"Thank you, sir! May I have another!?"™, Day 08: Baldy

This is Day 8 of a 21-day effort to see the good in what might, at first, look like an irredeemable drag. Its name comes from a classic bit of dialogue uttered by actor Kevin Bacon in a classic film of my generation, Animal House.

me, as cadaver

In my family, we were not blessed with good teeth and gums, cancer resistance genes, chemical balances predisposing us to happiness, or a low tolerance for alcohol: we got hair.

I'm not talking nice hair: I'm talking great hair. Hair of the gods. Breck-Girl hair. Movie star hair. Curly or straight or frizzy or wavy, male or female, dark brown or red or blond (and eventually, perfect snowy white), whatever our particular flavor of hair, we have shitloads of it. The kind of hair that turns heads, you'll pardon the expression. That causes overheating in summer. Hair whose drying time alone provides a for-real all-night excuse to stay in.

Sometimes I would crab about my hair's unruliness or color. I went from beautiful, stick-straight blond hair as a baby to crazy, Roseanne Rosannadanna pubes as an adolescent. And in the Chicago weather that I spent most of my life in, hardier hair than mine has a mind of its own. But most of the time, I didn't give my hair a thought.

Until, of course, it started falling out.

The first round of thinning I attributed to stress and sympathetic hair loss. Out of the blue, my mom was diagnosed with advanced cervical cancer which had metastasized to her lungs. Well, it wasn't really out of the blue: that crazy alcoholic mistress of denial hid the massive swelling in her leg from the rest of us with her hideously frumpy long skirts for a long, long time. But it was a death sentence, and for the 18 months from DX to death, I was a mass of stress.

But after some time had passed, and I got over her death (and the deaths, in rapid succession, of my beloved grandparents), the hair came back. And stayed back, even through what I now know as my own long, slow onset of Crohn's disease. (For the record, I was not in denial about said onset, but the recipient of some borderline unethical care from a particular colorectal surgeon. Live and learn.)

In fact, I looked my absolute freakiest (I thought) when my weight had dropped to its almost-nadir and my crazy-thick hair was dyed almost-black for a play in which I was cast as a Bulgarian art curator. Photographic proof of said period above, from the only headshot session I ever had where absolutely none of the photos were usable. I wept when I saw myself in them.

I even hung onto my beloved hair in the hospital during the 11-day incarceration. The steroid drip I was on didn't kick in, hair-loss-wise, until I got home. And then, on oral meds, my hair started falling out in earnest. By the handful. It would fall out when I washed it, when I dried it, when I brushed it. It would pretty much leap from my head whenever and wherever. I distinctly remember my good friend, Mark the Carpenter, over to help retrofit my apartment during my invalid phase, coming up from a brief rest on the floor with a rat's nest of long black hair woven into his fingers and a look of horror on his face. Steroids and hair do not mix. And as long as I'm on them or any immuno-suppressants, it would now appear, I will lose hair.

My GI doc doesn't believe it. He sees plenty of hair still. And he is a man, grateful for any hair at all on his head. (For the record, he has a lovely head of hair and a handsome face to match). But I know. I am baldy, and that's how it is. My crowning glory is gone, quite possibly for good.

So what, you might ask, is the good in that?

Tolerance. Acceptance. Understanding. In the same way that my newfound muffin top has made me more tender-hearted towards people who might be carrying a few (or a lot of) extra pounds, my hair loss and the corresponding reduction in feminine beauty status has made me far, far more generous and accepting of the less-obviously beautiful. Don't get me wrong: I was never a raving beauty like my mother or grandmothers; but with makeup and effort, I could "pass." And even without effort, I'm rather ashamed now to count off the many blessings I took for granted.

No more. I both care less about things that mattered so much so long ago, and am more appreciative of what's left. I'm guessing that some of this is the gift of wisdom that time brings, but I also know myself. And I am about as stubborn and slow-learning a fella as ever was born to woman.

So thank you, my crazy, kamikaze hairs. Eventually I may have to shave you off entirely like the mens do. Let's hope that my ginormous head isn't as weird and lumpy as I'm afraid it might be.

Or let's hope it is. My, what an adventure in learning that would be...


Photo of me, circa July 2002, by Tom Lascher. Dreadful, large size gives you a better idea of how sick I really looked at the time.