Just this week I bit the bullet and did the one thing I really don’t enjoy. I had my photograph taken. It seems that to succeed as an author these days you need to give readers more than just text on a page. They want to see the face behind the fiction. They want a glimpse of the personality behind the prose. Or at least I think that’s what they want. One of the reasons I was attracted to writing in the first place was because I liked the idea of being invisible. I thought it would be fun to go into a bookshop and gaze up at my novel in total anonymity. I never thought I would have to put my face on webpages and book covers but, for the sake of marketing and promotion, I put my misgivings aside and did the necessary.
So my daughter Zoe grabbed her camera and tripod and we trooped outside. We draped a black sheet across the door and I stood in front of it, trying to look like a writer. I wasn’t sure exactly what a writer is supposed to look like, so I aimed for intelligent, sincere, spiritual, and thin. Zoe snapped away and I did what I always do when I have a convex lens pointed in my direction: I alternated between pulling faces and trying to be serious. We examined the results and I realized that “intelligent, sincere, spiritual, and thin” is not a look that comes naturally to me. In most of the pictures I looked dim, tired, chubby and old. We settled for the one in which I looked the most “normal”. At least I didn’t have my eyes crossed or my tongue sticking out. I was smiling and looking at the camera. I also noticed that my hair is getting alarmingly thin on top.
Not so long ago, a colleague sitting at the desk across from me stopped what he was doing, pointed at the crown of my head, and said: “You’re going bald!” This took me by surprise for a number of reasons, but mainly because I had shared an office with this guy for four years. He’s a smart one: observant, quick, and not prone to lapses in the intellect department. So I can only guess as to what possessed him to point at my thinning dome and state the glaringly obvious.
When I was young I had thick hair. And I mean really thick. My head was at the big end of the scale for my age group anyway, so I always had problems finding headwear that fit. At age ten I attended a school where caps were mandatory. The outfitter managed to find one at the back of the stock room, but it was a squeeze. The problem was not just my largish head but also my hair, which was so thick it had a tendency to forcibly expel anything I placed onto it. Do you remember those old toys where you pushed a plastic figure down onto a spring, and then the spring would eventually kick in and send the figure flying through the air? Well, that was me wearing a school cap.
Barbers loved me. They would never fail to comment on how thick my hair was. “You’ve got thick hair,” they would say, followed by the old corker: “If I cut off your ear, can I keep it?” Before too long I stopped finding either of these funny. In my school photos I was easily identifiable as the kid with the big head and the school cap perched on top of a freshly cut hairdo. I looked like a mop wearing a thimble. You could almost see the cap holding on for dear life.
So what happened? How did I go from thick to thin? How did so much hair vanish is such a relatively short time? I have no idea. At some point between the ages of ten and forty, the hair follicles on my scalp decided they’d had enough and started leaving en masse. Perhaps they’d put all their effort in during my early years and were just worn out. Maybe it was the stress of fighting all those school caps. I tell my kids that my hair is thinning because of the worry that comes with raising a family, but they alway give me that look which says: “Sure, Dad.” Personally, I like to believe that this is how God wants me to be. After all, it’s not as if baldness is a recent development, just as pointing at someone’s head and saying: “You’re going bald!” is nothing new.
The prophet Elisha was teased for being bald by a bunch of kids, and God sent a she-bear to sort them out. So even back in the Old Testament, guys were going bald and being told all about it by some smug passerby. Back then, baldness was associated with a curse of some sort. Now I don’t want to suggest that every guy with less than a full head’s worth is cursed, but we are all under the original Curse brought on by certain gastronomical activities involving an apple, so it makes sense that things would go that way. According to statistics, the odds of a man losing his hair after age forty stand at fifty percent. So there is a one in two chance that every man alive on the planet today will start losing his locks once he hits the Big Four. I pointed this out to my erstwhile colleague but he wasn’t convinced. Let’s face it, the young think they will never get old, and the hirsute believe they will always be that way.
Perhaps the most irritating thing about being informed of your predicament is the idea that you had no idea. I mean, it’s not as if I woke up one morning and decided to start losing my hair. I didn’t stand in front of the bathroom mirror and decide a bald spot would suit me. In my opinion, there are not too many people who can lose it all and still look good. Can you imagine Yul Brynner with hair? Or how about Telly Savalas? These guys look cool without hair. Ninety-nine percent of the rest of us, however, do not. And losing your hair takes a long time. Generally, this is something you are acutely aware of as the weeks, months and years pass. Every elevated, inclined reflective surface becomes a painful reminder that you are not young anymore. Every visit to the barber that takes a little less time than the last hammers home the realization that the grains of sand are flowing and you can’t turn that particular egg-timer over again, no matter how hard you try. You know you are going bald. You don’t need some clown to point it out for you.
I told my eagle-eyed colleague that it is not good to mock the afflicted, but that had no effect. In fact, it spurred him on. He took to standing on his toes, staring intently at the top of my head as if looking for something (ho ho ho), or patting my bald-spot with the palm of his hand (ha ha ha). This irked me quite a bit but I did the good Christian thing and let it go. I could have made fun of his poor eyesight (he struggles to see without his glasses) but I resisted. After all, God is watching my back and sorting stuff out on my behalf. I just hope my colleague never runs into any she-bears.