Thursday, June 16, 2016

The Trials and Tribulations of a Bald Man

The indignities of being bald arrive early and stay late.  

One afternoon in college, in the early ‘80s, I ran into Randy, a clueless preppy jackass who studied in my department. We chatted a minute on the sidewalk, clad in our backpacks and down vests. Just as the conversation ended and we were about to each head our own way, Randy stared at my forehead, puzzled, and suddenly spat, “Oh my God, Dude, you’re going bald.”

Thanks Randy. Did I mention he was a jackass?

As the next decade wore on, I proceeded to truly go bald. It was all for the best I guess. When I had a full head of hair it wouldn’t do what I wanted it to do anyway. The feathered bangs of the late 1970s wouldn't quite feather. I spent so much time in front of a mirror with a circular brush and a blow dryer trying to make those bangs obey, when it started falling out, I suspected it was leaving to escape the abuse.
The unruly bangs, circa 1976: How is it fair that I 
have a unibrow AND and receding hairline?

There were some positive signs early on, signs that maybe hair was over-rated. On a flight to Phoenix with my sister, Cindy in those early receding hairline days, a cute young flight attendant gave me way more than normal attention, frequently stopping and chatting. When the young gal wondered off to fill someone’s coffee, Cindy leaned across the aisle and gave me her dry, familiar, dismissive smirk, gesturing toward her forehead, “Must be a father-figure thing.”

“What do ya mean?”

“The receding hairline,” she said, shrugging her shoulders. “You must remind her of her father.”

Thanks, Sis. 

When I was a high school teacher, boys tried to put me on the defensive with cracks about being bald. In front of the entire class, one would raise his hand and ask, “ Does being bald ever get you down?” Other kids snickered

I’d respond with, “Yeah. Sometimes. But then I meet somebody with an embarrassing haircut like yours and I don’t feel so bad.”

Score one for the bald guy.

A bald high school teacher can riff on that theme all day. Another kid grabbed his thick, long hair by the roots and shook it for me. “You ever wish you had full head of hair like this?

“What? And look like you?”

Oddly, this kind of verbal sparing built warm and trust between me and my students. They somehow liked me more for giving it back to them.

The Hair Club for Men commercials of the 1990s didn’t improve bald man self-esteem as promised. Somewhere between the clips of formerly bald men running their fingers through new hair as thick as 1970s shag carpet was a clip of a busty blonde in a bikini chirping, “I don’t know why, I just like guys with hair.”

Thanks, Hair Club.

As I lost more and more hair, I tried to accept it by cutting what was left shorter and shorter. Embrace it, I thought.

When I was a teacher I had a principal who did just the opposite – he wore a toupee. But it was clear he was self conscious about it, as well he should have been. It was a damn ugly, ill-fitting hunk of hair. When we talked, he’d stare at my receding hairline. I’m sure he was trying to imagine how he would look without the rug. It helped me understand how women feel when men stare at their breasts in conversation. I wanted to draw a downward arrow on my forehead and write, “My eyes are down here.”

Once you get a toupee, I figure you’re kinda trapped, and he was. But cruel reality intervened for my old principal. He fought cancer and of course the chemo gave him little choice but to throw the toupee away. After surviving that terrible journey he never wore it again.

Fellow bald man, Dave Kimmel, a North Elementary 4th grade teacher gets the same kind abuse the rest of us bald men get. At a family reunion a curious, confused child squinted up at him, asking, "What's wrong with your skin?"

"What to you mean?” he asked. The little girl leaned closer and whispered gravely, “It’s all over your head.”

Out of the mouths of babes.

I myself joke about being bald as an act of self-deprecation. On humid or rainy days, I tell people, “I hate days like this. I spend all morning getting my hair just like I want it and then it rains.” But when I’m teased by somebody about being bald, I usually say something like, “I’ve as much control over this as a person in a wheel chair has over their handicap. Do you make fun of people in wheelchairs?”

I admit, that's a bit heavy handed, but it shuts them up. I’m just trying to turn the tables and perhaps don’t know my own strength. While it’s true both bald and handicap people can’t control their condition, handicap people have real obstacles to overcome while we bald men have only wounded vanity.

Some men overcome their wounded vanity with grace. I find myself envying men who look good in hats. Anytime I try to cover my bald head with a hat I look like I’m going to a costume party as . . . well, somebody who looks stupid in a hat.

How’s that for diminished expectations? I’ve quit envying men with hair and started envying men who look good in hats.

“Kurt Meyer’s The Salvage Man is a gentle Midwestern fantasy made up of one treasure after another. Part historical fiction, part love story, and part rumination on modern day life, this novel asks hard questions about the world we live in and the world we leave behind. I couldn’t put it down.”
Larry D. Sweazy, author of A Thousand Falling Crows

Buy Kurt's first novel, Noblesville

“Meyer turns the pages of history with gentle care and a warm heart, creating a story I’ll remember forever. Thank you Kurt Meyer for opening a door to my beloved town’s past and allowing me to travel the streets and meet the people of Noblesville 1893.”

Susan Crandall, Author of Whistling Past the Graveyard