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Dan Rejects a Gift by Manny

"How does it look?" Dan asked his wife anxiously. She'd just finished drying his hair in the makeshift kitchen salon, working his dense mane into the power helmet hairstyle that was Dan's pride.

"Well, I didn't match the shade exactly with your natural color, but I don't think anyone will notice," she replied in a weak, hesitant manner.

"Didn't match the shade exactly?" What in the hell does that mean?!" Dan fumed as he emerged abruptly from the kitchen chair and almost flew to the nearest mirror.

A few moments later, Helen heard him shriek, "I look like I got doused with a bottle of peroxide! You were supposed to give me a few subtle highlights to cover the graying temples. I'll be a laughing stock at work....and, worse yet, at meeting house!"

Dan stormed back into the kitchen. "I should never have let you talk me into this! I should have gotten my hair frosted at the salon, like I wanted."

Helen hit back hard, "Talk about becoming a laughing stock! My preening, self-absorbed husband fueling his vanity in plain sight at the salon! Marjorie Adams works there. I can just picture her telling the bishop that she saw Dan Simmons getting highlights in his pretty boy coif at the ladies' salon! Foil wrappings and the works with him perched under a perky pink cape!"

Her rebuke stung. She had a good point. What people would say meant a lot to Dan....

It was Sunday night and Dan had an important meeting at the office first thing in the morning. He would have to ride out any fall out his hair might trigger.

"Well, maybe no one will notice, honey. Apart from the color mismatch, it actually looks quite good." He smoothed his hand over the plush, dense locks. Dan loved to feel how thick and soft his hair was. For a man in his early 40s, he had quite a bit of it. But the graying at his temples had begun to bother him.

"The lighter blond really makes your blue eyes stand out more," Helen gushed, happy to have resolved their tiff quickly. "You really are the most handsome of men, Dan." Yes, it was important for Helen to have their perfect family sitting in total harmony on one of the front pews in the meeting house. They were all quite attractive and with Dan's high salary, they wore the finest clothes and drove the fanciest cars.

Dan sauntered over to the foyer, this time with a brush in tow, and admired himself in the mirror. "You're right, my eyes look bluer and my teeth whiter! Actually, when I was a kid, my hair was this shade of blond -- by the end of summer, it would almost be platinum blond." Dan brushed his locks again, fashioning his pomp into a very high and voluminous wave of hair. "I think the dye has given my hair more body too. Thanks for the great job, Helen-honey. And sorry for the initial reaction. It's just that..."

"You don't have to explain anything!" she chirped. "Let's head on up to bed." Helen admired her husband's well sculpted body and perfect looks. She often referred to him as "my living Ken doll" and he'd affectionately reply, "and you're my living Barbie."

The next morning at work, Dan felt a little self conscious about his hair. But, the stress and activity of the important strategic planning meeting didn't give him much time to worry.

Only briefly during the coffee break -- when Larry Ritter saddled up to him and commented, "what happened to your hair?" -- did Dan get a brief attack of the jitters. Larry was his rival, both in the office and in the ward. It seemed like they were always squabbling to get the same assignments and clients. In their church, they both made it known of their desire to be considered for the position of ward counselor. Larry had in smarts what Dan had in looks. It worried Dan that his hair dye job might provide Larry with a tool to use against him....

When Dan arrived home in the evening, he was not prepared for Helen's nervous babbling the minute he stepped through the front door.

"Oh, Dan! It's been an awful day. Gertrude Steinmeyer told Joyce Sellars that she heard Ruby Flemming say that Sally Ritter's husband told her you got an awful dye job! Her husband Larry calls her every day from your office at lunch. Anyway, Larry told Sally that he knew you were vain about your looks, but he never expected a respectable, God-fearing man to dye his hair! Trying to stop the aging process is like trying to stop God's will for your life!"

Dan glanced at himself in the foyer mirror. Yes, his hair was unnaturally blond for a man his age. He was still quite handsome, but the hair screamed out "fake dye job"!

"Do you think you could tone down the color, Helen?" he asked nervously. "Or perhaps I can get an appointment at the salon, this evening. Start from scratch and have a professional dye it again."

"That won't work! The instructions warn against re-dying it on the account of damaging it for at least three weeks," Helen despaired.

"No, I couldn't risk brittle, damaged hair," Dan agreed.

"Or worse! What if it got fried with another round of peroxide and all snapped off near the root? Why, you'd have to get a baldy cut!" Helen gasped.

