As a kid, I wanted a greased ponytail like the martial artist Steven Seagal’s. My local hairdresser, Antonio, wore a similar style and epitomized—it seemed to me at the time—rugged masculinity. My mother said ponytails weren’t appropriate for male children. She allowed me to grow a rattail instead. Before that I’d had a hockey mullet. Later there was a mushroom cut, followed by a chin-length do that got me mistaken for the castrati-sopranos of the popular tween band Hanson. By the time I got to college it was clear that hair wasn’t really working for me. Conveniently, it began to fall out. I wore hats for a number of years, until one day I got up the gall to shave it all off.
Baldness was once the domain of the elderly and the middle-aged and the prematurely middle-aged. The options were slim. You could don a wig and look like a mole rat or a British barrister. You could wear a fedora and take a sabbatical from your sex life. You could try to pull off a comb-over like the Donald, or proudly sport a horseshoe. Yarmulkes and kufis offered partial coverage for the religiously inclined, but the papal tiara was reserved for the Pope. Alternatively, you could experiment with any of the snake-oil follicle treatments that have appeared through the ages, from the lion fat that ancient Egyptians rubbed into their scalps to the Propecia for which brave souls later risked erectile dysfunction. Hair plugs were another option, if you didn’t mind your head resembling a hayfield after a decade-long drought. I wondered if I, like Samson, had been denuded in punishment for excess testosterone.
The change came with the age of Michael Jordan, a basketball champion known for many things, from his record ten NBA scoring titles (including seven consecutive) to his star turn alongside Bugs Bunny in the 1996 cult classic Space Jam. To my mind, Jordan’s greatest legacy is his heroic and mostly unsung contribution to wider cultural acceptance of male-pattern baldness. Armed with only a razor and a fadeaway jump shot, Jordan turned baldness from a condemnation into a style choice. Sure, others had shaved their heads before, but those others had swastika tattoos. After Michael Jordan, the look became associated with words like “sleek”and “aerodynamic.” It didn’t work for everyone. There were razor fails and revelations of asymmetrical skulls. But for every creepy Billy Corgan, there was someone cool like Seal or Sinéad O’Connor.
Follicle-transplant technology is rapidly improving, and new drugs are being developed that have less dire side effects. Within my lifetime, baldness might be consigned to a dusty shelf next to the Jheri curl and the Adolf mustache. Some might consider this a good thing. I do not. I like the cool burn of aftershave and the shine of a freshly razored scalp. I like never having to worry about shampoo. I don’t fear chewing gum. I look a little tough. As long as the razor companies keep adding extraneous blades to their razors, I’ll keep using them. I’ll be like Mike.
I pined for the MGs and Triumphs and Alfa Romeos driven by Adonis-like UVM students from Connecticut and New York. Once, I saw a yellow MGB with snow tires and a ski rack gliding serenely down the road on a brisk December day.
These performances, for which I was the only spectator, seemed to me the most beautiful I had ever seen. I found myself so beautiful that I could have cried tears of joy. My heart could have exploded, it beat so fast.