The hair apparent

Dave Barry in high school.
Dave Barry in high school.

(This classic Dave Barry column was originally published Sunday, July 27, 1986)

I have a letter here from Mrs. Belle Ehrlich, of San Jose, Calif., who feels I should get a new hairdo. To quote her directly: "I enjoy reading most of your columns . . . but your hairdo in your photo sure looks DATED and NOT at all flattering or becoming, to say the least. If you are still sporting that awful hairdo, I suggest you go to a good hair stylist to give you a new and better hairdo. I hope you don't mind my criticism, it's nothing personal -- just a suggestion."

Mind? Ha ha! MIND? Of course not, Mrs. Belle Ehrlich of San Jose! As a journalist who seeks to inform his readers about topics of vital concern to the nation and the world, I welcome insulting remarks about my hair!

OK, perhaps I am a bit sensitive about my hair. I have been sensitive about my hair since second grade, when the Kissing Girls first swung into action. You probably had Kissing Girls at your elementary school too: they roamed the playground, chasing after selected boys and trying to kiss them. We boys carried on as though we would have preferred to undergo the Red-Ants-Eat- Your-Eyelids-Off Torture than get kissed, but of course we wanted desperately to be selected. And I almost never was. The boys who were selected had wavy hair. Wavy hair was big back then, and I did not have it. I had straight hair, and it did not help that my father cut it.

You should know that my father was a fine, decent and sensitive man, but unfortunately he had no more fashion awareness than a baked potato. His idea of really el snazzo dressing was to wear a suit jacket and suit pants that both originated as part of the same suit. He would have worn the same tie to work for 42 consecutive years if my mother had let him. So the way he would cut my hair is, he'd put me on a stool, and he'd start cutting hair off one side of my head with the electric clippers, then he'd walk around me and attempt, relying on memory, to make the other side of my head look similar. Which of course he could never quite do, so he would head on back around to take a stab at Side One again, and he'd keep this up for some time, and all I can say is, thank heavens they had a little plastic guard on the electric clippers so that you couldn't make the hair any shorter than a quarter-inch, because otherwise my father, with the best of intentions, trying to even me up, would have started shaving off slices of actual tissue until eventually I would have been able to turn my head sideways and stick it through a mail slot. As it was, in photographs taken back then, I look like an extremely young Marine, or some kind of radiation victim.

It also did not help that in third grade I became the first kid in the class to get glasses, and we are talking serious 1950s horn rims of the style that when you put them on a third- grade child, especially one with a comical haircut, you get a Mister Peepers effect such that everybody assumes the child must be a Goody-Two-Shoes Teacher's Pet science-fair-oriented little dweeb. And it also did not help that I was a Late Bloomer, pubertywise. I was ready for puberty. All of us boys were. We wanted to catch up to the girls, who about two years earlier had very suddenly, in fact I think it was all on the same day, shown up at school a foot taller than us and with bosoms and God knows what else. So I was definitely looking forward to puberty as the Dawn of a New Era in the looks department, and you can just imagine how betrayed I felt when it started happening to the other boys, even boys whom I had considered my friends, well before it happened to me. They got ahead of me then, and sometimes I think I never really caught up. I am 38 years old now, and I have yet to develop hair on my arms. Isn't that supposed to happen, in puberty? I see men much younger than myself, with hairy arms, and I think: Does this mean I'm not done with puberty yet?

I realize I sound insecure here, but if you really wanted to see insecure, you should have seen me in eighth grade. I was a mess. That was why I developed a sense of humor. I needed something to do at parties. The other boys, the boys who had wavy hair and reasonable hormone-activity levels, would be necking with girls, and I would be over by the record player, a short radiation victim in horn rimmed spectacles, playing 45s and making jokes to entertain the 10-year-old brother of whomever was holding the party. Now that I'm grown up, I keep reading magazine articles about these surveys where they ask you women what you really want most in a man, and you always say: A Sense of Humor. And I think to myself: Right. Sure. Great. NOW you want a sense of humor. But back in the eighth grade, back when it really mattered, what you wanted was puberty.

And I am not even going to mention here that for several years my hands were covered with warts.

So anyway, Mrs. Belle Ehrlich of San Jose, what I'm trying to say here is: Thanks, thanks a million for taking the time to drop me a note informing me that my hair looks awful. Because now that I'm grown up (except in terms of arm hair) and have contact lenses, and I have finally come to think of myself as very nearly average in appearance, I can handle this kind of helpful criticism, and I will definitely see if I can't find a good hair stylist. This is assuming that I ever leave my bedroom again.

© 2010, Dave Barry
This column is protected by intellectual property laws, including U.S. copyright laws. Electronic or print reproduction, adaptation, or distribution without permission is prohibited. Ordinary links to this column at may be posted or distributed without written permission.

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