob was shortened to mid ear.
While the hairdresser was snipping away at Dawn’s tresses, another woman walked into the salon and walked by the waiting girls and went to the back of the salon. Reappearing a minute later, she grunted a hello to the other hairdresser and walked over to another stylist station and crisply asked “OK, who’s next?”
The girls again looked at each other, suspicious of the new hairdresser. Wearing a smock with the name “Beth” on it, she looked about forty, heavy set, glasses and short, nondescript grey hair. Not at all a friendly face or demeanor. Impatiently she stood behind the chair and finally announced
“I’ve been doing this for years now and the quicker you get it over with the better. Sgt Stebbins has fully briefed me so let’s get on with it. Come on sweetie, we’ll do you first”
Susan’s heart jumped to her throat as she realized that Beth was referring to her. Seized by some uncontrollable force, she stood up and walked over to Beth’s chair. With no delay, Beth swung her around to face the mirror and draped her with a cape.
Beth immediately began brushing out Susan’s hair so it fell straight down 6 inches past her shoulders. “My sweetie, you have such nice hair it’s a shame we have to chop it all off. Don’t worry, it’ll look good short.”
Susan, close to tears, started to say ” I saw a picture of what I would like…”But Beth just kept combing and said “Don’t worry sweetie, I know what to do. You’ll look great.”
So nervous and overwhelmed was she, Susan could barely speak above a whisper. “Um, can’t I just show you what I’d like. I don’t want it too short, in fact could you leave it as long as possible?” At that, Beth stopped combing and stood behind Susan and looked in her eyes in the mirror.
Seeming somewhat irritated Beth grudgingly replied ” Fine, show me your picture, but like I said, I’ve been preparing you girls for summer training for three years and I know what the sergeant will and will not accept.” While she was saying this, one of the other girls brought Susan the binder with the “approved” styles in it. She flipped to the appropriate page and reluctantly showed her a photo.
“I want to keep it as long as possible, and I want to be able to grow it again after the summer, so can you maybe do this?” She asked timidly. The photo she showed was a basic ear- lobe length bob, all one length. Beth briefly looked over her shoulder at the photo then began combing out Susan’s hair again.
“Oh no sweetie, with your face shape that wouldn’t look right at all. Trust me, I’m a great hairdresser and you’ll look super in short hair. Now I know that this will be a little scary but don’t worry. Come on now, let’s wash it.”
Susan was lead over to the wash station and Beth quickly washed and rinsed her hair for the last time. Beth wrapped Susan’s hair in a towel and walked her back to the chair. On the way, Susan saw the first hairdresser finishing up Dawn’s hair, blowing it dry and shaving the close hairs at the nape of her neck with a small set of electric clippers. She sat down and the hairdresser wrapped a cape around her.
Beth removed the towel and began to comb out all of Susan’s hair to its full length. At this point, Susan was facing the mirror, watching it all happen. Because she didn’t wear bangs, her hair was combed straight down in front of her face as her hair was left to fall in its natural distribution ” Boy, I don’t know why I washed it first. Normally, I just cut off all of the length, wash it, then cut in the style. But that’s OK.” Beth said. Beth finished combing and reached for the counter and picked up the scissors. Susan was almost in tears when Beth spun her around so her back was to the mirror. She pulled a hand out from under the plastic cape to wipe a tear away and asked ” What are you going to do?”, barely containing the anxiety of her voice.
Beth just stood in front of her and holding the scissors and comb and replied “I’m going to cut it of course. What did you think I was going to do?” she asked rhetorically.
Susan reached up and pushed the hair in front of her eyes aside. “I meant how are you going to do it?”
Beth let out a frustrated sigh and spun her back around so she was facing the mirror. “Now look,” she said in an unfriendly tone “I have had some trouble with girls before who don’t want to cut their hair and that’s fine. Just say so and you can talk to the sergeant about going home. If you want to stay, I’ve been told the accepted standards and I will cut your hair accordingly. Now, we’ve got lots of girls waiting so tell me if you want to stay or not and I can get going on the other girls.”
Susan was fully crying now but managed to sob out “I want to stay, just tell me what you are going to do so I can prepare myself”.
