Facing the Bald Truth

Jeff Kramer wigs out at the New York State Fair

I can’t vouch for the rest of you, but when I looked in the Syracuse New Times last week and saw the staged photo of me wearing a Jon Bon Jovistyle wig, I was stunned.

I looked good. Real good. Twenty years seemed to magically melt away. I exuded energy, vitality and sex appeal.

Oh, sure, there were a few smart-alecky comments on my Facebook page, including one from some doofus who posted, “You give rugs a bad name.” But sarcasm can’t trump truth. For all the mitigating effects of ball caps and going with a virtual buzz cut, I look better—at least younger—with hair. Who doesn’t?

That stark realization left me pining for those heady days when a towering Jewfro added at least 2 inches to my 6-foot-2 frame. My sense of wistfulness soon turned into to self-pity. I felt diminished and angry. Mostly, I felt bald.

But right on cue-ball, I snapped out of it. Rather than wallow in the unfairness of genetics, I would launch an important research project to demonstrate that male hereditary baldness isn’t a mere cosmetic inconvenience, but a debilitating handicap with real social costs. I would conduct this study on Opening Day of the New York State Fair. I would title the study: “Bald Like Me.”

The setup was as follows: I visited the fair twice: once in the morning as my bald self, and again that evening wearing a hairpiece provided by Syracuse theatrical wig czarina Karen Procopio. On her advice, I ratcheted down the Bon Jovi look in favor of a darker, more realistic faux-mane. In the grand cultural laboratory of the fair, how would a bald guy vs. a guy with hair, well, fare?

Phase I, the bald phase, got off to a telling start when my credit card wouldn’t work at the gas pump, and things went downhill from there. When I tried to enter the fairgrounds with my freshly minted Syracuse New Times press credential, I was firmly denied and told to buy a ticket.

Once inside the fair, I sauntered into the Taste NY market near the main entrance. The attendant watched me like a hawk, sizing me up like a potential shoplifter. I scurried out and ducked into the Science and Industry building. Might a baldness cure await there? A booth run by the New York State Society of Physicians Assistants seemed a good place to get information, or at least com passion.

I should have known better.

“Live with it,” advised Maureen Regan, the society president. “You know, there are a lot worse things in life. If that’s your worse complaint, you’re having a great day.”

You have a great day too, Maureen.

Jeff Kramer Bald Anti-bald bias also surfaced in my tarot cards. My young female reader appeared to do her best to put a positive spin on the results, but the message was clear: I’m a stagnant, underachieving worrier with a flat-lining love life. “You have too much potential to be down at this level of energy,” she said.

With her words ringing in my ears, I headed for the livestock exhibits and the unconditional acceptance of animals. Steuben, a handsome llama with wool to spare, took one look at my naked, sweaty pate and adamantly shook his head “No.”

Nor was there any solace at the Indian Village. The herbalist woman wasn’t in, but others assured me that even the Six Nations, normally so skilled in the ways of alternative medicine, had no cure for “hereditary” baldness, in part because the disease isn’t common to Native Americans.

“Even our babies are born with hair,” a young mother at the Cattaraugus Reservation booth boasted.

How lovely for you. Bitter and defeated, I came upon an impressive Plumbers & Steamfitters Local 267 exhibit in a trailer. Emblazoned on the side of the trailer was a huge image of a bald union member tending some gauges. Here, at least, The Bald Man was celebrated, not scorned. Or so it seemed.

Greg Lancette, business manager of the local, walked me around to the other side of the trailer—the side that was hidden from view, the side that bore the image of a young, beaming union apprentice with dreadlocks. Greg confided that not having the dreadlocks guy on public display was a mistake in terms of attracting people to the exhibit. “I think we could have mapped it out a little better,” he confided.

Enough. I couldn’t bear being bald another minute. It was time for Phase II.

With President Obama en route from Buffalo, late afternoon thundershowers had darkened the skies. But the moment I put on my hairpiece, the sun appeared in more ways than one.

At the Red Cross lot, an attendant directed me to the front row. Already my luck was changing.

This time, the vibe was friendly and welcoming at the Taste NY store. “Am I in your way, sir?” an attendant stocking honey politely inquired.

I returned to the Plumbers & Steamfitters trailer, where Greg Lancette stared at me in confusion. He didn’t recognizing me from our morning chat. Finally, I broke my cover.

“I’m the guy from the New Times,” I said.

“Jeff!” Greg exclaimed. Then, with true amazement in his voice, he said: “That wig is pulling it off.”

My confidence in high gear, I sauntered past a wine slushy booth and made eye contact with a comely young pourer. The connection was instant, powerful and real. I got the distinct feeling that she would have kept the free samples coming as long as I wanted—as long as I had hair.

A bevy of college-aged males came over to check me out. That’s the thing about hair. It attracts people of both genders. I explained to them that I was conducting social research, and that I was wearing a wig. All that did is give me more cred.

“I need one of those, dude,” exclaimed a young man identifying himself as Taylor Montville, an Onondaga Community College student. He added, “You look like you’re ready to get wasted!” I think that was a compliment. Inside the Beer Garden, I hooked up with more revelers, then made my way back to the Mrs. Walker psychic shack to get my tarot cards read again.

“Didn’t I already do a reading for you today?” the reader asked.

“Yes,” I said. “But I want to do it again. . .with hair.”

She laughed and laughed, but a serious lesson was in store for both of us.

Gone from the new reading was much of the negativity of the first one. My “faults” this time weren’t really faults—just suggestions pertaining to external conditions. A friend or relative had drifted away. I should let him deal with his issues and not get involved for now. (Made sense.) I would soon be traveling across water. (True.) I should keep a close eye on my belongings.

But there was something else in the air that hadn’t been there before: a real rapport. Suddenly, the reader was confiding to me that she also yearned for an enhancement—one a little lower on the body than the scalp. I told her she looked great just the way she was, and she beamed.

“You’re obviously a solid person,” she told me.

It was hard to imagine a conversation this sizzling happening if I were bald.

Even Steuben the Llama changed his tune. Since our unfortunate morning encounter, he had won a blue Grand Champion ribbon that was now displayed on his stall. He sat in front of a fan and looked placidly at me with, if not outright approval, at least not disdain. On some deep instinctual level, Steuben liked me better with hair, too.

I don’t want to make too much of these research results. Obviously, the most important thing in life is what is the kind of person you are on the inside. Your heart. Your mind. Your values. But if you’re coming up empty there, don’t worry. As long as you have good hair, you’ll be fine.

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