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Gimme it down to there (hair)

Sunday afternoon in the cruel sun I was pushing the mower around my lawn, and I was not wearing a shirt. This is an ugly picture to anyone willing to imagine it. I grew up well before it was popular for men to remove all of their hair between their chins and their waistlines—and, in the cases of some men I've seen jogging or bicycling, on their legs too. Our hairy state used to lead to wisecracks directed at the particularly hirsute. In a basketball game with teams of "shirts and skins," the hairy guy on the skins team would inevitable be greeted with "Who's the guy in the sweater?"

While today's plucked and waxed men look to me like baby seals, they also recall a time when I looked like they do: seventh and eighth grade. Back then, guys looked forward to their chest hair starting to sprout. It was a sign of the transformation of boys into men. Our voices sometimes would squeak suddenly as the tone of our speech lowered. And hair began to insinuate itself on our faces.

For me, all of this occurred at the peak of the flower power/hippies/freaks revolution (and I don't use that word lightly) that erased the look of popular culture just as surely as lifting the gray film obliterates all of the images on a Magic Slate. Remember, when the Beatles first arrived in America, their hair length was scandalous. Looking back on those old photos, the scandal is laughable:
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Naturally, the Beatles eventually moved to the vanguard of everything that was groovy:
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I had two particular hair-wearers whom I wished to emulate back then. First it was Joe Namath: the Broadway Joe of the Fu Manchu mustache:
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I remember talking with my friend Dave as a freshman in high school. We both figured we'd have Fu's by our sophomore year, subscribing as we did to the theory that the more often you shaved, the faster the hair would come in. So we shaved every day. Razor technology being as primitive as it was, this frequently resulted in my face looking like a pound of fresh ground chuck—and that mustache hair never did anything but take its sweet time coming in. The best I could do, and this by my senior year, was grow sideburns that looked like a cross between a skateboard and 1958 Cadillac fins.
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The second guy I wanted to look like was Frank Zappa::
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Zappa and the Mothers of Invention couldn't resist the chance of taking a poke at the Beatles' hippified appearance:
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But my wish to look like Zappa seemed far, far away during my high school senior year, because a McDonald's opened in my town—McDonald's being a novelty then—and to get a job there, I had to get a haircut. A friend wrote in my yearbook that when he saw the resulting scalp disaster, "I thought you were joining the Marines." When I went away to college, my head looked like a cue ball in the crush of hippies, yippies and freaks that seemed to wash over campus like a follicular tide.

Of course, I wanted to grow my hair out immediately. First thing I did was grow a beard. Second thing was to stop getting haircuts. By the start of my sophomore year I looked like Jim Morrison on the cover of "L.A. Woman." Finally!
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These days I have more hair growing out of my ears than I do growing out of my head. As I pushed the lawnmower around Sunday, the sweat flowing unimpeded from my head to my face, I couldn't help but think of the times when I had lots of hair and could do anything with it. In fact, a girl I had a crush on all through high school told me at a reunion a couple of years ago that she remembered how much hair I'd had in high school: "In fact, too much hair," she said with a meaningful glance. If only I'd known ...

But now that I have so little on my head, I wear it short, measured in fractions of fractions of an inch; I really have no other options. And at 55, I don't really need to make any statements with my hair: in fact, making hair statements at my age is the same as wearing a diamond stud earring: for us middle-aged guys, it doesn't send the signal that we would wish.

My head, though, is the only place I'll wear it short. The rest took me 40 years to grow, and I'm going to keep it.


( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
Aug. 18th, 2009 04:13 pm (UTC)
Funny thing that you brought up hair. My mother suggested to me that I wear a comb over yesterday. The best comb over is still....a comb over.

Aug. 18th, 2009 05:45 pm (UTC)
Amen to that. There once was an area politician who had the worst comb-over ever. It started way on the other side of his head and looked like the hide of a road-kill woodchuck.
Aug. 18th, 2009 09:05 pm (UTC)
Go for the Frank Zappa facial hair for the first day of class! See you in less than two weeks!
Aug. 18th, 2009 09:46 pm (UTC)
I think you should try for the Zappastache.
Aug. 18th, 2009 11:32 pm (UTC)
I don't think I'd want to intimidate the incoming freshman. I already have the full beard that is slowly turning red-ish in color.
( 5 comments — Leave a comment )

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