by Chris Gilmore
She said she hated hairy men. She was drunk at the time, but you could tell she meant it.
I'm a hairy man.
Our first date was forty-eight hours away.
I therefore had two days to make myself an un-hairy man.
If you recall, I'd been looking forward to this date for almost a year. When I met her at Derek's Christmas party, she was still seeing Jeremy. They'd been together for three years, and everyone assumed they'd get married someday. But I could tell she wasn't happy. The false smile, the fake laugh. She was clearly putting on an act. I gave the whole thing six more months. They lasted ten-and-a-half.
When she finally dumped him - citing "irreconcilable differences" - I didn't swoop in immediately. I wanted to give her some time to recover, maybe even fool around a bit. The last thing I wanted to be was a rebound. So I waited a few weeks, then popped the question: WANNA GARB A DINK SOMETIME?
It was two in the morning when I sent the text. I knew I'd second-guess myself if I reread it, so I sent it as soon as I finished typing. For some reason caps lock was on, and autocorrect was off.
Regardless, her answer was yes. LOL sure, to be precise.
"Ugh. I hate hairy men."
Like I said, she was seven drinks in, but it didn't matter. The truth comes out when you're drunk.
I tried to stay positive, pretend I wasn't bothered, but my facade was probably transparent. For the rest of the evening, I watched her gossip and giggle with Karl and Derek and Julie, the usual pub night crowd. I searched for things to say, ways to intervene in the conversation, but I couldn't come up with anything useful.
Before we parted ways, she gave me a hug and said, "Looking forward to Friday."
I replied with a half-hearted "Me too."
Then she smiled and walked away.
When I got home, I took off my shirt and stood in front of the mirror. Hair, hair, everywhere. My exes used to call my chest a "magic carpet," a "fuzzy blanket." God knows what she would call it.
Like most guys, I didn't know the first thing about hair removal. I wasn't one of those image-obsessed bros with leg-sized arms and a shiny six-pack. I had itty-bitty boy boobs and a beer belly. In twenty-four years, I'd gone to the gym twice, and one of those times was a tour.
Ugh. I hate hairy men.
Hate. She used the word hate.
She may have been exaggerating, but I couldn't risk throwing away a potentially life-changing relationship over something as silly as follicle status.
Waxing was out of the question, as was laser hair removal. The former was too painful, the latter too expensive. Both required appointments, and time was of the essence.
I went to the bathroom and stared at my razor. The blades, which seemed to be grinning at me, looked even sharper than usual.
Sleep on it, I told myself. Decide when you're sober.
I put on my shirt and returned to the living room. After a moment of hands-on-hips indecision, I walked over to the couch and lowered myself onto the leather. The cushion released a long pufffff.
I sat so still I could hear the clock ticking, the fridge humming, the wind whistling through the alley.
Ugh. I hate hairy men.
The words echoed in my mind like a mantra.
This was high school all over again. Alice McCarthy in grade ten. Caroline Roth in grade eleven. By grade twelve, rumors had spread, so I kept my shirt on until college.
I studied my reflection in the blank TV. Handsome with the shirt, hideous without. I imagined it melting away, strand by strand, exposing the jungle beneath. Thick near the nipples, wispy near the neck. Tangled and glossy, like vines. A thin trail from breast to navel, with a donut-sized patch above the belt.
Suddenly, the hair was gone too, and with it years of neglect. I had a pair of noteworthy pecs and the outlines of a burgeoning six-pack.
Without chest hair, my reflection told me, I would look like a model. Forget my date on Friday - I should shave it off, in any event. How did I not think of this before?
No, you moron. That's the beer talking. Don't do anything until you get a good night's rest.
Easier said than done, of course. I was completely wired.
I looked around the room in search of a distraction. Everything reminded me of my dilemma. The fuzzy miniature fern in the corner. The smooth, elegant curves of the couch. The crisp whiteness of the walls, unpolluted by lines or markings.
Eventually, I got up and grabbed a book off the shelf. I didn't know or care which one I'd selected. I just opened it to a random page near the middle and started reading. "The Hollow Men," by T.S. Eliot. One of my favorites.
