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Once You Get Started by Baldsurfer

One day when I was in sixth grade, I told my mom I wanted to let my hair grow long. My hair was dirty blond and stick-straight, and to that point, I'd worn a boyish bowl cut for as long as I could remember. My folks were pretty permissive, so we struck a simple deal that as long as I kept my hair clean and neat, I could grow it out. No problem. By that age, puberty was kicking in, and with the pit hair came the stink. I was already getting interested in girls and so had started taking my appearance and hygiene seriously, showering daily, using deodorant, dressing better and trying to keep my hair looking good. And so my hair started to grow. And grow. And grow...

By the time I got to high school, my hair hung well below my shoulder blades. Always clean and neat. Usually in a pony tail during school. Girls loved my hair. I loved the attention I got from girls because of my hair. By junior year, a tightly trimmed goatee had become part of the look. Since that day in sixth grade, I'd never had a haircut where more than half an inch was trimmed off And by the time I graduated and went off to college, that was still the "look" - although the goatee had filled in and looked a bit more legit.

I got into great college, one that my parents couldn't afford to send me to without the generous scholarship and financial aid package the school offered. But part of that package involved an on-campus job. I'd worked summers as a bus boy at a local restaurant, so I got placed to be a waiter at the Executive Dining Hall - where the Deans, Professors and wealthy visiting donors ate. I showed up for my first day the way I showed up for work at the restaurant back home - my hair tied back in a neat tightly bound pony tail. The Executive Manager apparently had a different standard. Looking back it was still pretty liberal, but at the time I was horrified.

My hair, even tied back, couldn't hang below my shoulders. And all floor personnel had to be clean shaven. I hated the idea, but I needed the job if I wanted to keep the financial aid and stay in school. I went home and shaved off the goatee that I'd worn for almost 3 years. I thought the image looking at me from the mirror was my 12-year-old self. But that was just the first step. Cutting my hair to shoulder length would mean losing a good 8 inches or more! But college was the key to my future and hair would always grow back. So, still nervous, I walked into town and saw a barber shop. I tried to act casual as I strolled past it a few times, looking in the windows.

Most of the customers looked to be my fellow students. But most of them were getting buzz cuts, fades and other radical cuts I couldn't even imagine. But a cheap barber shop cut was all I could afford, and anyway, the barber would only cut what I ask him to, right? I walked in, sat down and waited my turn.

I couldn't help staring as other guys my age fearlessly asked for tight buzzes. Some waled in with shaggy (but not as long as mine) hair and left with stubble. Others walked in with really short hair and walked out even shorter. And oddly, I couldn't help but admire how good they looked. But that wasn't me. Not my style. Not the image I wanted.

Finally it was my turn. I explained that I needed my hair cut to my shoulders. The barber asked if I wouldn't want to try something with less maintenance, but I said that all I wanted was to cut only as much as I had to so I could keep my job. I was still nervous. Almost half my hair was about to come off. I felt myself tremble as the barber sprayed water on my hair and combed through it. Then, he picked up his scissors and casually took that first snip, sending 8 inches of hair falling onto my cape. It took only a few snips and a few minutes for him to finish the job. It didn't look that bad. But it didn't look that good either. I left, feeling confused. My hair was still, by anybody else's standards, "long". But as I looked at my reflection in each window I passed, I just felt wrong. Before I went to work that night, I took a long shower, dried and combed my hair and tied it back into a small pony tail. From the front, it now looked the same, but that short tail felt wrong. The manager complimented me on the cut and thanked me for cooperating without a fight.

Over the next few days, I kept looking at myself in the mirror. The long hair that defined my image was gone. This Prince Valiant look was not who I wanted to be. It looked silly. And as I wandered campus, seeing how many guys wore really short hair and looked good with it, I slowly got up the nerve to go further. The long hair I loved was gone. Who cared about what was left?

So only four day after my last haircut I found myself in the same chair in the same barber shop, and told the barber I wanted a short style. Nothing buzzed. Just short and neat. He wet and combed my hair, grabbed his scissors and sliced the left side above my ear. I was shocked as the hair fell. He worked his way around my head, cutting away the length. With scissors over comb, he cut the back and sides to barely an inch. Then he sliced a few inches from the top, parted it on the side and cleaned up my neck and above my ears with hot lather and a straight razor. I'd never felt a razor against my head before. He worked a few drops of gel into the finished style and now the guy looking back from the mirror looked like a middle aged accountant. I was horrified, but paid and left. I went home, feeling sick to my stomach. I washed my hair. Tried to style it in a way that looked OK. But I hated it! My roommate came home, saw me and laughed. "What the F**K did you do?"

I could barely sleep that night. It was the first time I ever felt insecure about how I looked. I got up in the morning, looked again and still couldn't believe how awful I looked. I had no classes that morning, so I walked back into town and went straight back to the barber.

"I knew you'd be back," he said as I walked in. He had a broad grin as he motioned me to the chair and tied the cape around my neck.

"What do you mean?" I asked.

"Young fella, I've been a barber for thirty years. A guy like you comes in with long hair and cuts it a little - well, he always comes back for more. If you like it long, no medium cut will ever make you happy. But that first cut is always the hardest. Once it's done, you ain't going back. And when you came back yesterday, we both knew what you really wanted, but you were too scared to ask. So I gave you what you asked for, but I knew you'd hate it"

"So you gave me a haircut I'd hate? So I'd have to pay you for ANOTHER cut?"

At that, the barber laughed out loud. "Of course not, son. Like I said - I knew you'd be back for what you really wanted. I saw you watching while I was buzzing all your classmates. Now that you started cutting that long hair, you won't be happy until it's all gone. This one's on the house. All you have to do is say it out loud."

"Say what?"

"Tell me exactly what kind of haircut you want and it's on me. You want it buzzed real short. Like that fella you stared at the other day - a #1 on top with faded sides skinned to a zero. You stared at every second of that haircut. Sure, you liked your long hair. But you'll never be happy in the middle of the road. So tell me what you want."

I never thought I wanted short hair until I heard him say that. Suddenly it all made sense. Sure, I'd loved my long hair. But everything in the middle is boring. If I couldn't have it all, I wanted none. And all at once, I couldn't believe the words that came out of my mouth.

"I don't want it faded to the skin. I want it all skin. Do that zero all over."
What?!?! Had I lost my mind? The barber didn't ask if I was sure. He grabbed his big black clippers and plowed a line of tiny stubble down the middle of my head. And suddenly it all felt right. With every pass of the clippers, a new me emerged, and I loved it!

Minutes later, the last of my hair on the cape and floor, the blond stubble was barely visible and I looked bald. And I looked good. Since I was 12, I'd never gotten more than half an inch cut off. Now I knew I'd never allow a half inch to ever grow on my head again.

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