I am a balding man.
Not a bald man. Not yet. There is still enough hair left on my head that, as long as I'm not too sweaty or shorter than everyone in the room and the lighting is right, I can maintain the façade that I am one of the haired. The haired, those with a robust hairline that spans straight across their foreheads like a railroad or the horizon. The top-back part of their head still covered in luscious locks instead of a naked skin, a reverse forehead staring out like Sauron's unblinking eye. Sometimes, like some sort of hairline perv, I catch myself staring at someone with a particularly thick hairline and imagine how much better his life must be—the confidence, the opportunities.
I am not one of them. I am on the other side of the divide. A balder, an illusionist, one who practices in the dark arts of the combover. The key ingredient in my spell is what I affectionately call my tuft. The tuft is the last remaining shreds of my bangs, a lonely, sparse island of hair surrounded by the inevitably rising seas of my forehead. I am in awe of this brave soldier, how it averts the eye from my veiny forehead and acts as a hair curtain, suggesting a lush head of hair behind it even though there's little more than a willowy horn. It is my Potemkin village. Behind the tuft lies ravine. An ever-widening, near-hairless gully that runs to the bald spot on the crown of my head, like a river of skin draining into the pool of self-loathing.
And of course the sides and the back of head continue to flourish, growing with the youthful abandon they always have, unaware of the carnage at the top. They remind me of industrialized nations indulging in our wasteful, carefree ways as the Arctic melts us into oblivion, unable and unwilling to adjust to a changed reality.
Admittedly, "my balding head is the distressed globe" is a very narcissistic metaphor. But it adequately captures the immense narcissism that is involved in my balding process. Over the past decade, I have cumulatively spent days looking at my head in the mirror. I have literally spent an hour craning and stretching my neck in an attempt to see just exactly what is going on up there. Lord help me, when there is a vanity mirror lying around a bathroom I'm in, a quick pee break can turn into 15 minutes of hairline inspection. Back when I had a smartphone, I would come home drunk and attempt to take photos and videos of the top of my head, strafing over my bald spot with my phone's camera like a surveillance drone.
I know that I'm not alone in this behavior. I was in the office at my restaurant day job a little while ago, and on a monitor, there were all the views from the surveillance cameras. One was positioned just perfectly to highlight my bald spot, which I proceeded to highlight to my co-workers. After justifiably stating how awkward that made them feel, one told me about her friend who had recently began transitioning and how the injections of testosterone had caused her friend's hair to begin falling out. "He is always demanding that I look at it," she complained as I couldn't help but to reflect about all the times I had put friends in that shitty position, demanding they acknowledge the events occurring on the top of my head.
Why do I do these things? Why do I humiliate myself and prostrate my neediness in front of my friends' graciousness while obsessing over my fallen locks like an ex-lover I cannot get over? I suspect that underneath bruised vanity lies the specter of death. When I peer into the mirror, tugging my hair back to see how far the abyss extends, I feel like some sort of diviner attempting to peer into the future, rolling some bones and interpreting the results to see what kind of death awaits me. Because that's what it represents to me, a death. A death of my youth, a death of my virility, a death of any potential of me ever being described as "strapping." A loss of hair seems like the death of potential, locking you into the type of guy you will be until you die. As I would stare into the mirror, it was like I was trying to peer into the journey fate had planned for me, and I would stare and attempt to ferret out what kind of man, what kind of ignominious schlubby failure of a life fate had lined up for me before my death, which would probably be from heat loss from the top of my head.
Because there seem to be only a few paths to deal with hair loss. You can fight it and take hair-loss drugs like Propecia ,which makes your dick stop working, forcing you to ask yourself what is a more important part of your masculine identity, your vanity or your sexual proclivities. Then there is the tight shave where you shear it close to the scalp. This is the power move and is the territory of movers and shakers: stock brokers, athletes, and Jason Statham. People who dominate fate, the ubermensch who says, "You can't de-hair me Time because I never wanted hair in the first place. It was weak, and I am strong, and now stare upon my gleaming blackstar of a head and tremble as I calmly sip on this strong espresso and contemplate hedge funds."
Then there are those who manicure and groom the sides of their heads, crafting a perfect ring like a puffy altar around their bald spot. This is the worst look. I call these men "death worshippers." This is the move of craven sycophants and petty, cruel sadists. This is what Stephen Miller will be rocking when his hair loss is complete.
The final move is the "I'm going to let this shit ride." This is when you don't panic. You keep the hair short because at a certain point in the balding process the longer your hair the more you look like you just escaped from some sort of government lab. But you don't treat it any different. You don't shorn your head; instead you honor your remaining strands, letting them remain on the top of your head in all of their pitiful glory. This is the look that says, "Life is suffering, and I now understand this and submit to it, and in submission I have found freedom."
You can also wear a hat.
Whenever I start to overthink my hair loss, I try to remember an insight I had a year ago when, in a depression-motivated move of rashness, I shaved my own head. I was tired of the anxiety of waiting, tired of merely trying to foretell what fate had in store for me. The desire for answers overcame me. And as I stood there among my recently shorn hair, I discovered two things. One, thankfully my skull is pretty good. It's not pointy, bumpy, or gooey in the slightest.
The second thing I realized is that balding can be a sort of death, yes, but a death to things that I don't really want to hold onto. A death to this ideal of masculinity and manliness that I've embedded in my head and constantly compared myself to. This ideal of a man with a robust hairline and a fat wallet, who is strong and powerful, assertive and confident, a man whose success is measured by all these horrible metrics: objects owned, women slept with. When I buzzed my head and saw what I looked like without hair, it showed me I was wrong about balding locking me into a path. Instead, embracing my hair loss was embracing the scrawny, bald, weirdo man that I am and always will be until I pass on to that great barbershop in the sky.
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