, March 2021

Jamie got on the bus in Malibu. She’d snuck out of the house while everyone else was still sleeping. It was a two-hour ride to L.A. on the Metro J line.

She was wearing baggy jeans, Doc Marten boots, and a frayed, button-down, drab green U.S. ARMY shirt she’d bought at Goodwill with the name “RADCLIFF” patched above the right breast pocket.

There was a family wedding next weekend. It would be at the club, like all the other weddings. Her mother started with the usual, You’re going to look like the pretty young lady you are, then booked them appointments together at the beauty spa, for this morning, an hour from now. Then they were supposed to go dress shopping.

Forehead against window, ocean appearing between houses, she felt the scab on her cheek just below her ear. She’d been using her father’s razor and Barbasol cream and shaving her face. She’d stopped shaving her legs and armpits. She’d also been cutting her own hair, making it a little shorter each time. Her mother would yell at her afterwards.

She was in downtown L.A. by 9:30. The anonymity of the city gave her courage, but not enough to go into any of the shops she first encountered, all crowded with men. The smaller shops were more appealing.

She wound up in Koreatown. She felt safer there. She spotted a small shop on the second floor of an old building with street level storefronts. There appeared to be only one chair. It was difficult to see inside, as private as could be hoped for.

Between two of the stores was a glass door with a staircase behind it. The door was unlocked and she went up. At the top, she turned into a hallway with burnt orange carpeting and closed doors, no sounds behind them. At the end there was a sign tacked to the wall with Asian characters and an arrow pointing to the left.

The shop had a glass door with blinds pulled three-quarters up. A man about her father’s age was in the chair getting a haircut. The barber was older, about her grandfather’s age.

She pushed open the door and was greeted by smells she loved when her father used to take her with him to the barber to get haircuts, before her mother put a stop to it and started taking her to the beauty spa. The shop was tiny and dim, but nicer than she expected. The barber and the man looked at her in the mirror, but said nothing. There was a small waiting area with two chairs and a rack of Asian-language magazines and newspapers. She took a magazine and pretended to look at it.

The haircut was finished a few minutes later. The man paid the barber and left.

The barber looked at her in the mirror, then turned around.

“Not beauty parlor,” he said.

“I know. I want a haircut like a boy. A crew cut.”

“Crew cut?”


“You sure? You pretty girl. Nice hair.”

“I don’t want to be a girl anymore.”

His expression softened.

“Oh,” he said. “I understand.”

“You do?”

“Of course. This L.A. Sit.”

He wrapped the cape around her, then took the clippers out of the drawer.

“You sure?” he asked again.



In the mirror she watched the clippers mow the first line through the middle of her hair. Without pause he did the next line, then the next, strands falling to the chessboard floor tiles around the chair.

It was over in a minute.

“Like?” the barber asked.

She didn’t recognize herself, though there was a resemblance to her father she’d never noticed. The corners of her mouth were elevated. The last time she’d seen herself smile were in pictures taken when she was little.

“Like,” she said. ▪