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.


Lunching with Snaggly and His Wayward Cousin

Dear Will:

As I see it, my mother had better options. She could have passed along her cheerfully unselfish disposition, for example, or the perpetual sparkle in her eye. Or maybe she could have simply given me her ability to bake the best cinnamon rolls you’ve ever tasted. (Mmmm, cinnamon rolls.) These are traits I could use. But no. Instead she passed along the bald-guy gene that has distinguished (?) our family for generations. And then, as a signature design flourish, she threw in her snaggletooth for good measure.

For those of you who like to play hygienist in your off-hours, I refer specifically to my right central incisor, which, like the runt of the litter, finds itself behind my other teeth trying to push and shove its way into line. The problem is, there just isn’t room for li’l Snaggly, so mostly he just pushes and shoves, creating the kind of premolar disorder that has financed the boats of many an orthodontist and the college educations of his children. Jostled thus for decades, the adjacent lateral incisor now finds itself leaning out of formation as if looking up the road to see when the parade is going to arrive.

Oh, and the parade does come—at least three times a day typically. Oatmeal Squares and bananas. Potato chips and PBJs. Countless morsels of steak and green beans, with occasional chocolate chip cookies snuck in between. (Mmmm, chocolate chip cookies.) They all come parading past my tangled toothage to be processed for swallowing, much to the delight of cuspids and bicuspids alike.

Ah, but for li’l Snaggly and his increasingly wayward cousin. Say you’re sitting at In-N-Out, scrolling through email with your left hand while fisting down a burger with your right. You’re chewing happily because you were smart enough to ask Amanda to add grilled onions and pickle to your Double-Double. The molars are really going to town now while the fangs upfront are mostly just pumping up and down as if on the most disgusting merry-go-round ever. You’re in blissful reverie until you discover that Snaggly’s cousin has taken it upon himself to hook your lower lip and add it to your midday mélange.

Now no one would ever accuse me of being a vegetarian, but I’ve always felt that adding my own flesh to a meal is taking meat-eating to an inappropriate extreme. And having chomped down on myself, over and over, in the very same spot, for 30 or 40 years, I’m a bit of an expert on the subject. In fact, I’ve now built up so much scar tissue in that one area of my mouth that I’m pretty sure that when I walk I’m starting to list slightly to the right.

Which is not a declaration of my politics but an acknowledgment of the fact that who I am—in all my bald-headed, snaggletoothed glory—is at least in part a consequence of genetic inheritance. And while my future as a male supermodel may be somewhat in jeopardy, I look at my own children and conclude that my parents passed along plenty that was worth sharing. And that I married well. Especially the marriage part.

So here’s hoping that Luke and Bryn and Seth have inherited their mother’s thick, glorious mane and her impressively bright intellect; her effortless empathy and passion for justice; her internal drive and (of course) her impeccable teeth. Also, if one of them could please master the art of their grandmother’s cinnamon rolls—sooner rather than later—I would really appreciate it.