Hair today, gone tomorrow

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I’ve lost the ponytail.

This should come as a surprise to no one. I’ve been losing hair for years, if not decades. But to have a whole fistful of it disappear onto the floor at once? That’s drastic.

Friends and former co-workers who haven’t seen me for a couple of years may be surprised that I ever had one. It was a late-life (as opposed to mid-life) fling, an “I’m-going-to-retire-now-and-let-my-hair-down” decision. For all of my working life, I was a clean-cut kind of guy. Only when I saw a change coming did I go into Beach Boys mode.

Dutch Boy

Dutch Boy paint has been around for a long time, but his hair stayed baby blond. (Dutch Boy paint website.)

It wasn’t always like that. I wore it shoulder-length, Dutch Boy style, complete with natural yellow waves and curls, for years — about three years, to be exact. Then my father tired of hearing about his cute little girl. My mother took me down to Louis Barber Shop in Hackensack, N.J.  (Louis is gone now but his shop lives on!)

I went in looking like a miss and came out looking like a Marine.

My style went a little shaggy in college, too. I’d usually go for a term — about three months — without a haircut. The one barber in our small college town had scalped me badly in my freshman year and I never set foot in his shop again.

Bright yellow turned dirty-blond in elementary school, brown in high school, dark chestnut in adulthood and pewter as seniority crept in. (The first gray hairs came along when our daughter was born, although I’m sure it was a coincidence.) When a routine haircut revealed more scalp than style, I decided it was time to Do Something.

But what?

When in doubt, grow it out

My serious widow’s peak had been creeping higher on my scalp for years, even as the hair in back was pushing downward. It was as if my entire scalp was trying to retreat down my collar. I gave up trying to forestall the inevitable. Eventually I surrendered and let it grow out, figuring that anyone who stared at the sides and back of my head wasn’t looking at the front and top.

Apparently I was wrong.

When my wife and I walked into a trendy, upscale styling salon for women and men in Burlington, Vermont, a cluster of artists — that’s the term they use there — behind the receptionist suppressed smiles. They shared knowing glances as I tugged the tie out of the ‘tail. Soon one emerged from the back room and escorted me to her station. She listened carefully as I explained what I was trying to do.

She lathered my head with an Australian brand “wash” and conditioned it with the same “rinse” — that’s Aussie for shampoo and conditioner, respectively — and took me back to her chair. Then, after a few tentative snips, she paused.

An artistic dilemma

“I have another idea,” she said, and explained that when people see the hair pulled back over thinning hair and falling down to the shoulders, they know exactly what is going on. “Let me work with what you’ve got,” she said.

“You’re the artist,” I answered. Closing my eyes, I let her go to work on the canvas, or glob of clay, or hunk of granite that is my head.

A half-hour later, we were done, and I looked more like a businessman than a beach bum. “And if you don’t like it, or if you want something warmer on the back of your neck for winter, you could always grow it out again.”

Probably not, though. If I want something warmer for winter, I’ll take my Beach Boys moment in Florida.

The last hurrah of the ponytail.

Catching the breeze

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Writer-sailors get their pre-sail orientation. Instructor Kelly Hedglin Bowen is on the left. That’s me on the right.

I stopped in mid-sentence. “My writing is terrible,” I said, shaking my head and squinting at the page.

Sitting next to me in the Sonar, Alex nudged my leg and urged me to go on. You’re not supposed to say such things in a Gateless writing session. It was all about overcoming your inner editor, bringing yourself to put words to paper and share them, regardless of your self-censor and of what you think (or fear) others might say.

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That’s Alex, sitting aft, and me, forward, from the viewpoint of skipper Kelly Hedglin Bowen, who took the photo.

One of the things I learned in this session is that others might read a lot more meaning into your words than you intended. My inner editor realized only later that the problem here was a matter of poor word choice.

In this case, though, the words were true: My writing was terrible. My handwriting, my scrawl. I couldn’t read my own words, and this was a problem because the setting in a lively boat on a busy waterfront had inspired me to use different vocabulary and rhythms than I usually do. It was literally like reading a stranger’s words and penmanship.

But I pressed on despite that stranger and finished the piece. It wasn’t so bad after all. My fellow travelers said they liked it, anyway.

And so we continued, in turn, as we sailed across the lake and out toward Rock Dunder, thinking about origin stories and writing prompts and sharing.

Kelly Hedglin Bowen, a rare and probably unique combination of certified Gateless method trainer and sailing instructor, piloted the boat through the waters and its crew through their writing exercises, handling both with care and ease.

