Three different flavors of topping for Cactusman: wearing the New York baseball cap, playing with my overgrown warm-puppy; topped by cold weather skully (a headwear I don’t even blog on here, as I wore knit hats well before I became follically challenged); and sporting the English hunting cap, again with Rosa, who’s got plenty of hair.
I have a “thinning patch.” I like to say that because it sounds better than “bald spot.”
When I look in the mirror straight on, I can’t even see it. The thinned bit at the back and top of my head doesn’t show. But in less flattering light (which also exposes the eye bags), it shows. Boy, does it ever.
A vain man, I try not to look in the mirror at the gym, which, by reflecting the mirrors all around the room, blares the naked bald spot, a horror abetted by overhead lights that blaze through the invisible scalp furze to the visible skin.
Welcome to old age.
I get involved in schemes to subvert the outrage. I torture barbers with speeches about the “flat” appearance of my hair looking at it from the front. The thinned top flattens down while the parts on each side “brush out.” I try to convey to them how this kills the “round” effect a good head of hair should have, how I was forever having to flatten those brushy bits down, trying, à la Rod Stewart, to “pull up” (into a more vertical position) the front and top hair in an effort to reclaim that rounded look.
That’s okay. The barbers couldn’t make sense of it either.
The plain fact is, my hair won’t cooperate anymore.
It wasn’t so bad 10 or 15 years ago. By growing the front long enough to pompadour back, I could do a respectable comb-over. It wasn’t too sleazy. There wasn’t much to cover up. But as the years elapsed, and that “thinning patch” became an out-and-out bald spot, this ploy became futile.
These days I keep it pretty tight, but I’ve been told by friends that buzz cuts do not flatter me. One friend said the pre-apotheosis Travis Bickle shave job does not work.
I used to have long hair, a beautiful cascade of gently curling brown hair. Mostly I’ve had it at medium or shorter length, where I could boast a not aesthetically unpleasing “helmet of curls.”
Now? Well now, I have a hard time looking in mirrors.
I’ve taken to wearing hats.
Which have created their own set of neurotic possibilities.
Let’s dispense with the two head coverings that never worked to begin with.
The black $50 stiff-brimmed Stetson I got at a Western store to outfit myself for a drunken Halloween party (I don’t even drink anymore) made me appear the prototypical dude trying to look cowboy. There’s a picture of me wearing it I cringe at. I never wear it. It’s up on a shelf collecting dust.
Let’s also eliminate a black ball cap I bought at Walmart, trying to stay within a corporate dress code that states you can wear a baseball cap long as it’s got no insignia or decal other than Walmart’s own. I wanted a hat while working there Saturdays and Sundays to deflect the glaring overhead fluorescents from my eye sockets, as my eye bags under those kinds of lights are horrific. Wearing an eye visor on my shifts was not only a concession to my vanity but to the people who had to look at me. This “adjustable” black cap was designed for a mean head size, though, and the designer must have thought Americans were Brobdingnagians. The thing came down to my nose. You could tighten it along the bottom, lifting it up, but then you looked like you had a Jiffy Pop on your head.
Now on to lids that more or less work.
I bought a cap in England some years ago, in Yorkshire, in the north. In Hawes, I wandered into a hat store, where I saw a cap distinguished by the militant forward tilt of the top jutting portion and a skull bracer that seemed to ride lower toward the ears than the standard cap. At first the guy inside said something about a sales price, but perhaps at hearing my accent he “remembered” better. I paid $60. I liked the thing just fine. There’s a picture of me grinning on that vacation, wearing it, happily covered. After I bought the cap, I visited my cousin and her husband in the south of England, in Wiltshire, and a bemused Cliff said I looked like some toff heading out for a day of pheasant hunting. I think I’ll buy a bird rifle, break it over my forearm and amble about chortling “Cheerio!” to complete the picture. In Arizona cowboy country nobody wears a hat like that, and, though I’ve had compliments, I feel odd in it. It’s not even a standard “tam” or Brit-style cap, or a cap like some waif from 100 years ago would wear in a movie (think little Vito Corleone on Ellis Island). You want to fit in.
We come now to my powder-blue New York baseball cap. It’s the best-fitting of the three baseball caps I have. Ball caps are, season long, the main way I cover my sconce. I got the New York hat when I was in New York. I seem to recall a tourist trap on Coney. It’s a tourist hat flat out, a big, fat “New York” on the front. I’m not advertising anything. I just like the look of the damn hat. I also picked up a brick-red Cape Cod baseball cap. And my wife came home from a cruise with her sister bearing for me the souvenir of a beige baseball cap with “Nassau” written on it and adorned with a very Margaritaville-looking little palm tree. The Cape Cod hat is too big; the Nassau cap is too small. And it’s not just size but shape. Ball caps have subtle but all-important shapes, which affect how they hug your skull. “New York” fits just right. I mean Three Bears “just right.” There’s a little lift up from the forehead, but not too much. The brim, also, juts out just enough, not too much.
But I’m not sure “New York” is much of a sell in Prescott, Arizona. People don’t like New York out here. You know, liberals. Sometimes I think the New York hat is bad PR. Only trouble is, try to make me not do something for a reason like that and I’ll wind up doing it for spite!
Story to illustrate:
I met some guys for breakfast at a local establishment famous for portions so big they could bring your order to you in a wheelbarrow. My toast came back way too lightly buttered. I gave the waitress a little speech I thought was clever, winning, even a deft flirtation.
“Listen, much as I appreciate your concern about my heart health, this toast needs far more butter than it has. Would you be so kind as to take it away and really lay it on thick? It’s okay.”
She snatched the plate away. Came back five minutes later, threw the plate onto the table with a clatter.
My toast swam under a lake of butter, more inedible than before.
The guys I was with wondered why she had so mistreated me. I sorted through the possibilities, starting with the one most people start with. “They’re an asshole.” This may very well have been the case. But I had to wonder about my smart-ass speech to a harried, footsore kid. And I wondered whether the New York cap I wore at the table had something to do with her venom and impatience.
Maybe the above anecdote illustrates nothing but what a paranoid neurotic I am.
I still wear my New York hat. It fits too well not to. When I wear it, I try to affect a drawl, channeling Augustus McCrea, bending over backwards to come off as low-voiced, soothing, and sweet as I can be.
This whole hat thing is worse than giving away the encroaching baldness. Makes me want to assert this whole nother part of myself, a personality aspect beyond vanity, beyond caring what I look like or what aesthetic vulnerabilities or imperfections I may reveal.
The next frontier is getting rid of the hats, letting people see how ugly I am. What do I care? I don’t have to look at me. Just you do.