Beth softened a little, “Alright, sweetie, I know its scary cutting off all your hair but don’t be too concerned. You have a real pretty face and I’m going to give you a cut that will really make you look great.” She started combing her hair again and continued, “First I’m going to chop off all the long stuff so its easier to work on, then I’ll start at the back and just cut in the style. Then of course I’ll blow it dry and style it for you, OK?”
“But what kind of style? I’d like to keep it as long as they allow it.” Susan protested weakly.
“Don’t you worry about that,” Beth said, spinning her around once more so her back was to the mirror, “you’ll look really good. Now I’ll cut your bangs first so you can watch what’s going on” . With that Beth combed down the long hair in front of Susan’s face and simply started cutting straight across at a level even with her eyebrows.
Susan opened her eyes to watch the foot long sections of wet, dark hair fall slide down the cape and gather into a pile on her lap. She could hear a gasp from the waiting area as the other girls watched incredulously.
“Say good bye, sweetie ‘ cause off it goes!” Beth said as she slipped the shears into the left side of Susan’s long hair. Methodically she hacked away, shearing off eight inch sections of hair at Susan’s chin working around the side to the back. Beth had not been using the comb at all, simply cutting with the scissors as the hair fell, resulting in a somewhat choppy, uneven line. Whether imagined or not, all Susan could do was close her eyes and listen to the snipping of the scissors and the dull thud the heavy, damp shorn locks made as they fell to the floor. In less than a minute, Beth had finished and spun Susan around to face herself in the mirror.
“There you go, sweetie. The hard part’s all over. Now we’ll have some real fun and make you look pretty.” Seeing Susan’s teary eyes in the mirror, Beth continued: “Believe me, you won’t have any spare time to spend fixing your hair, so the shorter it is, the easier it is to care for.”
Just then the phone rang and Beth walked over to answer it at the desk near the entrance to the salon. Susan was left staring at her reflection in the mirror, trying to adjust to her changed appearance. Looking far from glamorous, her wet hair hung heavily down to her chin where it had been so abruptly cut off. Having cried out her tears, Susan could only look sadly at the collection of long pieces of dark hair that lay on the floor where Beth had cut them off the back of her hair. As she contemplated what the next painstaking step would be, Susan began to envision her remaining hair precision cut and dried in a chin length bob and began to feel better about the whole ordeal. What remained, she assumed, was to even out the ends and simply make sure that it was above the collar.
“Sorry to keep you waiting, dear,” Beth said as she returned to a position behind Susan’s chair.” Now, as I said the traumatic part is over, so let’s start to cut in the style”. Beth started to comb Susan’s hair straight down all around and began pinning it up section by section until all that remained loose was the hair at the back of her head, left hanging free from her ears down. Susan, of course, couldn’t see this but she knew that to get an even line with a bob the hair had to be cut in sections.
“Kathy, can I borrow your clippers?” Beth said to the other hairdresser. Susan’s ears perked up at this and she watched Beth in the mirror walk over to the other station. Natalie was now in the chair having what was left of her hair evened out to a length even with her ear lobes.
“Sure,” the other hairdresser replied, ” which guard do you want? There’s a two on them now.” Beth looked over at Susan and said “That’ll do. I’ll get your trimmer from you after.” Picking up the clippers, Beth walked back towards Susan, plugging them in to the outlet then moved around behind her. Susan said nothing, but wondered why the clippers were needed now. She expected Beth to use scissors to even out her bob and maybe clean up her neckline with the electric clippers when the cut was finished, but now she assumed that she would use them during the cut. Although a little concerned, Susan had read in a magazine how they were used on bobs to get a precise line. She watched tentatively in the mirror as Beth combed her hair down in back.
“Now like I said sweetie, you’re not going to have much time to spend getting ready in the morning while your on your training course. This cut will be dry in minutes and it should look much better than a boring old bob. Now tilt your head forward, that’s it.” Beth said, pushing Susan’s head forward.
Susan’s eyes went wide when she realized what was happening. Frozen in panic, she winced as she felt the clippers run up the back of her head. The buzzing continued as Beth sheared away the lengths of hair up to a level even with the tops of Susan’s ears. After the first swath had been cut, Susan heard Beth:
“Whoops! I guess I could have gone with a ‘three’ guard! Well, it’s going to be short but you won’t need a haircut for a while.” She continued buzzing the hair at the nape of her neck and put the clippers down. Susan lifted her head up to look in the mirror and saw the other girls gaping open mouthed at her shorn locks piled up on the floor. She fought the temptation to run her hands over the stubble at the back of her head while Beth picked up her scissors and comb again.
