My Personal Hairstory

In 1977, I bought my very first hand-held blow dryer. That ten-dollar purchase changed my life forever.

In 1977, I bought my very first hand-held blow dryer. That ten-dollar purchase changed my life forever.

Every morning, after shampooing, I'd take the device out, plug it in, turn it on, and then point it toward my head. If I aimed it just the right way and then used one of those round brushes, I could reshape my hair. My main aim was to force it to obey my every command. In other words, I wanted to make it look less like an Afro and something more subdued and "feathered." In those days of the disco era, when John Travolta could be seen doing his thing in the film Saturday Night Fever and Farrah Fawcett (RIP) was the hottest woman on TV, feathering was the thing that one was to do to one's hair.

Suddenly, over night, I had found a set of tools that would allow me to assert my will on my coiffure. That was the good news, the silver lining. But there was a dark cloud, too. Because I was now in possession of the sort of power I'd never held before, I began to use it to the point of abuse. Sadly, that's the sort of person I am. I never know how to do just a little bit of anything; I always overdo it, whatever "it" happens to be. Eventually, as I became more experienced with dryer and brush, I began to expect great things of that which sprouted from my scalp.

Eventually, because I spent so much time in the mornings trying to get just the right look, I developed something that one could call an obsession. This obsession manifested itself in several ways, including my preoccupation with mirrors. Often, after I'd finishing styling my hair, I would pull out about four (or maybe five) looking glasses. These I would array around the bathroom, each one spaced equidistantly from the others and arranged so that I could see myself from a variety of angles.

This obsession was not limited to what I was able to grow on top of my head either. During my senior year in high school I thought it would be great to grow a mustache, so I started in early September, shortly after they’d reopened the schoolhouse doors following summer vacation, and so by the middle of December, I had something that seemed to be a growth just over my upper lip and yet below my nose. The only problem was this: That collection of random hairs was nearly invisible to the naked eye.

I became very anxious about what to do to make my facial hair darker and more impressive. Luckily I had stepsisters, young women who were skilled in the art and science of applying various chemical concoctions to all parts of the human anatomy, but most notably to the face and its environs, to achieve any number of desired effects, so I voiced my mustache concerns to them, and then they had a little powwow. They came out of their meeting holding a bottle of hair dye that Melissa used on herself from time to time. Patricia, the oldest of the sisters said, “We think that you should use this,” nodding toward the Clairol product.

“That’s the stuff you color your hair with,” I said to Melissa.

“Yes, and it’s the stuff you’ll use on your mustache, too,” Sonia, the youngest of the three, replied.

I took the bottle from Patricia and looked at its label.

“It’s very easy to use,” they said in unison.

“Are you sure?”

“Yes," they answered as if speaking with one voice.

They explained how I should brush a little in before going to school and further advised using a toothbrush to accomplish this. The next morning, after showering and brushing my teeth and then completing my blow dryer ritual, I followed their instructions to a T. Voilà! As if a miracle had occurred overnight, I became Mr. Mustachio, the he-man senior of little Forsan High School.

In college and then graduate school, I took more than just my education to the next level. I added a rat’s nest of a beard to my ever-thickening mustache and let the hair on top of my head assume its role as my spiritual center. By this, I mean that my hair got so long and large (despite my continued daily application of man-made hot air) that it appeared to most casual observers that a small (but furry) mammal had taken up residence on top of my head. When I feel like I'm in need of having a good chuckle, I take out an old photo ID card, issued by Texas A & M University, the place where I completed my M. A. in 1988, and have a look-see. The picture on that card always causes me to break out in the giggles.

Not long ago, I showed that very same card to a girlfriend just to see what her reaction would be. She held it in her hand and looked at it in silence for a few seconds. She then handed it back to me and said, “If I had known you then, things would have turned out very differently between us.”

“What do you mean by that?” I asked.

“Well, for starters, I wouldn’t have let you get within ten feet of me.”

“Why’s that?”

“Call me crazy, but I just don’t find deranged serial killers all that attractive.”

To complete my look, I pierced my left ear and went to the local tobacco shop and bought a large meerschaum pipe, the bowl of which was carved to resemble the bust of a pirate with one eye covered by a patch. I then began posing myself at various strategic spots on the university campus. I made sure to place myself where plenty of people could see me. I had a favorite bench in the perfect place, located not far from the building that housed many students of the humanities and liberal arts sort, meaning those who were sympathetic to “self-expression” and the various forms it could take. Once on my bench, I’d cross my legs at the knee, hold a certain type of book on my lap—Jean-Paul Sartre’s Nausea, for example, with the spine facing away from me, toward the passersby—fill the bowl of my pipe, and then reach for my lighter.

