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Trading places by Manny
It wasn't often that I was ever near the executive suite, much less ushered into the inner sanctum. The expansive office lined with walnut paneling and bookshelves, the huge desk, the leather Chesterfield couch, the lovely view of fall foliage out the ceiling-to-floor windows. I felt so small and almost meaningless as I waited for Mr. Carlson to look up from the papers he was signing.
"Ah, yes, you've brought the letters of commendation for those who distinguished themselves in the annual charity drive. So important for our company's image, and also promotes that important feel-good buzz among the staff. I take it you were the organizer, this year?" Mr. Carlson said.
"Yes, sir. It was a wonderful experience. And, thank you for signing these certificates," I said, keeping a respectful distance.
"Well, then, bring them here. Let me do them right now so they don't get lost in my busy inbox," he replied, motioning for me to approach the vast desk.
As he took them from me, I examined every detail more closely. One day, I wanted to be sitting in the executive suite -- one day I wanted to become the new "Mr. Carlson", I thought to myself. And, why not?! He looked about my age, perhaps a few years older, but we were worlds apart in terms of position and rank. I admired his impeccable appearance -- a very tailored suit, French cuffs, gold Rolex, nicely manicured nails, silk tie. And his hair! Oh, so nicely styled. Quite thick and long on top with tidy grooming around the ears and at the nape. His mane was absolutely perfect, and oh did it shimmer with health and vitality!
I watched Mr. Carlson apply his exquisite signature to each of the certificates. I mean, even the way he signed his name was impressive.
As he finished the last one, he looked up at me and flashed a smile that made his perfect white teeth dazzle. "And your name is....?"
"Luke Henderson, sir. Thank you so much for taking the time out of your day to do this."
As I left his office, I reflected on just how shabby I was by comparison. A polo shirt and chinos and some scruffy loafers. Nails roughly chopped off and a plain swatch watch. Oh, and my hair buzzed off in a simple butch. I ran my hand up the back -- cut to a #2 all over. But even my simple butch felt grown out and shabby. I'd have to ring up my buddy Jeff and have him take the clippers to me.
I didn't beat up on myself too much, though. It was clear that do dress and look like Mr. Carlson, I needed his salary. But it was a chicken and egg situation....could I get there without upping my image a bit?
A few days later, I was floored when Mr. Carlson himself appeared at my cubicle. I swiveled around and there he was in his full glory! I never recall him being back so deep among the worker bees.
"Luke, when I signed those certificates, I thought one was missing. And that impression was confirmed when I read the article today in the corporate newsletter. Luke Henderson's name was nowhere mentioned! Luke Henderson did not even get a signed certificate for all his hard work. My special assistant Jack told me how much time you put in on this! Was it an oversight or pure modesty?" he asked.
"I'm just happy for all the people who benefitted from everyone's hard work and generosity," I said, smiling shyly and averting my gaze from the big boss.
"Nonsense! I'm taking to you to lunch! Is this a good time for you? And while we're there I am going to give you some tips about the acceptable way to 'blow your own horn' to get ahead in the corporate world. Come on now, all that can wait! We'll go to my club for lunch and the rest of the afternoon where you can take advantage of all the spa services on me. My treat for your hard work!" he beamed.
There was no refusing Mr. Carlson's kindness, and I didn't want to! We caused quite a stir as I was ushered out of cubicle land by the biggest wig in the company.
Sitting in the back seat of his chauffeured BMW was another treat. "Is this car yours, or a corporate perk?" I asked in awe.
"The company's. Occasionally, I drive my Boxster convertible, but usually the chauffer picks me up. I love the convertible, but it wreaks havoc with my hair," he said.
I again discreetly admired Mr. Carlson's plush locks, and then quipped spontaneously, "If you had a butch cut like me, that wouldn't be a problem!"
"True," Mr. Carlson said as he eyed me without making any effort to conceal that he was giving me the once over. "Who cuts your hair, Luke?"
"My buddy, Jeff. We give each other buzzcuts about once a month. In the kitchen. It's quick and free. But, I'm overdue for one," I said.
Mr. Carlson seemed to enjoy my account of free kitchen buzzcuts. He crossed his legs in a relaxed manner as there was plenty of room on his side with the front seat pulled up as much as possible.
