Sunday, August 29, 2010

Bad Hair

What is in the hell is up with my hair? After forty-seven years of faithful service, it is obvious to everyone that my hair is now more of a liability than an asset.  This was made clear  to me during a test of the Face Time technology that is built into my iPhone 4.  Face Time allows the caller to make a video call (think The Jetsons) to anyone else who has an iPhone 4, provided that both parties have wi-fi access.  It is wondrous technology but for one glaring problem-IT LETS OTHER PEOPLE SEE WHAT YOU LOOK LIKE! Not only does Face Time allow you to see the person with whom you are talking, it also allows you to see yourself. And that's the problem. If your game is always tight then I suppose that this really isn't a drawback, but if you are on a personal hygiene vacation just know that the camera will rat you out.

So, back to the Face Time call.  I had been swimming earlier in the evening and when this person called to test out Face Time, I had not combed my hair since coming home from the pool.  When we started the call and I got to see what I looked like, I determined that video calling is not something I am all that interested in.  We all know what the pool does to your hair, right?  Well, when I saw myself my first thought was that I had turned into Dr. Emmett Brown, Christopher Lloyd's character in "Back to the Future".
1.21 Gigawatts!
In my youth, I had good hair.  It was wavy and brown and —best of all—there was lots of it.  It was an asset.  Most definitely.  

The glory days.
Now my hair looks like an unwatered Phoenix lawn in August. It is gray, brittle, and thin. You would think that I have been shampooing with Round Up.

Lather. Rinse. Repeat.
Good hair is an asset.  Bad hair is a liability.  Take Arthur Liman, for example.  Liman was an attorney who achieved notoriety while serving as chief counsel for the United States Senate during the Iran-Contra Affair.   However,  it was not his brilliant legal strategy that made him notable.  It was his hair.

He had the worst looking hair you will ever see.  Seriously.  I believe it was legendary Washington Post humorist Art Buchwald who wrote that it looked as though someone had dumped a plate of fettucine on Liman's head.  This is what I remember most about the covert operation that almost derailed Ronald Reagan's presidency?  The fettucini hair remark.  Like I said, good hair is an asset,  bad hair is a liability.

Fettucini head.
I have a medicine cabinet full of hair potions, conditioners, mousses, pomades, and restorative oils. Nothing works. This looks like a fight I cannot win.  My wife makes fun of it all while she sits there triumphantly combing out her luxurious tresses.  Is she oblivious to the role that hair plays in a man's assessment of his own self-esteem? Has she never heard of Samson? 
Thank you, but no.
I  understand now why hair restoration is a multi-billion dollar per year business.  It's easy to make fun of the clowns who get hair plugs or weaves until you become one of those clowns who needs hair plugs or a weave.  Not to worry though, no Hair Club for Men for me.  No, instead I think I will cryogenically freeze my hair and wait for the Human Genome Project to deliver on the promise of eternal hair. 

Tuesday, August 24, 2010


I don't remember when it was that I actually got over my Pavlovian school reflex, but it wasn't all that long ago.  It's been a long time since I turned in a homework assignment, but for many years after completing my classroom education I would get that migratory urge every August.  I miss that feeling.

My oldest son Jack started tenth grade on August 11, an absurdly early start to the school year if you ask me. As I understand it, the original purpose of summer vacation in our then-agrarian society was so that the children could help get the crops either into or out of the ground.  Since marijuana is Kentucky's #1 cash crop these days, it's probably better to hustle the kids back to school early than have them working the fields.  Even though he didn't get out of school until June 3, he confessed to me in early August that he was ready to go back and see his friends.  He was bored. At age 15, Jack is stuck in that awkward place between childhood and manhood.  He wants to go out, but he can't drive.  He likes girls, but his rap needs work. He wants to be cool, but his body is in the throes of the metamorphosis, making coolness a difficult proposition.

Jack's boredom was hard for me to comprehend, but then again I was viewing summer vacation through the lens of my own experience, not his.  I grew up in a different era and in a different place.  In my childhood I was fortunate enough to have the Atlantic Ocean in my backyard.  If there was nothing else to do, well I always had bodysurfing as a fallback option.  I also grew up in an era of far less parental oversight.  How else to explain that one of my favored childhood activities was riding my bike (along with all of the other neighborhood children) behind the Mosquito Man as he drove his yellow truck through the neighborhood pumping out massive aerosol plumes of mosquito poison?  He would try frantically to wave us off but that just encouraged us to peddle faster to see who could get closest to the nozzle and inhale the greatest quantities of what probably was pure DDT.
 That my children have no obvious physical deformities and that I am still alive is inexplicable to me.  Where were the parents, you ask?  Well, this was the 1970s, so I would imagine that they were smoking and drinking and carrying on, happy that we were anywhere but underfoot.  It is precisely because of this lack of oversight and the acknowledgement of our demented behavior that as parents we now have our own children on lockdown.

When I was a child and wanted to ride my bike, I told my mom I was going out, looked both ways, and was gone.  No bike helmet, no cell phone, and no pre-arranged check-in at my destination because more often than not I didn't have a destination.   I can't ever recall a single instance of my mother being frantically worried about where I was.  I was born in Petersburg, Virginia and lived there until I was seven. I vividly remember at age six being miles away from home on my bike, playing in old Civil War forts or digging clay in creeks that were filled with water moccasins and copperheads. I was six years old, for cryin' out loud! Nowadays, when Jack wants to ride his bike around the neighborhood, he has to wear a helmet, provide us an itinerary, and power up his locator beacon. Sadly, this is a reflection of the times we live in.  Were Shannon and I as unconcerned about Jack's whereabouts as my own parents were about mine, we would be jailed as unfit parents.  Imagine the consequences if, as the result of our nonchalance, Jack was scooped up by some guy in a van and turned into a skin shirt. The world is too dangerous to let our kids do what we did.  No wonder Jack was bored and ready to go back to school-he can't do anything because as parents we are too scared of the world our children are growing up in to let them have the independence that we took for granted.

So, school is both Jack's place of learning and also the nexus of his social universe.  When, after all my schooling was done and I would have the "back-to-school" reflex that I described earlier, it was not, I'm sorry to say, the schoolwork that I pined for.  No, what I missed was the chance to immerse myself in the giant pool of similarly-aged kids, kids with the same anxieties and fears, the same curiosity about life, kids on the same life trajectory. Like these guys.
"Mr. Blutarsky.  Zero point zero."
Like many things in life it is only with the benefit of hindsight that I now appreciate school for what it was and what it offered me.  So, as the summer of 2010 winds down and a new school year rolls around, I remember those feelings that accompanied the beginning of each new school year.  And while those feelings don't come automatically to me anymore, I recall them with a certain wistfulness.  With each passing year I agree more and more with George Bernard Shaw, who famously said that "youth is wasted on the young."  What I wouldn't give these days for a crappy school lunch and a history test.