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Saturday, Feb. 20, 2010


Stuck in a not so hairy situation

One way I kill time on my monotonous commutes across municipal Tokyo is to scout out the hairpieces in the strap-hanger set.

It's sort of like bird-watching. Be patient, observant and sooner or later your reward will come. Like maybe a genuine, blue-suited rug-wearer, perhaps even with a "Stainmaster" ® tag dangling from his hairline.

But these days my hair targets have changed. "Why, look at that old geezer over there?" I might tell myself. Look at how he whips his soccer-squad of hair follicles into an attractive front line. How does he do that? With mousse? Mirrors? Superglue? Should I ask?

For I have arrived at that stage. While in this column I have often poked fun at my lack of hair, the truth is I've been fibbing. I have hair. Some.

For years I've sported the usual male-pattern-baldness ring-around-the-rosy. But my kappa saucer of flesh on top has been hidden by a forest of growth across the very front.

Yet now the forest has thinned considerably. And I am again faced with the same question that has hounded me from my very first days in Japan: What to do with my hair?

In the early days, the question wasn't really "what" but "when." Thirty years ago my hair was a mop. It reached my shoulders and threatened to extend to the floor, which could have used the cleaning.

But I dreaded going to a Japanese barber. The problem was communication. Would he know that "Take some off the ears" meant only hair? Then there were L/R concerns. I might ask for a clipping and receive a crippling. Who knew?

Finally I found a Japanese girl who agreed to trim my hair in return for English practice. In time, I taught her how to scream such useful lines as, "Yikes!" "Oh my gosh!" and "Put it back!" She soon gave up both English and barbering for origami.

"I cut Charles Bronson's hair once, when I was working at a hotel in Kyoto."

These were the words of my first legitimate Japanese barber, at a hole-in-the-wall shop in rural Kyushu no less. Which is a good place to hide if you cut Charles Bronson's hair and he didn't like it. No doubt the barber had seen "Death Wish."

But I myself was not a hair vigilante. I pleased easily and, as marriage, kids, and work took center stage, concerns for my hair soon drifted away.

Just as well, for the hair did some drifting too. When I was 30, I had a small hole amidst the trees in back. By the time I turned 40, the opening was large enough to land a plane.

Yet, still guarded by that picket line up front. A line which is now a connect-the-dots.

So I must do something. But what? Comb-over? Brush-back? Ski-mask?

"Shave it all off," says my first son, gloating in full-haired glory.

Yes, but would that not expose my snowfields of dandruff? Besides, I own ears larger than snowshoes. The overall image leaves me cold.

"Buy a wig," says my wife. She herself has hair so thick that you can't even run your fingers through it. No, the fingers must crawl.

Ah yes, a toupee. Or how about hair plugs? Top end prices might cost me a second mortgage. And the lower end might make me a target for train watchers. Oh look! It's a scrawny-necked blanket-domed gaijin! You can always tell by the puddle of sweat at their feet, brought on by their wig.

"Why not grow more hair?" This from my second son, who is so hairy he is nicknamed Chewbacca. He has more hair on his hands than I do on my head.

You think I haven't tried growing hair? The time-honored Japanese method of munching seaweed didn't work, so I shifted to other, lesser-known remedies.

Like standing on your head. In theory that will increase the blood flow to your skull and thus produce more hair. Yet, it also produces headaches. And makes typing these columns really hard.

Or like dousing your head with alcohol. I still try this, only from the inside, using red wine. Some must make it to my head, I'm sure. Still, no hair there yet. Nor, thank goodness, in my mouth or throat.

So I whisk my remaining hair strands into various stylish creations and ask my wife, "How this!?"

She studies me. "I'm not sure," she says. "Do the words 'ridiculous' and 'hysterical' have a similar nuance? Or are they different?"

Well, that helped. Next, I consult my barber.

"The problem is not your hair," he tells me. "It's your head. It's not shaped right."

And that helped too. So now I keep my eyes open when on the train. One day I'll spot an ole timer with just the style for me — a big-eared flake-covered foreigner. And I'll copy it.

And in the meantime I'll employ the cheapest and most practical hairpiece available . . .

A hat.

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