The game of the mane

My first hint that I needed a new hairstyle came one cold winter day when I was shopping at the mall. I had been wearing my hair the same way for years - ever since I told Greg, my hairstylist, that I wanted a short, easy care "do." After all, I'm a busy career mom with no time for fussing with gel or a curling iron.

"I want to wash my hair, then drive 70 mph down the interstate with the sunroof open," I had told him.

He complied with a short cut, parted on the side. I loved it. And since then I had returned once a month for a trim - that is, until the crisis that catapulted me back to the salon for a makeover.

I was looking at sweaters at the Gap, when a teenage girl approached me and asked, "May I help you, sir?"

I looked around. Did she mean me?

"Oh, I'm so sorry," she said when she got a closer look.

"That's OK," I said. "I'm just looking."

No problem, I thought. At five-foot-eight, I'm on the tall side for a woman. And I waswearing a bulky coat.

Later, when I told my sister Ann what happened, she reassured me. "No, you don't look like a man. It's gotta be the hair. It's pretty short."

"You're right," I said. "And I wasn't wearing earrings or makeup."

Having sufficiently rationalized the situation, I resumed my routine. But it happened again - not once, but twice. Two more strangers called me "Sir."

"My hair is too short!" I told Greg at my next appointment. "Three different people called me 'Sir'!"

Greg laughed. In the mirror I noticed Michelle, the beautician at the next workstation, hide a smile. She had midlength hair with a perky flip. No one would ever mistake her gender.

"I'm serious," I said, ignoring Michelle. "Leave it a little longer this time."

Greg shaped my hair accordingly, stifling occasional chuckles.

A couple of weeks later, my day once again was ruined when a server at my favorite restaurant asked, "What can I get you, sir?"

I freshened my lipstick.

"At least it only happened once this time," I said, as Greg draped a plastic cape over my shoulders. "But I need a more feminine style."

Greg laughed.

So did Michelle. "It happened again?" she asked, unashamed at her eavesdropping.

Greg chuckled. I glared at him, and he attempted a more concerned look. "What do you have in mind?"

I glanced around the salon and spotted another beautician wearing a style I liked. "How about that?"

Greg studied the hairdo - a layered look, with long bangs, spiky wisps on top and feathered sides. "You'll have to use gel and hairspray or it won't stay," he said.

"I don't care. Go for it."

In the weeks after the appointment, I attended meetings, went shopping, and had dinner with relatives. Not a single soul called me "Sir."

"This is it! Greg had come through," I said to myself as I fixed my hair for a lunch date with a friend. I applied makeup, then spritzed my hair for a final touch.

At the restaurant, my friend greeted me with enthusiasm.

"Have you lost weight?" she asked, as we hugged. "You look great!"

I shook my head. My weight hadn't changed. But thinking of my hero, Greg, I had to smile. I couldn't wait to tell him that he had not only made me look more feminine, he had also created what I was sure would become the latest craze and his new specialty: the World-Famous Weight-Loss Haircut!

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