Thursday, October 27, 2005

Tales From a Great Indoorsman

I am betting more than a few of us can relate to J.S. Bankston's latest installment.


It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Balding)
Tharelyn, mother-in-law of my friend James, mother of my friend Nyssa, and wife of a physician, examined my scalp a few weeks ago and came to the same conclusion I had several days before–that I am losing hair from the front of my scalp at a rapid and noticeable rate. She attributed this to all the different depression meds I’ve taken the last few years, and suggested I get on a Minoxidil regime quickly.

The Minoxidil they peddle at my corner supermarket is fairly pricey for a non-prescription item, must be applied daily without fail, has about 80% negative side effects to the 20% positive ones, and, alas, is only for the crown of the skull, not the front hairline. I mean, if I was getting a bald patch in back it’d probably just be easier to become a Franciscan monk, right?

I purchased a set of brushes and began brushing my locks 100 times a night like the old wives tale says to do, in order to stimulate my scalp. And I took close-ups of my hair line in the bathroom mirror and e-mailed the pictures to my mom late one night.

The following morning she left me a phone message where she briefly agreed that I was losing my hair, before launching into some long, boring, Edith Bunker-like account of the suicide of her former neighbor, a farmer named Clyde Froebel. All the time I was listening to the message I was screaming, “Never mind Clyde Froebel! Tell me about my hair!”

I called her back. She explained that Clyde’s wife had died a few years ago and that everyone in his farming community of Millheim (about 90 minutes northwest of Houston) was unsure how he’d handle the loss. But he seemed to be okay, even happy, and had even bought a new tractor, thinking that would make him more attractive to the ladies.

Sadly, the new John Deere did not turn out to be the pussy wagon Clyde had hoped it would be, and Clyde eventually divided his time between his home and an assisted living facility, before finally killing himself at the former.

Now I didn’t really know Clyde Froebel. I couldn’t have picked him out of a police line-up, and if I ever exchanged more than two sentences with him, I’m not aware of it. All I really remember about him was that he used to brag that his three sons were the best-hung young men in the county, and that they’d taken after their daddy. This claim struck me as especially strange and disturbing, since when he made it, nineteen years ago, his youngest son, Bradley, was about eight.

My mom asked me about my breathing problems. I explained my chest was still making squeaky noises, that the sounds had kept me awake one night, and that on another night I had entertained myself by pummeling my chest with my fists, making my fluid-filled lungs sound like a calliope. My mother, who is a great reader of medical books and a vicarious hypochondriac, made the cheery pronouncement that she thought I might be getting emphysema.

After she nagged me to go back in search of more dead-end, subsistence level, $10-an-hour jobs in fields that did not involve writing, I told her I wasn’t listening, and steered the conversation back to the topic of my hair.

Maybe you’re losing your hair because of all those years you wore it long.

Oh, please. That’s ridiculous even by your standards.

Well, after your father died and I was on that Paxil it made my hair come out in clumps.

See, that’s what James’s mother-in-law said. She thinks it’s the depression meds.

What I don’t understand is how you can be so upset about this and not worried about the rest of your appearance, about the fact you’re so fat.

Well, maybe because I feel I can do something about my hair, but the weight is beyond my control, unless I get lipo or a gastric bypass.

You can’t afford that.

Don’t tell me what I can and cannot afford or I’ll go out and get it just to spite you.

Well, there’s always diet and exercise.

Well, that ain’t gonna happen either.

Have you been to the doctor yet?

No, I still need to pick a new one.

Well, I wouldn’t even tell them about the depression if I were you. Whenever you say the word “depression” they just concentrate on that and don’t give enough attention to your other conditions.

True enough.

Anyway, I don’t think you’re a manic-depressive after all. I know that some days when you want to [emphasis mine] you go out and go to the movies or take pictures or go on other outings you don’t tell me about.

While on other days I can’t bring myself to even leave the house and check my mailbox.

That’s right.

So how is that not a textbook definition of manic-depression, mania and depression?

I don’t think you’re manic-depressive. You’re just moody, or have a bad attitude, or mean, like your grandfather was!

God, one of these days my mother and I are so gonna wind up living in a ramshackle Victorian mansion behind an abandoned motel. She’s gonna keep up her nagging, and I’ll take up taxidermy, cross-dressing, and serial-killing ...

My buddy Matt got this hair-loss obsession started. Thanks to his busy City Hall job I only see him about three times a year now, and he pointed out the hair loss a few weeks back when he took me through the Katrina shelter downtown.

Normally my meetings with Matt are as structured as a Japanese tea ceremony: 1) He points out how my appearance has changed since we last met, 2) he spends 75% of the time talking on his cell, 3) he tells me “but seriously now” that I need to look for a dead-end, subsistence level, $10-an-hour job, 4) he talks about the stressful things that have been going on in his job, and 5) we go our merry ways.

