Hanging by a Hair

Interviewer: “So Frank, you have long hair. Does that make you a woman?”

Frank Zappa: “You have a wooden leg. Does that make you a table?”

Hair1A weird side effect to writing this blog—sensory nostalgia.

Since I didn’t keep diaries and journals until I was 13 years old, I’ve had to rely on memory and photographs to recall forgotten sensations. At first the sense memories were intense.

Take smell for example.

Always my weakest sense (even with the Big Schnoz inherited from my Franco-Germanic father), it was more pronounced when I was younger: the chlorine sting of an Indianapolis pool in summer; Mom’s peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on a hot griddle; coconut butter tanning lotion at a lakeside beach…

Or taste … warm butterscotch pudding; maple syrup over French toast; Dad’s pickled herring on toast; onions simmered in butter; toasted garlic bread with Mom’s spaghetti and meatballs…

Or hearingthe repetitive, sad cooing of a mourning dove; the drone of a lawnmower; the hiss of Mom’s steam iron as she pressed clothes while watching daytime soap operas; and crickets—oh, where have the crickets gone? Their chirping was synonymous with any given summer night.

And sighta distant mountaintop in Colorado, circa 1968; sunlight glittering on a lake or river, especially as the sun was setting; a picture book or encyclopedia, “The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau” in National Geographic magazine; artwork through the ages—all amazing and ever-absorbing.

Lastly, touch.

To be allowed to touch. To welcome a touch. What a gift to give and receive it! A warm backrub, a face stroke, a bear hug, a kiss.

How is this not heaven on earth?

But because I’ve aged, my senses have dulled. A sad realization, but true.


So, I started growing out my hair in 1988.

I was working as a copyeditor in Hopkins, Minn., and had come off a really difficult 1987 (better explained in another post). I convinced my boss to switch me to the night shift so I could ostensibly take day classes toward an undergraduate degree. I was living away from The Family Project in my first apartment, a studio unit in a towering apartment complex just four miles from the office.

I say ostensibly because I was actually devoting my mornings to writing a first draft screenplay. It was one of those weird deals writers often make with themselves: “Look. You finish this project and then you can cut your hair.” Moreover, I was perversely curious how far I could take it.

Along with my hair-cutting challenge, I was also socking away money for a return trip to England in the fall of 1989, around my 30th birthday. The plan was to finish research on the script for later rewrites. By the summer of 1989, I was almost there.

In early October of that year, my brother married (above left photo, at his rehearsal dinner, next to my mother and aunt). Days before the wedding, he told me the ’rents had pleaded with him to convince me to cut my hair.Hair2

By that point I was too amused by the change (at right in a photo booth, looking more like an axe murderer than I’d care to admit) to change it. The reason?

I was loving the look and feel of hair on my head!

So, just recently, I plunged into the journals of 1988–89 looking for any entry that would back up that assertion.

No dice.

The real reason? I think I know why.

You see, growing up in the late 1960s, early ’70s, long hair was everywhere. On TV, in movies, on record albums like Pink Floyd’s in 1971—whose stringy long hair was like the ultimate “screw you!” to the establishment.

Pink_Floyd_(1971)Hair was attitude. It was assertiveness. It was life.

Whoa. Exciting!

While we lived out east, most of my male classmates’ parents didn’t let them grow their hair long. But once we’d moved to Minnesota, short hair was rare. From grade school through to junior high, I always tucked it behind my ears so I could delay the inevitable haircut Dad insisted I get.

It was like living a secret life, being ashamed of and hiding one’s hair.

So it’s clear to me now that standing up in my brother’s wedding with long hair was payback for years of shame. And Dad was, so to speak, caught in the crosshairs.

He never once took me aside and told me what he thought. However I do recall him scowling a lot during the wedding. I took it all in stride.

And I kept “letting my hair out.” Even my stylist commented: “It’s turned a lovely shade of brown! You should keep it!”

Well sorry to break it to ya, Ms. Long-Forgotten Hair Stylist, but hair is not one of those things in life you get to “keep.”

Hair_FinalIn 1993, a year after my first nephew Colin was born (pictured at right), I cut my hair and grew a beard—the only time in my life I’ve ever done that. I was in my 30s and had left corporate life to freelance. Dad had more terse opinions about my leaving a fulltime job to go solo (another post well worth exploring) than he did about his official position on facial hair.

Hey, look.

If you’ve got hair, for God’s sake enjoy it. It’s one of the gifts of touch. But it’s not the sort of gift that keeps on giving.

It grays. It thins. It falls out of your head.

These days I keep it short because aging white guys with long hair (and scruffy white beards) always seem to pull this kind of bullshit.

I miss my hair, my lovely, long brown hair.

My itchy red beard.

It made me who I was, who I am—proving that when you experiment with your senses and all they have to offer, you’re just being human.

You’re being happily alive.

~ by completelyinthedark on December 18, 2015.

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