On the Unpredictability of Balding

Since moving to New York, I have developed the habit of growing a beard and shaving it off (along with the hair on my head), only to continue the cycle anew. I am not sure how or why this grooming practice began. But I will try to explain my motives. Years ago, I proudly accepted the fact that I was losing my hair, figuring that I would eventually develop the dependable crescent pattern that comes at the end of male pattern baldness. I’d eventually have a hairline that was as badass as Tito Perez‘s.

Alas, this has not happened. Despite my repeat buzzing efforts, a somewhat dependable isthmus, roughly around one and a half inches in length, remains at the top of my skull. Sure, the circumference of the fleshy ellipse (commonly referred to among men as the “bald spot”) has gradually increased. But I had figured it would have run its course by now. Factor in the onset of a few gray hairs that have cropped up in my beard and the sides of my head, and what has occurred instead is minor confusion.

This wasn’t really an issue for me until I realized that the protagonist in my book, who is three years older than me and something of a parallel version of me had I made more mistakes, was experiencing the same dilemma. When I began work on the book, the not-quite-bald, not-quite-hairy condition came about as a silly metaphor. The character cannot accept that he is someone who needs to move on and make decisions in life, while likewise remaining true to his nature. But I had more hair when I began writing the book and had anticipated that my hair would be more or less gone if the book was ever published. What I had not anticipated was that some of the hair would stay.

Now I’m not going to go to the trouble of offering visual representations of my bald spot. Jonathan Ames has already made certain illustrative innovations, and I’ll let him have his glory. But I think his exercise does represent how all men within this balding stage are attempting to find a fixed bearing that is (a) not particularly fixed and (b) subject to the whims of our chromosomes. Nevertheless, if some scientist were to invent a device that could tell me the precise chronological age in which I would lose all of my hair, I don’t think I would take him up on the offer. There is a certain comfort and pleasure to this unpredictability. And I have attempted to respond to this by creating additional unpredictable methods with the shaving exercise, which has the added incentive of throwing people off. Because they don’t know if I will be bald, have hair on my head, or have a beard. And this is sometimes very good at infiltrating certain social situations in which I would prefer to observe the action and talk to complete strangers.

But I do wonder if I am in slight denial about the fact that I have not entirely lost my hair. And I am chronicling this here, in all candor, to reach out to other men who are in the same predicament. Some men foolishly cling to what’s left of their hair and even rely on combovers. I vowed long ago that I would not. But perhaps I am equally guilty with the shaving exercise.

I don’t think this is a question of vanity. It’s more about wanting to move on when my genetics refuse to. It seems absurd to bald so much, only to stop at a certain point. It seems further absurd to develop hair in unusual places when you are losing hair in seemingly vital areas. But then we evolved from monkeys. So a little bit of absurdity was always in the cards.

Perhaps what’s needed are more role models who defy the easy way out. Jason Statham is currently in this predicament, and does not really disguise his balding. So perhaps he’s our man. But I’ve lost respect for those actors and public figures who cling to hairpieces when they have perfectly respectable balding patterns. To a large degree, they are cowards. They want to pretend that they’re not balding, when, in fact, balding is often one of the most intriguing things that can happen to a man.

The Other Bald Man

Whenever I go to a party, particularly one with lithe lads and lasses who are a good five or seven years younger than me, I feel a great sense of delight when another bald man arrives. “Aha!” I cry. “One of my kind!” Any lingering nervousness lifts. And I often single out my bald compatriot with a cheery hello, sometimes offering a telling wink or a gentle, avuncular nudge. It is my hope to imbue any bald man with a sense that they could be as badass as Samuel L. Jackson or Patrick Stewart or Sean Connery if they really wanted to be.

I should point out that my thatchy crescent has not yet completely receded. It has remained, much to my shock, recalcitrant in some places and skin-abdicating in others. For example, there remains a small but stubborn patch two inches above the outer edge of my left eyebrow that does not wish to yield to the fleshy inevitability just over the hill. I have taken to shaving my hair off every few months just to see how much of the hair will grow back. And to keep things quite fun, I have also grown more beards in the past year than I have in all the years previously. (The beard growing/hair shaving gambit is also my way of adjusting to the pronounced shift in seasons, which I am truly unused to — this being my first year living outside of California.)

But the balding is slower than I imagine. A friend who hasn’t seen me in two or three years will often refrain from telling me how much hair I’ve lost. And while I’ve long accepted the fact that I’m balding and would not take offense, I’m honored by this politeness and hold my tongue.

But back to this business of the other bald man: sometimes, when the other bald man is younger than me and has balded more substantially than I have, there is something of a social impasse. Particularly when the other bald man is experiencing some crisis of confidence common to a young man in his mid-to-late twenties. And instead of returning my good-hearted cheer, the other bald man’s eyes dart upwards to the hairy isthmus at the top of my head and widen with a sense of fear and panic. And whatever words I have to say on the subject (“Don’t worry. I’m sure it will be gone in a few years.”) are nulled by the sense that I somehow got a better deal. When in fact, the degree of one’s hair loss has no real bearing.

A few evenings ago, I encountered another bald man of this type and began to conduct some social experiments. I would move to a corner of the room he was occupying and beads of sweat would appear on his forehead. He would then move away. I would shift again. He would move away again. I had never met this guy before. And he certainly didn’t know me. I was a bit boisterous, as I usually am at such occasions. But I was polite and did nothing out of the ordinary.

Since the other bald men wished to ignore me, it became necessary to take things to the next level. I began talking to several young ladies, determining which ones were single, and, for those who did not appear to have a date or a steady man, I started suggesting that they talk to this other bald men. I made oblique references to a great act of courage that I had heard about. I pointed to the other bald man’s wit, écalt, and other factors, and even managed to cajole a few of them to walk across the room and start talking with him. And I would watch the other bald man blow these opportunities in minutes.

I suppose I sympathized because I was that bald man once, before I snapped out of it. Regrettably, balding is one of those things that we’re expected to sneer down on. The same way shallow and myopic types concern themselves over those who are fatter, older, or some needless aesthetic qualifier that ends with -er, and feel the compulsive need to expend a good deal of time, money, and energy over this when it’s far simpler to accept others as much as one can.

Because of this, you’ll always find me saluting and encouraging the other bald man at a party. He may very well have his act together, but it never hurts to remind him that there’s a hell of a lot more going on than “Who loves ya, baby?”