Ask any teenaged boy about hairloss and he will tell you that he is never going to go bald. He will run his fingers through his lavishly long hair and tell you that losing hair is for other people. Okay, maybe his Dad and Grampa and Uncle and older brother are all as hairless as toilet seats, but he himself will beat the rap. He is immune. He is not going to go bald.
But! Ask that same boy the same question ten years later, and he will tell you the exact same thing. He is not going to go bald. Of course, this time when he runs his fingers through his hair, he may have to run all the way back to his ears before fingers meet hairline. His scalp may be gleaming merrily in the moonlight. His shower drain may look like a Chiapet with all the watersoaked hair collecting in there, but he will still insist that he is not going bald.
Because you see, men don't go bald. They go into denial.
For I know. As I write this I am wrapping myself up in the usual skein of male lies. I look in the mirror and try to convince myself that I look no different. But I can't deny it - within twenty years I will be a chromedome, a nudehead, the fleshy man in the moon echoed in my craggy scalp. I must comb... and I have no hair.
Mind you, there's nothing wrong with bald guys. I wish I was bald myself, but I can't bring myself to make that leap of faith yet. Kojak, Captain Picard, William Shatner when he's off-camera - there's a certain nobility in that shaved expanse of scalp, a calm bowing to the inevitable forces of nature. It's like an amputation - no sense having this hanging around, so off with it! Off with my head!
And yet I cannot. Not yet. And it doesn't help that years ago I read an interview with Terry Gilliam back when he was directing Bruce Willis in Twelve Monkeys, and he was asked what he liked best about Bruce. "He has the most exquisite cranial structure," he said. "He looks great bald."
Ever since then I've wanted to stuff Gilliam's nostrils with Nair and force him to sniff the rich scent of his own nasal hairs chemically dissolving, for infecting me with a nagging worry that had never even occurred to me before. I've had a never-ending string of bad hair days since, oh, 1971 or so.... But did I have a bad head as well? Will I go to all that trouble to shave off the last of my hair, only to find that my head looks like a rotting guava?
I can't do it. And so I have joined the ranks of the balding.
As I said, bald's good. But balding guys are ridiculous. They sit there with half a head on their shoulders, trying to ignore it, but it's like trying to ignore the fact that someone has a rabid mongoose attached to their neck. They know it. We know it. Do they honestly think they're going to win? There is no such thing as an advancing hairline - only receding ones.
But we all have this whacko messiah complex - we think we're the Hair Savior, brought here by God to resurrect follicles from the dead. Let me lay hands upon the hairline and yew will be healed!
And so we whip out every trick in the book to try to make our hair come back - or at least, to make it look like it's back.
Now the problem with mocking the various baldness camouflages is that it's been done to death. For a humorist, making fun of bald guys is like being trapped in a bar, listening to a band doing "Freebird" - not only have you heard it before, but almost certainly you've heard it done better somewhere else. We all know about the Over-The-Top Hair Comb and how useless it is. We realize the Ponytail is merely a sop for fat aging executives who want to still remain convinced they're somehow counterculture. The Grow It Long And Hope is a Ponytail variant, except it just keeps getting longer until they look like their hair is sliding off the back of their scalp.* And there's always the I Don't Fucking Care Anymore, I'm Bald And Therefore Am Abandoning All Contact With My Head. You know. You see them every day. And admit it, you snicker.
The more extreme options become so bizarre that humor fails since the ideas are so damned strange in the first place. Hair plugs, which involve yanking divots out of your armpit and putting them on top of your head, almost make fun of themselves.... and therefore require little mockery. (The only thing I can add is that guys with freshly-jacked hairplugs look like a Carry-Me-Katie doll after a five-year-old has cut the doll's hair - all the hair comes spouting out of these little circular clumps in neat little rows. Too strange.) Rogaine and Minoxodil are merely the modern equivalent of ground-up whale horns and snake penis pills. And spray-on hair? What could I say that could top the very concept? Man, when you start having graffiti artists tag your head for the Crips, it's over.
But unlike most humorists, I shall not mock the Wig. People who make fun of the Wig misunderstand. A Wig is a social contract writ in nylon.