Starting on the left side of her head, she let down one of the sections that had been pinned up. Combing it straight down, Beth then snipped a line across even with the tops of her ears. Susan could only watch in dismay as what was once her chin length bob fell onto her shoulders, into her lap and land on the floor with the piles of hair already there. The hairdresser continued to cut away, creating a bowl shape on top of the sheared nape. Susan once again began getting used to it as it dried, thinking it looked kind of cute. Sort of a Kimberly Foster cut.
All the while, Beth just kept unpinning sections, combing them down then cutting them off. The hair had begun to dry as she kept cutting her tresses to fall into the straight, thick cap around her head, causing Susan’s hair to shrink up to an even shorter length. Susan watched in the mirror as the cut hair fell onto her shoulders, in her lap and on the floor. After what seemed like an eternity, Beth stepped back and combed her hair straight down all around and admired her handiwork.
“My, my,” she said walking around the chair and combing the cap of newly shorn hair, “that looks pretty good, but it’s still kind of thick though. I think I’ll thin it out some. I know you won’t mind now, seeing as it’s real short.”
Susan could do nothing but watch patiently as Beth pulled her thinning shears out of a drawer and move around behind her. Scooping up thick sections of the hair at the top of her head, she held them up and crunched the shears three times at each section. Susan’s eyes went wide as huge clumps of dry, dark hair were combed out after each snip of the thinning shears. Beth kept combing out the top sections and throwing the cut hair haphazardly on the floor as she moved around Susan. Her hair was totally dry now and lay lifelessly flat against her head in a shapeless boy-cut, lacking the initial femininity of the bowl cut she had before the episode with the thinning shears. Beth finished the cut by snipping her bangs straight across her forehead an inch above her eyebrows and then combed in a side part. Susan could not believe the change in her appearance.
“Well sweetie, just about done. We’ll just clean up your hairline and you’re set to go”. With that, Beth picked up her small rechargeable clippers, walked behind Susan, pushed her chin to her chest and switched on the trimmers. Susan cringed as she first heard the high pitched buzz then felt the nibbling teeth of the razor on the nape of her neck shaving the stubble left by the number two guard down to bare skin. Beth trimmed the hairline straight across the back of her neck and angled up towards her ears on each side. Susan could only watch helplessly while the hairdresser used the clippers to define the hairline around her ears. The buzzing stopped and Beth gave one final comb through the remnants of Susan’s once long hair and announced:
“All done sweetie. Now that wasn’t so bad, was it? Believe me, you’ll like it much better this way. Oh, just a second let me get my mirror and I’ll show you the back”. She reached for the hand mirror hanging off the counter and held it behind Susan to show her the rear view of her new hair cut. Susan audibly gasped as she saw her reflection in the main mirror. The back of her was a uniform quarter of an inch from the base of her neck up about 3 inches where it met a weight line that travelled straight around her head an inch above her ears. The hairline in back was an unfeminine straight line (which she realized was the last session with the clippers) and the skin was pale all over her neck and ears where her long hair had once kept it covered.
Beth hung up the mirror and unfastened the velcro holding the cape around her neck and Susan stood up, mesmerised by her reflection in the mirror. As if gloating, she heard Beth say “Don’t look down, honey. You might be in for a shock!” With that Susan looked on the floor to see her chair surrounded by piles of her thick, dark hair. The largest collection was at her feet when her back had been to the mirror as Beth sheared her mid back mane to chin length. Mustering all the courage she could she walked toward the reception area.
Natalie and Dawn had had their short bobs finished and gaped open mouthed at Susan while she paid the receptionist. Kathy (the other hairdresser) was in the middle of cutting off the shoulder length hair of one of the other girls which left Kim, the last of the recruits, to take her turn in the chair. Her mid back curls were gathered at her nape in a thick ponytail.
“Well sweetie,” Beth said looking into Kim’s eyes, “I guess you’re next. Come on over and have a seat. My sweetie, you have such nice hair it’s a shame we have to chop it all off. Don’t worry, it’ll look good short…..”
The End (for now..)