"Did you work hard to get where you are in life, in the company, Mr. Carlson?" I asked.
"Hardly!" he replied with a note of scorn in his voice. "I was born into privilege. Nannies, private schools, designer clothes, Ivy League education, connections galore. Everything handed to me. I haven't done an honest day's work to get where I am. My father arranged this position for me. He owns the company. Frankly, I feel a bit cheated in life."
I didn't know how to react to this unexpected outpouring of personal feelings! Everything I desired about him, he seemed to despise.
"When I look at you, Luke," he continued, "working your way up the ladder, scrimping to get ahead....I have a lot of respect for that. Kitchen buzzcuts sound like heaven to me! Yet, I'm pampered at the salon, nurturing creme rinses, nails manicured, deep tissue massages...all those status symbols make me feel hollow. Empty. Like none of this is mine...just wonderfully expensive hand-me-downs! What I wouldn't give to be assigned a cubicle and try to find room in the crowded fridge to put my ham sandwich."
"I'm sorry to hear that, sir," I said, feeling uncomfortable and unsure of what to say. "But, I think you're glamorizing the 'have not' world a little too much."
Mr. Carlson let out a laugh. "Good one! You may be right. But, when I showed up in your cubicle, what did you say....? 'I'm just happy for all the people who benefitted from everyone's hard work and generosity.' I mean, you're a real person! You're more of a man with your threadbare polo shirt and amateur butch cut than I'll ever be." Mr. Carlson seemed to be almost in anguish as he reflected on the contrast.
We rode in silence. Finally, he spoke. "I'm sorry about unloading on your like that, Luke. It wasn't fair. This is to be about you and rewarding you for your hard work. Not about my poor-little-rich-boy neurosis."
I steeled my nerves a bit and asked, "Have you ever thought about a sabbatical? Stepping away from all this for a bit? Finding out how the other 99% live? Maybe a good dose of reality would be a good tonic for you."
Mr. Carlson twitched and shifted nervously. "No, but I'm thinking about it now. It's a wonderful idea. Why not? What would you suggest?"
"Take six months off. You can afford it. Rent a one-bedroom apartment somewhere and try to get by on $950 per month. Shop at the Salvation Army for your clothes. Clip coupons. Get Little Ceasar's $5 pizza once a week. Check out the 'rotten rack' at the grocery store for some marked-down produce. Do what the rest of us do when we were starting out. Set the privilege aside. Get by on your own merits."
He smiled, and added, "And have a friend give me a kitchen buzzcut for free?"
"You have such nice hair....so perfectly style," I commented, admiring his flawless coif.
Mr. Carlson looked at himself in the window and I got a perfect view of the back of his head. The nape was trimmed precisely, just off the collar.
If he was yearning for a butch, I could certainly be of service to him.
Warming quickly to the idea of giving Mr. Carlson his first butch, I said, "I'll just have to know if you want a #1 or a #2, and whether the barbershop will be in your kitchen or mine."
I imagined myself having him strip off his power suit, removing his tie, unbuttoning his shirt and making him to take a seat in my kitchen. Plunging the clippers into his glossy mane. His beautiful hair falling in clumps to my feet....
He turned around and smiled broadly. "Your kitchen! And make it whatever you get!" Unexpectedly, he reached over and quickly stroked the top of my butch.
I blushed and instinctively felt demure and submissive to the boss.
"If I do take a sabbatical, would you help me get set up, Luke?" he asked, still eyeing me curiously. I welcomed his attention and gaze.
"Sure. I even have an old futon you can have," I remarked.
"Good, when I pick it up, I hope your barber shop is open," he said, instinctively smoothing down his plush mane. "Ever since you mentioned a kitchen haircut, I've been thinking what about the feel of the clippers across the top of my head."
Just then we entered the gates of Mr. Carlson's country club, back in his world.
I savored every minute of my time there. All the deference from the staff, people opening doors and bowing slightly as we passed. The amazing restaurant. Fortunately, Mr. Carlson helped me navigate the menu and the various courses.
"No, it's not ex-car-got, it's s-car-go. Get it, like "car go"! Think of my sporty Boxster. And please, no more of this Mr. Carlson, if we're to be pals. My friends call me Carzy. Crazy Carzy. Clovis Haliburton Carlson is such a pompous name! Why didn't my parents name me something normal like Tom or John? After lunch, we'll hit the spa."
