There comes a time when many men confront their worst fear: not that they’re mortal and not likely to achieve the life goals they’ve set, but the realization that their hair is making a pilgrimage to the shower drain. I was shocked when I noticed my comb was harboring more strands than usual, and horrified when I pulled a goopy wad from the shower drain.
My hair began falling out a few years after I married Mrs. Chatterbox in 1974. I didn’t want to draw attention to my problem. If my future involved a nasty comb over and hats to cover my balding head from the sun, I wanted to hide this bitter reality from my bride as long as I could. I chose to confide in Randi, a gay coworker at the paint/hardware store where I worked. I’d overheard Randi giving advice to a customer distraught over hair loss.
I cornered Randi in the lunchroom at the back of the store. He was eating a cucumber sandwich with the crusts neatly trimmed off. He looked surprised when I sat down and said, “You have a great head of hair. I was hoping to talk to you about…the fact is—I think I’m losing my hair. A few weeks ago I overheard you recommending a salon to a customer complaining about hair loss and I was hoping you’d tell me where you sent him.”
Randi examined my hair and said, “You don’t look like you’re losing your hair. Are you finding clumps of it in your comb?”
“And the shower drain?”
My horrified expression answered for me.
He finished another bite of sandwich and delicately wiped the corners of his mouth with a paper napkin. “You need to go see Oscar.”
“Yes, Oscar Estrada. He owns the House of Estrada in North Hollywood. The man is a genius with hair. Did you see the movie Shampoo with Warren Beatty?”
I admitted that I had.
“Well, Oscar learned how to cut hair from someone who knows the guy who trained the stylist to do Warren’s hair for the movie.”
“Do you think this Oscar can stop my hair from falling out?”
“He’s a follicle wizard. Besides, he was once practically bald from over-treatments and now he’s got the most gorgeous hair around.” He opened his wallet and gave me a purple card engraved with: The House of Estrada. “Give him a call. Tell him Randi sent you so I can get a discount on my next visit.” He returned to his cucumber sandwich.
North Hollywood wasn’t the sort of place I frequented but with my hair at stake I wasn’t about to chicken out. I’d never been to a hair salon, having followed my dad’s example of only frequenting barbers with traditional red and white barber’s poles near the entrance. Once inside The House of Estrada I was engulfed in purple, a color I associated with Roman emperors and the girls’ aisle at Toys’ R Us. A fellow glided up and guided me to a waiting area. I checked out the two magazines he handed me while I waited for Oscar. One magazine pictured gay men doing what gay men do, and even though they were doing disgusting things to each other they both had great hair, especially on their heads. The other magazine was a Playboy. I hid behind it.
I was halfway through a comprehensive article on best cheerleader “beavers” when Oscar showed up. He had silver hair down to his shoulders and a goatee to match. He was dressed all in black, and if he’d had a cape he would have been a dead ringer for The Count of Monte Cristo. I followed him to a private room and was ordered to sit in the only chair while Oscar stood and fondled my hair in a way that made me, I’m ashamed to admit, tingle.
When he’d finished examining me he said, “I must say, you’re doing a very poor job of maintaining this beautiful head of hair.”
I ignored the scolding. “Do you think you can stop my hair from falling out?”
He sifted strands of my hair through his long pale fingers. “Yes, I can stop the hair loss and repair the damage you’ve done, provided you follow my instructions to the letter. You must do exactly what I tell you. This won’t be cheap, but before long people will stop you in the grocery store just to touch your hair.”
“Yes, really. We’re all animals and our bodies were once covered in fur; the hair on our heads is mostly what remains of our fur. Listen well—treat your hair like fur! Repeat that out loud.”
“I will treat my hair like fur.” I ignored the discomfort I felt talking about the fur on my body.
“I will cut your hair today, but it will only be a trim. Ultimately, it will take three cuts to achieve perfection.”
“How expensive will this be?”
“Perfection is not cheap. Of course, you could just go to Floyd the local barber and end
up as bald as the other grease monkeys at the next truck and tractor pull. It’s really up to you.”
I resolved to do whatever he ordered. Short of becoming his cabana boy, I’d do anything to keep from going bald. He sold me three products and carefully explained what they were for: first, a cleanser to remove dirt and oil; second, a conditioner to make my hair manageable; third, a strengthener to regenerate my hair and make it shiny. I was required to perform a regimen every morning requiring me to be in the shower nearly as long as Rip Van Winkle was in the forest, but if all went according to plan I’d be spared the dreaded comb over.
Sue couldn’t understand why I’d spent nearly a hundred and fifty dollars on hair supplies and why I was camping out in the shower for so long. She did see a difference in my hair. Before long she couldn’t keep from caressing it. I noticed that the hairball in the shower drain was diminishing, and by the time I received my third cut at The House of Estrada my comb was nearly free of hair.
My goal was achieved one day when a lady in the grocery store reached out to touch my hair. She was a nun, but it still counted.