Column: Men with full heads of hair are so sensitive

By SCOTT SAALMAN

As I reached for Advil in the aspirin aisle, a man addressed me from behind, “Excuse me. Do you know which aisle the Hairspray for Men is?”

I took it as a joke, for Hairspray for Men — if it really exists — is one item that will never be on my Walmart shopping list.

I expected the jokester to be a friend, but when I turned, I faced an unfamiliar elderly man hunched over a shopping cart. For someone so old, he sure possessed an enviable head of hair, filling me with instant disdain (jealousy) normally reserved for friends’ newborns that enter into this world with freakishly abundant shocks of hair, as if the mother actually delivered a troll doll. (It’s unfair, all that hair wasted on babies and the elderly who really don’t need it.)

That a total stranger had just ridiculed my baldness represented another nail hammered into the coffin of modern manners. “You know, we’re living in a society! We’re supposed to act in a civilized way!” I wanted to shout à la George Costanza from “Seinfeld,” but I didn’t.

The man stared at me, waiting for a response to his question. Oh, he was good, stretching his little joke as far as it could go at my expense — the nerve of him, this man of the hair nation. I wanted to say, “The joke’s on you, old man. I’m so over my baldness,” but I didn’t.

I was not always bald, this based on childhood photos. Melancholy over the matter, I emailed my mom the following: “So tell me about my hair when I had hair.” I expected a lengthy poetic response flowered with a mother’s dreamy reverie. Instead: “You had blond until you were seven. Then you were more light brown. In the summertime it always lightened.” That’s all she wrote! My mom has never been terse on any topic, yet here she summed up the history of my hair in three short sentences.

I suspect my question pained her deeply, as if she had actually been asked to recall a golden boy/only child lost at sea decades earlier. Let it go, Mom. Heal.

The roots of my baldness can be traced to fifth grade when class jock Marty Sweat (a gifted athlete with the perfect name for one) stopped behind my desk on his way to the pencil sharpener, poked my crown with his finger and announced, “Scott has a bald spot. He’s going to be bald.” Suddenly, everyone needed to sharpen their pencils. One by one, they touched my “bald spot.” How could I not become bald, what with all that erosion-induced touching? Thank you, Class of ’83! I couldn’t have done it without you.

With more years without hair than with hair now, I am no longer fixated on being bald.
Sometimes I relive the sensation of having hair when my cat perches on my head in bed. I have pondered wearing the cat like a hat to work. If in the hallways my co-workers point out the obvious to me after hearing my hair meow, I will simply shush them and respond, “Please… Let me have my moment.”

There is no greater celebrant of bald men than Larry David on “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” I subscribe to Larry’s notion of solidarity within the “bald community.” You know how a motorcyclist does that subtle hand greeting move to approaching fellow motorcyclists — two fingers pointed outward while still holding onto the handgrip? Well, I celebrate a similar sense of brotherhood when I approach a fellow baldy in the store, but instead of doing the hand gesture thing, I simply deliver a discrete half nod his way followed by a half wink. Note the emphasis on “half,” for that’s important. Whole nods and whole winks would be just plain weird.

Being a baldy is no biggie. I’m comfortable in my own skin (headedness). Trust me.

Anyway, back to the rude old hairy man in Walmart. He just wouldn’t let the joke die. He waited for me to react to his Hairspray for Men question, poking me with the proverbial joke stick, trying to rile me. He really had it in for us baldies. I ran out of patience. With a potent mix of sarcasm and self-deprecation, I reacted by pointing toward my hair-impaired head and said loudly, “Does it look like I know where the Hairspray for Men is?”

The man straightened from the cart. It clearly wasn’t the reaction he expected. He glanced down at the photo ID badge hanging from my belt loop, the one I’m required to wear for my employer, Kimball, but forgot to remove after work hours. Without another word, he pushed his cart away and vanished into the next aisle. I heard him ask someone, “Do you know which aisle the Hairspray for Men is?”

I guess he must’ve mistaken me for a Walmart employee because of my ID badge. He just hadn’t looked closely enough to see the company name. He hadn’t been making fun of my baldness after all. He truly needed help finding Hairspray for Men. Still, it bothered me how he left the aspirin aisle without even admitting to his mistake and/or apologizing for putting me on the spot. Jeez, those hair guys sure can be sensitive.

Scott Saalman and the Will Read (and sing) For Food Players will perform at Ferdinand Branch Library at 7 p.m. Thursday. Admission is a monetary donation or gently used books for the Friends of the Library. If it doesn’t rain, this will be an outdoor show; bring a lawn chair.




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