Hair: A Confession

January 14, 2012

Originally published in Stays Magazine

January 2010

I don’t like my hair. Never have. It is straight and boring and it has been slowly falling out since I was twenty years old. I can’t remember a day in my conscious life when I didn’t think about my hair and wish it was different. I always wanted thick, flowing locks on my head; the type of hair that looks natural behind the wheel of a convertible. You know, cool hair. But my hair does not look natural behind the wheel of a convertible. My hair looks natural behind the wheel of a bus. I don’t have Convertible Hair. I have Public Transportation Hair.

There are other things I don’t like about my body. My nose, for instance. It’s long and pointy, like a goddamn shark fin in the middle of my face. It looks like the Egyptians built a pyramid out of dry skin and blackheads underneath my eyes. Speaking of which: my eyes are okay, I guess. But they’re dark. Very dark. Like almost black. This would be fine, except I have pale skin, and the two just don’t match. I should have blue eyes, or at the very least, green. Hazel eyes would be nice. What’s the difference between green and hazel? Who cares? I want hazel eyes. Actually, forget blue, forget green and hazel; I should have tan skin to match my dark eyes. I always wanted smooth, caramel-colored skin. My brother has tan skin. He also has a normal-sized nose. I hate my brother. My knuckles are hairy. So are my arms. And my legs. We’re talking werewolf-type hairy here. Gorilla-type hairy. Old-Greek-man-walking-on-the-beach-in-a-Speedo-type hairy. My chest and back do not have excessive hair, but this only seems to draw attention to my hairy arms and legs. It’s like some mad scientist took a normal human torso and sewed orangutan appendages onto it.

This next part is kind of gross, and I understand if you don’t want to read it. In fact, I recommend that you do not. So I’ll give you the opportunity to bypass what I’m about to say and spare us both the embarrassment. Just stop reading right here and skip the next four paragraphs. Right here. Just lift your eyes from the page after this sentence and continue reading when the gross part is over. No? Are you sure? Okay, but don’t say I didn’t warn you…

My buttocks are hairy.

See. I tried to tell you.

Both cheeks and also in the, um, crack. It’s like evolution in reverse. My body is trying to grow a tail. I really do believe this. The hairy knuckles, the arms, the legs, and now this. I am Darwinism undone. I am becoming a monkey.

It is especially cruel that hair is falling out on my head and growing on my ass. Sometimes I wonder if the two are related. Perhaps the follicles on my head have simply decided to uproot and move south for the warmer climate, like all those retired octogenarians in Florida.

Where I come from, men aren’t supposed to care about their physical appearance. Men are supposed to care about things like carburetors and guns and how to cook various meat products on the barbeque. Worrying about your hair is for women and Democrats.

All the men in my family are going bald, and we suffer this indignity in various ways.

My dad has a large collection of baseball hats that he wears to cover his receding hairline. Most of these hats feature the University of Nebraska’s mascot, which is a robust man in overalls holding an ear of corn. My dad is very athletic, but he wears these hats even when he is not participating in sports activities. For instance, we will go out to a nice restaurant, and he will wear a conservative blue dress shirt, a pair of tasteful gray slacks, and a fire-engine red hat that says “Nebraska Cornhuskers” right on the front. On the back, it says “GO BIG RED!”

My older brother Wayne has a similar collection of hats. One summer, Wayne went to work on our grandparents’ farm in Minnesota and came back with a new hat. It was something a gay Australian cowboy might wear, and he was very proud of it. No one was allowed to touch that hat. He said, “If you touch that hat, I will kill you.” There was a long list of things my brother would murder me for doing. Such as: “If you change the channel to cartoons while I’m watching football, I will kill you,” or, “If you drink the last Mountain Dew, I will kill you,” or, “If you don’t stop looking at me weird, I will kill you.” My brother has shoulders like a moose and could probably snap me in two if he wanted, but I’m not afraid of him. I once saw him rescue a baby mouse from a neighborhood cat. He picked up the mouse and took it to a safe place in the backyard. Afterwards, he said, “If you tell anyone I rescued that mouse, I will kill you.”

Of course, I touched his hat.