"Could I have my nails manicured like yours, Carzy?" I asked, admiring the way they were uniform, smooth and shiny. I glanced at my own amateur hack job -- some nails painful short and some too long.
He smiled at me. "Sure. I'm thinking during my six-month sabbatical you might find out how the 1% lives. I'll arrange for it with management, a temporary membership at this club paid for by me, if you'd like."
"And the use of your Boxster? I'd hate driving into this place with my 2011 Toyota Corolla!" I said, trying not to appear over eager.
"You know, we're about the same size. What do you wear? A 40-R?" he asked.
"Exactly. And a 16-size neck," I added.
"Size 9 shoes?! We can swap wardrobes!" he laughed.
I looked at my polo shirt...how had he referred to it? Threadbare? Ratty?!
"Deal! Starting from when we leave the spa? I'd like to walk out of here in your nice suit, Carzy!" I urged.
"This is going to be so much fun," he chirped with excitement.
I felt a little awkward as Carzy undressed in front of me in the locker room. I still thought of him as Mr. Carlson, the big boss at work. But there he stood in his birthday suit with his body perfectly manscaped. Even his pubic hair was neatly trimmed, unlike my overgrown bush! Everything was immaculate. Oh, and such wonderfully hairy legs. He seemed to enjoy flaunting his perfect physique. There was no doubt in my mind he employed a personal trainer.
We slipped into plush robes, embroidered with the club crest, and proceeded to the salon area. On the way, he stopped in front of a mirror before leaving the changing area and studied his hair.
Then he looked at me, "A #1. That's a length?"
"Yep, Carzy. A very short length! There will be nothing to brush when you leave my kitchen barbershop," I chucked.
The announcement of his fate energized me. Suddenly, I felt compelled to dominate over him, to reduce him in position. I stepped forward with my chest puffed out. We were dressed alike in our plush robes. All that distinguished us was his expensive salon coif.
I grasped the forelock that was swept back into a pomp. "This is coming off....down to an eighth of an inch! All that I'm going to leave up here is stubble." The sexual tension between us suddenly sky-rocketed.
It seemed as if Carzy enjoyed feeling submissive. "I can't wait to emerge from your kitchen barbershop shorn of this power helmet. A genuine amateur butch! No skill involved. Brutally short and nothing left to fuss over or admire. You will be a very stern barber."
"When I give you the baldy," I said firmly, "that's it for your wearisome life of privilege. You'll be stripped of everything -- your fussy mane, all your credit cards, your Rolodex of contacts, your cash flow at the ATM, your club membership, your fancy cars and iPhones, your busy social calendar. All you'll have is $950 for the month. Cash - every penny will count to make ends meet. And, me...you'll have me. Your haircut will be the milestone between a life of privilege where everything comes easily and a life of struggle, where you have to claw your way to survival. And your very first task in your new life will be to sweep these forlorn locks off the floor and toss them in the kitchen trashcan."
I desperately wanted to kiss him, but resisted. I'd save that for later, possibly when he'd been stripped of all his status, influence and wealth.
Once in the salon area, Mr. Carlson reverted to his old self. He instructed the manicurist to do something with my awful nails! He snickered cruelly as he watched the attendant glance in horror at their conditions. "Those cuticles look like they've never been conditioned or cut!" she exclaimed.
Then he proceeded to the washing station to have his mane lathered, plied with a hot oil conditioner, rinsed with icy cold water, trimmed and styled with a blow dryer.
As I had my nails worked on, I watched the attendants fawning over his beautiful hair. How deferential they were to it. Oh, and the trimming session was so timid! Snippets so tiny they could hardly be seen on the cape. I couldn't wait to take the clippers to Carzy and mow off his pampered locks. He might even end up with an induction cut on Day 1 of his new life!
Mr. Carlson's hair looked like something out of a GQ magazine as he emerged from the salon chair. The pomp was exquisite, and the hot oil treatment had made his hair glow with vitality.
I showed him how much better my nails looked. Then I pushed my advantage even further with him. "The six-month membership and the use of your Boxster are so great, Carzy! You're so generous. But, I'm sure you'll understand that for a true experience in your world, I'll need all my expenses covered. I mean, I saw how much your hair treatments and my manicure would have cost. No way on my salary...."