Think about it. If a wig was supposed to work, would they look that fake? No, what a wig is is a form of shorthand for others. A wig could be comfortably replaced with the following sign taped to the guy's head:
"ATTENTION: The man underneath this sign is very vain and slightly stupid. Since he has no sense of humor, we have instead chosen to make it very awkward to even mention the blazingly obvious fact that he is stark raving bald. You are not able to point out the fact that he is wearing a wig, and you have far too much dignity to pretend that he still has his hair, so you will never make the slightest reference to his head. Which is exactly what he wants."
Look at the top of a balding guy's head and you'll find a miniature Vietnam; a powerful entity fighting against an enemy that just doesn't care. It's got grass-roots support. And it's just as hopeless. They can't win.
And, because they know that they're not going to win, they start getting defensive about it, like the Pentagon generals near the end of Vietnam. For God's sake, don't bring up the subject of hair around a balding guy. For example, I myself have a friend who is balding rather badly. (I'm not worried that he'll get angry at me for telling stories about him in this article, because for him to get angry he would first have to admit that he is in fact balding... and I'll be skiing backwards on the slopes of hell before he admits that.)
You have to realize; I don't think there's anything bad about his bald spot. None of his friends thinks there's anything bad about it. Heck, we're guys, we understand; you're either born bald or Italian, and you don't get much choice. Why should we make fun of him when it's going to happen to us eventually? It's kind of like chemotherapy patients hanging around mocking the AIDS ward - we're all getting to the same place eventually, whether it's from an expanding spot in the back or a gradually eroding front.
Frankly, we wouldn't even think about it anymore if we didn't have to devote so much time to avoiding the subject. ("Hey, buddy, your tires are lookin' a little bald there." "What did you say? Fucker!")
But once in awhile we meet a new friend, and we don't get the chance to debrief him on the Forbidden Topics of our little coffee klatch. And chaos results. I remember a time when we all went out to shoot pool with a new friend of ours named Todd. Todd, sadly, was nineteen and unused to hanging out with twenty-eight year-old burnouts like us. He didn't know that baldness was a taboo subject. (Other topics to avoid when hanging out with elderly burnouts are, "Why aren't you in college?", "How come you're still living with your mother after thirty years?", and the ever-popular, "Can't you find a better job to work at than the gas station?") So he looked at my balding buddy's admittedly sparse crop and, eyes blazing with curiosity, asked the question.
"Hey!" shouted Todd happily, "You know you're going bald on top?"
The words resounded around the room like the crack of a rifle. We heard them echo, like in a movie: "You know you're going bald on top? Going bald on top? Bald on top? BALD ON TOP?"
The entire room froze. The older, wiser, and balder among us started creeping towards the door so they wouldn't be a witness to the impending homicide.
My friend looked up from his shot. Studied the kid. Decided, after a moment's consideration, that fifteen years in the penitentiary wouldn't be worth it - and I suspect the headlines that flashed through his mind stopped him more than anything else. ("I KILLED HIM 'CAUSE HE CALLED ME BALD," SAYS THE CUEBALL KILLER.)
"It's just a part," he said, in a tone of voice which indicated that if anyone chose to disagree they would soon discover entirely new and unnatural methods of singing soprano, "A very WIDE part."
We went back to our game, relieved that the homicide had been averted. But that's how close he came then. One can only imagine what will happen thirty years from now when he has grandchildren who will ask him those merry, innocent questions that only children can. ("THREE SLAIN IN BIZARRE FAMILY MURDER INVOLVING COMB AND BLOWDRYER")
The fact is, as bald men we must become less sensitive to our plight. Let's face it. There's nothing you can do about it. It's in your genes - and as much as we'd like to see gene therapy for bald guys, those damn cancer patients and whatnot keep getting all the attention. Which is another reason you should give heavily to cancer research.
And yet I digress. Folks, we balding gents have to stand up for our rights and stop the mockery. And the only way to do that is understanding. I suggest this option: We pass a law mandating that every child will have their eyebrows shaved off at the age of sixteen. And kept that way until they reach, oh, thirty or so.
How will that create understanding, you ask? Simple. They'll understand that we won't make fun of them if they won't make fun of us. It could work. And if not, we'll have them make fun of my friend Bryan at the pool parlor - whoops, did I say his name? Crap! I'm sorry, Bryan -- just -- hey! Get away! <SOUND OF A COMB BEING INSERTED IN AN EXTREMELY PAINFUL PLACE>