tagHumor & SatireThe Paradox of Perfection

The Paradox of Perfection


She jacked in for the third time this evening, hearing her cable modem screaming as it made the connection. Lori had kept the sound as a reminder of her first days on the 'Net. Ironically, in those days the sound of her modem and "you've got mail" were about the only things her computer spit back at her. Now, well, now everything came back. Especially buzz, buzz, snip, snip.

Sounds, smells and textures were as important as the flat pictures on the wall screen in front of her. In recent years, video had far eclipsed words, sounds and other experiences in the minds of the masses.

But not to Lori. Some of her favorite toys made such stirring sounds. A low, insistent hum of one kind of hair clippers. The high-pitched blender effect of another. She chuckled. Yes, this cruise on the 'Net she'd hear that blender when she met Sandy. But her joy faded as her attention returned to the worries of the last few days and to the message she had to send soon.

What was she going to do about Paul?

In all her years, she had somehow managed to avoid this dilemma. Maybe she had just been lucky. Or maybe she had been good at keeping her cyber friendships at arm's length, ephemeral enough to allow for a convincing charade, but deep enough not to get her busted by the reality police.

In a way, her adventures into cyberspace had been a lucky lark, just perfect. She wasn't a techie, never had been. She had signed on to the now-bankrupt America Online service more than a decade ago, hearing there were some interesting images, thinking perhaps she might find some inspiration for the latest piece of corporate sculpture she'd been commissioned to create. The money was good, but she hadn't yet reconciled with artistic vs. financial realities. So her bank account was filled, her artistic soul empty. She hadn't been able to work up something even in clay.

Searching the image library, staring at fuzzy jpegs on her 12-inch monitor she'd come across a startling series of women. They wore buzz cuts or crew cuts or no hair at all. She couldn't stop going through them, one after the other. Again and again.

She discovered a fascination lurking in the depths of her psyche. Something she'd never considered. Some people found high heels and garters erotic. Some people preferred hairy chests or big breasts, brown eyes or blue eyes, round Rubenesque figures or Twiggy matchsticks. Her sexual tastes were catholic, a little of this, a pinch of that. But online she found a deepening fascination -- passion -- for the idea of haircuts, especially short haircuts. She found herself drawn to the look on others, she found herself reaching out to touch the soft brush of hair cut close on the nape and around the ears. She added a bare or almost-bare nape and ears to the usual list of erotic suspects. Ah, the nape, an area of ticklish, electric pleasure too often ignored in careening world where the soft caress, the slow tease had become a lost art.

She began to wonder about this erotic pull. While the origins of the attraction had probably buried itself in her puberty, she needed to explore it. Why? What was the intellectual appeal? Certainly the sharing, an act of care requiring two. So did the idea of power transfer, the whiff of domination and submission, though she wondered just who was the master in a haircut scenario. Then there was the transformation, the new her that emerged each time. And, of course, the ritualistic aspects, the ceremony that's a given in many fetishes. Ah, that human need for comfort in repetition.

Her hands, her sensitive, creative, hands, wanted to feel the soft, stiff brush of that boyish crop, perhaps a crewcut or even the velcro briskness of a buzz cut. She craved to feel it on her head, on others' heads. She needed to sit and watch while she was shorn. Eventually, she realized she wanted to be the barber as well, to accept responsibility for planning the shearing.

Her arousal wasn't surprising; she'd always loved adventuresome looks on others. She was shocked, though, to discover others shared her fascination. But that was so long ago, when LnghrdLori, as she called herself, was just a cyber infant. Before she realized the World Wide Web was the biggest playground ever invented.

Her play in the early days of America Online had been so simple, so easy. It was both a window into a world she didn't dare explore in real life and and dead end. She just became the woman she thought would be most appealing to others with the fetish online.

All she significantly altered was her physical description. In reality, her honey-brown hair had always been cut in a long bob, shoulder-scraping. Thick, full, soft, but nothing too distinctive. It remained that way to this day, years and years later. Boring, predictable, safe. In the early 21st Century, the haircut had become the Establishment equivalent of Nancy Reagan's red suit in the '80s and the hair bands of First Ladies Hillary Clinton and Tipper Gore during the '90s.