"I will turn over my credit cards to you, Luke. Whatever you need. Better yet, whatever you desire, will be yours!" he announced warmly as he took my hand and gave it a loving squeeze once we were inside the changing area and alone.
I grabbed him firmly, confidently. My fingers plied through his silken mane as I put my lips against his. I had him wrapped around my little finger and loved the feeling of control. Then, I pulled away and left him panting. Desperate for more. But, I was in control, not Carzy!
"I have something special planned for you after your first kitchen butch!" I said, thinking of him on his knees to bring me delight.
"I'll put everything in motion as quickly as I can for my sabbatical -- an absence from my office, my club, the golf course, everything. It will be such a treat," he enthused. "I'll be a real person, for once!"
He reached for his clothes, but I reminded him that the change was already beginning by grasping his wrist and moving it to my threadbare polo shirt. "You will feel so much more comfortable in these," I said firmly.
"Oh, you're right," he apologized.
Once he'd dressed, I could not contain my glee at seeing him so altered by my outfit. I could tell he was uncomfortable. His romanticized view of the underprivileged might quickly collapse. I thought of Carzy working for my friend Jeff as a supply clerk in his hardware store. Being bossed about and spending his days in a tedious, unimaginative routine.
Carzy felt very self-conscious and tried to hustle out of the club as quickly as possible. But I made sure that many of those fawning employees, who had been so deferential in our entrance, saw him in my scruffy loafers, casual chinos and tattered polo shirt. It was just the coiffed hair that gave him an imagine of authority, an aura of superiority.
Yes, Mr. Carlson's first kitchen butch might actually be an induction cut! All stripped off, down to the wood! He would emerge from my chair stunned and totally altered with no hair.
Once at the car, I took the privileged seat on the ride back, on the right side, with the extra leg room. The discreet chauffer did not say a word or seem to notice his boss' diminished status.
Back at work later in the week, an announcement was made to all employees that Mr. Carlson was taking a much deserved sabbatical and would be out of the office for six months.
He sent me a message to meet him in the parking lot at 5:30.
Carzy was going to have to learn to be on the receiving end of instructions and orders!
"It will be more convenient for me if you come to my apartment at 6:00 p.m. Make sure to have all the cards, keys and cash I'll need. For you, just one carry-on case. Nothing fancy please. I will provide you with some clothes and we can stop by the Goodwill in the morning to pick up some additional items. The haircut will be on me!" I wrote and hit the send button.
"Oh, yes, will do," he wrote back quickly. "Should I pick up a pizza at Little Ceasar's on the way?"
"Fine. You'll spend the first night at my place. I have a sleeping bag. The floor will have to do if you find the futon uncomfortable. Hopefully you will rent a good efficiency apartment. I'm afraid your budget won't cover a one bedroom. And I have some news to share with you about a job option once you're here."
Carzy came in full of excitement. "Oh, Luke, I can't believe my adventure is finally starting! Sorry, I'm a bit late. Some last-minute issues at the office with my sabbatical."
"Well, once you start your job at the Ace Hardware store on Monday stocking shelves, you're going to have to be more careful about timeliness. Jeff, my buddy who is the general manager there, is a stickler about slackers who arrive to work late! And don't let his appearance fool you. He may be obese and unkempt with his shirt untucked half the time, but those working for him need to tow the line."
"Stocking shelves?" Carzy stammered.
"Yes, and the warehouse is dreadfully hot. It's a good thing we're going to shave off that thatch of hair - no sweaty mop to deal with at the end of your shift. Now, let's get you undressed from your old life....." I said motioning for him to come close.
I began with his tie. Carzy stood there submissively as I loosened the knot and pull it off. "Nice pattern. Maybe I'll wear it on Monday. Oh, Italian silk. Tailor made in Milan. Nice," I murmured.
The de-frocking continued. "Take off the jacket. Expensive worsted wool. Very elegant!"
Then the shirt came off. "Now, the pants," I said as I motioned for him to unbuckle his belt.
"You want me to take my pants off?" he stammered, reluctant to comply.
