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Hairpieces in Mexico

Hairpieces in Mexico

This post is only tangentially about Latin America, but a good story always deserves to be told.  Although I would never wear a hairpiece now, years ago it seemed like the thing to do.  But did it cause troubles!

July 9, 2008

Yep, that's me on the right, twenty years ago, with the rug.  I was about 12.  I am with Manuel Jimenez, a very famous wood carver.  He is old but he has his own hair.

Yep, that's me on the right, twenty years ago, with the rug. I was about 12. I am with Manuel Jimenez, a very famous wood carver. He is old but he has his own hair.

You may have noticed, I have no hair.  Hair-challenged, they call it.  Bald.  Or maybe you are so busy looking at Omar or the food posts (depending on your priorities) that you never gave it a thought.  Either way, being bald was a big deal to me.

I bet you never thought you’d be reading about Mexican hairpieces.  But I have some swell stories, and we do talk about everything—plus a good laugh is priceless, even if it’s on me.  So welcome to the Mexican Hairpieces post.

Everybody in my family is bald.  Dad was bald, Ma has thin hair, all the grandparents and aunts and uncles, all bald.  Talk about dominant genes–we have bald dogs and cats.  You should see our family portraits.

So it was no great surprise that at 18 my hair started to fall out in handfuls.  I never had that much to begin with, although like a good hippy wannabe I had hair down to my shoulders from the late 60’s to the mid 70’s.  But my forehead always reached up to about my north pole, even when I had hair.  Part of that is from super-intelligence, I imagine—all that brain needs some elbow room—but most of it was from bad genes.  (Here’s where I would say “Thanks, Ma!” if I thought she wouldn’t read this).

Nowadays being hairless as a Chihuahua is in.  Cool guys like Becks shave their heads, and as long as you embrace your baldness and don’t do the comb over or the Bozo look, being without hair isn’t really a liability.

But we are talking me in the 80’s, when everyone walked around under hair bigger than Dolly Parton’s.  I suppose what I truly wanted was to look like Tina Turner—her hair, anyway, and blond.  Bald was definitely out.

So I finally bought a hairpiece.  A toupee.  A rug.

What a bad rep hairpieces have.  Everyone has seen the old guy with the jet black, twenty-year old rug glommed immobile to the top of his head, white hair poking out at the neck.  Everyone told me “Don’t do it!  You look———-fine.”

I didn’t want to look—–fine, damn it.  I wanted to look HOT!

So I plunked down $800 for a human hair beauty.  When it finally came in, three light browns blended together in super natural splendor, it was glued to my head with double-sided tape and styled to within an inch of its life. And I felt fulfilled.

My friends were amazed.  A good hairpiece really looks, well, good.  Honest people said that if they didn’t know, they could never tell.

Seventh heaven.

Six months later, my hairpiece turned pink.

“You wore it in the sun too much.  You should have worn a hat.”  Of course, wearing a hat wears out the toupee.  I went to grad school with pink hair.

Then I discovered I have acidic skin or something.  I should have known.  My arm eats through watchstraps in less than a year.  Unfortunately, this is not a marketable talent.  So when the plastic or latex or rubber base of my expensive hairpiece started crumbling to bits, I shouldn’t have been surprised.

But was I going back to being bald?  Yah, right.  I found a beauty supply place with $250 hairpieces, and was back in business.

These turned green.  “Chlorine in the water.”

I cursed my genes and bought a new hairpiece every year.  I needed a new one every six months, but I had other things to do with my money, like eat.

My brother—bald, of course—went to New York City and had some contraption you couldn’t remove or wash under woven into the little natural hair he did have, and hated it.  He wore it out to the bar the first day and all his friends asked if he had shaved his moustache.  It must have looked natural, but then my brother’s friends aren’t the kind of guys who notice things like if you have hair or a nose or things.  He cut it off—the piece, I mean– and went back to au naturale.

Me no.  I was stubborn.  I wanted to be in good shape, not have acne, and sport hair (if not sprout hair), all at the same time.  I was young.  I now know that is way too much to ask.

There were surprisingly few embarrassing moments, like when the wind flips up your do or you feel a draft and find your hair hanging from a low branch.  I couldn’t wash my hair in the gym.  And if I ate hot peppers at a Chinese restaurant and my head sweat (which it does with hot peppers, profusely) the sweat would stay whooshing around under the hairpiece until I loosened up a corner and the water flooded out.  I was great fun at parties.

Then there was the time at the pool where I had an attentive and admiring audience (I was a gym bunny back then—fossilization hadn’t yet set in) and it somehow occurred to me that I would look alluring diving into the water.  Setting all common sense aside—I hadn’t dived in decades—in I went.  All went reasonably well until my head felt cold and I realized my hair had fallen off somewhere between hitting the water and now, still underwater at the far end of the pool.