Not only did I touch it, I put it on and pretended I was Indiana Jones. The hat was too big. It kept falling down over my eyes while I was trying to kill Nazis, and I accidentally walked into a wall. The hat was scuffed. Not torn, not bent, just scuffed. I brushed it off and returned it to the exact spot on my brother’s dresser. I swear it looked exactly the same, but right away my brother knew what I’d done. He chased me around the house, and when he caught me, he said, “If you ever touch my things again, I will kill you.” And then he took me to get ice cream.

Wayne has a tan line on his forehead from wearing so many hats, but he doesn’t wear the gay Australian cowboy hat anymore. I don’t know what happened to it. I imagine it sitting in the back of his closet in a sealed glass box. One day, thousands of years from now, archaeologists will dig it up, brush off the dust, and read the inscription on the box: If you touch this hat, I will kill you.

When I was growing up, the only time I ever saw Grandpa Bridges without a hat was in church. I was told that it was disrespectful to wear hats in “God’s house.” But as soon as he stepped into the parking lot, Grandpa put his hat back on. Apparently, God doesn’t mind if you wear hats in His driveway.

When he’s not wearing a hat, you can see my grandpa’s comb over, which is amazing. The only hair he has left is around the edges of his head. On top, he’s as bald as a refrigerator. At some point in his life, my grandpa started parting his hair on the side and combing it over the top of his head to hide his receding hairline. In the beginning, this might have worked, but somewhere along the way things went horribly wrong. Now, my grandpa parts his hair on both sides of his head, just above each ear, and combs it to the top, where it meets in the middle and then moves forward, like a pair of don’t-pass lines in the center of a liver-spotted highway. My grandpa is a smart man but he can be slightly delusional at times. I sometimes wonder what he thinks when he looks in the mirror: “And now, I will comb these five hairs over my bald scalp like so… Perfect. No one will ever know.”

I don’t look good in hats, and I’m not at the comb-over stage just yet. But I have never liked my hair, so I drastically change it every couple of years. I’ve always thought that if I could just get the perfect haircut, the perfect style, the perfect look, I would have the perfect life. It hasn’t happened yet, but I keep trying.

Five Hair-Raising Moments:

ONE: I am seven years old. I have a rare kidney disorder, which causes me to get sick and stay home from school for months at a time. I don’t mind. I like staying home. As soon as everyone leaves the house, I go through their things. I put on my dad’s crazy 1970s suits and lip-sync to Elvis songs. I use my mom’s bras to slingshot marshmallows across the kitchen. When I get bored with my parents’ closet, I read books. I particularly like books about the Old West.

Today, I am reading a book about a tribe of American Indians called the Mohawks. The book says the Mohawks were part of a fierce warrior culture that would kill white settlers and take their scalps. The person who wrote the book obviously wants the reader to empathize with the white settlers, but I immediately side with the Indians.

There is a picture of a Mohawk warrior in the book. His skull is completely shaved on the sides, and the hair on top of his head is sticking straight up, like the plumage on some exotic bird. It is the coolest haircut I have ever seen.

I go to the kitchen and find a pair of scissors. I take the book and the scissors into the bathroom. I prop up the book on the bathroom sink so I can see the picture of the Mohawk warrior. And then I start to cut.

I’ve finished cutting the hair on one side of my head and I’m about to start on the other side when my mom comes home on her lunch break. I try to explain that I am part of a fierce warrior culture that kills white settlers and takes their scalps, but she refuses to listen. She takes me to the barber, who ruins my Mohawk hair by shaving my entire head. In other words, he scalps me. I look ridiculous. At school, kids laugh and call me Baldy and Humpty Dumpty, and it’s all my mom’s fault. She says I will thank her one day, but I never have.

Ten years later, Bobby Westfall sticks a safety pin through his nose and gets the exact same haircut that I tried to give myself in the bathroom when I was seven. He becomes instantly popular. I curse my mother.

TWO: I am twelve years old and my favorite television shows are Knight Rider and Magnum, P.I., both of which feature attractive male actors who drive around in sports cars and have thick, wavy hair. Since there’s very little chance my parents are going to buy me a Ferrari when I start sixth grade, I want thick, wavy hair. Nobody in my family has thick, wavy hair. We all have thin, straight hair.

However, the women in my family have a solution to this problem. Every month, my mom gives herself and my two younger sisters home permanents. This occurs in the kitchen, usually while my mom is cooking a pot roast.