We are the hairy men
We are the stuffed men
I snapped the book shut and put it back.
I took another off the shelf. The Hairy Ape and Other Plays. For seven seconds there was no one I hated more than Eugene O'Neill.
I pulled out another. Notes From Underground. Dostoevsky. Nothing about chest hair in this one.
I returned to the couch and flipped to the opening page:
I am a sick man...I am a hairy man.
I threw the book across the room, knocking over the fern in the corner.
My apartment was telling me to shave - and shave now. I couldn't wait until morning. Whenever I shaved my face, it'd be sensitive, and I'd need a day to adapt.
I pulled out my laptop and Googled "body shaving," only to get bombarded with porn sites. Ebony Slut Shaves Her Friend. Naughty Step-Sister Gets A Trim. Eduardo Scissor-Hands. And so on.
I put my laptop aside.
How hard can body shaving be? It's just like regular shaving, except everywhere.
I paused for a moment, then sprang off the couch and marched to the bathroom. The razor's grin had disappeared. It must have known what was about to happen. For a second, I even felt sorry for it. Imagine if your life consisted of chewing up hair and spitting it out. To use my beloved's expression, ugh.
After a few deep breaths, I ripped off my shirt and grabbed the razor. One hair at a time, I told myself. Just think about Friday.
Friday, Friday, Friday.
I inspected the depth and breadth of my magic carpet, unsure how or where to begin. I settled on the top left corner, where the chest meets the collar bone and the collar bone meets the shoulder. That way, if I gave up after three strokes, I could still salvage a decent look.
I closed my eyes and held the blade to my chest.
One, two, three - swipe!
In less than a second, a patch of inch-long hair was reduced to stubble. The razor held its remains with pride. As I brushed them off with my thumb and blew out the leftovers, I didn't bother aiming for the sink. There would be mountains of hair by the end of this exercise. I may as well use the floor.
Inhaling deeply, I raised the razor to my pec.
Friday, Friday, Friday.
And just like that, another patch was gone. No cuts or rashes. No irritation of any kind. Maybe this wouldn't be so bad. Maybe I'd even find a six-pack under all that foliage. Probably not, but it was worth finding out.
So I continued, one stroke at a time, and soon the floor was spotted, Dalmatian-like.
It took forty minutes to finish the chest, ten of which were devoted to nipples. Afraid to slice them off, I held a finger over the areola and pulled the blade - very carefully - around the rim.
Shaving the rest of my chest was easy, relatively speaking, but it wasn't much fun. Every stroke made a scraping sound, as if I were peeling off a band-aid, and the more hair I lost, the less recognizable I became. After my boy boobs were bare, I looked not just alien, but like an alien.
That said, it was nice to see my belly button again. For nearly a decade, it had been covered in hair, and I'd almost forgotten what it looked like.
When I was finished, I swept the hair into a fuzzy pile and dumped it in the toilet. All that anxiety, flushed away in a tiny swirl of brown.
I sized myself up in the mirror. Contrary to my hopes, I did not develop a six-pack. Nor were my pecs enhanced. If anything, I looked fatter than before. Flabbier.
My magic carpet had been aptly named. It gave my chest shape and definition. It filled out the fat-free area below my collar bone and filled in the muscle-free remainder. Above all, it made me look manly. And now it was gone.
I brushed the last specks of hair off my abdomen and put on my shirt. It felt weird. Not itchy, exactly, but strange, as though a thousand little needles were poking my skin. I wiggled around inside of it, trying to find a comfortable position.
This girl better be worth it, I found myself thinking.
I flicked off the light and went to bed.
When I woke up an hour later, my chest was on fire.
I ran to the bathroom and tore off my shirt. Red, from neck to navel.
I couldn't call the ambulance or go to the hospital. They'd mock me and send me home.
I looked at the clock. 1:58 am. None of my friends would be awake. And even if they were, I couldn't call them. My female friends would never stop laughing, and my male friends would stop being friends.