Do any of our readers really think I was coming up for air?  Without hair?  I’d die in that pool first.

I swung around and tried to backtrack.  I had already been under water the better part of a minute, zigzagging frantically across the pool, when I saw a water rat swimming alongside me.  My hair.  I grabbed at it.

Now. A hairpiece has a front and a back.  It wouldn’t do for me to emerge from the pool with my do on backwards.

So there I sat on the bottom of the pool, on the verge of blacking out, carefully trying to decide which end was which.  I remember looking up and seeing my friends’ distorted faces, framed in a floating inner tube and peering down at me, checking to see if I was dead yet.

I slapped the thing on my head and headed for the surface.

It’s hard to look unsexy climbing out of a pool, but if you are gasping like a sea lion in heat, that would do it.  Fighting the urge to breathe, I slowly rose out of the depths, smiling like Esther Williams, my muscles gleaming, my polyester hair dripping alluringly over one eye, my chest heaving in spasms.

The audience I had tried so hard to impress had given me up for lost at sea and gone home.

Then there was the time I was at a bonfire in the winter.  We were clearing brush and throwing it on the fire and having a wonderful time.

Strange—although it was winter and quite cold, I was feeling rather tropical, even away from the blaze.

My friends explained that was because my hair was on fire.  A stray spark had set it alight.

In slow motion I ran shrieking through the woods, flames shooting from my head, looking for all the world like Mixcoatl, the Aztec fire god, although I wasn’t thinking about that at the time.

Someone clapped a cap on my head, and the snowflakes were mixed with little black strings of melted plastic, floating gently down.

Now the worst part was that I was leaving for Mexico in two days, and I didn’t have time to get a new hairpiece.

Up in the attic I surveyed the old do’s.  Luckily, I throw away nothing.  And there was a hairpiece in really pretty good condition, except that the base was crumbly.  No matter, it would do.

It lasted about two days, and then started falling apart.

I was on a bus somewhere in northern Mexico.  For once someone interesting and attractive had set next to me, and I was shaking my head in agreement during an animated conversation when I noticed an inch-square piece of pelt graze my nose and land smack dab in the lap of my seatmate.

I don’t know who was more horror struck but it was him.  I obviously had leprosy and was showering the poor man with loose body parts.  He was speechless, his mouth an “oh” (or a “eew”), his face twisted into a surprised, horrified mask.

“Pardon me” I said as I gingerly plucked my scalp, trailing four inch hairs, from his lap, guarding it carefully in my shirt pocket.  He didn’t say another word the entire trip.

I bought a piece of cotton poplin and a tube of silicone in Cancun, and set to work gluing together all the jigsaw pieces of my now rotting hairpiece, lining the base with the cloth.  It all held together just fine.  Trouble was, with all the layers of cloth and silicone, it now didn’t mold to my skull.

I looked like I was balancing a hairy Frisbee on my head.  And I smelled like vinegar.

In Guatemala City I decided to buy a new hairpiece.  I was in the capital city, after all—someone had to sell good hairpieces.

Someone did.  As a matter of fact, a very famous hairpiece maker was located right there, in the residential district of Guatemala City.  I called and made an appointment.

It was a nice house—large and modern.  Mr. Toupee was skinny and sixtyish, and very attentive.  He talked about the quality of his work and his prices—which were high—and then said “I want to show you something.”

Fearing the worst, I let him lead me into a darkened room.  The door shut behind us, and I couldn’t see a thing.  I tensed up a bit.

Then I heard a click, and the lights came on in dozens of museum display cases, recessed into the walls of a large room.  And the cases were full of human heads.

This was not precisely what I was expecting.

“You’d look good in a John F. Kennedy” said Mr. Toupee, rubbing his hands and running from case to case.  He was obviously enjoying himself.

On closer look, the heads were wax dummies of the U.S. presidents, from Washington up to about Carter, each with the most lovely, lifelike hair.  I had to agree, the JFK was most my style.

“I worked for Disney” he explained, “and did all the wigs for the Hall of the Presidents.  These are my working models.”

They were wonderful.  They were amazing in their realism.  They gave me the creeping cruds.

I ended up wearing hairpieces for 14 years.  Then the day I met Omar he reached up, wadded the rug into a ball, threw it in the corner and said “That goes.”

And it did.

Today I’m happy bald.  Of course, now it is cool to be hairless.  I save money on hair care products, and styling’s a breeze.

I can finally drive through the countryside, the wind blowing through my scalp, and be content.

Dan (with Omar)

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Etiam pulvinar consectetur dolor sed malesuada. Ut convallis euismod dolor nec pretium. Nunc ut tristique massa.

Nam sodales mi vitae dolor ullamcorper et vulputate enim accumsan. Morbi orci magna, tincidunt vitae molestie nec, molestie at mi. Nulla nulla lorem, suscipit in posuere in, interdum non magna.