You know you’re getting old when your hair starts turning against you.
One day your hair is your friend, the next day it is on the move. It grays, it migrates and disappears altogether. After you pass 40, your hair has things to do, its own agenda.
Hair that has been perfectly happy perched on top of your head decides to go south for the winter of your lifetime. That’s why you see guys who are completely bald on top and yet their back looks like a horsehair throw rug. And it doesn’t stop there. After a few years it leaves the back and heads for the bottom. Maybe it’s nature’s way of providing the elderly with natural pillows to protect brittle bones. (Which brings up a completely unrelated question: Why are bottoms called bottoms? To be correct, the feet should be called bottoms. They are at the bottom. The bottom really should be called the middle.)
Doctors used to think that when people went bald, the hair on their head simply disappeared. It doesn’t. It just reassigns itself, sometimes to the most alarming places. I always feel bad when I see an otherwise dignified-looking older gent with tufts of hair spurting out of his ears like a forest elf.
I grew a mustache when I was about 18 to make me look older. At least, that’s why I thought I grew it. I had not shaved it off for decades.
Several decades later it turned on me, started getting prematurely gray. I know, all gray hair is premature, but this was really uncalled for. I am not old, damn it, and I will not have my mustache making people think I am.
So I shaved it off.
In a minute, after many years of faithful duty in the middle of my face, it was gone. The space between my lower nose and upper mouth suddenly felt exposed and, frankly, a little chilly.
I shrieked when I looked in the mirror. I suddenly remembered why I had grown a mustache in the first place: I have no upper lip. Nothing. There’s the nose, then the little unnamed thingy under the nose and then … teeth. I was a Wes Craven nightmare: The Man With No Lip. What had I done?
At the time I shaved off my mustache, my daughter was just a little tyke, maybe four years old. She had never seen me without a mustache. I was sure that if she saw that the old man had neither a mustache nor upper lip, it would be too much for her. She might never recover from the shock.
But what could I do?
I tried little patches of silver duct tape, but I looked like a robot version of Hitler. I thought of applying black Magic Marker, a la Groucho Marx. But it was no good. I was stuck. The lipless wonder, staring into the mirror while shards of my grayish former mustache mocked me from the washbasin.
I worried that the such a major change in her father could leave my daughter psychologically destroyed. I was concerned about her mental well-being. She walked into the bathroom, looked up at me and broke into hysterical laughter. I’m not an overly sensitive person, but think hooting and pointing at someone’s face is out of line. The rolling on the ground hooting and guffawing and pounding the floor with her little fists while tears of glee poured out of her little blue eyes seemed a tad overdone.
Luckily, mustache hair is hearty. The mustache grew back quickly, and it went to work providing not only facial balance, but, thankfully, camouflage.
The mustache shaving incident has had some unfortunate long-term side effects. As my daughter grew up and needed occasionally to be scolded for talking back, I could no longer say “Don’t you give me any of your lip, young lady.” Well, I could. But then she’d just say, “Why not, Daddy? You can use all lip you can get!”
Charles Memminger is a national awarding winning columnist, screenwriter and author living in Hawaii. He recently took third place in the National Society of Newspaper Columnists 2010 contest in humor for newspapers over 100,000 circulation. You can order his book, “Hey, Waiter, There’s An Umbrella In My Drink! (Tales from the Tropics by Hawaii’s Favorite Humorist” by e-mailing him at firstname.lastname@example.org.