Features - August 20th, 1982


Story and sketches by DICK ADAIR

It’s no secret among my friends that I wear a wig. Sometimes referred to as a “piece” but never anymore as a toupee since that always conjures up those silly images of embarrassed men having theirs lifted by a slide trombone or a fierce wind or getting dropped into the party punch.

The hairpiece of today is quite secure thanks to modern glue and strong tape. And let me stand as a shining example (sans wig, of course) of having survived some pretty hairy situations.

First you must understand that it isn’t until you’ve had some and lost it and started wearing somebody else’s that you really discover how many daily situations actually involve hair.

Suddenly you recall those dialogues with your hair, those maddening matted moments as a teenager before your mirror, those great Wild-Root waves you tried to rouse out of a sea of lotion and the defiant ends that stood bristling towards the sky like a light­house on a rocky coast . .. when you were promised that “only a little dab’ll do ya!”

“Stay down, dammit!” you yelled to short hair, late for a date, bellowing to billow your pompadour and break it clean at its crest so that it slid into diminishing swells that rippled high above the ears and over the crown surging into a duck-tail or tapering into that clippered stubble six inches above the collar.

Not a kind word did I have for my locks in those days, and when they began to moult in rebellion I cursed them all the more for the daily increase in time it took to tease and arrange what was left to hide my burgeoning bean.

No one really plans to go bald. We never think to save the stuff that’s been clinging to our combs over the years or what’s swept off the barbershop floor. Consequently when the time comes we must resort to wearing the harvested hair of an anonymous donor who’s cultivated his crop on a diet of pastafazoole and dago red.

Now we are most kind to our new hair, especially when we consider that each strand has been sewn seperately by Puerto Ricans who’ve immigrated to America just to camouflage the Yankee noodle. We are also sensitive to the four or five biggies we’ve laid out for the case, plus the extra tariff for the recommended patented combs, cleaners and the variety of sprays necessary to embalm your wig into looking very “natural.”

(We later learn that a dash of salt makes very good dandruff. Or better yet, and more appropriate, a sprinkle of grated Parmesan on each shoulder while dressing your spaghetti.)

But whether it’s yours or not, hair is hair and it still has to be trained. So considering you and your scalp haven’t been on speak­ing terms for a while and the previous owner of your new hair was either a fettuccine fiend or a rice junkie, the only answer is a quickie Berlitz course for both you and the wig. Or study some opera. Italians sing to everything and when all else fails try a little Puccini Pomade to lay the hairy monster to rest.

Depending on your daily routine, the man who travels around town under a hairpiece soon discovers his itinerary may be influenc­ed by the weather. As a foreigner the real hazard in Japan is the rain and the sea of umbrellas with their lethal ribs at gaijin eye level. If you duck, some little old lady will surely snare your wig and carry it off to Kichijoji with her. The only thing you can do in wet weather is keep your chin up. And that exposes the jugular.

Windy days are just a nuisance. It would take a pretty fierce gale to lift your piece. It just means making a lot of stops to comb and restyle. This is why many men wearing hairpieces are accused of having kidney pro­blems.

There are, of course, good wigs and there are bad wigs. But, as every man who owns one knows, even the best of them must be carefully combed so as to hide that abrupt telltale line that attracts everyone’s atten­tion, especially your lady guest across the dinner table with the fixed gaze who’s been talking to your hairline all evening.

In the early stages of wearing a wig and learn­ing how to style it, most fellows try to invent distractions such as walking with a cane or a fancy umbrella or leaving the fly open. But you might as well face the fact that the only people who won’t notice your new hairline are lip readers and leprechauns.

It is also a known fact that the normal individual gifted with natural locks will, from time to time in the course of a day, touch or stroke a convenient curl as an unconscious nervous habit. Only the self-conscious wig wearer conspicuously ignores his hair. He won’t even scratch an eyebrow or blow his nose for fear of drawing attention above his spectacles.

Another hazard in the daily routine is the temptation to look at your reflection in every store window as you walk down the street. I didn’t have my first hairpiece ten minutes in New York when I got tangled up with an organ grinder’s monkey. This is because we are so engrossed with our new image in the street that we fail to notice any sidewalk obstacle below the knees.

We also fail to focus on whatever is really behind the glass so that our friends sometimes think we have a perverse fascination for ladies’ underwear. I learned this very quickly after being accused of flirting with a window washer. I was so involved with tousling my forelock that I hadn’t noticed that he was making obscene gestures towards me with his squeegee.

Watch out for beggars

This preoccupation also makes beggars a particular problem. I’m always stepping on their tin cups or tripping over their violins.

And I’ll never forget the time I scattered the blind man’s pencils all over the street in Shinjuku creating the Great Pedestrian Pile-up of 1971 which blockaded Isetan for a week and caused a run on the bank next door. Unofficially it was the only time McDonald’s Shinjuku store broke their Ginza record for daily hamburger sales.

Ladies love to run their fingers through a man’s hair whether it’s on the bedpost or on his head. They find hairpieces rather fascinating and the more sophisti­cated ones have discovered that ripping off their part­ner’s wig at the right moment adds a little extra thrill to a date. This also puts a bit of variety into a lady’s evening since now she can imagine being wooed by a different lover.

But what really surprised me was how those long and unfruitful courtships changed overnight, so to speak, simply by looking soulfully into those innocent eyes and confessing that my hair isn’t my own. For some reason this confidence endears most young girls and arouses motherly compassion and reassurance that “it really isn’t important.”

