Last night I leapt boldly into a new version of myself, doing something I'd considered ever since I began balding in my early 30s: I shaved my head! My noggin, my sconce, my bean. Round and white and tingly now atop my body.
It was a scary thing to do, but I'm in San Francisco on vacation, my job as a high school English teacher doesn't start up again until September, and I'm staying with a friend who has electric clippers.
At an outdoor wedding in Oakland yesterday, my wispy, gray, brittle strands had flapped around all afternoon. Amid heads dreadlocked, wavy, or otherwise thickly coiffed, I knew mine was the worst hair out of all the guests. And I knew I had to do something. When we got back to the apartment, I looked in the mirror, pulling my hair back, tilting my head. How would I look completely bald?
"You've got a nicely shaped head," my wife, Sharen, said.
"If you do it, I'll do it," our friend Matt joked. "But you go first."
I held the clippers, unsure. "Hey, if I hate it, it'll grow back, right?"
"That's the spirit."
So I spread the newspapers, sat on the edge of the tub, and watched my hair tumble down in big, dark clumps. I peeped in the mirror; I looked a lot like I had about two years ago, when I used to cut my hair very short. Even then, I wasn't content with the way I looked. Had I ever gone down to a quarter inch? But it was the final stage of the operation that put the icing on the cake or the shaving cream on the pate. How strange it felt to drag a razor in clean paths across my scalp. How clean! How smooth! I could feel my heart galloping, I could see my hand slightly shaking. Then it was done. I was a man completely bald.
"It looks really good," Matt said when I emerged.
"Honey, I like it," Sharen said.
I ran my hand across the glossy dome. "I'm going to grow it back."
"That's not the spirit."
All night I found myself stopping in front of mirrors, trying to decide if I really did hate it, trying to imagine what it would be like to exist in the world sans hair. Would I feel different about myself? Would I be happier, more content? My colleagues and students would be shocked when I returned to work. The last time they'd seen me, I was my usual self: graying hair, thin on the top, thick on the sides and back. Now I was Yul Brynner.
"Hey, he was a handsome guy."
"What about Patrick Stewart?"
"Michael Jordan, Andre Agassi."
"What's hair anyway? It's just dead protein. You look great."
That was last night. Now here I am in the light of day while everyone else in the apartment is still asleep and dreaming. Here I am trying to work through something. What is it?
Regret that I'll never have the hair of Hugh Grant? That he'll never know what it's like to be bald? No, it's not regret. Not envy, not discontent.
I've got it: Under all his waves, Hugh's as bald as I am. Everyone is.