New Year's Guide 2008

My family reacted to my proclamation just as I'd hoped — with laughter and disbelief — and their responses inspired me to stick to my words despite the lack of thought that had gone into spitting them out. The result was my longest-ever running gag, a twelve-month-long prank that alternately amused and horrified the ones I love even as it gave me unexpected insight into myself, not to mention the current state of the U.S. male.

Most men don't like to admit how important appearances really are to them, or to what extent they're influenced by fashion. Dudes are supposed to be above such considerations. But I know differently — and all it took for me to gain this knowledge was to walk around for a year looking like an idiot.

The cluelessness of American men regarding their hair didn't sprout overnight. According to Kurt Kueffner, the director of men's market development and education for Aveda, it took root over decades. While women learn hair care at an early age, the average man receives no such training, and the ensuing ignorance has naturally bred contempt. "There's a stigma about men looking too fussy, men looking too concerned, men looking too image-conscious," Kueffner told me. "It's not considered masculine." Rather than seeming as if they put an effort into their appearance, "men just want to look genetically superior. They want to look fabulous by accident."

That's me in a nutshell — which explains why my intermittent attempts to grow out my hair had always met with catastrophe. My locks were so thick and coarse that they puffed out as they lengthened, making my head look like it belonged on a Wink Martindale balloon at the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. The worst example of this phenomenon occurred during the mid-'80s, when I went six months without a shearing — and by the end of that span, I seemed to be wearing a fur stole atop my cranium. It's a wonder PETA protesters didn't splash me with red paint every time I stepped out the door.

I thought this humiliation had killed my long-hair fantasies once and for all. But it took a lot more than that to put them in the grave — including credible accusations that I was succumbing to a mid-life-crisis.

From the beginning, I swore otherwise, but no one believed me. After all, I was 45 when I made my dinner-table proclamation, and even though I've done my best not to fall victim to the march of time, my hair was definitely acting its age. Indeed, the stuff on top of my head had begun to thin in a serious way, as I learned after seeing a bird's-eye view of my crown on television during coverage of a mayoral news conference I'd attended. To my shock, I'd developed a notably ugly bald spot — a jagged slash that looked like an earthquake was about to split my skull wide open.

Why, then, didn't I recognize my interest in a longer 'do as a last, futile battle against inevitability? My rationale was convincing — to me, anyhow. Because my hair was thinning, I reasoned, it would dangle downward as opposed to poofing up, à la Albert Einstein, who I later discovered has been nearly as influential from a style standpoint as from a scientific one. An entire organization, memorably dubbed the Luxuriant Flowing Hair Club for Scientists, cropped up around his crop, and while I couldn't solve a simple algebraic equation if I had a cannon to my temple, I loved the idea of my hair suggesting otherwise.

With this motivation, I embarked on my mission, fully confident of success — and less than two months later, I was ready to raise the white flag. I discovered that the hair on the back and sides of my head was as bushy and untamable as ever, and the longer it got, the feebler the strands atop my pate seemed in comparison. Worse, the side hair jutted out like Mary Tyler Moore's during the era when she tossed her hat into the air once a week. The combination could be summed up in two words: clown hair.

Deb said styling mousse might improve matters, but I was adamantly against taking this tack; I'd never used sprays, gels or anything else, and I wasn't about to start. Still, each time I caught a glimpse of myself in a passing storefront window, I imagined passersby snickering at the very sight of me — and toward the end of February, I finally cracked and told Deb I was ready for a trim. She responded by racing for her barbering paraphernalia so quickly that I'm shocked she didn't pull a muscle.

Before the cutting could begin, however, Nick emerged from his downstairs lair and asked what was going on — and when we told him, he shook his head in disapproval. He said my New Year's resolution represented a promise I'd made to myself as well as to the rest of the family. What kind of lesson did it teach if I was willing to go back on my word less than a sixth of the way toward my target?

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