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Copyright © 2001 by Ralph Robert Moore.
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Return to lately 2001.
good-bye to the boy in the bones of my face
october 20, 2001
Last Friday, after work, Mary and I built a planet in our backyard.
It was circular but flat, made in a flowerbed we weren't using that season.
We built it to use the image in the new Flash Index page I'm creating (previously, indoors, we built a moon).
While we were building the planet, Mary snapped some photographs of me on my knees, working on the world, creating deserts, carefully laying down the white spine of a mountain range.
Later that evening, upstairs, sipping coffee laced with liqueur, we downloaded the images from the backyard onto Mary's pc, creating thumbnails. As these thumbnails flashed in sequence on her monitor, we assessed the technical worth of each photograph of our world. Suddenly, the thumbnails of me appeared, and at first, irrationally, I thought they were photographs of my father.
The second thing I noticed, once I recognized the clothes, was that I had a small bald spot on the crown of my head. (The photograph is reproduced at the end of this Lately).
I'm fifty. I'll be fifty-one next month, on November 24.
I never knew I had a bald spot.
Other than my arms and legs, which are nearly always in my vision field, I usually only see myself in the morning, when I'm brushing my teeth. The face in the mirror has a full head of hair. The only other time I see me is in my mind, whenever I picture myself. Interestingly, although I've had a beard for twenty years now, it's only been in the past five or so years that when I picture my face I picture myself bearded. Before that, the face in my mind was always clean-shaven.
I asked Mary if she had ever noticed my hair was thinning in back. She gave me a sympathetic look, and a kiss.
Since my horrifying discovery, I've caught myself watching all the males on TV, craning my neck to try to see the backs of their heads. Did you know Al Gore has a bald spot? For the first time in my life, I felt sympathy for the poor guy.
I grew up in the Sixties, when hair was really important. Most male hairstyles back then looked awful, flat with unsymmetrical curls, but everyone, including myself, had a 'full head of hair'.
I remember going to the barber shop when I was a kid, with my mom. The shop, which was on Greenwich Avenue, was below street level, for some reason, with a stunted red and white candy cane pole out front. My mother asked the slick, black-haired barber to please try to thin out my hair some, because it was so thick.
Around the mid-Sixties, that barber shop, a mainstay in Greenwich for decades, went out of business, because the new generation was no longer interested in having short hair combed straight back from the forehead. Kids would go to a barber and ask for just a light trim, and the barber instead would snip off all hair longer than a half-inch. The customer was always wrong. The barbershop, in other words, deserved to go out of business.
In their absence, hair stylists rose.
Hair stylist shops were similar to 'head shops', except that in addition to engaging you in a seemingly non-ending conversation, with 'man' in every sentence ("Between you and me, man, it don't make no sense no how"), the proprietors also cut your hair (a 'head shop' was a store, usually in a low-rent district, that sold rolling paper and small pipes used for smoking pot, small brown triangles of incense, long, colorful dresses, tie-dyed t-shirts, bootleg albums, and beads. Sometimes, in some stores, on the glass counter by the cash register, you could also buy homemade brownies, carefully over-wrapped in Saran so that transparency was triangled with wrinkled silver).
I went to a lot of hair stylists in the Sixties. They cut your hair the way you wanted it.
My Uncle Jimmy, my mother's brother, the great hope of his family, in that he owned his own company, an employment agency located in New York City, hated long hair, especially on me. He picked me up at my home one day in his white Cadillac, told me he wanted to take me to his house for dinner with his wife and my four girl cousins, all of them blonde, all of them with names that began with a 'J', but then added, as we glided aimlessly down sidestreets, that I could only go to his home if I first went to a barber and got my long hair cut. I, fourteen, and though I loved my Uncle Jimmy, refused. He was a black-haired Irish Catholic true to his word. He glided me back to my home, looked at me from behind the steering wheel with the grimness exhibited by adults without any real power, and bade me goodnight.
He refused to talk to me for about a year after that. When he finally did invite me back to his home, my hair was even longer. It never came up again in our conversation.
Unlike a lot of people of my generation, I kept my hair long through my thirties and forties. I just preferred it that way. I liked having enough hair to be able to gather its length in the web between thumb and index finger, and move it behind my ear.
When I saw the picture of me with a bald spot, I had two immediate reactions. Vanity and mortality.
If I had a bald spot, it meant I was no longer young, you could no longer see the boy in the bones of my face.
The bald spot also meant I was being erased. Granted, the process would take decades still, hopefully, but I was beginning to be blended into the background. The finger of death had tapped the very top of my head, saying, Here is where I shall start my humblings.
My hair, jet black, has turned partially gray over the years. I've never used a dye. I don't want to pretend to be younger than I am. I earned these agings. I won't comb over my bald spot as it widens, or spray clotting color into it. My bald spot tells me, more so than any other sign, that I'm going to die, and that the death, though far enough away, is close enough to see, with a hand mirror behind me.
I'm going to have to start developing a great personality.
I wrote two short stories this week, a record for me. I finished Truth Be Told, one of the Sex Act stories, and wrote from scratch the first draft of Bang, Bang, Thud, one of the Recorded Occurrences stories. I always feel so much better after writing, like sucking from the wrinkled rubber opening of a red balloon filled with nitrous oxide.
Last week I ordered a new computer, from Dell. It should arrive this coming Monday. It has 2 Gigahertz of speed, 80 Gigabytes of harddrive, 512 RD-RAM, DVD and CD-RW drives, etc., etc. That sounds impressive to me now, but in six months it probably won't be big and fast enough.
Next Friday, October 26, I go in for my oral surgery, to have bone tissue grafted onto one of my back molars. The next Lately will document what that was like. It may be rather short, just acknowledging I'm in great pain, or it may be a long, dreamy passage under the influence of the various pain pills I'll be taking.
Whichever it is, hopefully my personality will come through.