The girl now feels it her duty to prove this point and in the end I’m reassured. Of course there was a time or two when the lady found the whole idea so revolting she wouldn’t even let me hold her hand.

It stands to reason that the man who travels a lot takes more risks and runs into more problems with his hairpiece than the nine-to-fiver who sneaks frequent reassurance from the mirror inside his desk drawer.

I had bought my first wig in New York and was returning to Vietnam via Europe. All was fine until I reached Bangkok whose immigration authorities re­fused to believe I was the same person shown in my passport photo. What was particularly embarrassing was that the Bayanihan Philippine Ballet had arrived on the same plane I did on one of their world tours, and I had to demonstrate my new hairpiece to the immigration official while at the head of a line giggling terpsichoreans.

It took a while but after going in and out of a lot of airports I became more casual about the whole thing and even began packing a spare wig in my suitcase as a conversational piece for customs officials. I’d throw in a couple of toupee gags while they were messing around with my underwear and they’d never notice the extra Johnnie Walker in my duty-free bag.

When it comes to flying I do have one great fear, and friends who have seen me off at airports will vouch for my nervousness. It is not the actual fear of flying that gets me ordering all those pre-flight vodka tonics.

It’s that distance between the terminal and plane’s loading ramp. This is my hair’s Achilles’ heel.

What’s worse is that I work up such a sweat worry­ing about it that I’m sure it’s melting my glue. This is because I always have both hands full with duty-free shopping bags and brief cases and things. Even my boarding pass I carry in my mouth. And I know that someday while making a dash for the plane in all that open space, a hot blast from a passing jet is going to send my wig rolling down the tarmac. I have visions of running after it and if a sky marshal doesn’t shoot it first it’ll get sucked up into the intake of a 747 and I’ll get the bill.

Tarantella toup

So far this has not happened only because I’ve always been very lucky in traveling this distance by walking on the lee side of a large fellow passenger.

In-flight hospitality has a lot to do with why on deplaning I’m not so concerned about the trek to the terminal. In fact I’m usually so loose by that time that even if I fly first class I still manage to come off as baggage.

The sportsman does have to make some adjustments while wearing a wig even though most hairpiece manu­facturers say you can even swim in them. And that is true. However, not everybody fools around in the water the same way. If you’re just swimming, using the old breast or side strokes, you’re okay. Even an ordinary dive is fine and coming up out of the water looks very natural.

But if you’re the type who jumps in feet first holding your nose you had better use the other hand for your head. This is because most hairpieces are not attached at the sides. They are stuck to the top of the head and combed down around the sideburns to blend into your oasis around the ears. So even the guy who simply walks into the water over his head is taking a chance since the sides of his hair will float up around his ears so that he’ll look like he’s hiding under a hairy water lily.

The diver who wears a mask, on the other hand, has nothing to worry about. The strap is added support and you can fall into the water in the appropriate manner even tanked up. Removing the mask may be tricky, however, so we suggest you reserve enough air in your tanks to get you to the bath house.

Always save a little air

The price of a man’s hairpiece, of course, varies on the quality. The maker usually charges by the square inch which is the base of the piece into which the hair is sewn. This is usually oval in shape and covers that area you’ve been combing with your washcloth for the past few years. Naturally everybody likes to hold onto those last few remaining strands that still populate your pate. These are the noble survivors of all your hair restorers, massages and heat treatments, and you’ve been defending them from the barber’s scissors hoping they’d eventually stop receding and start reseeding.

But they really just get in the way since a slick surface makes it easier for the tape to stick. Some piece-pushers actually use metal clips on these weak­ened shrubs to anchor their product, which is a lot of hardware to carry around. And you may have a tough time explaining the buzz you’ll get from the airport metal detectors.

It’s best to bite a bullet and let your wig maker finish the landscaping. You can keep those last momentoes to freshman hops, senior proms and back­seat conquests in a jar along with your gallstones and appendix.

There is a period just after acquiring your first hairpiece when you often feel giddy, especially towards strangers. Since you and your wig maker have gone through so much trouble to create what must pass for the real thing, you unconsciously over compensate for your guilt. The feeling is very much like wearing a disguise at a party and sneaking up to an old friend and saying, “Guess who this is!”

This can really be a problem when traveling and sitting for long periods with total strangers. The temptation is to turn to your seat mate and say, “You may not believe this but I’m wearing a rug!” Unfor­tunately what usually happens is that most people don’t consider this as a cosmetic improvement if they’ve never seen you without the wig.

Instead they consider this as a confession to an affliction. Like having a glass eye. I remember once mentioning my piece to a fellow traveler after we both had a few drinks. His immediate reaction was wanting to share my confidence by showing me his colostomy bag. I told him I’d take his word for it. Neither of us spoke for the rest of the trip.

Real hair seems to make the best hairpieces but it has to be occasionally dyed and restyled. This is why it’s always best to have a spare or two. When I only had one piece I used to have Komachi down on the Ginza clean it for me and while I waited I’d wander around and air my scalp.

In fact sprinting past the Press Club in Marunouchi without my hairpiece will probably be the closest I’ll ever come to streaking.

Also a nice thing about a spare is being able to have your hair done the same time your wife does. And you don’t have to go along.

Piece-makers recommend you wear yours while get­ting a hair-cut so your barber can trim accordingly. Just be sure you tell him nothing off the top.

Europeans and Americans make some of the finest hairpieces—but they’re expensive. However, you can get one made in Hong Kong very cheap. They’ll do it in one day and it comes with two pairs of pants.

My Hong Kong wig is the only one that really let  me down.