Now I could probably handle baldness if I looked magnificent that way, like Yul Brynner, Patrick Stewart, Sean Connery, or even Stanley Tucci. But I always look down on young bald men. And I’m not talking about the naturally hirsute posers who think that if they shave their heads and get barbed wire tattoos on their biceps chicks will think they’re Vin Diesel.

To me a young balding man is a failure in that he is someone who has not succeeded in exercising super-human and godlike powers to stop the workings of Nature. You might argue it’s not the poor guy’s fault, but only if you’re not used to trumping Nature.

The last few years I’ve had several reunions with guys I knew in college, people I’d not seen in 10, 15, and even 20 years, and some of them have aged very badly. One guy had balded so badly he looked like the famous unwrapped mummy of Rameses II. And it’s pleased me a great deal that they’ve all been shocked that I either, a) have not changed at all, or b) look younger than I did in the old days.

But this is a family thing. My maternal grandfather was 61 when I was born, and in my christening picture his hair is almost completely black, and he still has a lot of hell-raising in his eyes. And he looked to be no more than 70 when he was in his late 80s.

The two things that make me look younger than my actual age (I’ll be 42 on El Dia de los Muertos) are my unwrinkled, pasty-white skin and my abundant hair.

For those still on Bankston hairstyle watch my look is currently something between Jean Cocteau (see B&W photo) and Kim Jong Il (see color photo). If I was to start losing my hair I might start...looking my age! And the loss of youthful beauty was one of the things that drove Yukio Mishima to run a sword through his innards.

The chief problem with this pre-midlife crisis is not aging per se as it is the idea of me getting closer and closer to the grave with nothing accomplished. Oh, sure, people always take me aside and tell me I’ve done this and that, but what others regard as my accomplishments aren’t important to me.

I regard the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life,” for example, as ultimately tragic and depressing. Yes, George Bailey has influenced everyone in his tiny-ass, podunk town, and they all bail him out financially at the end of the picture, but he’s still stuck in that town, doing that job he hates, and he hasn’t become a great engineer or seen the world, the way he’s wanted to all his life.

“Because life gets shorter.” I saw that somewhere recently–maybe on a men’s room wall. But it’s that notion that is at the heart of my crisis. With every hair that falls from my head I am further and further from flying my jet onto that aircraft carrier with the big “Mission Accomplished!” banner.


In other news, this last week I butted heads with the new Security State. Taking a cue from Triple J’s photo feature, I started my own project, trying to document Mr. Bankston’s Neighborhood on camera. I went on a shopping and movie-going excursion, walking about as far as one could conceivably call “walking distance.”

I wound up at a nearby multiplex, and once inside, snapped a shot of the lobby. A cop working security ran up and said that was a serious no-no, verboten, not allowed. I shrugged and zipped my camera into my bag, but now the manager appeared, and said that I couldn’t even bring the thing onto the premises. I’d either have to take it out to my [non-existent] car, or he would lock it up in his office.

I considered making a fuss, even losing my temper. I thought about sarcastically asking if they thought I was an al-Qaeda bomb-thrower.

But I finally just said I wanted a claim ticket. He took out a business card and wrote my info on the back and handed it to me. I said I planned to see two movies and so would probably be one of the last patrons leaving. Would there be anyone who could actually get into the office that late, or would there only be a bunch of teenaged ushers on hand?

He assured me he would himself be around until 2am, so I reluctantly handed my camera over to him. I really, really don’t like parting with that thing, especially since, after my computer, it’s the single most expensive thing I’ve ever purchased. (That’s not that hard to believe–I mean, I’ve never bought a car or a house or anything like that.)

Fortunately, I got my baby back without a scratch.

I can only assume they took the camera to prevent me from making unauthorized copies of movies, or at least snapshot captures of various scenes for posting on the Internet. A multiplex movie theatre would make a poor target for a terrorist bomb, unless of course it was the site of a Rob Schneider film festival.

I worked from 1998 to 2000 as a librarian at a private school. One of my former students, who’s now in college, is an aspiring white boy rapper, and he’s spending this semester in Spain. He recently took a side trip to Venice and e-mailed me, ...“I even rode a fairy around the Grand Cannal, relaxed on a gondala ride, sought out and found Marco Polo's house (and went inside), and (after much searching) found the world's very first ghetto, which originated the word "ghetto". How many rappers can say the same?”
(I’m sure that not a few of you readers have ridden a fairy around Venice a time or two ... )

I make an extraordinary amount of copies. I give the lie to the notion that the Computer Age will create the paperless office. Not only do I use my printer and scanner a great deal, I also use the copy machine at the UPS Store across the street frequently.

If you have a private mailbox there or sign up for a copier code, they’ll give you a pass key that’ll grant you 24-hour access. So I’ll go in there in the middle of the night with a radio and a stack of UT library books and other materials and copy for four or five hours at a clip, until the paper or toner runs out or the sun starts coming up.