Online, though, she became whatever she pleased, anything but Establishment. That was, of course, before the government forbid anonymity on the 'Net. That law almost made her pine for the days of a cyberspace filled with just text and images, not video and audio.

When she signed on in 1994, she strung a few lines of description into something America Online called a "profile." It was simply stunning how many people believed the attributes suggested there and how they filled in the blanks she left with whatever they wished. Or more accurately, Lori recalled, whatever they needed in their lonely little lives. She was straight, gay, short, tall, even black and white, depending on her mood that particular month.

Most often she was Lori with the long, thick blonde hair reaching down the small of her back. Somehow, that stereotypical image seemed to attract both men and women who wanted to be erotic barbers. Otherwise, she stayed relatively true to her self. A woman interested in art, literature, music, someone easy to meet online, but not easy to engage.

Night after night she sat alone in her darkened office and connected with people all over the world. Only recently, she recalled, the shrinks had come to realize the cancerous cultural destruction of what they called "connected isolation."

Over the years she'd had dozens of encounters. All ran along the same model. She met someone, exchanged a furious correspondence, entered into haircut fantasies acted out online or in those letters and then disappeared. Usually in a matter of weeks.

It was perfect. She could indulge in her eroticism in the safety of her home office, but never actually make a commitment. Technology, the god of the modern world, gave her this opportunity. And it became her soulless religion. She signed on every night, looking for entertainment, getting off on the kindness of strangers so willing to believe her every lie. The stories became redundant. So many of them had so little creativity. But she was addicted, she needed that easy fix, that easy entertainment, that connection without responsibility. She often told her cyber lovers their words had driven her to enact their fantasies in real life. Of course, the only thing to touch her hair had been the German shears of her stylist, Marco, and then only for her inch trim every other month or so.

Once addicted to being jacked in, she couldn't leave. Not even when it became problematic. How problematic? Very.

Playing the part of LnghrdLori on the 'Net had become infinitely more complicated since Bill Gates and his partner Steven Spielberg added real time video and audio to the mix. Yes, she thought, William Gibson's '80's novel, "Neuromancer," had largely become reality.

Gibson had become a national icon after his death at a fairly early age. Lori considered this a blessing. He had not been forced to live the future he envisioned, unlike so many other science fiction writers. Lightning faster than the latest Yossarian microprocessor chip struck Gibson down during the early days of jacking in, before the safeguards in place now. It ran from his phone line into his brain, frying it at 28.8 baud, something the neo-Luddites never failed to mention when they decried the culture of Cyberspace.

And it was a culture. The only culture. People could jack in through their computers, creating a world only with their minds, much like Gibson prophesied. What had been altered by Spielberg, Gates and company was the interactive part. For most people, the 'Net wasn't interactive, but merely entertainment. People wired up their cortexes and simply sat back and sucked in whatever drivel passed their way.

Though the medium always promised more, this passivity never surprised Lori. After all, when she first played online there had been a very few who provided the images and text to entertain the masses, who were content to sit back and eat the flavors they were fed rather than actually cook up something interesting.

But some people -- ambitious people like Lori -- did jack in to connect. And Spielberg and Gates had made sure their entertainment was addictive by tapping into the fantasy centers of the brain. So while it was her very "real" image (or so the government thought) up there on the big screen, her actions became whatever she imagined. And she imagined hundreds of haircuts and liaisons over the years.

There was that lull, of course, when she almost thought she'd have to play BrwnhrdLori online -- her real self.

The government outlawed anonymity on the 'Net after the scams of 1999 that led to the ruin of a number of mutual funds. The law was simple: At least once a year, a person was required to go to the 'Net Drivers License Center to have an image imprinted. So each time someone jacked in, only their real image would appear on the giant wall screens that had become ubiquitous in every living space in the land.