1:59 am. Forty-two hours until the most important date of my life, and I looked like a racist cartoon. When I went to bed, I may have resembled a giant baby, but at least I could function. Now, I couldn't even move without wincing.
Unable to look at myself any longer, I sat on the toilet and buried my head in my hands. The internet would probably only make things worse. My friends were enemies in this scenario. Who the hell could I ask for help?
My head shot up with the answer: Mom! I could call Mom! Night or day, she said to call if I was ever in trouble.
I rushed to the phone and dialled her number. Five rings before she answered, and when she answered, it wasn't in English.
"Hemmmo?" she mumbled, which I took to mean hello.
"Hey, Mom. It's me. Sorry to call so late."
"Arem you okkkay?" She was groggier than I expected.
"Well, no, to be honest. I'm - "
"Oh my God," she said, suddenly awake. "What happened?"
"I'm - "
"Are you in the hospital?"
"Are you in jail?"
"No, mom. Calm down. I'm just - "
"Don't scare me like that! Jesus!"
"I didn't mean to startle you. I'm just having a bit of a problem, and I was hoping - "
"What kind of problem?"
"What?" she asked, half-concerned, half-impatient. "What's going on?"
"Well, it's no big deal or anything, but I sort of..."
I couldn't tell her the truth. It was too shameful. But I needed to tell her something.
Suddenly, the perfect question popped into my head: "How do you shave your legs?"
"How do I what?"
"Shave your legs. How do you shave your legs?"
There was a long pause. "Why do you want to know?"
"I just do, okay? I just do. Don't ask me why."
She sighed. "Are you high again?"
"Don't call me when you're high. You know how I feel about marijuana."
"I'm not high, mom. It's a serious question."
She asked if I was planning to shave my legs, if I was planning to shave someone else's legs, if I had already shaved my legs and something went wrong. No, no, and no.
Eventually, I broke down and told her what happened.
"Are you sure you're not high?"
"I'm not high, mom."
"Are you drunk?"
My response was a long-winded sigh. "Can you just tell me what to do? I'm in a lot of pain here."
"Oh, relax. You'll be fine."
She recommended lotion. I told her I didn't have any.
"Well, you're stuck until morning, then."
She asked if I shaved my chest in the shower, if I used shaving cream, if I used water, and, once again, I answered with a string of Nos.
"Oh my God!" she screamed, bursting with laughter. "You probably scraped off your skin!"
She laughed for a solid twelve seconds. Genuine, uncontrollable laughter at her son's expense. Complete with howls and coughs near the end.
"I'm sorry, Sweetie," she said, calming herself down. "It is pretty funny though."
"I'm sure it is - to everyone else."
"Oh, it'll be okay. Just give it a day or so."
She asked how things were going, otherwise. I told her things were fine. She said she was glad to hear it and apologized again for laughing at my pain. We said good night and hung up.
By morning, the rash had improved. My chest was still red, but the painful burn had been replaced, mercifully, by an uncomfortable itch. I thanked God, the Fates - whoever was listening. I'd never been so grateful to be uncomfortable.
That is, until I stepped out of my boxers on the way to the shower and caught a glimpse of myself in the bathroom mirror. The bottom half of my body was two shades darker than the top! I had the pale, hairless chest of a Scandinavian twelve-year-old and the legs of a middle-aged Brazilian!
Along with my magic carpet, I concluded, I must have shaved off my tan. In one night, I'd gone from King Kong to King Kong Having An Identity Crisis.
I couldn't let her see me like this. If I thought things would go badly before, imagine how they'd go now. And it's not like I could cancel our date. God knows when I'd get another one.
I stared, eyes watering, at my reflection and drew the only possible conclusion: I'd have to shave my legs, as well. Yes, I'd look like a child, but it was better than looking like a lunatic.
If only I was a competitive swimmer. I could've passed the whole thing off as a badge of athleticism. Instead, it was just a mark of insecurity.
I hopped in the shower and started shaving. This time, the hair slid off like it had never been attached in the first place. My legs were bare in fifteen minutes. As were my forearms. Yes, I decided to shave those, too.
I dried off and assessed the damage. As predicted, I looked like a boy whose balls haven't dropped, but at least my look was consistent.
