Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow


I’m wedged in behind a tall man. He does not have his seat back in the upright position. It is in my face forcing the compact TV screen up against my nose, rendering it impossible for me to bend my 6’1” frame and get any of the essentials out of my bag which is now crammed firmly under my knees. Yet it’s not the lack of space that bothers me most about the seat being shoved into my immediate field of vision.

It’s the close-up view of the back of the tall man’s scalp, his generous center parting, that unmistakable sign of depilation, his chrome dome. For this is a bald man. Correction. A mostly bald man. A mostly bald man in need of a haircut. The two inch wide strip of grey fuzz encircling the rear end of his cranial globe, sticking outwards, unwieldy and out of control, as if he’d just stuck his car keys in an electrical socket. White hairs protruding at all angles, some pulled down by gravity, some pointing sideways, others reaching for the ‘call the flight attendant’ button, making it look like he’s got the tail of a bichon frise wrapped around the back of his head.

Yet the hairs I can stand. After all, there have been many times that I’ve been seen sporting an uncombed do, misguided tresses reaching out at all kind of angles. It’s not the hair. What bothers me most is the unavoidable close-up view of the man’s follicles, the sheath-like cavities which once held his lustrous locks. All those thousands of tiny little holes that have now so clearly failed him. Orifices galore, intimate and personal. I might be looking at an enlarged image of his tongue, or perhaps a close-up of a moon crater, complete with crevices, crags, dark and light patches, even a possible site for a manned landing. This is a baldscape I have not asked for and do not want.

And why my adverse reaction, you ask. Simple. Fear. Dread. Absolute terror. That one day this will be me.

I come from a long line of bald men. Good men. Smart men. Tall men. But not men gifted in keeping what God gave them up on top. No coif of the year awards going to the fellas in my family. I am aware that male pattern baldness is supposed to be handed down on my mother’s side of the family gene pool. Try telling that to my brother, completely bald at twenty-four, oldest son of my father, not a cowlick left at twenty-four, only begotten son of my grandfather, shining like a billiard ball at, yep, twenty-four.

And now here come I, rapidly approaching my mid-forties, hanging on for dear life. Ever since I was nineteen, I’ve noticed the ebbing of the hairline on either side of my forehead. Year by year, millimeter by millimeter, the hirsute forces of my brow have been beating a steady retreat. I have been waiting for them to follow my forebears’ example and to begin stampeding at a high clip until I too shine like the dome of the state capitol building. But I have been fortunate that the inevitable retreat has been more tortoise than hare. Slow and steady, forever plodding onward, but taking its sweet time to get to the finish line.

Will I stay lucky? Will my present rate of receding continue – two inches or so every quarter of a century? At that speed, my hairline will reach the crown of my head when I’m close to seventy. Will I grow silver and distinguished in the manner of Richard Gere or Michael Douglas or will the current pace of hair loss accelerate at an ever-increasing velocity leaving me looking more like Ben Kingsley or Patrick Stewart? Am I destined to join the ranks of the men in my family, just a late bloomer clinging on to every strand? Will I end up like my father and brother, my glabrous noggin shining for the world to see?

Who cares? Well, quite obviously, me.

I’m worried that I’ve somehow developed an air of superiority over my less woolly friends and relations, that somehow I’m better than them because I didn’t draw the short straw when it came to hair loss. Am I really that vain, that shallow? Is this the same attitude aired pompously in TV movies of the week by the blond quarterback of the football team and the captain of the cheerleading squad? Because they were blessed with good looks, they deserve to be more popular.

My friend Fred, himself an early entry into the ranks of the smoothly sphered, tells me that being bald in college resulted in him looking older than his classmates, and therefore the one elected to buy the beer. A nice fringe benefit for having a composer’s haircut, and surely a ticket to popularity.

Yet daily I ponder and fret. What happens when the inevitable happens? Is there a way to prevent, or at least delay, a shining dome?

I read in a newspaper once of a Welsh farmer who had his cow lick the top of his head every day for years and that seemed to do the trick. Is that where the word cowlick came from? Unfortunately, I haven’t got a cow, and if I did, I’m not sure I’d want it doing that to my hair. It may be a possible cure for baldness, but fancy heading into work each day with bovine saliva running down your neck. Ugh! Would my cat do instead?

The Body Shop has a mint-based shampoo called Ice Blue which I buy religiously. I might really believe that that delightful, sensuous, minty tingle during my morning shower actually prevents an excess of hair falling out and blocking the drain. I continue to massage the diminishing areas while showering, hoping that a little additional blood circulation will put the brakes on my hair’s demise. And who knows? Perhaps it is working and that’s why I’ve been able to buck the trend established by the men in my family. Perhaps I’m saved.

Saved from resorting to products such as minoxidil or finasteride, marketed under the more commonly known names of Rogaine and Propecia, stuff that men less self-assured than I avail themselves of in the battle against their receding hairlines. Saved from looking into potential solutions offered by groups such as the Hair Club For Men whose website presents me with the delectable yet true possibility of delving into something called Non-Surgical Bio-Matrix Strand-by-Strand Process or, even more tantalizing, Microscopic Follicular Unit Hair Transplantation. What is most alarming is that if those two menu items don’t whet your follicles, they have a further link to Extreme Hair Therapy Products, as if the first two don’t sound extreme enough. I daren’t even click to find out, worried that I might come across an invitation to participate in Non Compos Mentis Lacquered Trichological Therapeutic Incisions, or perhaps just the names and phone numbers of some alluring and potentially nubile Welsh cows. I think I’ll pass.

I’ve taken to wearing my hair a little longer these days, letting it flop around a bit in the front. I used to think that it gave me a foppish air like those dapper and dashing blokes of the English gentry in Jane Austen novels and Merchant Ivory films. A bit like Hugh Grant in Four Weddings and a Funeral. But perhaps I’m just covering up the slowly expanding triangles of flesh appearing above my brow. If you can’t beat it, hide it. A prelude to the dreaded comb-over. John McCain on the presidential stump. Donald Trump on a windy day in Atlantic City. My image conscious teenage daughter thinks I should cut my hair shorter, so I would “look like a normal dad”. Whatever that is. Perhaps I should acknowledge that I’m involved in a huge cover-up operation, a Watergate of the cranium, and I should let down the façade for all to see. I should face up to the inevitable outwards signs testosterone coursing through my body like a man.

There’s always the option to shave. Michael Jordan made that cool in the eighties and the trend continues today. Don’t let them see you aging prematurely. Cut the receding hairline off at the pass. Go completely bald and they’ll never see where your real line of defense is. Bald is beautiful. How can Telly Savalas, Vin Diesel, Andre Agassi, Howie Mandel and countless others be wrong?

No. I’d rather keep my golden locks while I have them. They may be turning a gentle shade of grey at the temples. They may be continuing on their merry path northward. They won’t last forever. I believe I’m doomed to follow in my family’s footsteps, to be examined scrupulously one day by some guy behind me on a plane, the poor fool praying, not for a safe landing, but for a full head of hair. Please God let me not end up like that bald dude in the next row.

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