The roots of all evil

One late night in the summer of my 20th year, strictly on a whim, I dug out my high school yearbook and started skimming through it. When I came to my senior picture, I sensed something was different about me then. But what was it?

I looked, and looked some more, and then it dawned on me — since then, my hairline had receded. … and not just a little. And at that moment I realized I was going bald.

How did that affect me? Hardly at all.

Here’s the thing about my hair: It and I had been at constant warfare for years — with me always on the losing side. So the idea of a truce at some time in the future was a balm, not a threat.

When I was little, I paid no attention to my hair. It was there, I got it cut now and then, and ignored it the rest of the time. While I might’ve considered my hairstyle “casual,” my mother, in her typical fashion, described it (and me) as looking “like an unmade bed.”

But that all changed when I became a teen. Suddenly, my coif became the focus of my aesthetic concerns, if not my life. This was because it was every guy’s focus.

Almost all grown-up men had the same haircut — short on top, shorter on the sides. But that wasn’t the look I wanted. Uh-uh.

Keep in mind, this was when teen idols were taking over as fashion plates. And they all favored one coif. In polite company it was called the Duck’s Tail; to the rest of us it was the Duck’s Ass. It was the Numero Uno of rockers, heartthrobs and hoods … and their wannabes. Given my inherent anti-authoritarianism, for me it was the D.A., all the way!

Or more exactly, the D.A. was what I wanted. Unfortunately, it was what I’d never have.

Of noble attempts…

As anti-authoritarian as I was, my hair was even more so. It was shot through with waves, whirls and curls that made it as impossible to control as the boozed-out bozos at Spring Break Daytona.

Lord knows I tried. But, alas, the more I tried, the more I failed.

The essence of a successful D.A. was what kept it in place, which was one of what was cunningly mislabeled “hair tonics.” A tonic, at least according to Webster, is (and I quote) “a medicinal substance taken to give a feeling of vigor or well being.” Hair tonics did the exact opposite.

They were oily glop the consistency of 5 weight Quaker State that smothered your hair and scalp so completely, they were impenetrable by water, wind, sunlight, and probably bullets. But since everyone used them and they were the sine qua non of the D.A., I slathered them on by the truckload.

Wildroot was my weapon of choice because it had a manly odor and the holding power of Lepage’s glue. Every morning I poured a liberal amount on my hands and rubbed it in till no hair escaped coating. After that, I wielded brush and comb with the patience and precision of a brain surgeon and then — Voila! — I had The Look.

Check out photos of Elvis, Bobby Darin, the Everlys, Ricky Nelson, and the punks and pachucos whose mugshots graced post office walls. None of them had anything on me and my D.A. … at least at that point.

After breakfast, I donned my toque, careful not to disturb one iota of my tonsorial splendor, and diddy-bopped my soigne way to the Petrova School.

Everything stayed in place in my homeroom, and for maybe half the first class. But that was it. By third period, no matter how much I combed, coaxed or cursed, my hair poked out everywhichway through the gloopy mess. After a mere hour or two, all my efforts had been in vain and I was left with a bristly, freaky oil slick for a head. The too-cool-for-words me was gone, replaced by the village idiot of Inbreed Creek.

I struggled mightily for another few weeks, and then gave up, having assumed the attitude of, “Frankly, my hair, I don’t give a damn.” From then on, I did my thing, my hair did its thing, and my unmade bed look reappeared, and stayed, till I went in the Navy.

And dismal failures

Having a “good” haircut in the service was a cinch because it only had to be short. And since a base barber needed as much skill as a loser in Las Vegas, they buzzed off the sides, left a little something on the top, and that was that. Which was fine with me because my main concern wasn’t aesthetics but peace of mind: If I got a haircut every week, it kept the lifers off my back and out of my you know what.

When I made my triumphant return to civilian life, long hair was in vogue. The new hip look for guys was a long pony tail – the longer, the better. And as you can probably figure, I couldn’t succeed at that either.

I did, however, give it a good try, letting my hair grow for months. But once again, the curls and swirls took over, the follicular equivalent of kudzu. It’s not that my hair didn’t grow – it did. But it never got long. Instead, it just kept wrapping around itself in an uneven if not chaotic manner, and ended up looking like a crappy French Roll. And thus my final attempt at an au courant coif came to an abrupt and unceremonious end.

It was just as well, because after that fiasco my hair started falling out in earnest, and I no longer needed haircuts, only trims.

Capping it off

So how did I feel about my lifetime of failures in the Dynamite Do Department?

I’d be lying if I said it didn’t bother me at the time. After all, failure’s sting is sharpest in one’s youth. And while as an adult being cool may be a good thing, as a kid, looking cool is everything.

But as sometimes happens, a loss in one area can be a victory in another. And so it was with my hair.

Once bald, I needed to wear a hat year-round — to shield me from Jack Frost in the cold months and the Lucky Old Sun in the hot ones. And over the decades I became a hat maven’s hat maven, with a vast and varied collection of premium lids. And when I say vast and varied, I mean it. I’ve got a hat for every occasion — meteorological, psychological, astrological, fashion, funk and funereal, or just plain fun.

So, ultimately, when it came to glamourizing the old bean, I came out way on top.


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