Here’s what happens: My sisters sit on chairs at the dining table. My mom wraps towels around their shoulders. My sisters argue about who gets what towel. (“I want the blue one.” “You had the blue one last time.” “Fine, I’ll take the yellow one.” “No, I want the yellow one. You take the blue one.”) My mom squirts their hair with a bottle of Windex, which she has emptied and washed out and filled with water. My sisters tell her the water is too cold. My mom tells them to stop whining and be quiet. My mom rolls their hair up in plastic rollers. My sisters say, “Ow, ow, ow, ow, ow!” My mom tells them to stop whining and be quiet. My mom applies some sort of chemical solution on their hair that smells like embalming fluid. My sisters cover their faces with their towels and say, “My eyes, my eyes! It stings!” I tell them to stop whining and be quiet. My mom tells me to mind my own beeswax. After about forty minutes, my mom takes out the rollers, and my sisters’ hair is magically curly. Four weeks later, they do it all over again.

I tell my mom I want to have my hair permed. She says no. I say please. She says no. I say pretty please. She says no. I say she’s a horrible mother and she never lets me do anything I want to do and I will run away from home and never speak to her again even on Christmas and Arbor Day and other major holidays. She says no. I say please please please please please please please please please please please please please please please please please— FINE! she says. “But remember, this was your idea.”

I sit at the dining table. My mom wraps a towel around my shoulder and squirts my hair with water from the Windex bottle. She rolls my hair up in plastic rollers. I say, “Ow, ow, ow, ow, ow!” My mom tells me to stop whining and be quiet. She applies the embalming fluid. I cover my face with my towel and say, “My eyes, my eyes! It stings!” My sisters tell me to stop whining and be quiet. My mom tells them to mind their own beeswax. After forty minutes, she takes out the rollers. I rush to the bathroom mirror, expecting to see David Hasselhoff or Tom Selleck staring back at me. Instead, I find a fair-haired Little Orphan Annie. I find an Aryan Ronald McDonald. I have a blonde afro. I look like a dandelion.

I am not very popular at school already, and my new hairstyle does nothing to change this fact. If anything, the other kids think I’m even weirder than I was before. The boys in my class either avoid me completely or they call me names like “faggot,” “fairy,” or “butt pirate.” I don’t really know what these names mean, but I know they’re not making me more popular. Some of the girls talk to me. At first, I am thrilled by this, but then I realize they are asking me hairstyle questions. They don’t want me to be their boyfriend; they want me to be their sister. I don’t know much about dating, but I know this is not good.

Surprisingly, the negative reactions from my peers do not deter me. For an entire year, I force my mom to keep giving me perms. She protests, but she does it anyhow. Secretly, I think she enjoys the fact that she has such a stubbornly weird son.

THREE: I am twenty years old and I am in the middle of either my second sophomore year or my first junior year of college, depending on how you look at it. Like all twenty-year-old college students, I have decided that my parents are backwards and ignorant and I am going to be the exact opposite of them. This means I instantly reject all their conservative values and adopt liberal values. It’s an amazingly simple procedure. I throw away my Amy Grant CDs and buy a Rage Against the Machine poster. I hide my Bible under the bed and start carrying around a used copy of On the Road, which I pretend to read but never actually read because I secretly think the writing is terrible. I wear tie-dyed clothing. In public. With no sense of irony.

I purchase a marijuana cigarette from a stoner down the hall and smoke it in my dorm room while I drink a wine cooler, watch a rated R movie, and listen to secular music. Afterwards, I puke in the toilet for approximately seventeen hours.

I start growing my hair long in a belated attempt to become a hippie. My dad hated hippies when he was in college, so this is the perfect revenge. The year is 1995, which means I’ve only missed Woodstock by a few decades. I also get an earring and a tattoo. I am so rebellious it’s almost frightening. To go with my new hairstyle, I grow mutton chops and start writing free-verse poetry. I don’t know why.

My sister Sonya announces that she is getting married and asks me to be an usher at her wedding. This is perfect. My family has not mentioned my long hair yet, but they will not be able to ignore it now. I imagine a dramatic public scene involving a toppled wedding cake and the words “You are not my son!”

I go home for the wedding. When my mom sees how long my hair has grown, she wrinkles her nose and says, “Maybe you should get a haircut.”