That meant no more playing longhaired blonde Lori. She was busted. Unless she dyed her hair or actually got a buzz her online life had ended as surely as Gibson's during that lightning storm. Lori had never merged her fantasy life and her real life in such a tactile way. A buzz cut? She didn't have the courage. And she knew her corporate sculpture clients would never commission someone with a such a style. She had to be Establishment.

So LnghrdLori disappeared for a while because she was unable to match her real life look with her cyber life image.

But then Lori discovered somebody who knew somebody and she got a bootleg copy of the program. It was 20 years old, the result of technology for a long-forgotten B-movie called "Terminator 2." Plugged in, it allowed her to morph her features into that blonde.

Perfect. Technology once again to the rescue. Lori, never a techie, discovered herself actually musing that the recently rising revolt of those desiring to pull the plug and go back to real life seemed overrated.

Why live an imperfect reality when you could live a perfect fantasy?

She remembered a 16th Century quote: "Science without conscience is the ruin of the soul." What fools those idealists were, she laughed.

She began spending more and more time online, teasing people everywhere with the image of the longhaired blonde who so craved a haircut. She was an unrepentant seducer, though never a finisher. Over the years, many of her cyber relationships had ended acrimoniously when she refused a face to face meeting overture.

Then she met Paul. And months later, Sandy.

Fantasy had never been like this.

Oh, Paul. Such a kind, intelligent, honest and witty man with an insatiable fetish and a creativity to indulge it in so many ways. She liked the way his mind worked in their conversations about their fascination. And then she came to respect his sensitivity and his ability to fantasize disparate scenes. Their first fetish adventure had been typical: a barbershop and a boyish cut. He was almost shy at first, only touching his toe into the sexual aspects of the desire to be cropped.

Gradually he got bolder. There was a crop before a crowd in a beauty salon. A buzz cut alone in an apartment after a long, lingering lunch. Then came their first tentative steps into more erotic waters: A serious d/s haircut that began with her loose in leather and left her just plain lathered.

Then there was the time he took her to a virtual villa in Tuscany, had her serenaded and fed a lengthy Italian meal then guided her out onto a balcony overlooking vineyards and a river. There, he softly removed her top, her bare breasts spilling out as he sat her down. He snipped slowly, almost sensually, allowing her hair -- the blonde hair she didn't really have -- to slide down over her breasts. He picked some that had curled around a nipple and with a flourish tossed it to the wind. She watched as it floated on the gentle evening breeze.

Though the technology didn't allow for the neuro transmission of such feelings -- there were just the images created in their brains projected onto the screens -- she felt her nipples harden in real life as the cut progressed. This time, he brought her down to a simple buzz cut. In the afterglow, she had second thoughts about how far this cyber relationship had gone already, but she continued on, enchanted by his ability to fantasize new haircut scenes time after time.

Next time, for instance, he transported her beside a flowing brook in a Pacific Northwest forest, fed her a picnic and a bottle of wine, then slowly peeled away her clothes. He had her kneel, her heels against her buttocks, facing downstream. And then he carefully snipped one handful of hair after another, tossing it into the water as she watched it slip downstream, gone forever.

The other night, he'd taken her to a virtual museum, showing her wonderful Renaissance paintings, then brought her to an apartment for dinner. Then they'd undressed and they sat, facing each other on the floor. Smiling he wrapped his legs around her, then coaxed hers around him. His hardness rested against her soft hairy triangle. He pulled out a pair of clippers, kissed her gently on the cheek. He ran them from her nape, covering the soft brush he left with kisses. Then he handed them to her and buried his head against her soft breast. She realized what he wanted and provided it, running the clippers up his nape. They traded the clippers back and forth, locked by their legs, the hair falling over their skin, their eyes meeting, then turning away, their smiles coming easy.

Of course, it wasn't real. Except on the big screen each sat facing alone at home.

That scene, so romantic, so enticing, had brought her back to reality. She had to tell Paul. He'd busted her, without even knowing it.

Paul knew the haircuts turned her on. What he didn't know is that only the haircuts turned her on. Not Paul. Because Lori liked girls, not boys. Online she could be indiscriminate in her tastes, sitting for whatever barber indulged her fantasy. In real life, though, she never fantasized about being with a man. She could leave their sessions, now three times a week, and it didn't intrude on her real life. Another reason why cyber life was so perfect for Lori.