"Don't want this hair getting on these trousers," I said ruffling up the coif. "I don't have a cape. Just the clippers. Strip completely, like you did at the club. Your manscaped body was nothing to be ashamed of. Oh, by the way, I let Jeff know how fond you are of prancing about in your birthday suit while changing. Showing off your toned muscles. He'll be quite keen to see it for himself, I imagine. How do you feel about men with MPB?"
"MPB? What's that?" Carzy asked, as he imagined the unpleasant task of trying to fend off his obese, slovenly boss.
"You know, a bald head with just a pathetic fringe of hair around the side and back. Male Pattern Baldness. He does have an enormous mustache, though, which he's quite proud of. You should tell him how handsome and macho it makes him," I suggested. "That should help ingratiate yourself with him."
"Am I going to like Jeff?" Carzy asked skeptically.
"Hey, be glad I got you a job! If it doesn't work out, maybe you could get one at McDonalds. They're always looking for help to clean the grills and mop the floor. But, those nice soft hands of yours would get roughed up quickly! And speaking of those hands, that manicure is so prissy. People at the hardware store will laugh you out of the warehouse. Here's a nail clipper and some rubbing alcohol. Wipe off that glossy coating and cut the nails short. I'll set up the barbershop in the kitchen," I announced.
Carzy looked a bit dazed as he strolled into the kitchen examining the hack job he'd done on his nails. His silken mane positively shimmered in the kitchen's neon light. I displayed the clippers, and I saw his groin stir with delight.
"The boot camp barber awaits you, Cal!" I announced, tapping the chair authoritatively.
"Cal?" he asked.
"Yep, you'll be going by Cal. See, here's your new uniform for Ace's." I held up the service jumpsuit with the company logo on one side and the name 'Cal' embroidered into an oval patch on the other. "You didn't think people were actually going to call you Clovis?! And, Carzy...well, that's too conspicuous and cute. Besides, Jeff had this patch already from a previous employee. It will save you a $15 deduction from your paycheck."
"I kind of like the name Cal," he said, taking a seat. "And I can't wait to see the new me with my first ever amateur butch! I'll feel so proud to wear that Ace's uniform. You can't imagine how much I'm looking forward to this adventure -- my little efficiency apartment, trying to scrape by like a normal person. Oh, Luke, you had the best idea."
Cal took a seat and shifted about. I couldn't tell if it was nervousness or excitement. The latter, probably. I grasped the mane, and my fingers were lost in the deep silken locks that graced the top of his head.
"Are you sure you're not going to miss this?" I cooed in his ear. I continued playing with his pampered tresses. "No more getting these locks brushed just right each morning, admiring yourself in the mirror. You'll be glad about that, though. The warehouse employees need to report to Ace at 5:00 a.m. to receive shipments. I signed you up for 10-hour shifts, by the way. The OT will help you pay start-up expenses. You know, security deposit on your pad, fee to connect utilities. All those little expenses add up quickly."
"Can we get the haircut started?" Cal asked, very anxious to complete his transformation from privileged elite to blue collar.
"Cal, I was thinking perhaps you would like a even more dramatic transformation. Shorter even than my butch. An induction cut will take everything off right to the scalp. Are you game for that? I think it might be a better way to set you off on your new adventure -- then perhaps grow it out to a #1 or #2 length, like mine."
Cal's leg shook nervously as he contemplated my suggestions. "All the way, then," he exclaimed. "Down to the wood. Marine recruit!"
My hand trembled as I snapped on the clippers and secured his copious forelock. The unforgiving metal teeth were naked -- no guard. They would chew the hair off right at the scalp! I noticed his tanned face -- he would look quite hideous with a white bathing cap contrasting to the heavenly bronze tone acquired on the tennis courts, golf course and swimming pool.
I brought the clippers up past his eyes. I paused so that he got a good look at the eager teeth before moving toward the hair line.
Then, with no further delay, I savored the moment of driving the clippers straight into his dense, lush locks! A shriek emerged from the machine as the metal teeth pushed their way in and began to peel off Cal's expensive coif.
"Oh, Luke! It's happening. No turning back," Cal squealed, underscoring the fact that his transformation was going from fantasy to reality.