The only problem with this is I don’t like standing in one spot on a hard concrete floor for that long. It hurts my back. So this week James and I have been hitting all the sporting goods stores in search of a collapsible stool.

Of course, the fact that we’re “stool hunting” has obligated us to let fly with our most scatological and sophomoric jokes, and caused me to retell the humiliating and graphic story of when a doctor demanded stool samples when testing me for colon cancer. After I finally wound down my talking and caught my breath, I noticed what was playing on the car stereo and pointed it out to James: Crystal Gayle’s “Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue.” Honest to God.

I think I’m coming down with something. I went to a late dinner with James and Nyssa at Kerbey Lane Café (where I almost attacked Manuel a few weeks ago). One family there was letting their kid run wild. He’d shriek at the top of his lungs, then charge across the room and throw himself against the windows. Now and again his dad would try to calm him down by picking him up and holding him upside down, but it did no good.

By the time I got home I had developed a rumbly, chunky cough, but still couldn’t clear my chest. I spent most of the day today in bed, having some strange dream that my Basset Hound Fred was starring in “Billy Elliott.”


Anyway, I’ll close on a high note. The other day my mom sent me this from a “Houston Chronicle” health column:

Q: I am having trouble adjusting my medicine for hypothyroidism.... I have gained weight and I can't lose. What I am losing is my hair and often my temper. I am very irritable. What do you suggest?

A: Hair loss, moodiness, depression, weight gain, constipation, fatigue, dry skin, elevated cholesterol, memory problems, and cold sensitivity can be symptoms of an underactive thyroid. It can be hard to get the dose of thyroid hormone just right ... ”

Well, I’ve been on thyroid meds a few years now. Maybe they just need to adjust the dosage and I’ll be hairy and happy again.

I’m looking for a new doctor in my neighborhood. Apparently there are several dozen with offices at the hospital two blocks east of me. One is named “Dr. John F. Bangston,” with a “g,” but I think I’ll skip him, as there’s too much of a potential there for a “Who’s on first” type of confusion.


Next week:
Satisfied ‘75 gets Bankston thinking about his own list of cool people.


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At 3:42 PM, Blogger Satisfied '75 said...

TRIVIA: Satisfied '75 has been on a steady diet of Propecia since 1998 when a college girlfriend told him one summer day at the pool that he was "losing hair."

I get the shit in Mexico now for 1/2 the price. Hair (mostly) still intact.

At 9:13 PM, Blogger jsbankston said...

Triple J, do you still get those $250 Jose Eber haircuts?

At 9:43 PM, Anonymous JJones said...

Niiiice head

At 10:45 PM, Blogger jsbankston said...

Well, the picture was taken just after a shower. Otherwise my hair would be...puffier.

At 8:57 AM, Blogger Scrubby Nub and The Bothered Brigade said...

I'm a few years off from balding myself, but it will go in the same way yours is. I'm prepared to accept it. But I have an unsightly skin muffin (puffy pink mole) about a half an inch back from my hairline. I'm more than a little nervous about it being exposed.

At 9:28 AM, Blogger TripleJ said...

Bankston - that's a lovely image for us to image. Nothing on below your hairline.

At 2:19 PM, Blogger jsbankston said...

jjones---My first conscious thought this morning was, "Wait a minute--he didn't mean my head, he meant my headline!" Then I went back to sleep for six hours.

And I can assure you, triple j, I was fully-clothed. No one would be more disgusted by the sight of me in the altogether than I would myself. Except for the times when I'm showering I keep as covered up as a Victorian girl in a convent school.

At 3:19 PM, Blogger cgpop said...

I started to lose my hair in HS, I played b-ball (point gaurd) and got the HRS chant all the time when I touched the ball, which was often. I shaved it all off about a year ago and am happy with the results, I don't have a barbed wire tat, but I'm glad that it is cool for white dudes to have the shaved look (no longer a neo-nazi type thing). Your hair line looks fine in the pic, if it starts to go more just make sure you keep your hair shorter, it will look fuller. I like the shaved bald head, a much better look than the comb over or bald on top hair on sides look, luckily my head isn't mishaped, if it was then I may feel differently about the whole thing.

At 5:54 PM, Blogger Satisfied '75 said...

CGPOP, u could be the guy from american history x for halloween

At 7:47 PM, Blogger jsbankston said...

I remember reading an interview with Edward Furlong regarding "American History X," where he said he'd worried that when they shaved his head it would be all mishapen and bumpy.

And yes, my mother suggested a comb-over, which I shot down quickly.

Maybe this is a sign to fully embrace my destiny to become Colonel Kurtz.

At 5:15 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Nag???? How could you talk so bad about your mother???? You are one sad puppy!


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