Mirror, Mirror on the Wall
Medill sophomore finds it difficult to come to terms with his genetic destiny.

Photo by Andrew Campbell
I have a problem. It’s a problem that threatens to change me in ways that I may not be ready to deal with, so often I just try not to think about it. But it cannot be avoided. Every day I lose a little part of me, and I can’t do anything to stop it. Some days it is barely noticeable; others, I look in the mirror and I am embarrassed at what I see, as if someone is playing a cruel joke on me. I desperately try to hide it in public, but it’s becoming more difficult to keep this dark secret hidden away. It is only a matter of time. I am 19 years old, and I am losing my hair.

I’ve known it was coming since I was a little boy. Family gatherings are like Hairless Anonymous meetings, with grandpas, uncles and cousins all around showing me my destiny. My fate was sealed when I was born to a Ranallo, which is my mother’s family. (If you’re a fellow sufferer, you probably know that baldness is transmitted genetically through females. Thanks, Mom.)

It shouldn’t be a big deal, right? I mean, it’s just hair. Most of the time it’s just a nuisance anyway, and it requires so much maintenance. You have to comb it, wash it, cut it at regular intervals, keep it away from any type of sticky substance. I figure that with all the time I’ll save not having to tend to the upkeep of those moody strands of fiber, I’ll be able to write a great American novel of some kind. Besides, many of my heroes in life are bald. Pete Townshend’s bald. He can still play guitar and windmill his way through dazzling solos. Michael Jordan grows about as much hair as a bowling ball, but that didn’t stop him from winning six NBA championships — and making it cool for basketball players to shave their heads. Sean Connery has been balding for years and is still as high-profile as any actor on the big screen. You can be successful, confident and bald, you know. Not all bald men are George Costanza, the roly-poly character formerly played by Jason Alexander on television’s "Seinfeld."

So then, what’s the problem? Townshend’s guitar-playing ability didn’t go down the shower drain with those locks of precious, precious hair. Jordan actually got better as his hairline receded, gaining extra inches of forehead and championship rings in about equal proportion. As long as Sean Connery holds on to that killer accent, he’ll still be a Hollywood star for years to come. I’ll just consider it a coincidence that his era as James Bond ended around the same time his era as a regular barbershop patron did. Not to worry. Anyway, there’s always that novel. Or perhaps I can discover the cure for a rare disease of some kind.

So, again, what’s the problem? I guess it’s just the fact that part of my body is falling off. What exactly does that say about me? I’m weak? Misassembled? Today it’s a few strands of hair. Tomorrow will it be my index finger? Might I step in a pothole walking to class and leave my leg there? Sure, I’m well covered now — I’m no Larry Fine or anything (remember Larry, Curly and Moe?). I have some good years left. But then what? Once it’s gone, it’s gone.

There are some ways people in denial try to fool themselves, but I’ll have none of that. First, there’s the comb-over. It’s a seemingly resourceful and economical tactic, but it conjures up images of a cranky old landlord in green plaid pants bearing down to collect the rent. That’s out. A popular solution is the song of the sirens, Rogaine. But this unreliable product costs an arm and a leg, limbs of mine that might be in a pothole on Sheridan Road anyway. Then there’s the final alternative for the truly desperate: a rug. That is out of the question. Do I have to explain why?

Three feet to the left of a big mirror on the wall of my parents’ bedroom rests a 10-by-12-inch framed picture of the two from their wedding. How many times have I just stood there and looked at that photo, gazing at my 25-year-old father — sky blue tuxedo, black bow tie, thin brown hair trying desperately to cover as much forehead as possible. It is a beautiful picture, but I am always drawn to his face. He is smiling, but it is a nervous smile. The males in his family are bald, too, and he knows what’s coming. If that picture had been taken a couple of years later, he would have had nothing.

Two steps to my right and I see another young man, very similar to my father, looking right at me. I stare at him — me — in that mirror, fixated on my scalp. I run my hand through my hair and three long strands fall out. It’s only a matter of time. Time to get cracking on that book.

Michael DePilla of Park Ridge, Ill., is a sophomore in the Medill School of Journalism. He is a passionate music and baseball aficionado.