Crying Uncle

Dear Will:

To say that my mother’s four brothers were bald fails to capture the intensity of their commitment to alopecia. They weren’t merely bald—they were extravagantly so. From behind, they looked like a quartet of ostrich eggs jammed into individual nests. On a sunny, mid-summer afternoon, the reflected glare from one of our family picnics could be seen from space. (Allegedly. NASA doesn’t actually monitor northwest Wyoming closely enough to confirm it.) Bald, it seems, has always been one of the core attributes of the Taggart brand.

So it’s not as if I wasn’t forewarned, is what I’m saying. Hanging around my uncles had a way of setting expectations. But just in case I wasn’t paying full attention, in my formative years I was told repeatedly: “You know” [side-glance at my uncle Mac], “boys inherit the bald-gene from their mother’s side of the family” [eyebrow dance]. That’s what passed for the internet in those days. A halfhearted query on the modern-day web reveals that that old myth is maybe only half true, but still. Even when you correct the math, my odds of reaching middle age with a full Gino Vannelli bouffant were never very good.

I recognize that some men effortlessly pull off this polished look of mine, but I never had a chance of balding gracefully (if that is even a thing)—what with the whole Frisbee Incident and all. February 22, 1968. It was a Thursday. I should have been in school. But we celebrated Washington’s birthday on the actual anniversary back then, so I was home, tossing the disc with my sister Barbara. Next thing I knew I was falling headfirst onto the concrete step leading up to our elevated yard. Wham-o. A fractured skull. The repair job left what has been called “the most glorious scar of all,” an unsightly blaze stretching across the breadth of my now-hairless dome. On any other cranium, that crannied indentation would be hidden by a magnificent pompadour. But given my genetic predisposition, you could have forecasted my comb-free future as soon as the surgeon tied off the last stitch.

But even then—even then—you had to figure I had time. Perhaps, but not much, as it turned out. Maybe a dozen years later, little more than halfway through my two-year mission in Uruguay, a sweet, well-meaning, grandmotherly soulcrusher informed me that my hair was much thinner than it had been when she met me a year earlier. I would have been [grimace] barely 20 at the time. I might have hoped to put up more of a fight, but it was clear that while I was engaged in another theater of operations, my frontline follicles had retreated considerably from their original beachhead. The war might not have been over, but surrender had become a foregone conclusion.

So here I am now, all these years later, having spent the majority of my time on this planet with my own denuded globe. That’s a lot of time with a clear head (as it were) to ponder my condition, which now prompts me to request a few societal accommodations. I realize that others have it way worse than we do; nevertheless, I believe that the following is not too much to ask in acknowledgment of the plight of bald guys everywhere:

  • Barbershop Discounts – All of our haircuts should be half-off because—and it hardly seems necessary to point this out—we have half-off already.
  • Preferential Seating – We should be allowed to sit or stand in the shade whenever the sun comes out. Otherwise, within 20 minutes we start to burn worse than those guys from Raiders of the Lost Ark. And trust me on this: You don’t want to sit by those guys at the ballgame.
  • One Token RomCom – Just once I’d like to see Ryan Gosling lose the girl to someone like, say, Ned Ryerson. That’s not unreasonable, is it?

I might add one last thing: The scriptures say that, in the resurrection, “a hair of the head shall not be lost.” Forgive the cynicism of a beleaguered man, but it doesn’t say we’ll necessarily get them back. My fear is they’ll say something like, “We know exactly where they are,” and then hand me a map. So, if it’s cool with the rest of you, it would be nice when that day comes if we could get a head start.

So to speak.


Advice That May Not Work

Dear Will:

I recently listened to a podcast that featured an interview with Kevin Kelly of Wired magazine, who describes himself as “the most optimistic person in the world.” The podcast is entitled “103 Pieces of Advice That May or May Not Work.” (It’s great. You should listen to it.)

Well, I’m not as wise or as thoughtful (or as optimistic) as Kevin Kelly, but as I was listening it occurred to me that I have lots of advice which meets the standard of “may not work.” I couldn’t come up with 103 things, so I stopped at 31 because it looks almost like the same number, especially if you don’t have on your reading glasses.

