Vanity. A Hairy Proposition.


Over my seven decades of life, I have sported an assortment of tonsorial styles, some voluntary and some dictated to me by parents or nature. I’ve been a tow-headed baby, a slicked-back kid, a pompadoured pre-adolescent, and a crew-cutted high school swimmer. Oddly my hairstyles were mostly clean-cut in college but blossomed into full hippie regalia after I was employed in the defense business … long hair, mutton-chop sideburns, and mustache. Long hair not withstanding, my hairline was already receding but my barber told me that he didn’t think I’d be completely bald. He was almost right. The years passed, and as I became progressively more clean shaven, my hairline moved from the front of my head to the back. By 20 years ago, the hair on the top of my head had gradually thinned until all that was left was a gossamer gray wisp at the top of my forehead. It wasn’t enough to attempt a comb-over and, in fact, it was a nuisance … I usually left it long and combed it in with the hair on the side of my head. I debated just shaving it off, but, Jeez, then I’d be officially bald on top. After much hemming and hawing, I eventually shaved it off and was horrified when … NOBODY NOTICED.


Thus began my clean-shaven, bald-on-top period when I was occasionally mistaken for Dick Cheney, which can be a good thing or a bad thing, depending upon whether you’re in a red state or blue. As my hairline continued to recede toward my neck, it became embarrassing to get a haircut, seeing my poor barber, Steve, try to make the process long enough to be worth his $10 fee. Eventually, I read an article by cancer doctor, Bernie Seigel, in which he saw shaving his head as a spiritual uncovering. Always in need of a spiritual something, I shaved mine. My wife, Muri, noticed. She liked it better the old way. It took a while for anyone else to notice and several said I looked younger. Go figure. Personally, with no facial hair and my head shaved, I felt a bit too much like a cueball with ears, so I grew a mustache and goatee. It was probably the senior look that I liked best as did a number of friends but Muri never cared for the goatee. After a while, I shaved it off. It took several weeks for anyone to figure out what had changed.

This week, my mustache had grown a bit long, covering my upper lip. I have a tendency to nibble my mustache when I’m thinking and when it gets too long, it becomes an obsession that drives both Muri and I crazy, so it’s important to keep it trimmed. However, my son had borrowed my trimmer and left it unplugged. Thoroughly annoyed, I grabbed my razor and shaved the damn thing off. Back to a cueball with ears. Muri noticed after a day, no one else for a week. I actaully don’t miss it except when I’ve had a really good snack and can’t find bits of it hanging in my mustache hairs for later. Yes, that’s gross and mostly untrue, added mostly to get Muri to shake her head. So, is there a point to all this? I suppose it’s this. For all the attention I paid over the years to how I wore my hair, from my twenties, when David Crosby’s rant, Almost Cut My Hair, was practically a personal anthem, until my sixties, when I shaved my head as a spiritual act, it’s been much ado about nothing (especially now 🙂 ). Most people didn’t even notice the changes and when they did, it hardly mattered. It was all Vanity. Harmless enough Vanity but Vanity none-the-less.

My Grandma Reed used to have a slightly creepy picture hanging in her hallway on the way to the bathroom. At least once a visit, I’d creep down the hall to see it, watch the pretty lady at the mirror dissolve into the menacing skull. It was All Is Vanity by Charles Allen Gilbert and back then, I wondered why she’d have it in her house. Now that I’m older than she was then, I think I know … it was her way of reminding herself … don’t waste the time you have left. Good advice, Gramma Reed.


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