By JOSEPH TINTLE
My wife recently said to me, “Did you ever notice at the Y that many of the middle-aged men have hairpieces? And they’re bad hairpieces?”
I hadn’t noticed because I go to the YMCA to lift weights and row; I’m not much into checking out guys’ scalps. At least not anymore. But she had a point. There indeed is a percentage of men who have not come to accept themselves as nature intended and so they buy these rugs that look like something out of Motel 6.
Years ago when I began teaching, I saw a teacher wearing the most hideous toupee. It sat atop his head like a frightened muskrat. He was one of these fellows who refused to accept that he was predisposed to baldness and believed that such a hairpiece might give him solace. But one day it backfired.
As he was walking down the school hallway, two students approached him from behind. The taller of the two snatched the hairpiece off the teacher’s head and began having a game of keep-away. The teacher stood there mortified. You knew he wanted to scream bloody murder, but that only would have worsened the situation because other kids had already started laughing.
So I approached the student who was holding the toupee and asked him to hand it over.
“Nah, nah, nah,” the kid said with a big smile. He was having too much fun.
I lowered my voice even more and told him that he should hand over the toupee because I knew for a fact that this teacher had head lice (he didn’t). The kid’s eyes lit up and he flipped it to me. Then he dashed to the men’s room to wash up.
As I handed the retrieved hairpiece to the teacher, we did not make eye contact. We were too embarrassed. I’ve seen him a few times since, but we don’t acknowledge each other for obvious reasons. But something good came out of that encounter long ago: he no longer wears a hairpiece. Instead, like me, he realizes that bald is beautiful.
While I, too, was predisposed to baldness, I think it had more to do with universe payback than anything genetic. When I was a child, I’d goof on anyone who was bald. If a bald guy was walking down the street, I’d yell, “Hey, baldy,” from my bedroom window. He’d look around for the culprit and I’d duck out of sight.
There was once a playground monitor at our grammar school and she had severe hair issues. I gave her the nickname of “Skinhead” and it stuck. Then I passed around a story that in high school she was voted Most Likely to Recede. My fellow sixth graders thought it was all a hoot.
Another time I was in a crowded elevator with my father and an office worker entered and stood facing the elevator doors as we all do. He was wearing perhaps the most glaring toupee of all time which prompted me to say aloud, “Hey, dad, how much do you think he had to pay for that?” I was 27 at the time.
Now, I don’t know if that man was ever aware that I was goofing on him, but the universe sure was. And believe me, payback is a bitch. By age 30, my hair was retreating faster than the remaining few soldiers at Custer’s Last Stand. And while I never resorted to a hairpiece, I did have a trick or two early on. If I forgot my hat, I’d never walk into the wind when I was meeting someone outside. Yes, it often took me longer to get where I had to go, but you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do.
And then there was the comb over. I grew the rest of my hair longer than usual and combed it forward to give the “illusion of hair,” as my sister Alice Maureen called it. But one swift gust of wind and the secret would be out.
Eventually I said, enough of this. I’m bald. Accept it.
And so to all my hairline-challenged male bloggers: go to your barber, have him set the shears on No. 1, and twenty minutes later you’ll be basking in new-found freedom.
It sure beats a game of keep away.