By Tony Deyal
Had I known, I could have made good money from my increasing baldness starting from the day my friend Errol looked at me and said, “Tony boy you starting to look like Tarzan!” I could have said, “Yes, I’m a swinger”, or “Not so much Tarzan as de-vine”, or even “Yes, man, I am tree-mendous.” I didn’t know he was pulling a cheetah on me. “Nah,” he replied, “You like Tarzan. You bawling!” It was his idea of a punishing pun. When Tarzan yelled “Ahwoooooo”, some of us joked that it was a scream of pure pain because Jane was not swinging on the vine. However, we did not use the “yell” of the Americans. We said that Tarzan was “bawling”.
Actually, a Calypsonian, the great humourist, The Mighty Spoiler, in 1959 sang a calypso lamenting that because of the close resemblance between them, his twin-brother was always praised for the things Spoiler did. One verse ended with, “But ah bawl like twenty-Tarzan/ When they went and they shake my twin brother hand.” What Errol did was make fun of my hair-loss or “balding” by pronouncing it in true Trini style as “bawlin.” Given that our entire gang had gathered under the street lamp and were laughing at me, had I found out then what I learnt a few days ago, I could have been rich enough to afford a lifetime supply of Rogaine (Minoxidil). Actually, Errol had a close shave and would have bawled till all his hair dropped out if he had tried that today.
Two Fridays ago, Black Friday, March 13 2022, an employment tribunal in West Yorkshire, England, ruled that calling a man a “bald xxxx” (four-letter word for the female genital) is sexual harassment. The panel agreed that the use of the words “not only violated the man’s dignity but created an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for him.” They believed that “commenting on a man’s baldness in the workplace is equivalent to remarking on the size of a woman’s breasts.” One question that came up was if a woman’s breast size and a man’s bald head are equivalent, what would you consider harassment?
Apart from being compared to Tarzan, I have other grounds for legal action. I was complaining to a female barber that when I was a boy my hair was thick, then it turned thin, then it turned grey and now it has turned loose and I had problems with split hair. She replied, “Well it looks like your hair split a long time ago.” Another one told me that I should value my hair because one on the head is worth two in the brush. My older son George laughed loudly when I told him I was going to the barber and shouted for the whole house, people passing on the street and maybe the media to hear, “Make him charge you half-price!”
I tried that with a Chinese “chopper” in Montreal. I knew I was taking a chance but I had to make a presentation at a global Climate Change conference and wanted my head to look less uncontrolled than the environment. I knew I was taking a chance for two reasons. In the old days in China, barbers were also dentists and surgeons, performing tooth extractions, bloodletting and surgery. In other words, the phrase “being of oriental extraction” could be both a genealogical generalization and a painful process. The other is that I grew up in Trinidad where many of my classmates were of Chinese descent.
Given the quality of their haircuts, we joked that a Chinese “trim” consisted of putting a bowl on the person’s head and cutting all the hair around it. So, the second thing I did when I entered the saloon was to make sure there was no bowl among the shears, scissors and other instruments. Then I told the barber that my son George recommended I should ask for a half-price haircut because I didn’t have much hair left. From behind the counter the barber’s wife shouted, “No! No! You should pay double. Your hair so thin it will take two times as long to cut it!”
Now, many years later, things have got worse. If my head was a job, it will not have any fringe benefits. I get asked questions like, “What do you call a barber that works only on bald people like you?” An air stylist. Or, “Tony, I hear your wife gave you a comb for your birthday and when you assured her that you would never part with it, she said, ‘I know that!’.” One of the worst ones was that bald men like me have holes in our pockets so we can run our fingers through our hair.
And, worst of all because it’s true, you wouldn’t believe that when I went to the hospital a few years ago because I fell and cracked my skull in the bathroom, I was diagnosed with a receding hairline fracture. What was worse is that when I came out of the hospital, I stood in front of the bathroom mirror looking to see if anything had changed, and asked my wife, seriously, “Will you still love me when I’m old, fat, and balding?” She answered, “I do.”
However, there is what seems at first to be good news for us. It was said that bald men are more virile because we have higher levels of the male hormone, testosterone. This makes us more masculine and increases our sex drive. However, we lose our hair at a younger age than average as a result. Unfortunately for us, an article in The Harvard Gazette (January 27, 2000) was enough to scare the heck out of me.
Under the headline, “Male Baldness Linked To Higher Incidence of Heart Disease, the Gazette says, “It appears that balding men have more to worry about than their vanity. The largest study to date concludes that male pattern baldness is associated with an increased risk for heart disease…The more the hair loss, the higher the possible risk.” This is what is called a “mixed blessing” but I think of it as a “Barmicide Feast” which is “a pretended banquet with no food”, or “illusory generosity or hospitality.” In other words, hair today and gone immediately without waiting for tomorrow.
Thinking about my hair-loss, one of the things I feel better about is that I don’t have “Alopecia Areata” which is an ailment you get when the immune system attacks hair follicles and the structures in skin that form hair, especially your head and face. The only thing some people think is worse than that is getting slapped by Will Smith for joking about his wife who suffers from the disease. For me, all it proves is that where there’s a Will, there’s a way.
*Tony Deyal was last seen laughing when one of his friends joked, “Tony boy, it’s a good thing you don’t go to Church again because you would take forever to make the sign of the cross”.