Dan's mind flashed back to the only time he'd been given a baldy cut in his life. He was working as a counselor at an LDS teen camp. His summer-streaked hair was long and the thick forelock constantly flopping in front of his eyes. He'd fallen asleep in chapel, assuming no one would notice as the veil of hair concealed his closed eyes. When the kids filed out of the tabernacle, the camp director flagged Dan and asked him to accompany him to his office. Dan was startled to see a cape and clippers on the desk. "Every day this week you've slept through chapel. Thought no one could see you snoozing under that long mass of hair...." He resisted the director's plan as best he could, but the threat of calling his parents to come pick him up was very potent. What would they say? Everyone in the church would gossip about him! Watching his beautiful hair fall to the cape was the most humiliating thing imaginable. To make things worse, the camp director seemed to be enjoying his task immensely. How everyone laughed and pointed as he was paraded around the dining fall in the evening so that all could see his baldy head! "He was tired of looking like a pretty boy...." the camp director announced to all the campers, adding to his humiliation.

The telephone rang and jerked Dan away from his distressing turn down 'Memory Lane'.

Helen answered, "Yes, he's in, Elder Schultz. I see, uh....Wednesday? Yes, we'll be taking our kids to Mutual. Stay after? Just Dan....yes, I will let him know."

"Helen, you know what that's about! The Ritters and the Schultzes are best friends," Dan croaked. Then he looked up and glared at his wife, "This is all your fault! Telling me you could do a good job at home and on the cheap!"

"You may make a lot of money, but you certainly blow through a lot of it on all your self care! That expensive salon -- just the bi-weekly trims cost $75 a pop! Then there's the gym membership to keep your body toned. All the teeth whitening. The visits to the spa for skin exfoliation.... You are worse than a looks-obsessed bimbo! Next thing you'll want is some butt implants! Maybe you ought to ask Elder Schultz for his opinion about that when he meets with you privately after Mutual." Helen stormed away, leaving her Ken doll angry and frightened.

Dan absolutely dreaded his conversation with Elder Schultz. For two days he worried about it. Things with Helen remained tense too. She had touched a very raw nerve exposing his narcissistic vanity.

Throughout the devotional talk at church Wednesday evening, Dan thought people were staring at his hair. Some sniggering. A wink or two. Elder Schultz spoke expounded on the opening to the book of Ecclesiastes: "Vanity of vanities; all is vanity!"

Once the two were alone in the church office, Elder Schultz cleared his throat and came straight to the point, "Dan, when I heard from one of the members that you had dyed your hair, I wanted to think it was idle gossip. But I knew better. That is exactly the type of thing preening Dan Simmons would do, I told myself. And that is why I must exhort you this evening. Oh, to be sure, the financial contributions you make to the church are very much appreciated. Your wife and your well behaved kids are such an addition to the fabric of our ward. But you, Dan....the head of the household! Not to mention your reputation in the church. When you expressed an interest in becoming a counselor, well....no one in leadership thought you were ready for consideration. We need to see some serious changes! 'Vanity of vanities' -- my devotional this evening was addressed to you. The hair, Dan, is a visible manifestation of an inward cancer."

Elder Schultz held up his fingers and simulated a pair of scissors cutting. "I want you to visit a barber shop. This week! Let's put an end to the ostentatious display of vanity. When I see you sitting in the sacrament meeting on Sunday, I want to see a big change, starting with this!"

To Dan's shock, Elder Schultz grabbed his voluminous quiff and gave his forelock a yank. He wrestled Dan's head down into a submissive, penitent position, almost prostrate before him. Then, in a churchy-sounding tone he pronounced, "If thine eye offend thee, pluck it out! If thy forelock offend thee, chop it off!"

Dan writhed in humiliation. Then, as Elder Schultz released the shaken Dan, he said, "Now, go. Your wife is waiting for you. This has been hard on her too -- all the wives gossiping and saying she feeds your vanity by encouraging the pretty boy look, calling you her 'living Ken doll'. They think she may even have dyed your hair herself. That would make her an aide and abettor to your vanity, Dan."

Dan's face was flushed with embarrassment as he fled from the church office. He knew what he had to do -- and he would be very severe upon himself. He would visit the barber shop first thing in the morning. Blow off work and get it done right away.

In the morning, Dan drove straight to Hugh's Barber Shop. He had often passed the small, stand-alone building that was trimmed with a fake-shingle roof. The whirling red and white pole, as well as the glow of neon from the plate glass window, let Dan know the shop was already open for business. All of the parking spots directly in front of the building were free. Dan pulled into one and turned off the key.

There was no sense delaying his haircut. In fact, he wanted to get the whole awful incident behind him. A set of fast feed electric clippers was what he needed! The idea of shaving off his hair as an act of penitence began to excite him.

Dan opened the car door and stepped quickly to the front door. The shop seemed empty.

"Be with you momentarily," a voice sounded from the back room.

Dan found himself in a 1950s time warp. The barber chairs, Formica counter top, neon lights, linoleum floor. The ambiance was frozen in time.

