BOSTON — This gentlemen thrust himself unbidden on my nodding attention the evening the Braves swept the Phillies in a double-header, and he has persisted since then at odd moments to distract me from the idleness of watching television. He is a seemly fine man, otherwise appealing, but he has a bald spot the size of a Texas putting green and is totally concerned about the color of what hair he has left, briefly numbered. He has been persuaded, I conclude, to put his trust in a certain cosmetical convenience now available.
But instead of appearing the next evening with his annoying gray hairs daubed into a youthy brown, or whatever, he has returned during my baseball games in the same sorry condition. My two questions are related: Why does an aging gentleman care what color his hair is, and if so, why doesn't he dye it and go away?
It doesn't take much to remind me of my trail-buddy of many a piscatorial-Ichthyologic expedition, Flats Jackson, and I did think of a remark made by Flats many years ago that was hair-related as well as hair-raising.
If you leave our Maine town of Bingham by the east gate, you start at once to climb Mt. Hunger and will continue to do so until you are into the township of Mayfield, when you start going down the other side of Mt. Hunger and approach a place called Kingsbury. If you return the same way, you'll find it a downhill matter of maybe seven miles as you smoke back into Bingham. It is this precipitous descent which, like discensus inferno, figures in the recollected remarks of Buddy Flats.
There is, in Bingham, or was until a recent hour, a plywood factory that operated under the name of Quimby Veneer, and at the time Flats was employed by it as a driver. He fetched yellow birch logs from the Maine timberland around and about to be turned on the giant lathes that peeled the logs into sheets that, when out and glued, formed the criss-cross plywood of commerce. Such yellow birch logs would run about three feet DBH (diameter breast high), 14 or more feet long, and about 20 to a truckload. Perched afront and below this incipient avalanche, Flats was on his way to Bingham with a load.
"I turned at Abbot Village," said he, "and settled back for the climb. My reg'lar run. I always wished I could take time to fish Kingsbury Pond again. There it was, a beauty of a toque pond, and here was I getting rich except in togue, and I had to churn past again.
"Then comes the climb. You got no idea. Put the power in low-low-lowest, and let her grind! And grind and grind. You spend the forenoon grinding. Up, up, and up. I never knew how high Mt. Hunger is, but we don't need no Himmer-layers around here until we wear out Mt. Hunger. I dozed a mite, recited the Beatitudes, sang 'Frankie and Johnny,' and then I ate my sandwiches. And in the backways looking-glass I could still see Kingsbury Pond.
"So I thought some more about how good togue is when it's deep-fried like a doughnut, and I began all over again. I meditated that if it warn't for me bringing these sticks in over Mt. Hunger, the Quimby folks would be in a fix. Me, the big shot! We came to the peak, and all at once I was tipped on a downhill cant and I could see off on the Kennebec side. The old GM was hotter'n a skunk. All I had to do was take it easy seven miles down into Bingham, then go home to supper.
"So now I tested my brakes, which is a smart thing to do under those circumstances, and in this way I found out I didn't have none. Not a brake. I shoved my foot on the pedal so my boot stuck out through the radiator about seven feet, and then I fetched the emergency handle up under my chin. I couldn't have stopped that load of logs this side of New Zealand. I begun to laugh, thinking how folks would enjoy seeing me pass through Bingham. And then I jumped.
'I DIDN'T make no big ceremony about it. I just laid the door back on its hinges, and I rolled out. It took me 14 days and six minutes to hit the ground, but the shoulder of the road was smooth and fairly comfortable. I rolled, and was slightly ahead of the truck for a time. Then I began to slow down, and the truck began to perk up and respond. And all to once I was sitting with my face hanging down. I watched that load of logs mow a swath down the west slope of Mt. Hunger." Flats said when he got home late his wife asked what kept him.
But the part of his story that I'm remembering now was the part about his hair.
Flats said, "Before I jumped, I didn't waste no time seeing if the part to my hair was on straight." That part made sense to me, and I believe in similar involvement I would have done about as he did. So I sat there in a National League quandary, wondering why an elderly gentleman with a glowing bald spot is concerned by a few gray hairs.
If the aging men of our confused society truly need a different and beguiling tone to assuage the indignity of losing hair, I have a happy and foolproof solution. Come to Maine when you are 15 and buy a fishing license. The town clerk will set down your description that you have brown hair in a sprightly 15-ish tone. Then, every year when you renew your license, the clerk will copy the color of your hair from last year.
In this way, you may become bald as a squash, but to every other game warden you will still have a thatch of beautiful brown hair. Like me.
(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society