Life after grad school presents its own set of challenges. I’m not referring to those involved in taking up a new profession, but I did find teaching somewhat difficult. Actually, I’m talking about the fact that as a person ages, especially if that person happens to be male, his hair loses its natural moisture balance. As a sad result of that loss, it becomes increasing difficult to find the right moisturizer to give it that luster, bounce, and manageability of old. Sure, I tried lots of things: moisturizers laced with olive oil, jojoba, pomegranate, peach, hibiscus, almond oil, coconut oil, juice of the mandarin, bee pollen extract, peanut oil, aloe vera, essence of biotin, the full array of vitamins and minerals, and even a few additives that were described (on the label pasted on the rear of the bottle) as “exotic,” which is all the justification needed by the manufacturer to add considerably to the suggested retail price. Unfortunately, nothing seemed to work, and over time, I became increasingly despondent about the fact that it appeared I’d contracted a fatal case of the frizzies.

Just when I thought my hair situation could get no worse, it began to fall out. At the oddest times I’d catch, out of the corner of my eye, individual strands drifting toward the floor of my apartment, behaving every bit like dark, odd-shaped snowflakes. At first, it seemed that I was merely experiencing normal shedding, the sort that happens to men and women, young and old alike. Over time, though, I began to see some differences when I looked in the mirror, but I rationalized it all away, thinking that my hair was simply flattening out and that this was probably a result of “conditioner buildup.” I tried combing it different ways and running my fingers through it about every half hour or so in an effort to fluff it up, but nothing seemed to succeed in making it look fuller.

Of course, I got on the Internet and did a little Googling as I often do these days when I need information. According to what I was reading online, normal loss is anywhere from fifty to a hundred hairs each day. Anything above that is considered worrisome. With this knowledge in hand, I began to conduct daily experiments.

On days when I would wash my hair, I’d massage the shampoo in and scrub my hair with my fingers. Before rinsing, I’d count the number of hairs I had on my soapy hands, and then mark that number down in a notebook I kept in my bedroom after I’d finished my shower. On days when I didn’t shampoo, I would hold my head over the sink in my bathroom and then vigorously ruffle my hair and watch to see how many strands had been dislodged. The dark hairs would fall straight down onto the white porcelain, which made it very easy to get an accurate count. Again, I’d mark the number down and date the entry. I kept a daily tally for several weeks and then did the math. The results of these experiments seemed pretty conclusive. I was in the early stages of male pattern baldness.

I was living in Ankara, Turkey, at that time and had a girlfriend who assured me that I could reverse this trend if I followed a simple home remedy. This curative required that I go to the grocery store and buy a bulb or two of fresh garlic. “Garlic?” I asked, just to make sure I hadn’t heard her wrongly.

“Yes, garlic.”

“OK. Then what?”

“Bring it home, peel it, and slice up two cloves.”

“And?”

“And rub the slices against your scalp. Rub it here,” she pointed to my temples, “and here, on this part of your head.”

“You mean the crown of my head.”

“Right, the crown.”

“How often do I do this? Every night? Every other night?”

“Three times each week, minimum. And make sure that you’re getting plenty of the juice on your skin when you do this. That is very important.”

“OK.”

“I promise that you will see good results. It will stop the hairs from falling and cause new ones to grow.”

“Boy, I sure hope so.”

I continued this treatment for about two months. Not long into the routine, I began to notice that people were giving me odd looks in public places whenever I’d approach them. These looks were often accompanied by subtle sniffing sounds, often followed by them putting a little distance between the two of us.

About six months ago, approximately the same time I broke up with the girlfriend who’d proposed that I smear my scalp with garlic juice, I decided to shave my hair off. Because I am a purist in most things, I also removed my mustache and goatee (but drew the line at shaving my eyebrows and plucking my eyelashes). I reasoned that if baldness was going to be in my future, I might as well go ahead and embrace that future now rather than waiting for it to arrive.

In recent weeks I’ve befriended a fellow by the name of Ray Wiggins, a colleague at Bilkent University, the school where I teach. Like me, Ray is going bald, and similarly, he has chosen to buzz himself, right down to the flesh, with electric clippers.

The two of us show our solidarity in a number of ways, including eating lunch together in one of the university cafeterias two or three times each week. Often during these meals we talk hopefully of embracing our middle-aged maleness. We also discuss the reactions we are getting from others (especially single women) to our newly acquired, self-imposed sleekness. During our conversations, Ray inevitably rubs his head with one of his hands and says that he is feeling especially “liberated” at this time in his life.

I understand where he’s coming from; although, I prefer the term “streamlined” to “liberated.” It may sound strange, but ever since I decided to use the clippers, I've felt that I’m now moving through space and time a lot more aerodynamically than I used to. Or perhaps the better comparison is that shaving myself is akin to me finally throwing out a silly keepsake that I’d been holding on to for a very long time, something perhaps that had been weighing me down in some way. What I’ve disposed of is the sort of thing that is never missed once it’s gone.

I consider it a personal breakthrough that I'm now able to see my hair as a mere adornment rather than as something intrinsically important in determining my value as a human being. This breakthrough, I suppose, proves that old dogs (even hairless ones) can learn something new.

Comments

Alison_Carey says,

I enjoyed your story. I've gone through the hair obsession thing, spent years trying to straighten it and then just finally let it be curly. I like it when people list all the remedies they try for things, and I liked the part about you counting hairs. Counting hairs! Unbelievable. Have you seen the episode of I Love Lucy where Ricky thinks he's losing his hair? It's hilarious.

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