What follows is based on my own real-life experiences, many of which were informed by horrible personal choices. I like to think that I have made my mistakes as an act of public service. And for that, you’re welcome. Here’s what I suggest:

  1. Don’t play tennis barefoot. Not ever. Seriously.
  2. Also not recommended: basketball in boxer shorts. Trust me on this.
  3. Even if you think you can fix it yourself, it is always better to call the plumber.
  4. Spend more time with people like Mark.
  5. When in doubt, ask a local . . . even when not in doubt, for that matter.
  6. You will never regret the time you spend reading to your kids.
  7. Take long walks, and while you walk, be quiet and listen to your thoughts.
  8. Eventually you will wish that you had said “yes” more often than “no.”
  9. When offered an unfamiliar dish, it’s best to eat it before asking what it is.
  10. It is not possible to be too grateful.
  11. At some point you’ve got to stop refinancing and pay down the mortgage.
  12. Feel free to be disappointed. But try not to be resentful.
  13. If you’re not sure what to do next, be kind.
  14. Don’t ever use baking soda in place of cornstarch.
  15. Look for opportunities to tell others what you like about them.
  16. When you think you can’t go even one step further, you’re usually underestimating yourself.
  17. From time to time, have breakfast for dinner.
  18. It’s OK to let your schoolwork suffer if you and your roommate are creating something TRULY EPIC.
  19. Spend more effort trying to understand than you do trying to prove that you’re right.
  20. Chances are you cannot fix that vacuum cleaner.
  21. Just because you got away with it, doesn’t mean you’re not stupid.
  22. Sometimes you should just close the laptop and go walk the dog.
  23. If you’re ever going to blow your budget, do it on vacation.
  24. Even if it’s windy and raining, pull out the map.
  25. Stay in touch.
  26. Genuine effort and good intentions are much more important than flawless execution.
  27. Do not, under any circumstances, enroll in Humanities 2B.
  28. If you must judge others, judge as generously as possible.
  29. Say “I love you” more often.
  30. Try to be like Jesus.
  31. Pay attention. God always shows His hand.

One last thing: Don’t take my word for it. I generally don’t know what I’m talking about. But remember what I said about the baking soda.


Photo by Artem Kniaz on Unsplash

Call Me Woo Woo

Dear Will:

By any objective measure, I think you could say that throughout my life I have been an above-average athlete—assuming, that is, that you include all of the certifiable non-athletes in the worldwide population. On the playground, I was never picked first, but also never last. As I grew, I was good enough to make the team, but never a star.

Ninth grade at Goddard Junior High was suitably representative of my athletic prowess. In my only year of tackle football, I was a backup tight-end—140 pounds of grit, squeezing into the huddle and whispering: “I don’t know what I’m supposed to do on this play.” To give you a sense of the intimidating figure I cut on the gridiron, the coaches nicknamed me Woo Woo.

Perhaps more impressive was the fact that I was one of only a dozen or so guys who made the Goddard basketball team. Less impressive was the fact that I began the year as a starter (!) but ended it as a third-stringer at the end of the bench. On the track team I was a high-jumper with neither technique nor natural ability, also pressed into service as our last guy in the 440-yard dash. In that race I never finished better than fourth.

In spite of that manifest mediocrity, as a kid I was full of aspiration. Jerry West was my guy, and I dreamed of one day playing in the NBA like him. I once I even wrote him a letter asking what I could do to become a better dribbler.

But I never mailed the letter. I knew without posting it what my idol’s answer would be: “Practice.” Even at that young age, I knew he would urge me to spend hours doing drills with both hands, honing and then mastering skills that could eventually find their way into a real game. It would take work and focus and determination—none of which I had. Rather than mail the letter, I turned it into a paper airplane. (True story.)

That airplane does not fully explain why I never made it to the NBA (or onto the varsity at Glendora High, for that matter). But it is emblematic of my athletic career. Perhaps because I had so many other interests as well, I never chose to dedicate the time and effort necessary to be really good. To this day I am more enthusiastic about playing the game than working at it. You want to have fun? Hang out with me. You want to get good? Find a different training partner.

My true talents (and lack thereof) emerge in just about any sport I try. For instance, around the time I was not mailing letters to Jerry West, I remember golfing with a friend who was a ranked junior golfer. During one backswing, I had him laughing so hard that he hit his ball about two feet . . . straight out of bounds. It’s not as if I don’t have skills, is what I’m saying. But as you can plainly see, they’re not the sort of skills that help you (or your playing partner) shoot a better score.

However—and this is key—there was one critical time in my life when my athletic inclinations aligned with my actual skills in a beautiful way:

I was in graduate school. My friend Chris told me that they were offering free aerobics classes in the church nearby. The price was right, the time was convenient, and there was this added bonus: the teacher was a total babe. So Chris and I went to her class a couple of times a week, presumably to try to stay in shape. We weren’t the most determined aerobicizers in the Southland, to be sure, but we did keep the class laughing. They could have gotten a better workout without us, but with us making cracks from the back of the room, they definitely had more fun.

Plus, I ended up marrying the teacher. They didn’t call me Woo Woo for nothing.