Before I can deliver my scripted indignant response, my sister says, “Why? I like it. Maybe you can just put it in a ponytail. That’d be cute.”

“Or I could braid it for you,” says my brother. “That’d be adorable.”

Everyone laughs and the subject is closed. Two weeks later, I get a haircut.

FOUR: I am twenty-three years old. I have just graduated from college and I am completely and utterly lost. I have no idea what to do with my life. I have a bachelor’s degree in history, but I do not want to be a teacher and I don’t know what else to do with my extensive knowledge of World War II propaganda films. I rent an apartment across town from the college that I just graduated from. During the day, I work at a corporate book store, and at night, I read too much Ernest Hemingway and write minimalist short stories about my experiences in the Spanish-American War. I send my writing to literary magazines and receive rejection letters in return saying my stories don’t make sense. For some reason, I take this as a compliment. I am misunderstood; ergo, I am an artist.

After reading Siddhartha and seeing Seven Years in Tibet, I decide to become a Buddhist. This will solve all my problems. Unlike Christianity, which is oppressive and boring, Buddhism is from the East, which makes it exotic and cool. I’ve heard that Steven Segal is a Buddhist. So is Richard Gere. Of course, I’ve also heard that Richard Gere likes to put rodents in his anus, but I don’t think that has anything to do with achieving nirvana. At least, not for the rodents.

There’s a slight problem: I have no idea how to become a Buddhist. Should I stop eating meat? Do I need to purchase a gong? What about chanting? And yoga? How often should I trim my banzai tree? Of course, I could probably research the subject, but that sounds hard. What I really need is an elderly Chinese man to recite peaceful homilies while simultaneously showing me how to snap a man’s neck with my pinkie finger. Like Mr. Miyagi in The Karate Kid.

There’s not exactly a large elderly Chinese population in Greeley, Colorado, but I do the best I can. One of my coworkers is half Hawaiian, and I start writing down what he says, hoping to find the words of wisdom that will guide me on the path to enlightenment. Here’s what my half-Hawaiian coworker says: “I hate this job.” “Don’t you hate this job?” “I got so wasted last night, brah.” “This job sucks donkey balls.” “My girlfriend has huge tits, brah. No, seriously, they’re really big.” “I don’t mind the blacks, but the gays creep me out.” “I’m gonna quit this job.” “I think I got herpes, brah.”

Eventually, I decide the best way to become a Buddhist is to shave my head. I have seen numerous kung fu movies about ass-kicking Buddhist monks, and they always have shaved heads. I plug my electric hair clippers into the bathroom outlet and cut off all my hair. Afterwards, I lather my scalp with shaving cream and remove the stubble with a razor. I stare at my reflection in the mirror. I do not look like a Buddhist monk. I look like a skinhead. All I need is pair of Doc Martens and a swastika tattoo and I would be right at home spray-painting anti-Semitic graffiti on the side of a Synagogue. This is not a good look for me.

There might not be many elderly Chinese people in Greeley, but there is a substantial Jewish community. I did not realize this until I started looking like a cast member on the set of American History X. My next-door neighbor is Jewish. So is my landlord. And my boss. I had no problem with any of these people before, but now they give me strange looks and avoid talking to me. I can’t tell them that I shaved my head to become a Buddhist, because when I actually try to say those words out loud, I feel like the biggest jackass in the world.

The only person who treats me the same is my half-Hawaiian coworker. He says, “I never trusted those kikes either, brah. Have you seen my girlfriend’s tits?”

FIVE: I am twenty-seven years old, and I still want to be Ernest Hemingway. Instead of working harder to improve my writing, I decide to grow a beard and move to Europe. Hemingway lived in Paris during his early career. However, Paris is expensive and filled with French people, so I buy a ticket to Prague instead. On the plane, I practice calling myself an ex-patriot: “Hello, I’m Dale Bridges, writer and ex-patriot.” “Greetings. Dale. Ex-pat.” “Ciao, Ex-patriot Dale Bridges at your service.”

I find an apartment in the center of the city for $250 a month. This apartment has ten-foot ceilings, oak floors, three bedrooms, two bathrooms, and a furnished kitchen. It is by far the nicest place I’ve ever lived in my life. My roommates are two medical students who are studying at the local university. Deidrich is from Munich and Wade is from Houston. I immediately nickname them Da Fuhrer and The Redneck. They do not particularly like their nicknames.

