“Yeah Right!”: A Toupee Adventure
I started to lose my hair in high school, probably around junior year or so. I was already the weird kid obsessed with classic rock that nobody wanted in their band, so the addition of thinning hair only complemented the general alienation; why not throw wispy hair on the already substantial pile of quirks? It’s a sad ordeal to lose your hair, but especially so when you’re young. My hairline was receding and the hair itself was quite thin, so my appearance was not something I was fond of for quite some time. High school is an unusual time for everyone. Some people don’t have a hard time, these are the cool kids who often peak early. But, these cool kids invite a good deal of “compare and despair” from us weird kids. I knew there were parties, and my friends seemed to be going to them, but I sure as shit wasn’t invited. I was playing guitar and video games, so I was fine — weird and alone, but fine.
To combat the apocalyptic wasteland that my hair was becoming, I decided to grow it out at some point in junior year, and continued to grow it until the summer after graduation. To cover up my receding hairline, I also grew bangs down to about my eyebrows. Quite the look, I know, but try to control your presumably raging hormones. The thing about growing your hair long is that at a certain point it ceases to disguise hair loss and begins to accent it. Gravity, you see, is a cruel mistress. Regardless, I grew my hair and got my first tattoo at 18: an upper arm tattoo of the Led Zeppelin Icarus symbol, yet another brilliant way to ward off potential mates. And to top it all off, I had a goatee, albeit a budding one. A sex symbol in high school, that was me.
After high school I went on tour for the first time with my then-current band, Hart Attack. By the end of the tour, I had my long hair in a bandana and a bushy beard. Shortly after coming home and a lovely visit to my Grandma Mary’s house where she told me I looked homeless, I got a haircut. Considering how I looked prior, the haircut worked wonders, and for a short time I felt good about my appearance. However, that was short-lived. The thinning began to accelerate and I took to wearing a hat most of the time. I never saw my friends without wearing a hat. One night after getting high at a friend’s house, I came home (still high) and stared into the mirror. I began to tear up when I looked at my hatless head, an arid post-nuclear landscape of dying strands. This was it, I thought, I had to do something. I couldn’t stand to look at myself any longer, to know that I had virtually no chance at meeting anyone looking as sad as I did.
But, I was still 20 or so and I wasn’t ready to let go of having hair just yet. I felt too young to abandon hair altogether and shave my head. I had a consultation at Bosley for a potential hair transplant, but it was far too expensive — in the $10,000 range. I began to explore my other options until I arrived at Masterlink: a hair replacement service whereby a man named Ed would re-glue your scalp and attach a freshly cleaned toupee every two weeks or so. The way it worked was that you bought however many toupees you wanted to have in the rotation — three for me — and then once the glue began to come undone, you’d go back to get that one removed and another put on. When I finally went for my first appointment there were two emotional extremes. First, Ed shaved the top of my head only, so I had the shock of seeing just how miserable I could look with hair only on the sides of my head. After seeing what I’d look like as actor Wallace Shawn, Ed attached, trimmed, and combed the toupee to match my regular hair color and length. Finally, I could bear to look at myself in the mirror again. I had hair, glorious thick hair. I could swim with it, shower with it, whatever I wanted.
And so, I went from the guy wearing a hat all the time to the guy with a thick quaff he was eager to show off. None of my friends ever mentioned it, but people must have noticed the sudden change — one day I had stringy hair hidden under a hat, the next a thick, full head of hair. I had the toupee for a few years. The constant worry about the glue holding is one that I sometimes wake up with to this day, despite being totally bald. The mushy feeling of the glue beginning to loosen prior to the next appointment with Ed stuck with me. The wind was also a problem, but only in that a breeze could expose where the toupee ends and my real hair began. When I eventually began to teach at the School of Rock, a few students asked me why my top hair didn’t quite match my side hiar, a question which I dismissed. Those little fucks, teenagers, they have no idea the damage they can deal.
I was still wearing the toupee when my father, Vic, had his stroke. That is a story for another time, but here is the story I set out to tell:
My father laid in his hospital bed, his entire left side out of commission. Friends and family came and went to check on him, all dismayed by what they saw. My father, who had struggled with alcoholism in the years leading up to his stroke, was frail — he looked very different from the stocky guy everyone once knew. But still, visitors came and went. Kenny Browne, one of my dad’s oldest friends, came to visit one day. Kenny Browne is a rough and tactless contractor, much like my father. He doesn’t mince words, nor does he miss the opportunity to say exactly what he’s thinking. I have known Kenny Browne my whole life, he’s always been very kind and fun, at least with me. When I worked with my dad during the summer, we would often work with Kenny. It had been quite some time since I saw Kenny Browne. When last I saw him, my hair was wispy and sad, but there I was with a thick head of someone else’s hair. Kenny Browne could not let this go by unaddressed. And so, in a hospital room where one of his oldest friends laid frail in a hospital bed having just had a stroke, Kenny Browne took a look at me and my impossibly thick new hair and said with bravado, “Yeah Right!”
That’s all it took. “Yeah Right!” I knew what it meant, there could only be one thing he was referring to. Who was I fooling? I mean, I thought I fooled everyone, but apparently, I was wrong. Kenny Browne cut right to the core of it. Despite my father, his lifelong friend, laying supine on a hospital bed, a husk of what he once was, Kenny Browne could not let another second pass without calling out the sheer unlikelihood of my hair being that thick. Since then, “Yeah right!” has become a mantra of sorts for whenever I find myself doing something especially vain and fooling no one.
Less than a year later, I joined the band Ours, shaved my head, and began to take my appearance in a new direction. I eventually lost 60 pounds and for the first time, I was happy with my appearance. I’ve never addressed that I had a toupee for those few years. If anyone knew, which they must’ve, they certainly stayed quiet. The relief I felt when I finally ripped off my toupee and removed the glue was remarkable, second only to the freedom granted by my fully shaved head. My years-long hair nightmare had ended. I clung so long to the notion that I needed to have hair because I was young, but I ended up looking younger bald than I did with hair — my own hair or the hair I bought. And now I’m bald, bearded, tattooed, and finally at peace with my look. But, the words of Kenny Browne still echo in my mind when I find myself straying too far from the path: “Yeah Right!”