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And they’re off on a sailing-writing adventure! Photos by Barbara Hampton

She offers several Wind∼Word writing/sailing sessions each summer through the Community Sailing Center in Burlington, Vermont. More information, including dates, is available on its website.

For me, it was a perfect end of a summer that had seen no time on the water and little pushing a pencil. I hope that next season I’ll be under the canvas more often, but I think I’ll enjoy the moment more if I leave the paper-pushing ashore.

I was right. My writing penmanship is terrible. I’ll stick to the keyboards I’ve been using for some 40 years now.

Schrödinger’s kitty

I have just returned from a thought experiment.

Specifically, I heard a thump somewhere inside the house and went downstairs to the spare room to check it out.

Why downstairs? Why specifically the spare room? Because we have a house guest. We’re cat-sitting our daughter’s newly adopted kitten while she’s away for a few days for work and travel.

We can’t let the kitty have the run of the house. For one thing, it’s been a long time since we had a pet; the house is no longer cat-proofed. Second, I’m being treated for an allergy to cats; especially on a day when I’m having the shots, it’s important that I stay away from them.

All’s quiet in the spare room. Thus the curious thought experiment.

The cat’s out of the bag

I’m not the first to attempt such an experiment. Back in 1935, Austrian physicist Erwin Schrödinger used one to reduce an interpretation of quantum mechanics to absurdity. According to that interpretation, subatomic objects do not have definite properties until they are observed and measured. Until that happens they can only be predicted using probability.

Schrödinger said that was like sealing a cat in a cylinder with a poison that would be released when an atom of radioactive substance decayed. Without knowing whether the trigger had been activated, it’s impossible to determine whether the cat is alive or dead, even using probability. Open the cylinder and observe the cat, and you have the answer. Until then, you don’t — although clearly the cat is either alive or dead. It can’t be both.

Hypothetical-animal cruelty issues aside, it’s clear that more than eight decades later, Schrödinger’s theoretical cat would be no spring kitty. Yet I suspect our guest kitten is a distant relation.

Is the cat alive or dead? Or less macabre: Is she sleeping or is she in trouble? If she’s sleeping, I don’t want to disturb her. If she’s in trouble, I want to rescue her.

To complicate matters, unlike the dead-or-alive scenario, there are other possibilities. She could be playing quietly. She could be waiting to pounce on me or to escape when I open the door. She could be about to get into trouble.

The only way to find out is to open the door.

…She was in her bed, but her head popped up when she heard the latch click. No kitty rescue required.

This time, anyway… 

Living Here: Starting over

living-hereWith permission from the Republican-American, I plan to self-publish one or more collections of “Living Here” columns published between 1994 and 2018, with proceeds to benefit the newspaper’s charity, the Greater Waterbury Campership Fund.

So far, so good: I identified and retrieved nearly 1,000 columns — including more re-runs than I had anticipated, so probably the actual number is closer to 950 — in electronic form. I have also clipped four or five boxes of these columns over the years, for preservation.

Now comes the fun part: Reading, editing, organization and publication.

The reading part truly is fun, partly because I’m now enjoying these essays as a reader rather than as an author, and partly because I’m rediscovering stories and memories long since overlooked or forgotten.

Not that I’m on a par with either of these writers, but Peggy Noonan wrote an essay last week in The Wall Street Journal about the passing of author Tom Wolfe, in which she recounted an event at which she had quoted to him something he had written years before. “Oh, that’s good,” he had responded. “Did I write that?” Noonan assured him that he had, and in her essay she recounted a similar story about Tolstoy’s daughter reading him an account of an epic battle, from “War and Peace.”

Apparently I’m in good company in having these moments.

The hard part is organization: I started by sorting the columns into five broad collections: Curmudgeon, Community, Home Sweet Home, Home for the Holidays, and The Kids Are All Right. I was hoping to keyword them somehow to better organize them, but that function doesn’t exist in Word (WordPress would actually be a better tool for that, but I’m not going to put them online). Barbara suggested putting them into a database somehow, so today I started that. I’ll go back to re-read and enter the metadata for the essays I’ve done so far, then continue reading and entering from this point forward.

On a project this size, that will require a lot of time and effort, but the results should be worth it. Fortunately I have and am familiar with Access. That’s a secret weapon Tolstoy, Wolfe, and probably Noonan didn’t have.

My fan club?

Today on a trip to the Marine Corps Museum in Quantico, VA I donned a respectful green polo and khakis. Soon after, a carload of guys similarly attired came in, then a few others, then busloads. I seem to have set a fashion trend.