He walked over to a large chart of haircut lengths. It was in color and dated from a later period, when boys sported those awful mushroom cuts! Then he saw a newer chart hanging above the waiting chairs. His eye clamped onto a haircut labeled "bald fade".

Bald fade! There was almost no hair left. Just a hint of stubble on top. The name, bald fade, sent shivers down his spine. Yes, it would be his perfect punishment! He would ask for a bald fade.

Dan felt a surge of excitement as he developed the plan for his transformation. The pretty boy would be discarded in the barber shop's dust bin.....

Just then the barber emerged from the back, looking like an angel dressed in white from head to toe. Even the shoes were white! He sported a wonderfully traditional barber tunic that buttoned on the shoulder and had short sleeves exposing muscular, toned arms. Dan was surprised that it was a young barber -- not the geezer type he expected.

"Go ahead, take a seat, chair by the window," the barber said, indicating where he would give Dan his haircut. "First time here?" he asked.

Dan climbed up onto the footrest and eased into the comfortable leather upholstery. "Yes. I've passed by many times but this is the first time I've come inside. It's a nice place you've got here."

"Welcome. I'm Harrison, the new proprietor," the barber said. "Hugh was my grandfather -- but I decided to keep his name on the shop." Harrison wrapped a tissue about Dan's neck and then cast a huge white cape.

Dan tried not to squirm under the cape, but suddenly he panicked about requesting a bald fade. The extremely short haircut would definitely call a lot of much attention. Even more than the peroxide dye job!

The inevitable question came from the barber, "So what'll it be today? A trim?"

Dan's mouth felt dry. He had not rehearsed his response well enough. "Uh, no. Not a trim. I, uh, want it cut very short."

The barber smiled slightly. He seemed pleased that 'a trim' was off the table. "Like a short taper?" he asked. "Or perhaps even shorter?"

Dan gripped the arms of the chair and braced himself. "Much shorter. I want a big change. What would you recommend, Harrison?"

The barber ran a brush through Dan's thick hair. Then he pulled the forelock straight up from the head and surveyed the five inch tress. "What do you say, we take this off to about here?" The barber clamped his fingers near the base of the tress so that four inches were designated to hit the cape. "Everything cut very short, close to the scalp and the bangs here under an inch. A short 'ivy league', how does that sound?"

"It sounds like I'm a college student instead of a white collar manager," Dan laughed nervously.

Dan paused, gripped the arm rests, and then blurted out, "How does a 'bald fade' sound?"

"Wow! Bald fade! That would make you look like an inner city gang member!" replied the barber.

Then the barber stared for a moment at Dan's hair and said, "Why not just bald? Total head shave -- cueball!"

Dan shivered at he suggestion. Instantly, he knew that would be his decision -- bald! The suggestion surged through him like an electric shock. He would emerge from the chair scraped clean! All his transgressions obliterated. No visible reminder of his vain desire to cover up the graying temples. And, ironically, the shaved head would accomplish his original goal. No more visible graying hair!

The barber could tell Dan liked the idea of going all the way. He spelled out the steps in Dan's transformation. "I'd take the balding clippers to this thatch. Shave off the lot of it -- boot camp barbershop scene. Then, some streaming hot towels draped over the stubble. Nice warm foam. A sharp straight edge razor and voila! You'll be a new man!"

Dan smiled eagerly. "Yes, that's what I want! Take it all off. Every bit of it."

The barber needed no encouragement to get straight to work. He reached for the largest set of clippers. "Ready?" he asked as he brought them up toward the voluminous quiff.

Dan braced as the clippers hit his hair line. The metal teeth chewed off the mass of hair with very little effort. The blond straw rained down in torrents.

Dan felt as if he was being purified of his sins with the clippers stripping away the signs of his prissy vanity. The pile of cut hair on his lap grew to a generous amount. With all the hair gone from the top, but still intact on the sides, Dan looked like his grandfather.

Then he thought the most dreadful thing -- what if the Lord would punish his vanity with severe, premature MBP?!

"I'm not balding at all, am I?" Dan asked the barber nervously.

"Would it matter?" Harrison replied. "It's all coming off anyways. Lots of men who start balding decide to take it all off. Bald by choice, it's called."

The young barber buzzed off the remaining fringe that hovered just over the ears. In just a few minutes, all the dyed hair had been clipped off all the way to the scalp. "There, no hair!" the barber announced. He gently caressed the stubble. "Like that feeling?"

Dan blushed. He had! His mind flashed back to his first butch cut at camp. Yes, the director had caressed his newly clipped stubble in the same manner....

"Well, it's not something you should get used to because the stubble is coming off!" Harrison announced. The barber retrieved some steaming towels and draped them over the scalp to soften it and prepare it for shaving.

