Saturday, August 15, 2009

A Fine Line

Here is my latest Bay Windows column, about one of my recent experiences in P'town--a reminder of how I don't fit the 'gay ideal.' As if I needed a reminder......

A Fine Line

Judah Leblang/2009

I’d been in Provincetown for two days, and it was clearly time for a makeover. It was late July, the height of the summer tourist season. Nothing had changed from my previous visits, except that many of the men seemed younger, a reminder that I had grown older. Meanwhile, the parade of handsome men rolled on through town, with their honey-brown tans and “surfboard haircuts” (as I think of them), the crest of the wave rising neatly over their bronzed foreheads.

I had come to P’town, ostensibly, to take a creative writing course at the Fine Arts Work Center. Since the course met for only 3 hours Monday-Friday, I also came to vacation, relax, chill out. But instead of unwinding, I began to feel stressed. I lacked the key characteristics of the well-dressed (or undressed) Provincetown man: perfect haircut, melon-shaped biceps, and tanned skin.

I conducted a mental inventory, whispering my version of the serenity prayer: “Lord, help me to accept my imperfections, and not to compare myself to the gymbots at the Boatslip or Herring Cove.” My reddish complexion and cancer-prone skin meant tanning was out. My lean genes keep me relatively fit, but building muscle is a painfully-slow process, and my life doesn’t revolve around the gym. So I settled on the one thing I could easily change –- my hairstyle.

One afternoon after class, I wandered through town toward a trendy salon I’ll call “Cut and Paste.” My stylist, Gregory, fit the P’town aesthetic to a T, with broad shoulders, bronzed skin, and short, neatly trimmed hair, which framed his face to best effect. After a few minutes, Greg commented on my receding hairline and the affliction of male pattern baldness, which was obviously stalking me.

A solution was at hand, he explained. Years earlier, my stylist had a receding hairline, too. But thanks to a talented physician and the miracle of plastic surgery, Greg had a new improved hairline, which allowed him to look a decade younger than his real (forty-something) age. I had to admit that Greg, along with his hair, looked great; my hair had never looked quite that good. Still, he said it took work –- vigilance, medication, the right hair products.

A half hour later I was back on Commercial, with the same basic haircut I typically get in Somerville, at twice the price. Tucked against my chest, below my trim but thinning mane, was an impressive pamphlet –- a booklet actually -- which outlined the wonders of microsurgery for hair loss.

Back in my steamy East End room, I examined the booklet. On the front cover was a large grayscale image of a bald man, bare head in hands, looking like Rodin’s “Thinker” with a migraine headache. Inside were a series of before and after pictures –- the former images of disheveled unsmiling men with patchy, flyaway hair –- while the after pics showed these same men smiling, their confidence restored. The surgeon, a Dr. Epstein, with offices conveniently located in both New York and Miami, had performed thousands of these procedures, assisted by a team of crack technicians, a line of women in front of microscopes, all outfitted in neat white jackets or surgical scrubs.

I turned the glossy pages of the booklet and considered this new “problem.” I’d always been the one in my family with the “good hair,” thick and plentiful, unlike the thin straw-like locks of my two brothers. Now I was using Propecia, an oral medication, to hold onto what remained.

I have problems in my life –- an awareness of the passage of time, which seems to go faster as the years pile up, hearing loss, and dry eyes -- but I’m not ready or willing to add hair loss to the list. Over the next few days, the brochure, shiny and silvery/white, lay on a chair, soon to be buried under beach towels and souvenir T-shirts.

The days of surfboard haircuts are behind me. Eventually, I sighed, tossed the booklet in the trash and headed outside, the setting sun reflecting off my high forehead.


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