I drove the clippers through the mane forcefully. Suddenly, the firmly rooted forelock began to give way. Slowly, I peeled off a massive fistful of shimmering hair. The patch of scalp where the lock came off was a hideous white color. I stood there, inspecting the damage I had inflicted on my ex-boss' ultimate badge of power and authority. The first chink was made in his corporate power helmet. I felt a tinge sorry for poor Cal. His new life would not be what he was imaging....
I pull off the first wad of shorn hair. The forelock was in my hand! I dropped the clump of cut hair right atop Cal's private area.
Cal squired with excitement and disbelief. "Oh, you've done it to me, Luke! I can't wait to see myself without this...." he said as he batted away the clump of hair. "An induction cut! Nothing fussy or showy. Just some stubble. I'm being inducted into a life of honest hard work, satisfaction and accomplishment."
"Bye-bye old life -- salons, hot oil treatments, blow dryers. I'm taking you down to a 0000 length," I informed him.
He stammered, "That sounds awfully short."
I pushed the clippers down the whole length of his head to the cowlick and watched clumps fall to my feet.
"Your nicely tanned face and neck will contrast with a glowing, virgin white scalp seeing its first light of day since you were a baby! You'll look like you're wearing a woman's bathing cap from the 1950's. White where you used to have hair contrasting to the tanned face!"
"Oh," he stammered nervously.
I caressed the top of his head, stroking the fine stubble in the shaved path. "You'll get some good-natured ribbing in the warehouse, I'm sure! It will make you feel quite insecure and vulnerable on your first day as a stock boy!"
"Yes, I'll know my place, at the very bottom of the pecking order," he murmured.
When I paused, he gazed in my eyes. "Luke, you've made me so happy. I can't wait to see my bald head! Keeping shaving off my hair. I want to have taken everything from me...."
I made Cal lowered his head so that his chin touched his chest. He looked very submissive. I studied his nicely groomed nape and brought my balding clippers to finish obliterating the expensive spa coif. The clippers were unforgiving and relentless as they stripped off his soft, lovely hair. The contrast of the tanned neck and the white scalp was even more pronounced in back.
Just then the phone rang. It was Jeff. "Yes, he's here. With the warehouse being so hot I'm giving him an induction cut. Yep, a 0000 length." I paused to hear Jeff's request. "Oh, you want him to spend the night at your place?"
Cal had a look of panic in his face and frantically began to shake his finger no.
"Yes, I think he'd like that very much, Jeff," I smirked. Poor Cal. He needed to learn that he was no longer calling the shots.
After I hung up, Cal was almost in tears. "I wanted to spend the night with you here, Luke."
Then, I had an idea. "You know what, Cal? If you rent my place, I can just go live in your mansion for the next six months. Then, I'll have full access your clothes, pool, cars, golf clubs, everything I'll need to enjoy life at the top."
"Oh, that's a great idea! And, our makeshift barbershop will be here, at my place," he smiled, looking at the piles of his hair strewn about the floor.
"But, you will have to pay rent, Cal. Let's say, $500 per month," I said.
"Sure, I think I can get by on what's left," he said.
I stuck out my hand for a shake on the bargain.
Cal grinned. "Only after you call Jeff back and say that I'm staying here tonight. With you, Luke."
I didn't like the idea of Cal controlling the situation, but I wanted very much to live in his mansion. "Deal," I said, sealing the bargain to trade places.
I finished clipped off all of Cal's hair down to the wood. I examined my handiwork. He was almost unrecognizable and a bit ridiculous looking with the contrasting face and scalp. "There you go, Cal. Go in the bathroom to see the new you. I'll call Jeff back."
I heard a yelp emerge from the bathroom -- a sort of victory cry, mingled with anguish. "I can't believe this, I can't believe this.! It's for real."
He stumbled back into the kitchen mumbling and still feeling his bald head. "I'm totally bald..."
I handed him the broom and snapped, "Sweep that mess up!"
Cal seemed to delight in throwing dustpans full of his cut hair into the trashcan.
"Now it's my turn to play barber," Cal said, picking up the clippers. "What will it be? A #1 or #2?"
"Neither," I said, "I'm letting my hair grow out into a nice salon coif."
Then I began unbuckling my belt and motioned for Cal to drop to his knees. He was eager to repay my kindness in relieving him of his burdensome trappings of power and prestige.