"Ah, that also feels wonderful!" Dan exclaimed. "I'd have never experienced these new sensations if I'd kept driving by this shop instead of coming in today."

"Will this makeover be a surprise to your colleagues at work and your family?" the barber asked.

"Sure will. I don't think anyone will believe it. Especially at church!" he laughed.

After a few minutes, the barber removed the damp towels. He reached over to the foam machine and dispensed a large dollop in his hand. It was wonderfully warm as the barber massaged it into Dan's scalp. The young barber's strong hands worked the foam vigorously. Dan stifled a groan of delight. He could really get used to this!

After a few minutes to soften up the scalp came the razor. Dan watched intently as the barber scraped the sharp blade expertly across his scalp. Another wonderful sensation! "That feels totally awesome," Dan cooed in a relaxed voice.

"Just wait till I pat some witch hazel onto the newly scraped head. The sting will surge through you like a jolt of electricity!" replied the barber. "I think a man with great hair who goes bald by choice is very self confident. It says something about his character -- fearless, brave, everything manly. Virile!"

Dan drank in the praise. See the new him in the mirror in fact did make him feel virile.

Harrison was totally right about the witch hazel. Dan heaved in the chair as the barber patted a generous amount onto his newly naked scalp.

When the cape came off and Dan came closer to the mirror to inspect his bald head, he noticed something alarming. "There's a contrast between my tanned face and the white scalp no top. I look like I have on a woman's bathing cap!" he shrieked.

"Ah, yes," acknowledged the barber. "I love new tan lines. It will broadcast to the world that you've just been inducted into the BBC club."

"Bald by choice," Dan muttered. In his mind he objected -- more like bald by Elder Schultz' command!

Once outside the barber shop and back in his usual environments, Dan was not prepared for the amount of ribbing and outright ridicule he received for the bald head. "Who turned on that bright light bulb?" "When did you start chemo?" "I like your new bathing cap!"

Helen laughed uproariously when Dan came home. "No more living Ken doll." Then she melted into his arms and nuzzled him, purring in his ear, "You're more like a rugged, handsome G.I.Joe now!"

The big climax would be Dan's inspection by Elder Schultz on Sunday. Driving to the meeting house, Dan felt very nervous. Every shriek and giggle in the church lobby was like a small knife wound -- Dan felt like all the attention was on him. People looking and whispering.

Then Elder Schultz approached him, eyeing him with an amused look. "Ah, the new Dan Simmons. Quite a change!"

"It's all gone. My pride and vanity," whimpered Dan in a contrite tone.

"I'll see you after the service in my office," Elder Schultz said in a curt, authoritative tone.

Dan could not stay focused on the sacrament meeting. It was with fear and trembling that he awaited for Elder Schultz in his office. He felt nervous and all alone.

The door swung open abruptly. Elder Schultz strode over and towered above him, examining the bald head. Then he began lightly stroking the virgin scalp. "So you've tried to use the situation to gain even more attention, Dan Simmons! And you've tried to hide your sin of vanity by shaving off all the dyed hair."

"No, sir! You are trying to make it sound like I....." Dan stammered.

Elder Schultz cut off his protestation. "The bishop and I have discussed your situation." Then, the elder switched into a more tender tone, "We'd like to give you a gift. A token of our appreciation for your faithful attendance and financial support."

This line of conversation blew Dan away. What was Elder Schultz getting at? Was the admonishment and exhortation over?

Elder Schultz continued, "When Mrs. Kling passed away last week, she left our church her Ford Focus. It's ten years old, but still a reliable vehicle. The bishop and I would like you to have it, Dan."

"Oh, thank you, sir. But I already have a car," Dan replied.

"A very nice car, isn't it?" Elder Schultz asked rhetorically. "It's a Mercedes Maybach, I think."

"Yes," said Dan, beginning to understand where this little conversation might be going.

"The bishop very much admires that very make and model. And....."

Dan's blood began to simmer, He stood as the elder spoke and finished out the ecclesiastical sentence for his sins of vanity and pride. ".....and, since I now have a reliable Ford Focus, thanks to your generosity, Elder Schultz, I would like the bishop to have my redundant Mercedes Maybach."

"Thank you, Dan. You are too kind and generous. And one last thing. The bald head. It's very disruptive. You will not be served the sacrament until it's grown out into a standard business cut. Short back and sides. Nothing ostentatious please." Elder Schultz indicated their session was over and ushered Dan to the door.

Dan's blood began to boil. Was he going to be controlled by a manipulative, exploitative clergy? Or was he going to be a man?!

"No, sir! There will be NO 'short back and sides' for me! In fact, you won't ever see me again at the sacrament meeting. And you can keep your Ford Focus and you can keep your morsel of bread and water. From now on, I'm bald by choice and I run my own life!" Dan snapped as he left the office, slamming the door behind him.

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