What Lori didn't know was cyberspace was perfect for Paul as well. But a different kind of perfect. Perfect because it was so real for him.

She didn't know that after their night on the floor shearing each other Paul had actually gone out and had a barber buzz off his thick, straight black hair in real life, just as she had done in virtual life. He never confessed his buzz, something he feared would cross an unspoken line. And it was months until he had to get his image redone at the 'Net Driver's License Office. So she didn't realize fantasy and real life had merged for him.

Cyberspace was perfect for Paul in the same reason it worked so well for so many of the insecure, the unhappy and the unattached. Therapy for the dysfunctional was how one futurist had described it. And the quip wasn't an unkind crack, but an explanation why the 'Net might have an extra benefit: socialization for those who hadn't found it early in life.

Paul fit the bill. He grew up shy, lousy with women. He was handsome, but he'd never learned the art of conversation and courtship and after college he'd retreated. His real-life relationships were spastic, often ending badly. He'd turned to the cyber cafe for companionship. It was perfect. And so real.

Paul recalled reading a story in the Sunday New York Times perhaps a decade ago in which one of the self-proclaimed experts declared being online was a passing trend akin to CB radio, only with typing. How wrong that fool had been. Cyberspace was real, as real to him as the musky smell of sweat under his arms when he first met Lori online.

His job as a salesman had been drastically changed with the advent of audio and video. He traveled by modem now and since he was so efficient, he had plenty of free time. And a free 'Net account.

So he jacked in as one of the original cyberspace cadets fishing for ladies in need of a buzz, and, he laughed, jacking off once he reeled them to that big wall screen. Back in the 1990s, he would have been labeled a "get-a-lifer" for his infatuation with being online. Here in the 21st Century he was merely in the middle of the flow, better connected than your average Jack. Being online gave him that confidence, that inner voice he'd never discovered -- or created -- in his youth.

Of course, that didn't mean he was any more successful shooting Cupid's arrows by computer. He'd been through cyber relationship after cyber relationship before meeting Lori. She was the one, the lone gem in the midst of the rude, the foolish and the patronizing. Increasingly, he became unable to distinguish between his cyber life and his real life. And since his business was over the 'Net everything fit into a neat package. What he didn't know was that he was suffering from 'Net Syndrome, unable to distinguish the illusion he was living on that screen from his life. It was as if a person in the old days -- when people dreamed -- had awakened to believe he had lived those dreams. So Paul began telling his clients about Lori, the new romance of his life, a stunningly cropped blonde.

What Paul didn't know in this little game of Cyber Clue was that Lori was meeting Sandy, the cyber love of her life, online tonight. He'd been pining for a real life meeting for months when one of his rare business trips brought him to Lori's coast.

Ironically, that opportunity arrived just as Lori had finally decided to meld her real and cyber lives. But with Sandy, not Paul.

Sandy approached Lori one night when they were both in a cyber coffee shop for artists. Lori felt a little uneasy in this virtual place. Most of the others there were real artists, people who painted, wrote and sculpted for the sake of art, not the pleasure of some gray hair in a gray suit who thought his corporation could gain a little class -- and maybe a better image with investors -- by plopping a piece of art in its lobby. She worked for those bottom line types, the meek and adventure-challenged. She'd always wanted to do something more, but the money was easy.

Sandy, meanwhile, fit the artist profile more clearly. She was a playwright who'd done the starving waitress bit and now was having her first taste of success in the lesbian regional theaters that had sprung up around the country. With three plays produced, she even harbored hopes of playing Soho, which had eclipsed Broadway as the mainstream choice of audiences around the turn of the century.

Best of all, Sandy had the fetish. Bad. She wore her hair short, off the ears, bangs and cropped, but not shaved in back. It had been growing for the last six months, she told Lori, an admission calculated to tease. It worked, of course, and now Lori had decided to suggest a real life shearfest when Sandy came to the coast to supervise rehearsals for her newest play.

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