It is strange living with medical students. For instance, Deidrich keeps a human skull on the kitchen table. I don’t necessarily mind this. In fact, I think it’s sort of quirky and amusing. But one day Deidrich tells me where he got the skull. “Dat zkull belonged to my grandfazer. He found it when he waz in ze zecond World War.” (Deidrich actually speaks perfect English, but I think it’s funnier to make him talk with an accent.)

My concern is this: Where does a German officer get a human skull in WWII?

I’m not saying Deidrich’s grandfather needs to make a trip to Nuremberg; I’m just saying it’s sketchy.

One day, Wade accidentally brings home something strange. He is digging around in his backpack for a notebook, when suddenly an odd look comes over his face. He picks up an object and holds it to the light. It looks like a melted rubber ball. “Yeehaw! Well, ain’t that the damnedest thang.” (Once again, the accent is just funnier.)

It’s a testicle from a male cadaver he dissected earlier that day.

“Musta fall’d in thar by mustake. Don’t mess with Texas!”

When I’m not hearing about Nazi war crimes or looking at some dead guy’s balls, I am growing out my beard and trying to comb my hair like Hemingway. It’s important that I look the part. After all, I am an ex-patriot now. Which is a lot like being a patriot, except you wear more turtlenecks.

After getting settled into the apartment, I hit the town.

Prague is the most beautiful city I have ever seen, but the Czechs don’t care. They’ve been conquered at least a dozen times, and they don’t have time to appreciate where they live because they are too busy grumbling about the administration in power, especially if it’s their own. Prague is famous for being the home of Franz Kafka, the guy who wrote The Metamorphosis, which is perfect—the citizens of Prague are gorgeous, intelligent people, but they all think of themselves as cockroaches dying of tuberculosis.

As a tubercular cockroach myself, I love Prague. Perhaps a little too much. I start going out every day. I see street markets and castles and bistros and bars, but I don’t see much of my computer screen, which is what I’m supposed to be looking at while I write my novel. For nine months I have the time of my life, but I have nothing to show for it except an empty bank account and a drinking problem. No novel. No European supermodel girlfriend.

I fly home with my tail tucked between my legs. When I get off the plane, my friend Chris says, “What’s up with the beard, Hemingway? You trying to write The Old Homeless Man and the Sea?” I shave my beard, get a haircut, and then I punish Chris by sleeping on his couch for the next six months.

Biologically, hair is just long strands of fiber growing out of your skin, but culturally, it’s like your own personal magic talisman. Nothing else on your body can change your life in such dramatic ways. Grow your hair long and you’re a hippie. Cut it short and you’re an insurance salesman. Change the color and you’re a washed-up pop singer desperately trying to get attention.

Hair sends a message to the world: This is who I want to be.

During the course of writing this essay, I have looked at my hair in the mirror approximately five-hundred times. I have combed it to the right, and I have combed it to the left. I have combed it back, and I have combed it forward. I have done everything in my power to make my hair represent who I want to be, but it’s no good. That’s because I’ve never really decided who I want to be. Today, I’m a starving writer. Tomorrow, I might be a documentary filmmaker. Or an aspiring actor. Or a Mohawk warrior.

In the past, people have suggested that I get plastic surgery or try Rogaine if I’m dissatisfied with my appearance. That’s how things work in our culture now. If your body does not conform to your self-delusion, you go to the doctor and get beach balls implanted in your chest.

I think the idea of hair plugs is funny, especially if they took the hair from my ass and transplanted it to my head. I can just imagine those follicles waking up one day and saying, “What the hell? How’d we get back up here?”

But I will never cosmetically alter my body. Personally, I think that’s cheating. I may not like my hair, but it’s mine. We’re in this together.

Besides, I have a better solution for improving my appearance. It’s an old family secret that has been passed down for generations, and it goes a little something like this: “And now, I will comb these five hairs up over my bald scalp like so… Perfect. No one will ever know.”

2 Responses to “Hair: A Confession”

  1. Rossandra Says:

    Frickin’ hilarious. Hair everywhere except your head, shark fin nose. And you’re a drinker. You’re quite the catch. No. Seriously.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: