I knew nothing of the league of extraordinarily bald gentlemen until I became a member. (By bald I mean Vin Diesel or Patrick Stewart, not Jason Alexander.)
But in the year since the razor first ravished my scalp, I've discovered that I share a natural fraternity with my smooth-pated brethren.
Often our secret sign is nothing more than a discreet nod or a thumbs up from across a barroom.
But the unmistakable message is one of pride. We, like Sir Edmund Hillary or Scott of the Antarctic, have surmounted the overwhelming obstacles Mother Nature placed in our path, seized control of our own destinies and emerged healthy, whole and lookin' goooooood.
A bald stranger (that's almost an oxymoron, now) struck up a conversation the other day at my favorite tavern.
"Hey, you do that yourself?" he asked.
He pointed to my head, but I already knew what he was talking about.
"But of course."
"You use the Mach 3?"
In other parts of the world, my kind may employ the Schick Xtreme or the Wilkinson Sword Protector. But this is Gillette country.
"You know it, guy," I replied.
"Man, isn't the Mach 3 great? I used those double blades for a while, but those were just shit."
"Been there. Done that."
"And, dude, I know this really great shave lotion you gotta try. You can get it at Wild Oats. It's all natural."
I could almost feel my chronic scalp sting easing as he spoke soothing words of aloe and witch hazel.
This camaraderie seems to span socioeconomic barriers. Even the bald guys who hang out around the Open Shelter, near where I park, seem readier with a nod, a "G'morning" or an offer of goods and services. But everyone there seems friendlier now, a phenomenon I can't explain.
"You look like a parole officer," said a woman, not bald, a regular among those who loiter, sleep or do business outside the shelter.
"Thanks," I said, taking it as a compliment.
I walked on toward Lucas and State, where I was approached by a skinny young guy, not quite Moby or kid-from-Deliverance bald, but close. He was carrying a heavy sack and looked out of place.
"Hey, man, you wanna buy something?"
I figured I had nothing to say to the guy, bald or not.
"Sorry," I said and kept moving.
"You sure you don't want a magazine?"
This threw me. Reading material wasn't among the wares I'd been offered at that corner. What could be in that sack? Atlantic Monthly? Ranger Rick?
"Sorry," I insisted.
"What? You don't like titty magazines?"
I smiled at his persistence and good-natured trashiness, which seemed almost wholesome.
"Yeah," I said, winking at the kid.
Bald guys, I've learned, can wink at each other and not be misinterpreted.
"I like 'em as much as the next guy. I'm just not in the market at the moment."
I resisted the urge to give him advice about the Mach 3.
"OK," he said, cheerfully. "I understand."
I don't. At least not yet. But I'm getting there.
Guys with dreadlocks or mullets may well share a similar bond. But of those strange brotherhoods, I know nothing -- and never will.
July 13, 2003