I left my pubes intact, for obvious reasons. I wanted to appear polished, not porn-ish.
And I'm not trying to brag, but in the right light, from the right angle, I kind of looked like a Greek god. Hairless, except for a tasteful pubic puff. Like the statue of David, with a decent-sized dick.
My legs felt strange - tingly, cool, oddly damp, as though I couldn't stop sweating. When I touched them, however, the skin was dry.
I got dressed and ran to the drug store across the street. Every time my skin touched cloth, it recoiled.
Twenty minutes later, I was lathered up, lying naked on the couch.
The leather stuck to my skin, but it was still more comfortable than wearing clothes. I just had to remember to keep my ball sack elevated, so it didn't get glued to the couch.
I looked at the clock. Thirty-one hours until the date. I closed my eyes and prayed to every deity I could think of. I atoned for my sins, gave thanks for my blessings, and begged for my suffering to stop.
Friday arrived with a whole new set of anxieties. What should I wear? What should I talk about? What if she doesn't show up? The usual pre-date worries.
Luckily, none of these concerns were hair-related. By 7:30 pm, the rash had faded, the itchiness had become tolerable, and the tingly sensation had been minimized by hourly applications of lotion. In less than a day, I went through half of the bottle. And since I forgot to buy the unscented kind, I spent the day smelling like a flower shop.
By 7:59 pm, I was at the bar, ready to make history.
She was five minutes late, of course. Fashionably dressed, fashionably tardy. She wore her favorite blazer and a matching scarf. Think what you want, but she was herself, through and through.
When the waiter arrived, she ordered her usual, as did I. Then we started talking.
For a while, things went well - better than I'd expected. She even seemed nervous, and, for a moment, I wondered if she was as confident on the inside as she was on the outside. The thought passed quickly, and I returned to worshipping her every word, look, and gesture.
After eleven months of semi-friendship, things were finally starting to unfold as they were supposed to. That is, until I rolled up the sleeves of my sweater and she saw my hairless arms.
"What happened?" she asked, furrowing her brow.
"Oh, nothing. I just did a little shaving."
"You shaved your arms?"
"And other stuff too."
"Oh, you know..." I could feel my hands starting to shake. "My chest...my legs..."
"Your legs?" A smile broke out on her face. She was trying hard not to laugh. "Why would you shave your legs?"
"Uh. Well..." I searched for the right words at the bottom of my glass, finding nothing but bubbles. "It was...something you said."
She didn't know what I was talking about.
"The other night. You said you hated hairy men."
She laughed. "I was drunk. You shouldn't take these things seriously."
I could feel my cheeks heating up. My pits were sweating, too. A wave of irritation swept over my skin, and I wanted nothing more than to go home and cover myself in lotion.
"For what it's worth," she said, "I don't hate hairy men. I was probably thinking of back hair. And nose hair. And all the other gross kinds of hair. Chest hair is fine. In fact, I kinda like it. Makes me feel like I'm fucking a man. Gives me something to hold onto."
I'd never heard her use the word fucking before. At least, not as a verb. It threw me off-balance. As did the image of her straddling some macho idiot with enough chest hair to grab.
"So you have zero body hair?" she asked, clearly astonished.
"Almost. I still have my pubes."
She laughed, harder than before, then held up a hand in apology.
She changed the subject, and for the next two hours, we discussed the usual topics. Books. Movies. Current affairs.
Eventually, she went home, and I never saw her again. Romantically, I mean. I saw her, platonically, every Wednesday at pub night. And even though we seemed to get along, I could never quite tell how she felt about things.
When I'd texted her three days after our date, she said she had a great time, but would rather be friends. She didn't say why, and I was too afraid to ask. But I always wondered.
Was it my lack of chest hair, leg hair, and arm hair?
Or was it the insecurity underlying that lack?
I never really found out. Maybe it had nothing to do with either. Maybe I said something offensive during our date. Maybe I should've walked her home. Or worn a sweater with un-rollable sleeves.
Maybe. Maybe not. I guess we'll never know.